Issues of Equity and Access in the (Distance) Education of Multilingual Learners

By Christine Montecillo Leider, Johanna Tigert, and Michaela Colombo

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered public schools this spring, educators mounted a Herculean effort to move instruction and assessment online.  Reflecting back on the spring of remote learning – and anticipating its continuation in the fall – as educators we need to ask ourselves: How can we prioritize the needs of multilingual learners during remote instruction? While the pandemic changed the schooling experience for all students, the onset of distance learning exacerbated existing inequities in education and ignited long overdue conversations about historically marginalized students in public schools. As teacher educators working with multilingual students, we worry that these and other inequities have hit this student population especially hard. 

Multilingual learners, in general, are among the most vulnerable of our students. As such, health, safety, and well-being should always be at the forefront – and many schools and school systems responded to these needs.  Assuming basic needs are met to the best of their ability, schools can turn their efforts to curriculum and instruction, which also present challenges. Multilingual learners and families can face communication barriers due to language as well as access issues related to the digital divide.  For the nearly 5 million classified English Learners (ELs) in U.S. public schools, however, distance education is not just about having access to technology or translation services, it’s about access to language and content. 

Specifically in Massachusetts, multilingual students who are ELs are entitled to receive both English instruction delivered by an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and content instruction delivered by Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) endorsed teachers. Both forms of instruction are crucial as they provide support for developing academic English and access to the general curriculum. However, conversations about remote learning have largely ignored these issues and instead, focused on students’ access to technology. As a response, the education world churned out myriad resource lists and instructional suggestions for teaching online. These resources are useful, but their narrow focus on instructional technology has masked the ever-present issues of educational parity for multilingual learners, especially those who are classified as ELs.  Those of us who work with this population of students know that even in the best of times content teachers lack training to work with ELs, there are simply not enough ESL teachers to bridge the gap, and instructional technologies most often used with these students are not designed with them in mind

We’ve seen these same inequities play out during the pandemic: few of the resources published over the spring address multilingual learners’ needs specifically, and guidance for teachers has come too little, too late. It took until May 18th for a guidance document on serving ELs to be added to the US Department of Education resource page for remote/distance learning. Until then, the only guidance at the federal level appeared in the March 16th DoE fact sheet on protecting students’ civil rights, which mainly discussed services for students with disabilities. (News flash: like special education, specialized instruction for ELs is a civil right mandated by federal law). Unfortunately, this does not come as a surprise: too often, we have seen EL education treated as an “add-on” in the physical school building and it has also appeared to be merely an afterthought in the world of remote instruction. 

Multilingual students need instruction that addresses both content learning and English language development. The bigger problem here is that most teachers were not prepared to do this even before the pandemic. Strategies such as differentiation, scaffolding, and sheltering are effective when enacted by well-trained teachers – even in an online environment. As schools and districts begin to make decisions on instructional delivery for the fall, let’s focus on improving teachers’ readiness to meet the needs of multilingual learners in any environment. Teacher preparedness is the key to offering multilingual students opportunities to participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs as their civil rights demand. 


Christine Montecillo Leider is Clinical Assistant Professor of Language Education and Program Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL-Licensure at the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University.

Johanna Tigert is an Assistant Professor of Education at the College of Education at UMass Lowell.

Michaela Colombo is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education at UMass Lowell.

Drs. Leider, Tigert, and Colombo co-lead the MATSOL Teacher Educators SIG.

2020 MATSOL Virtual Conference Infographic

And instructions at the bottom of this post.

How to view the archives:

  1. Go to the 2020 Conference page and click the “Log in to view…” link.
  2. Log in and you will see the schedule in our Airtable database.
  3. Click “view larger version” on the bottom right to expand the view.
  4. Find a presentation you’d like to view, scroll all the way to the right, and click on the recording link (YouTube).
  5. Watch the recording on YouTube. Click “SHOW MORE” in the video description to see all resources from the presenters.
  6. Repeat steps 4-6 as needed!

Recordings are only available to MATSOL members right now.

If slideshows and chat notes for the video are available, they will be linked in the video’s description (on YouTube). If you don’t see anything available, that means there are no resources from that presenter.

Happy viewings!

MATSOL Educators of the Year

This year, instead of recognizing just one Teacher of the Year, we want to honor all of our teachers!

Join us in recognizing and celebrating the work English Language Education (ELE) teachers are doing to teach multilingual learners remotely across Massachusetts.  In our member meetings since the pandemic began, we have heard from our educators about the creativity, innovation, dedication and generosity of their work in meeting the needs of students and their families.

We want to celebrate you! How are you making a difference with multilingual learners? Share your experiences!

Join the MATSOL Board members in this celebration!

Here’s how:

  1. Print the template (PDF), Download the sign (DOCX), or create your own.
  2. Complete the sign:  I’m making a difference by …
  3. Take a selfie with the sign.
  4. Share your photo on social media! Be sure to tag MATSOL and use the #MATSOLeducators hashtag. If you don’t use social media, but still want to participate, click here to submit your photo and we will post it for you.
  5. Keep the celebration going by tagging an ELE educator to share their experiences! 

Social Media Links

“Thrown to the wolves” – Teacher education during a pandemic

By Johanna Tigert, Christine Leider, and Michaela Colombo for the MATSOL Teacher Educator Special Interest Group.

Special thanks to Adrienne, Anastasia, Claudia, Helen, Irma, Ivone, Jocelyn, Joni, Josh, Laura, Marialuisa, Melissa, Moira, Paula, Peter, and Rachel, whose voices we drew on in writing this piece. 

