Returning to Face-to-Face Instruction in the Fall: An Assets-Based Perspective

By Dr. Kris Nicholls:

As we look forward to a time when we can again safely gather together with our students and return to face-to-face instruction, there are many questions regarding how to address the different educational experiences and outcomes that are a result of their time in distance learning (either fully online or hybrid instruction model). Often these experiences and outcomes are held up to the light of pre-pandemic expectations and cast in a negative light, with terms such as “lost learning” or “learning deficit” being flung at administrators and teachers alike, charging them with identifying the differences and making a plan for swift remediation through accelerated learning in the fall.

Instead, I would like to propose an alternate perspective, an assets-based one, for your consideration.

It is true that there may be a difference between pre-pandemic expectations and those currently in place in many states’ and districts’ distance learning policies and programs. Perhaps most obvious is the amount of time that students are in synchronous, or in-the-moment, instruction with their teachers. In the majority of states and districts, the synchronous instructional time has been reduced to lighten the load on teachers, students, and families alike, all of whom are struggling to make distance learning work for them. Identifying differences in student experiences and outcomes has taken the education field by storm. In some states, there is additional funding tied to this effort.

Districts across the US are now endeavoring to identify the means with which to measure the differences in student experiences and outcomes. If they were to use the state’s content and language development standards to measure the outcomes of student academic learning and the development of language proficiency, the differences might be easier to identify. However, in response to the pandemic, many states cancelled or significantly modified their standards-based state content and language development assessments. Therefore, the states that cancelled the assessments have no data to compare, while the results from other states’ modified administrations cannot be compared to previous unmodified administrations of these assessments. The results from the current modified administrations will also not be able to be compared to future administrations of unmodified content and language development assessments when they resume. In addition, the impact that the pandemic has had on our students and families cannot and should not be dismissed when considering student learning and experiences over the last year. There are no standards that can measure the learning they have done to develop the resilience and perseverance necessary to survive the pandemic in the US. We are sailing in unnavigated waters here, trying to do the best by the students, but must be careful to not draw causation from correlation in analyzing the assessment data. Instead, the data should be used to identify, as best possible, where the students currently are with regard to their mastery of their grade level content and language development standards, with the understanding that this is only one aspect of who they are as students, one measure of many that should be considered.

Of particular significance is the impact distance learning has had on many of the dual language (DL) programs across the country. For those that stuck it out, your efforts to fully implement your language allocation plan (LAP)[1] in a distance learning context are to be applauded. For those who modified their LAP during this time, we need to honor their very difficult decision to do so. For those who did not have the capacity to continue their DL programs during distance learning, we must also be empathetic. We want to assume best intentions for all; a little grace and mercy is what has been getting us through this very challenging time…

But where does that leave us as our DL programs start to make plans to return to face-to-face instruction in the fall? Is it tenable to hold the students to the pre-pandemic LAP when indeed they may not have progressed at the same pace in their development of English and the partner language during distance learning as they likely would have if they had been in face-to-face instruction? How do we get everyone back on track to replicate the results promised in the DL research[2]?

Just as with the start of any new school year, it is not tenable to assume that all students in your class have mastered the grade-level content standards from the previous school year. Instead, teachers are charged with identifying where the students are at academically and doing their best to bring them forward in their ability to engage with and master the new grade level standards. This year will be no different, with teachers everywhere contemplating how they will be able to best support their students when they return to face-to-face instruction.

Especially challenging for DL teachers will be the difference between where their students are at in their development of English (in the case of English Learners) and the partner language (for partner language learners) upon their return to face-to-face instruction. Whereas in the past, a certain level of proficiency in both languages may have been expected in the students as they moved up from the previous grade level. However, this fall may find our DL students at a very different place, depending on how the LAP was addressed and the effect distance learning may have had on their ability to develop their proficiency in both languages. I would like to suggest that there are three factors to consider that may contribute to the difference in DL students’ language proficiency in the fall.

  • The first factor to consider that may contribute to the differences in students’ development of proficiency in English and the partner language is the DLI program model and if instruction in the partner language continued during distance learning. For students in 50:50 programs or for those in 90:10 programs that have reached the 50:50 level in the upper grades, distance learning may prove to be less of a factor in any differences in language proficiency, as instructional time should have been divided equally between English and the partner language. If the program model is 90:10, distance learning may have a greater impact on the students’ language development, especially for those in the primary grades (e.g., pre-Kindergarten to 3rd grade), where sequential literacy development focuses first on the development of literacy in the partner language and then, in the later grades, adds a focus on the development of literacy in English.[3] Students make significant gains in their development of proficiency in the partner language in the primary grades, and thus it will be important to recognize the growth in proficiency in both languages that they have made during distance learning, even if they have not advanced to the expected pre-pandemic levels upon arrival at the classroom door in the fall.
  • The second factor that may contribute to the differences in students’ development of proficiency in English and the partner language is how closely the LAP was followed during distance learning. Full implementation would likely have minimized the impact of distance learning on students’ development of proficiency in both languages. Many districts, for a multitude of reasons, modified their LAP, reducing the percentage of instructional time in the partner language and increasing the amount of time in English. Some districts moved from a DL program to a Foreign Language Elementary Experience (FLEX)[4] program, with a minimal (usually 10% or less) amount of instruction in the partner language. Still other districts suspended their DL programs and switched the students to 100% English instruction. It is the programs that modified their LAP, switched to FLEX, or suspended their DL programs that may find students arriving at the door of their DL classrooms in the fall at very different levels of proficiency in English and/or the partner language than previously expected pre-pandemic.
  • The final factor that may contribute to the difference in students’ development of proficiency in English and/or the partner language is the ability of the students’ families to support the development of one or both languages. Bilingual families would likely be able to support their children’s development of greater proficiency in English as well as the partner language. Thus, their children’s language differences may be less significant than in monolingual (English or partner language) families, where they likely would only be able to develop greater proficiency in one of the languages.[5] We are confident that all families of DL students are doing the best that they can during distance learning to support their children’s language development.

