Helping English Language Learners Stay Engaged and Motivated during COVID-19 and Beyond

Jami Herbst spent the first part of her career as a K-12 ESL, Spanish and PE teacher before joining iStation. Now a Professional Development Manager with iStation, Herbst focuses on bilingual development as both a specialist and a lead. She shared her experiences and insights on the challenges English language learners face during the pandemic.

Herbst said educators could sometimes feel like they are in a triage situation with all of the uncertainty and changes in the education space due to the impacts of COVID-19. On a positive note – what surprised Herbst most about the situation was learnings from the hybrid virtual environment that could be applied to the classroom when things return to whenever that new normal arrives.

“We were always concerned about how we best communicate with families,” Herbst said. “How do we make sure we’re communicating properly with the students, even face-to-face in my classroom? And the teachers and the schools that are now faced with that virtual, looking for technology equity, looking to make sure we are reaching all of those students still – how are we really communicating now that we have all these extra challenges?”

The ability to reach out to all students and families to communicate can be a significant challenge in and of itself during the pandemic.

Distance learning for non-native English language speakers poses even more significant challenges during this unique period, especially in communication.

“Research has shown through the years that [you should let] the students communicate, at times, in their native language with another student in the class, if that’s available,” Herbst said. “If they can discuss a complex issue that you’re working on in the classroom together in their native language, and then share out in English, or even if they’re writing a descriptive word about what they feel about that piece or write a sentence or paragraph and maybe share that online in a virtual classroom, those are ways they can show their identity and build their confidence.”

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