Supporting the Virtual Reading Instruction of Emergent Bilinguals: Practical Support and Resources for Parents and Teachers

Supporting the Virtual Reading Instruction of Emergent Bilinguals: Practical Support and Resources for Parents and Teachers

Sally Brown, Alisa Leckie, Nedra Cossa, Megan Paulk
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8405-7.ch031
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Literacy learning was significantly altered for many young emergent bilinguals during the pandemic as instruction moved to virtual and hybrid formats. The researchers conducted virtual professional development sessions to alleviate instructional challenges. The goal was to find innovative approaches for reading instruction and identify supporting resources for families and teachers. During focus group interviews with teachers, barriers were identified. Each barrier is discussed with the associated solutions and resources that can be used both inside and outside of the classroom.
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As the nation continues to struggle with the literacy education of young emergent bilinguals during the ongoing Pandemic, practical strategies and resources are needed to support parents and teachers. This chapter will reflect the qualitative data from a grant-sponsored research project investigating ways to support the reading instruction for young emergent bilinguals in virtual environments. Based on this information, the authors identify barriers and possible solutions to support emergent bilinguals. Specific pedagogical approaches, digital resources, and parent suggestions are explored to support reading development in virtual learning venues.

The Covid-19 Pandemic pushed local governments to implement social distancing policies that drastically disrupted ordinary schooling experiences. For teachers and students to function in a safe environment, virtual and hybrid learning practices were implemented (Reimers et al., 2020). As of April 2020, approximately 1.6 billion children and youth were out of school because of the Pandemic, and many experienced alternative forms of instruction (Azevedo et al., 2021). This shift in instructional delivery disrupted student learning, limited opportunities for teachers to scaffold the learning process, and created significant gaps in student learning and skill development. Due to these constraints, many students did not receive the support needed to master content standards and improve literacy skills.

Learning to read was particularly challenging for young students as teachers were forced to adapt and implement instructional strategies quickly. The most considerable impact was on children learning to read in the early grades (K-3rd grade). According to the Condition of Education Report (Hussar et al., 2020), five million or 10% of students in U.S. public schools were learning English as a new language. These students, referred to as emergent bilinguals and English language learners, are geographically located in urban, suburban, town, and rural areas in all 50 states, with the most significant percentage (15%) in early childhood classrooms. There was a particularly negative impact on multilingual children.

Under typical schooling circumstances, many emergent bilinguals experience academic disparities and school failure (Shin, 2018) compared to their English-speaking peers (Mather & Foxen, 2016). Research investigating how teachers use digital tools with emergent bilinguals showed a more generalized approach to using technology in their classrooms. Specific tools were not used to meet the unique academic needs of multilingual learners (U.S. Department of Education, 2020). Many were marginalized as schools began to grapple with virtual forms of learning.

Research in virtual learning is particularly limited for young learners. However, Li (2012) found the role of community to be influential for online learning environments. It is for this reason that parents and other caregivers are included in this project. Marsh et al. (2017) investigated children’s use of digital tools and recommended building on these experiences. This chapter will demonstrate how to connect an online activity with an offline activity. The key is to notice the learner and adjust literacy and instructional practices to support student growth (D'warte, 2020).

Learning to read is essential for future school success, and the pandemic interrupted this critical learning experience for many young learners across the country. Emergent bilingual students were more negatively impacted than their English-speaking peers for several reasons including a lack of access to the devices or the Internet, confusion over new English-only learning platforms, and a lack of parental familiarity with technology in general. As schools across the country continue to utilize hybrid learning due to temporary quarantining, this chapter provides solutions to support teachers and caregivers so that literacy instruction can continue in virtual environments. Further, the resources provided can help parents support reading development at home to help address pandemic-based learning loss. The selected tools and resources are beneficial for all young learners but were selected specifically to engage and support emergent bilingual students and their families.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Shared Reading: An interactive reading experience using an enlarged text where students chorally read the text with the teacher and focus on concepts of print.

Zoom: A video conferencing platform frequently used by school districts for video-related instruction such as reading groups and individual reading conferences.

Funds of Knowledge: Cultural and linguistic knowledge and expertise developed and shared in families and communities.

Guided Reading: An instructional strategy where students read leveled texts with support from a teacher to build decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

Virtual Learning: Learning that occurs exclusively online and requires an Internet connection.

Emergent Bilinguals: Students beginning to develop two languages simultaneously. Sometimes referred to as English learners.

Offline Learning: Learning that occurs independent of the Internet and often involves traditional activities such as reading paper-based books, writing on paper, etc.

Culturally Responsive Approaches: Instructional methods and materials that take into account students cultural and linguistic assets.

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