Waterbury Teachers Find Creative Ways to Educate English Learners Virtually

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Teachers in Waterbury are trying to be more resourceful and creative when it comes to educating children who do not speak English as a first language.

There are more than 2,800 English learners in the district, according to school officials. Spanish and Albanian are the other dominant languages in the city.

“As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher you’re very dramatic, you act things out, you color code, you put things in two different languages sometimes to make sure that students are understanding what you’re saying,” said Pamela Loh, a teacher at Wilby High School.

Students in Waterbury Public Schools are simultaneously learning on the computer in class and at home.

The biggest challenges English learners often face is interpreting the directions, Loh said. So it takes extra effort and one-on-one support to make sure the lessons are understood.

Katerine Plaza, who teaches English learners at Crosby High School, has been using different computer extensions to allow students to use emojis and express if they understand what she’s saying. Even though the students are missing out on collaborating in the classroom together, Plaza found a way to do it on the computer.

“I can pull up a PDF document and we can all work in the same document. They can put drawings, they can even draw in there. It’s a good source and tool to apply for our hands-on activity,” said Plaza.

Wearing a mask can also pose another challenge for English learners.

“When you’re an ESL teacher, you’re also teaching pronunciation, so you want them to be able to look at how to say something,” said Loh.

Loh has an accommodation to teach in the library, separate from her students, so she can remove her mask for the lesson, while Plaza is trying her best to articulate more clearly and takes extra time to follow-up with students to make sure they understand.

Another tool Loh found to be successful in engaging students is Flipgrid. It’s a free website that teachers all across the country can use.

“You give a question and the students have to respond. It’s a very brief video for them, they can retake it as many times as they want to and then their classmates are able to view and comment on that as well,” Loh said. “It’s a great way to get them going without putting them on the spot in the middle of a live class.”

In this new age of virtual learning, it is all about teachers sharing ideas with each other and working as a team with their students to provide the best possible education, according to Plaza.

“We are learning together, we are doing our best and we are putting our most effort that we can to help students and to help us as teachers as well,” said Plaza.

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