When any of these factors are present, it becomes evident that DL programs should not resume under their pre-pandemic LAP. Not included in these factors but equally important are the socioemotional needs of students who may feel unprepared to go into the next academic year with regard to their proficiency in English and/or the partner language (e.g., imagine the impact on a student going from a half a year of kindergarten [2019-2020 school year] and all of first grade [2020-2021 school year] in a distance learning DLI program offering 50:50 partner language to English instruction to a second grade classroom in the fall of 2021 that will be providing 80:20 partner language to English face-to-face instruction in alignment with its pre-pandemic LAP). Instead, DL programs should consider how to meet the students where they are at in their development of language proficiency in English and the partner language and move them forward to get back on track with their pre-pandemic LAP and to replicate the results promised in the research.

Some of the possible ways to meet the students where they are at in their proficiency in English and the partner language and move them forward in the fall include:

  • For students in 50:50 DL programs who continued with 50:50 instruction during distance learning
    • Consider continuing with the unmodified LAP (50:50), supporting students in their language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
    • Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
    • Offer tutoring outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages
  • For students in 50:50 DL programs whose LAP was modified to receive less instruction in the partner language
    • Consider continuing with the unmodified LAP (50:50), with strategic, differentiated instruction during regular class instruction to strengthen students’ language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
    • Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
    • Offer partner language development during the school day for partner language learners
    • Offer tutoring during and outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages
  • For students in 50:50 DL programs whose DL program was suspended during distance learning and were instead in 100% English instruction
    • Consider continuing with the unmodified LAP (50:50), with strategic, differentiated instruction during regular class instruction to strengthen students’ language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
    • Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
    • Offer partner language development during the school day for partner language learners
    • Offer tutoring outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages
  • For students in 90:10 DL programs who continued with instruction as per the LAP at each grade level during distance learning
    • Consider continuing with the unmodified LAP (90:10) for each grade level, supporting students in their language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
    • Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
    • Offer partner language development during the school day for partner language learners
    • Offer tutoring outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages
  • For students in pre-K through 3rd grade in 90:10 DL programs whose LAP was modified to receive less instruction in the partner language during distance learning
    • Consider modifying the LAP (90:10) for each grade level, supporting students in their language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
  • Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
  • Offer partner language development during the school day for partner language learners
  • Offer tutoring outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages
  • For students in 4th through 6th grade (end of elementary) in 90:10 DL programs whose LAP was modified to receive less instruction in the partner language during distance learning
    • Consider continuing with the unmodified LAP (likely that students will be at 50:50 by 4th grade), with strategic, differentiated instruction during regular class instruction to strengthen students’ language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
    • Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
    • Offer partner language development during the school day for partner language learners
    • Offer tutoring during and outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages
  • For students in 90:10 DL programs whose DL program was suspended during distance learning and were instead in 100% English instruction
    • Consider modifying the LAP (90:10) for each grade level, supporting students in their language development if they are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in English and/or the partner language
  • As we look forward to the fall and the hope that all will be returning to face-to-face instruction in their DL programs, we need to celebrate the commitment of families, students, teachers, sites, districts, and communities to support students toward pre-pandemic goals and expectations while at the same time honoring all the experiences and learning that each has done through this unprecedented time in education. We will be writing the pages of history as we move forward in transitioning back to the physical classroom. Pencils up! Begin!Be sure that English language development is offered during each school day for English Learners
  • Offer partner language development during the school day for partner language learners
  • Offer tutoring outside of classroom hours in English and the partner language for students who are not quite yet at the expected level of proficiency in either or both of the languages

Footnotes:

[1] A language allocation plan (LAP) identifies the percentage of time each day that is spent in each content area by language and summarizes the total daily or weekly percentage of instruction in English and the partner language. There should be a LAP for each grade level of the DL program.

[2] https://www.berkeleyschools.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/TWIAstounding_Effectiveness_Dual_Language_Ed.pdf?864d7e

[3] English Learners in DL programs should be receiving daily instruction in English Language Development (ELD), as per federal mandate in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

[4] More information can be found at https://www.cal.org/earlylang/progdev/reeves.html

[5] Among monolingual families, a pattern emerged in some DL programs of their children being withdrawn from the programs because they were not able to support their children’s language development in the second language.

[6] There may be implications for curriculum availability in the partner language, as it differs for many of these cohorts from the unmodified LAP.

[7] For elementary schools that go through the 6th grade

[8] There may be implications for curriculum availability in the partner language, as it differs for many of these cohorts from the unmodified LAP.

[9] For elementary schools that go through the 6th grade

Nicholls Educational Consulting

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