Improving Remote Learning Outcomes for Multilingual Students

Remote learning may seem like a thing of the not-so-distant past for many in countries that are no longer following lockdown or shelter-in-place measures. Still, there are a handful of countries who remain in lockdown, and with COVID-19 cases trending upward globally, there’s a decent chance other countries will follow suit and re-launch the impromptu Zoom classrooms.

Taking classes online can be particularly difficult for young students whose first language isn’t the language of instruction — after all, it’s hard enough to concentrate on Zoom classes in a language you speak fluently. Still, research on how remote learning affects such students is lacking, compared to general studies of how remote learning affects all students. In Australia, one nation where remote learning remains widespread amid COVID-19-related concerns, a team of education researchers has been trying to fill in the gaps in order to better accommodate learners of English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D).


“We know from a range of studies that, even in the most favourable conditions, the reality of remote learning has often had a negative impact on students’ learning and well-being,” write the researchers in an article for The Conversation. “Although the information about what works for online teaching is expanding, EAL/D-specific information is lacking”

In their article, the researchers spoke with numerous teachers across Australia who are working with English-learning students during the pandemic, to get a better idea of how to alleviate some of the unique struggles these students face. According to the article, it’s particularly important for teachers to make especial accommodations to ease remote learning for English learners, by prioritizing students’ well-being (something the researchers note is “a prerequisite for real engagement in remote learning”) and creating in-depth, easily accessible learning resources.

Additionally, many of the educators interviewed for the research project noted that when they employed strategies meant to accommodate EAL/D learners for the entire class, even the monolingual English speakers benefited from such teaching.

“A final key message is the importance of viewing EAL/D learners through an asset rather than a deficit lens. A deficit lens tends to frame students for what is “lacking” (English proficiency) and overlooks the rich linguistic and cultural repertoires of these students,” the researchers conclude. “The notion of plurilingual competencies, where students are supported to use all their language knowledge to engage in learning, is a recent addition to the EAL curriculum in Victoria.”

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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