Supporting Families of ELs During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Educators of English learners (ELs) are teaching remotely all over the globe. Many educators reported on a 20 April #ellchat entitled “Engaging & Supporting Families of ELLs during COVID-19 Pandemic” that their success is dependent on the partnerships they make with the families of their ELs. Without these partnerships, teachers may have difficulty contacting their students and their families or, once contacted, students may not come to class regularly. Here are some ways that you can engage and support the families of ELs:

Find Ways to Communicate With Families of ELs

The most prominent difficulty that teachers have mentioned during #ellchat is communicating with parents who do not have internet—reaching students who are not showing up to their online meetings during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to schools that they need to keep up-to-date contact information for the families of their ELs.  As I mentioned in my last blog, one way to make a first contact with EL families is to ask their friends if they have contact information. Many teachers recommend texting as the best way to keep in touch with families and use  Talking Points as a means of communication that helps them make connections in many different languages. If family members are working, they can get back to you at their leisure.

Provide Key Information About School Closings, Remote Learning, and Family Services

Karen Nemeth, a nationally known expert on early childhood education, told Colorín Colorado, ‘Our dual-language learners (or ELs) and their families need more than lists of resources about the Coronavirus. They need trusted contacts to help them understand, to sort fact from myths, and to help them get needed services.” Teachers have also found that many of their EL families were unaware of the information that was coming from their school district about remote learning, offers of devices, or opportunities for free Wifi service from local providers or through hotspots purchased by the school district. Here is an article from Colorín Colorado about access to basic COVID-19 information. I’d like to take this opportunity to applaud the breadth  and depth of support that Colorín Colorado has given to parents and teachers on their website during this pandemic. They have provided an invaluable resource to all of us.

Support and Engage Family Members as They Help Their Children Learn Remotely

If family members are working from home or have lost their jobs, it doesn’t mean that they are able to help their children learn without a lot of teacher support. Whatever online platform your school uses, be sure to provide basic support information about it. For example, if your school is using Google Classroom, suggest a video that EL families can watch on their phone to demonstrate how to log in, and direct families to use the Google Classroom support functions (which is also available in Spanish).

Assure EL families that they can and should speak their first language at home and that they can work with their children remotely in their home languages. Remember the Cummins Iceberg Model? I used to teach this model to parents so they didn’t feel uncomfortable that they couldn’t support their children’s education by speaking English at home.  It shows parents that if students learn something in their home language, that information will transfer to English.

Provide Ideas for Activities That Parents Can Do With Their Children

I’ve been listening to teachers who are stressed because they are trying to teach their face-to-face curriculum to their students online. I think that on the elementary level, children should be assigned projects that encompass reading, language, science, and social studies.  These projects should be designed so that they can be supported by parents in either English or their home language.

Here are a few examples of virtual tours and science experiments that can be the basis of projects for ELs and their families.

Be a cheerleader, celebrating what learning families accomplish rather than bemoaning what they haven’t been able to handle. Here is a video from Sesame Street that demonstrates this idea.


Have you found any particularly successful or innovative ways to connect with your EL families lately? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Please share in the comments, below.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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