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Emphasizing Multimodalities for Multilingual Learners during Distance Learning

by Courtney Knowlton

It is almost unbelievable that I entitled my Google Classroom assignments for this week, “Week 8. . . .” I have been teaching from my computer for eight weeks now? How is that possible? Although I must say that in those eight weeks as a virtual English language development (ELD) teacher, it seems I have learned a full year’s worth of strategies to support and enrich my students using technology.

Recently, I asked my multilingual learners to reflect on their distance learning journey so far and create an infographic of tips for students and teachers. This project helped me reflect on my own journey as well. First of all, it was eye opening to watch the students create their projects. It helped me understand the range of computer literacy skills present in our group. For some students, the task of searching for images and formatting them on the Google Doc took them a substantial amount of time. Asynchronous teaching takes away our ability to adapt in the moment, which is why it is so important for us to continuously reach out to our students, especially those in the ELD program, and ask them, “How long did it take you to complete this work?” Chunking the tasks appropriately is crucial for student success.

Our infographic project also supported my belief in the value of visual literacies. Did the students get a little frustrated when their image pushed their text around in weird ways? They certainly did, but haven’t we all been there at some point? More importantly, the use of visuals led to students identifying the main idea of their tips, thinking metaphorically, and comparing the usefulness of different images for getting their point across. Creating a project with visuals is a task that is accessible to students of all language levels and it is a skill that can be used in many different contexts. When I first started teaching from home, most of my assignments involved students interacting with texts. For the last few weeks of school, I want to intentionally plan more opportunities for students to create with visuals.

When the students completed their infographics, I noticed that a common thread within their projects was praise for the use of videos and synchronous meetings. These students are missing all of the aural literacy development and person to person connection that they get when they are at school. In order to attempt to fill this void for them, I have been using a few free tools available through the Chrome Web Store. I use Screencastify to create videos to explain assignments. At the moment, they are offering a code for educators affected by the pandemic to access their premium services, which is CAST_COVID. Two more Chrome add-ons that have improved our distance learning experience are the Grid View Extension, which allows you to see all participants in a Google Meet, and the Nod Extension, which gives students the ability to click on an icon to raise their hand as well as to use emojis to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Lastly, I use an extension called Mote to leave voice comments on the students work in Google Docs and Google Slides.

When planning learning experiences for multilingual learners, it is crucial to keep different literacies in mind for both receptive and expressive communication. In my case, I have been using visuals and auditory information effectively to deliver lessons. However, I need to make more of an effort to invite students to express themselves using different modes as well.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? How has distance learning questioned or improved your best practices? How might distance learning improve and/or challenge your teaching in September 2020?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.