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In this blog post on virtual teacher education, we discuss how to help teacher candidates vicariously experience classroom life when limited to online sources. When teaching our teacher candidates face to face, we like to lift up practitioner voices by having ESL teachers and administrators visit our classes as guest speakers and by having teacher candidates observe and teach in classrooms with multilingual students.
What do we do when we can’t be physically in the same space with teachers, observing and discussing effective practices for multilingual learners?
Teachers hold knowledge, experience, and expertise—and, in our experience as teacher educators, teacher candidates deeply appreciate learning directly from practitioners. Hearing directly from practicing teachers in the field is important for teacher candidates to be able to make connections between the theories and strategies they learn in our classes and the realities of everyday classroom life. However, when this is not possible, we can still incorporate practicing teachers’ voices into our instruction via blogs, vlogs, and podcasts.
Learning About Current Issues in Teaching Using Blogs
Posts, videos, and podcasts created by teachers are a great way for us as teacher educators to show our teacher candidates that the strategies we teach in our courses are not theoretical or impractical—both criticisms that we’re sure other teacher educators receive as well. For example, take the blog series titled Inspiring English Language Learners, which is written by Emily Francis, a high school ESL teacher in Concord, North Carolina, USA. She blogs several times a month about topics ranging from multicultural book talks to parent meetings to strategies for newcomers. Emily also blogs in Spanish, and shares video clips of both her classroom strategies and her various speaking engagements.
The Boosting Achievement ESL Podcast by Carla Salva features ESL teachers discussing work they are currently doing in their classrooms; for example, in one episode, teachers discuss strategies for welcoming a newcomer who joins in the middle of the school year. The Boosting Achievement ESL Podcast also engages directly with listeners on current events: A more recent episode featured Carla and Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa taking live calls to discuss the role of educators in addressing racial equity.
Started by a former middle school language arts teacher Jennifer Gonzalez, the Cult of Pedagogy website features posts by Jennifer and other creators. Most of the posts provide useful tips for teaching in general, but some are specific to teaching multilingual learners. We especially like to include this blog post that breaks down the WIDA Can Do descriptors as required reading when learning about language objectives.
We also recommend a blog called Elementary English Language Learners, written by Valentina Gonzalez, a professional development specialist for the Katy Independent School District in Texas. We especially like Valentina’s infographics, which summarize many of the topics in her blog in a colorful and succinct manner. In our teacher education classrooms, we might have teacher candidates create similar infographics to summarize their learning.
A YouTuber known as the Language Lady discusses many relevant and current topics—including, most recently, how to teach multilingual students online. Besides offering a concrete look at how a strategy might work in a classroom, resources like these also allow us to offer our teacher candidates multimodal and even multilingual ways of learning—thereby modeling what they should in turn be doing in their future classrooms.
Teacher blogs and especially vlogs are also useful for illustrating what actual classroom environments for multilingual students can and should look like. For example, a blog post on interactive word walls written by Valentina for the Unstoppable EL Teacher blog on the middle-school focused website MiddleWeb discusses how word walls function as tools for building content vocabulary, prewriting, and differentiation. The post also features several photos of word walls. Using Valentina’s post as a model, teacher candidates can draw a design for a word wall and come up with a strategy for using it in instruction.
The YouTuber Everything AJA has a channel where she shares a video of her elementary school classroom, talking through her classroom library, which she has organized by reading level and topic, and how she has labeled items around the room. When watching a vlog like this with our teacher candidates, we might ask them to pay attention to the features of the classroom that are beneficial to multilingual students and think about what could be improved. For example, we might discuss how AJA’s classroom labels and well-organized library promote students’ engagement with literacy, but also point out how multilingual labels and books might be added to create a more linguistically responsive classroom environment.
¡Colorín Colorado!, a great resource in general for ESL and bilingual education instruction, has a classroom video library that features practicing teachers discussing and implementing standards-based lessons for multilingual learners. Each lesson also includes access to the lesson materials. These resources could be used to introduce teacher candidates to teaching strategies in action and lessons that are designed specifically with multilingual learners in mind.
Finally, for keeping up to date on current events and policies impacting multilingual learners in the United States, we recommend subscribing to the New America’s English Learner Program.
Learning More About Multilingual Students
In our last post, we discussed using online language portraits of multilingual learners to show our teacher candidates the variety that exist in this student population. It is also useful to have teacher candidates hear how practitioners and researchers discuss students and their varied backgrounds and abilities. For example, The ELLevation EL Community’s Highest Aspirations podcast series includes episodes that feature multilingual education scholars discussing research in an approachable way, such as an episode with Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, which discusses English learners with dyslexia.
Similarly, the International Consortium for Multilingual Excellence in Education hosts a podcast, ¡Hablamos!, where a teacher candidate interviews multilingual education educators and researchers. The Codeswitch podcast is a great resource for critical and up-to-date discussions on current events particularly as they relate to historically marginalized communities. In a 2017 episode, In Search of Puerto Rican Identity in Small-Town America, teacher candidates who work with Puerto Rican students and families can learn more about the Puerto Rican diaspora and experience. This is especially useful in our context in Massachusetts, where there is a particularly large number of families with Puerto Rican heritage in the western part of the state. Teacher candidates in other states might benefit from following the Reading in the Borderlands blog, which discusses students in the Rio Grande Valley area, or reading Sirad Shirdon’s blog post that describes culturally-responsive approaches for working with Somali children.
Integrating Blogs, Vlogs, and Podcasts Into Teacher Education
In our courses, we integrate these contemporary resources in a variety of ways. Blog posts and podcast episodes are often paired with a textbook passage and/or peer-reviewed journal article about the same topic or strategy for required reading before a class session. In addition to showing video clips in class, we can also use vlogs for asynchronous activities in courses that are delivered entirely online or remotely.
The use of audio and visual media in our courses is an engaging and interactive way to both bring teacher voice into our courses and also invite teacher candidates into practicing teachers’ classrooms.