Many students, teachers, and families have been left struggling to cope with remote learning since the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who learn English as an additional language (EAL/D) can find remote learning challenging.
We wanted to learn about the experiences of schools in supporting and teaching these students during the lockdowns in Victoria for 2020 and 2021. Ten teachers from urban and rural schools were interviewed as well as EAL/D curriculum directors. Three key areas of concern were identified by these teachers. Well-being language barriers and isolation can compound their feelings of disconnection and isolation. Access to digital devices, the internet, and learning materials
These issues impact large numbers of students. One in four secondary and primary school students in Victoria come from a language other than English. Similar numbers are found in NSW.
A variety of studies have shown that remote learning can often have a negative effect on student learning and well-being, even when it is in the best of circumstances. While there is increasing information on online teaching, EAL/D-specific information remains lacking.
Our research has shown that many EAL/D teachers face complex social, emotional and geographical challenges when engaging learners via remote learning. These three points are examples of how educators have adapted to these difficulties.
These educators considered student well-being to be the most important consideration. It is a prerequisite to real engagement with remote learning.
For newcomers, schools are often a place of belonging and identity validation. Many students felt isolated and disengaged from their remote learning experience. Sometimes, students felt isolated and disconnected due to language barriers or low digital literacy.
These issues were overcome by teachers being able to support families through connecting with social services and mothers’ groups, foodbanks, and other areas. This trend was more evident in rural and regional areas, where schools often served as the main point of support for EAL/D students.
EAL/D teachers and multicultural education assistants (MEAs) also had to consider well-being. It was difficult to support students and their families in navigating the new online learning platforms and procedures when time and resources were limited. Many EAL/D teachers work part-time, or at more than one school. One participant stated:
We did more remote learning than any other job I have ever done in my life. Cannot fix the world. We must take care of ourselves.
Initially, remote learning was difficult because of the limited internet and device access. As resources were distribute to families, this became less of an issue. Participants stressed the importance of education interpreters and education aides in helping students and teachers use these devices effectively.
They struggle especially at secondary school. These students struggle because secondary schools do not use the same platforms as they do. It takes a lot of time to train these students in lockdown.
Teachers and aides spent a lot of time developing resources that could be use for remote learning in the students’ first language. Due to a smaller number of EAL/D students, this task of creating resources proved more difficult.
Many challenges face in integrating EAL/D students into mainstream classes. These students might receive support from their peers or education aides in class such as mathematics, science, and humanities. This support can be difficult to provide online.
Teachers of other subjects might not be aware of strategies that can support EAL/D students in classes. This could leave students feeling isolated, alone, and overwhelmed. There are many strategies that can be use to support EAL/D students. These could include creating learning sequences that meet learner’s specific needs or providing structured opportunities for them use their language skills.
Participants also shared their thoughts on how EAL/D learners can benefit from mainstream classes that include teaching strategies. It was possible to create inclusive environments by equipping all teachers with the strategies and knowledge to support EAL/D learners in face-to-face or remote classes. One participant stated:
So, they have to understand the teachers have to. Instead of looking at content after content and trying to figure out how I can get it all done in five weeks, let us rethink this and look again. What can we do to make it easier for them to access this curriculum? They students can contribute something to it.
The last key message is to view EAL/D learners as an asset, not a deficit lens. Students often frame by a deficit lens as lacking in English proficiency. This overlooks their rich cultural and linguistic repertoires.
Plurilingual competencies is a new addition to the EAL curriculum for Victoria. This allows students to make use of all their language knowledge in order to learn. All teachers are require to be aware of the plurilingual resources available to students and to encourage them to use these resources to enrich their learning. The school leadership can play an important role in this area by supporting inclusive EAL/D practices across the entire school.