The MATSOL Teacher Educator Special Interest Group (SIG) met on April 27 via Zoom to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our work. A record number of people attended – a testament to the desire of people to connect and be heard during these unprecedented times. In small groups, we shared both our recent challenges and triumphs as distance teacher educators. We’re not going to pretend challenges didn’t dominate our conversation – they were serious, multiple, and complex. People needed the space to voice their concerns. However, the resourceful group we are, we also shared strategies, resources, and tips for overcoming some of the challenges. 

Continue reading

Introduction to Online Classrooms and Best Practices

Video

Watch the recorded presentation to learn some of the best practices MATSOL has developed while hosting online meetings. Members can also download all materials that were used during this presentation. If you have tips or resources that you like to use, please share on the Padlet link provided!


Materials from the presentation:
PowerPoint Presentation
Zoom Meeting Procedures
Shared Padlet

Thank you to all who came to the live presentation. Our intention is to help and we hope this does!

Free Multilingual Online Libraries

Multilingual online books that can be accessed for free.

Free Multilingual Online Libraries

  • Unite for Literacy: Early Learning eBooks: More than 100 original ebooks carefully crafted to connect with young children and their families. Books are written in English and include audio narration in English and 28 languages.
  • Worldstories: A growing collection of short stories including retold traditional tales and new short stories from around the world. The stories can be read and listened to online, or downloaded and they’re all free!
  • International Children’s Online Library: A searchable library of digital children’s books in more than 50 languages.
  • Rosetta Project: Books in Multiple Languages: Digital books in more than 40 languages.
  • Epic!: Completely free for teachers and librarians, Epic!  is a digital reading platform for kids ages 12 and under. Epic! offers more than 35,000 thousand high-quality and award-winning fiction and nonfiction books, audio books, and videos from 250 publishers. Books in English and Spanish.

For Parents

2020 Awards – Call for Nominations/Proposals

MATSOL awards and grants recognize Massachusetts educators of English Learners for excellence, creativity, and innovation. 

2020 Call for Nominations & Proposals

  • MATSOL Teacher of the Year: For excellence in the education of English learners.
  • Anne Dow Award for Excellence & Creativity: For leading collaboration to support the education of English Learners.
  • Linda Schulman Innovation Grant: Grants of up to $1,000 for pedagogical projects that benefit English language learners by improving their language competency or increasing their understanding of American culture.

Submission deadline: Monday, March 23, 2020

Information: www.matsol.org/awards-grants

MATSOL Statement Supporting the Safe Communities Act

Jan 24, 2020: MATSOL submitted testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security in support of the Safe Communities Act H.3573 (Reps. Ruth Balser & Liz Miranda) and S.1401 (Sen. Eldridge).

The Safe Communities Act restores confidence in our public institutions by allowing our police and court officials to focus on public safety, providing clear guidance for their interactions with ICE, ensuring that in Massachusetts, no one has to live in fear, and everyone’s civil rights will be respected.

The passage of the Safe Communities Act is not just a public safety issue; it is also an educational issue. MATSOL urges legislators to support the Safe Communities Act in order to protect students and their families, and to allow our students in all educational contexts to pursue their educational goals. Most immigrant families include US citizens and people with varied immigration statuses, so the bill will have a far-reaching impact within our school communities. If we are serious about valuing every student, we need to show this by creating an environment in which every student can learn and thrive. The Safe Communities Act is vital to the success of Massachusetts students and the future of the Commonwealth. 

Integrating Social Emotional Learning in English Learner Instruction

Utilizing research-based strategies to craft SEL-embedded lessons in a culturally relevant teaching (CRT) classroom environment.

A 15 PDP course focused on embedding Social Emotional Learning (SEL) concepts and strategies into curriculum and instruction for English Learners. 

  • Analyze data on the benefits of teaching SEL skills to ELs
  • Become familiar with DESE Guidelines on implementing Social Emotional Curricula K-12
  • Be introduced to a SEL-embedded curriculum model used in a Newcomer program
  • Learn how to increase culturally responsive practices (CRT) in their classrooms
  • Practice strategies that combine academic content and SEL skills for ELs
  • Create/ revise lesson plans that integrate SEL in content-area instruction
  • Analyze rubrics and assessment strategies for monitoring and assessing SEL
  • Collaborate with peers to develop end-of-unit projects that embed SEL and CRT.

Audience: Any school educator or leader who works with K-12 English Learners. 

Format: Two six hour sessions plus a 3-hour on-line/assignment component.

PDPs: 15 PDPs that fulfill recertification requirement in English learner education.

Credit: 1 credit option available.

Registration & Information: www.mastol.org/courses

Webinar: Submitting a Proposal for the 2020 MATSOL Conference

Are you thinking about submitting a proposal for the MATSOL Conference, but have questions? Please join us for a webinar that will cover these topics:

  • Proposal review and selection process
  • Choosing and focusing a topic
  • Drafting the proposal
  • Submitting the proposal online
  • Preparing to present

New and experienced presenters welcome!

To prepare for the webinar, we recommend that you review the Call for Proposals at www.matsol.org/2020-call-for-proposals. Bring your questions!

Date: Thursday November 14, 2019 at 4 pm
Register: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_pD5XIQHFTUWdRQl9VZn3Hw
Presented by: Helen Solorzano, MATSOL Executive Director