Microsoft Teams, a lifeline for English Language Learners during remote learning

Immersive Reader Dictionary interface

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From time to time, we feature stories about Changemakers, educators who are making a difference in the lives of students around the world. Today’s Changemaker blog was written by Luis Oliveira, Director of Unified Arts and ELL Teacher at Middletown High School in Middletown, Rhode Island.

We were sent home on Friday, March 13, because of the coronavirus and were told that we had a week to revamp how we deliver curriculum. Many teachers were apprehensive, but I felt comfortable since my English Language Learners had been using technology tools all year long. But boy, was I wrong in thinking the transition would be relatively easy.

Many of my students didn’t have internet or had poor connections, which made the first week of remote learning extremely difficult. My days consisted of multiple phone calls, emails, home visits and of course, communication through Microsoft Teams with the students I could reach. Those students were able to pass on information to their classmates who didn’t have access. Little by little, thankfully, everyone came online. However, this took almost two full weeks. Once all the students were online, our reality got so much better. We were back to using our usual tools and being able to connect daily.

To say that Microsoft Teams has been a life saver is an understatement. Even with everyone connected, we’ve had to adapt and adjust. No longer can I run into a student in the hallway or during Advisory and remind them to turn in an assignment. Everything now must be done online through digital communication tools. This is where the amazing features of Teams have come in handy.

We meet daily for class using Teams Meetings. This gives us the chance to connect face to face in a safe environment. The students can turn on captions to see the text of what is being said, play back a recording of the lesson or conversation as needed, and use the private channels option in Teams for small group work. I can assign students to groups, and different groups can meet and collaborate simultaneously. I monitor their progress by moving from group to group and joining their conversations.

I also send the students assignments in Teams. In the Assignments area, the students have the full power of the Immersive Reader and all its amazing features at their fingertips. This includes the Picture Dictionary, line focus, read aloud, and the ability to translate their work into more than 60 languages. I can send the assignment in English, and each student can translate the assignment into their first language. The students can translate the prompts and questions without needing to open a translation tool. Understanding what they are being asked to do enables students to show what they know.   

The Immersive Reader is also available in OneNote Class Notebook, which is integrated into Teams. My English Learners are using the translation and read-back features to complete my assignments as well as their work in other classes. The Immersive Reader has also helped me connect with our international families. I have used it to translate documents to send to parents, such as the grab-and-go food pickup instructions, the form for requesting laptops and hotspots, and the instructions for activating the hotspots. Having these translated documents has given families access to resources that might have otherwise been unattainable. The developers of the translation tools probably never thought that their creations would be used in the ways we’re using them now, given our current situation.

Microsoft Teams has been my preferred tool for all my remote teaching and trainings. When I’m working with teachers, I make sure they are aware of the amazing features found in Teams. These include collaboration tools, communication tools, and translation tools. The accessibility features in Teams are second to none. Furthermore, I can add Flipgrid topics, Wakelet collections, Forms, and Newsela articles, among others, directly into Teams. This makes it easier for my students because it requires only one sign in instead of a different one for each program. The Immersive Reader can be used with all these resources within Teams.

Teams is an all-encompassing tool that evens the playing field for my English Language Learners. It was my go-to tool when my students were in front of me, and now it has become my lifeline to make sure that they have full access and opportunity. They deserve nothing less.

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