Like classrooms around the world that are innovating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute is bringing distance learning and a virtual sense of community to New Americans. Eager to learn and socialize, our English students are logging on from as near as St. Paul to as far away as Iraq.
Rather than copy-pasting our existing structures onto digital platforms, our English for Work team wanted to design materials that would meet students’ current needs and adapt to new mediums. To create this responsive programming, we first reached out to students using a variety of tools, including phone calls, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, the Remind app, social media and our website.
We started with questions like:
- What kind of phone and internet access do our students have?
- What is their digital literacy level?
- What classes are most relevant to them at this point in time?
After compiling this information, we decided to change our class structure from four-hour blocks of English to an alternating schedule of one-hour classes that are grammar or skills-based (pronunciation, writing, reading, conversation), as well as open question time. For students whose digital literacy skills are less developed, we are reaching those learners through tailor-made YouTube videos and phone calls.
Our teachers report that students have enjoyed their online classes so far and, given that many are separated from their families in other countries, these sessions can help New Americans feel less isolated. Of course there are technology hiccups to overcome, but our teachers and students are tackling them together.
“You are doing an excellent job giving many options to continue our learning. I hope that some of the online classes will remain an option after the situation normalizes. Thank you so much!” -English student
On Monday, one of our students who is visiting family in Iraq joined in on an Advanced Grammar class, which was “a cool silver lining to meeting for class online rather than in the physical classroom!” instructor Emily Richardson noted.
On Wednesday, at the end of our Beginning Grammar class, the students “were all talking over each other and checking on each other in six different languages,” Emily Livingston reported, and one student even Zoomed in from Turkey. Like all of us, our students are striving to keep connections alive as we navigate this new, sometimes lonely, terrain.
“Thank you for encouraging us to continue to learn.” -English student
“We are really excited to continue this programming, even after our physical building reopens,” says Livingston, “because we have found that students who have barriers to attending a physical class are now able to attend online classes. So this is a new, exciting opportunity to engage with those learners in a meaningful way.”