Distilling What’s Important: A Less-is-More Approach for Working with Multilingual Learners

Distilling What’s Important:
A Less-is-More Approach for Working with Multilingual Learners

by Cristian Solorza

Making math and literacy instruction accessible to MLLs/ELLs is always a complex, challenging, yet rewarding endeavor. This is particularly the case during a pandemic, where we must present language virtually, over the phone, and within take-home packets for students and their families. These extraordinary circumstances provide opportunities to reflect on how we may design responsive, practical, and sustainable ways to support MLLs/ELLs remotely.

In his blog, Mike Anderson suggests we “not confuse what or how we teach with why we teach.” He asks, “What is your why?” Amid all the overwhelming emotions we experience during this pandemic, our why helps us “pivot our what and how in times of change.” Anderson reminds us that “the what and the how are means to an end, not ends in and of themselves.” If we plan solely within the constraints of the whats and hows of curricular demands, it can be difficult to respond flexibly to the diverse needs of our students.

When we engage in collaborative curricular decision-making we can differentiate the whats and hows for MLL/ELL students. In times of crisis, reduction and revision of curricular demands are necessary if already overwhelmed teachers are to design effective adaptations for language learners at home. Making deliberate choices about language and translating lots of new curricular material is exhausting. However, teachers are better able to sustain their creative juices for designing MLL/ELL adaptations with a less is more approach to curriculum, and by strongly holding onto their whys.

We acknowledge that developing new curricular material and designing adaptations for ELLs is time-consuming. Therefore, this update offers practical tools for translating virtual lessons and take-home packets, and for sending multilingual communications to families over the phone. In addition, we provide multilingual math and literary resources for families to engage with at home.


Translation Support

  • Talking Points offers free licenses to send Web/text messages to families in their home languages. Teachers can create messages in English and families will receive translated messages on their phones. Parents also have talk-to-text features to reply to teachers.
  • Google Translate
    • Upload documents to translate them in over 100 languages.
    • Within Google Docs, translate your document by going to the “tools” tab, then “translate document.
    • Use the Google Translate App on phones/iPads for voice-to-text, text-to-speak, and point the camera to translate any published texts in real-time.
  • Bilingual glossaries in 10 languages for elementary school, middle school, and high school ELA and content areas (e.g., mathematics, science, and social studies).

Math Resources

  • Parent Toolkit provides parents with short instructional videos on preschool–high school grade-specific math/ELA content. The videos are in English and Spanish.
  • 3-Act Math video clips visually demonstrate elementary math concepts without language. Teachers can supplement these “silent” videos by translating the suggested directions and question prompts.
  • My Homeschool Project YouTube Channel provides many wonderful videos about various mathematical topics. The videos are in Spanish but the YouTube videos have the “auto-translate” subtitle setting enabled to translate in many languages.

Multilingual Books

Praising Students’ Home Languages

Many parents underestimate the value of their home language(s) and worry that they won’t be able to help their children at home. We must explicitly remind them that their home language(s) are essential academic and emotional resources for their children. MyLanguage.ca provides wonderful guides in 25 languages for parents to “HOLD onto your HOME LANGUAGE!

Other resources for teachers that include many wonderful embedded links include

The contents of this blog post were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0  

Math for All is a professional development program that brings general and special education teachers together to enhance their skills in
planning and adapting mathematics lessons to ensure that all students achieve high-quality learning outcomes in mathematics.

Our Newsletter Provides Ideas for Making High-Quality Mathematics Instruction Accessible to All Students
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