How can we support English learners during COVID-19?

February 3, 2021

Supporting the growing number of English learner (EL) students in the nation’s K-12 schools has become even more challenging during the global pandemic.

But there are many research-backed strategies that educators can use to help ELs stay connected, keep learning in the context of remote schooling and maximize learning as they return to school.

Image is the beginning of the research brief, framing the central question—"Recognizing longstanding educational inequities, what research-backed practices can district administrators, school leaders and classroom teachers use to support EL students' academic success and linguistic development in an instructional context transformed by COVID-19?"

Michigan State University Associate Professor Madeline Mavrogordato and co-authors outline these approaches and share key insights in a new research brief released by the EdResearch for Recovery Project.

The brief is part of a series aimed at providing K-12 education decision makers and advocates with an evidence base to ground discussions about how to best serve students during and following the novel coronavirus pandemic. Four new briefs were released on Feb. 2.

Supports for Students Who Are English Learners (ELs)” recommends taking concrete steps to embrace the cultural and linguistic assets of EL students, families and communities. This can lead to higher levels of trust, improve students’ academic and linguistic development, and address some of the long-standing inequities faced by students whose first language is not English.

In hybrid or remote learning, it’s more important than ever to engage with families in their native language and provide digital learning resources that are designed specifically for ELs, not simply translated.

Despite facing added financial strain, the authors also warn school districts against diverting funds intended to support ELs, who are already more likely to attend under-resourced schools.

“The English learner subgroup is arguably one of the most adversely affected student populations by the pandemic,” said Mavrogordato, a faculty member in the K-12 Educational Administration graduate programs at MSU. “We wrote this brief to share research-backed practices that district administrators, school leaders and classroom teachers can use to support English learners’ academic success and linguistic development in a context transformed by COVID-19.”

Mavrogordato formerly was a bilingual elementary school teacher along the Texas-Mexico border and northern California and has conducted research finding inequities in how ELs are classified by schools. Her co-authors on the brief include Rebecca Callahan and David DeMatthews of University of Texas at Austin and Elena Izquierdo of University of Texas at El Paso.

To view all of the EdResearch for Recovery briefs, which have been published through the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, visit the project website.

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Mavrogordato and Spartan Jessica Gonzalez had dreams of educational greatness that started on the border, and later converged on the campus of MSU. Read their story.