The Importance of Student Involvement When Learning Online

By Mario Herrera

“Give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results.” – John Dewey

Correct teaching strategies and structures actively engage students in many ways. They should be hands-on, interactive, and generative by nature, encouraging students to critique, construct, and produce knowledge through meaningful involvement. In the classroom, students teach each other; they develop new knowledge with teachers as co-learners. Because teachers are following the principles of Assessment for Learning (or they should), they are continuously analyzing and synthesizing what their students are doing. Therefore, conducting a more adequate, efficient, and reliable process allows them to decide interventions as they go, and thus also learn. But what if this process is applied online? How can we keep the interaction and generative nature of students alive and well, so they can continue being the engine that allows them to get involved, interact, critique, construct and produce in a meaningful, proactive way? This article explores the options we have.

Now that we are so avidly busy teaching online, what about the learners?

Dependent vs. independent learners

Dependent learners don’t do well online, but because it is not for the teacher to choose, he/she must promote independence as the ongoing learning style. They both need to understand that to be successful in online courses, they need to include a process in which learners will have to act in more independent ways compared to what is common in in-person sessions. Teachers have to design activities with learners working on their own, and students need to learn to be more responsible in independent scenarios. Although teachers can only do so much online, many times, their teaching can have more positive repercussions on students’ learning than if they were teaching them in-person. Teachers need to know how to design activities that will carry their students from just attending a session to carrying on unsupervised activities with the caveat that they should not be challenging to assess.

Keeping learners involved

To engage your students, always remember to segment the presentation of your teaching activities into shorter sequences and regularly check comprehension by asking quick questions that test whether students understood the key point in each of the short segments. Remember to keep the interaction going. Always give examples and use gestures and your tone of voice to present. Go through those examples step-by-step. Also, maximize access to material for all students. Assigning offline tasks is also a great way to engage students who don’t always have mobile devices or internet access, or who can’t sit still in front of a screen for too long. When students bring their schoolwork into the real world, they practice self-directed learning and build valuable skills. Plus, you might be surprised at your students’ creativity!

When planning, always ask yourself if there’s enough call for creativity. The more you set up your students to being creative, the more attentive they will be.

There are two broad categories of activities to keep in mind when wanting to keep our learners involved with online classes:

  1. While the students are sitting in front of their screens participating in a class.
  2. When the session is over but not the lesson per se.  

The best way to present a concept is by showing examples and describing them. Let’s explore the possibilities of involving students when taught online, using a reading activity from Big English, level 3. The analysis that follows the story will be more useful if we first read it.

Big English: Story

1. While the students are sitting in front of their screens participating in a class.

chart: while students are sitting in front of their screens participating

2. When the session is over but not the lesson itself

Parents’ role in involving students appropriately

Parents can be your greatest ally in this “new normal.” Connect with them early and often to send home assignments, share login info for any online platforms students need to use, and find out what kind of resources students have available to them.  It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Like everybody else, parents are overwhelmed, and many feel ill-equipped to support their child’s learning at home. When you make it clear you’re available to support them in any way you can, they’re more likely to become active participants in their child’s learning. Turn it into a win-win situation!


Big English, a six-level English program for primary school learners, delivers comprehensive English language acquisition alongside CLIL and broader life skills, supported by unique online digital teacher and student resources.


Mario Herrera has a degree in education and an MA in EFL. He has taught English for more than 30 years at all levels, from young children to adults. He is the author and co-author of many acclaimed ESL/EFL series that are used in levels ranging from pre-primary to junior high schools, including Big English and Backpack. As an international consultant and teacher trainer, Mario Herrera travels the globe, directing seminars and delivering professional development workshops throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Navigating the Covid-19 Relief: CARES Act and CRRSAA Funding for K-12, Higher Education, and Adult Education

Research conducted by Barry Katzen.

Online teaching

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) was signed into law on December 27, 2020. It was the second round of Federal Covid Relief, following the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020.

This report aims at unpacking the CARES Act and CRRSAA, highlighting specific elements of the law, and understanding what it means for K-12, adult, and higher education, specifically in relation to English language learning and technology.

We also want to renew our commitment to supporting educators in navigating the “new normal” of remote teaching and providing the best solutions that will not only engage students in learning but also ensure they progress and reach desired outcomes and milestones.

Overview and Funding Amounts

CARES Act

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law. The funding includes an Education Stabilization Fund totaling $30.75 billion. The breakdown in funding is as follows:

  • The Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Fund) received 9.8% of the funding, or $2,953,230,00.
  • The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I Fund) received 43.9% of the funding, or $13,229,265,000.
  •  The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) received 46.3% of the funding, or $13,952,505,000.

The GEER funds are distributed to governors to be spent as seen fit to meet the needs of students and schools (K-12, colleges/universities, and other education-related entities).

ESSER funds go directly to State Education Agencies (SEAs) based on Title 1 proportions.

HEERF funds go directly to colleges and universities (Institutions of Higher Education – IHEs) based on formulas described in the Higher Education section below.

CRRSAA

On December 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) was signed into law. The stimulus package includes an additional $81.88 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund, with dollars available through September 30, 2022. There is a  set-aside of 1% evenly split between the outlying areas (such as Guam and the US Virgin Islands) and the Bureau of Indian Education.

The remaining $81,061,200,000 is again split among three funds:

  • GEER receives 5% of the funding, or $4,053,060,000.
  • ESSER II receives 67% of the funding, or $54,311,004,000.
  • HEERF II receives 28% of the funding, or $22,697,136,000.

This chart summarizes the funding components:

Funding components of the Covid relief

K-12 (and Adult Ed Programs Run at K-12 Facilities)

The Education Department awards the K-12 grants ­to State Education Agencies (SEAs) for the purpose of providing Local Education Agencies (LEAs) – including charter schools that are LEAs – with emergency relief funds to address the impact that Covid-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation.

ESSER and ESSER II funds were awarded to states based on the proportion of funding each state received under Part A of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended in fiscal year 2020.

There is a maintenance of effort requirement for the GEER and ESSER funds. To receive funding, a state must provide assurances that it will maintain support for elementary and secondary education and for higher education for fiscal 2022 at a level of spending at least proportional to overall state spending averaged over fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Allowable Activities

ESSER and ESSER II provide district leaders with broad authority over both the targeting of funds to specific schools and the use of funds more broadly.

LEAs may use their funds for any of the following categories depending on local needs (note: text in bold emphasizes categories that are specifically related to English language learning):

Any activity allowed under the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) Including Title I-A, Title I-C (Migrant Education), Title I-D (Neglected and Delinquent Students), Title II-A, Title III-A (English Language Learners), Title IV-A, Title IV-B 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Title V-B REAP (SRSA and RLIS), Title VI-A (Indian Education), Title VII (Impact Aid)

Any activity allowed under the following federal education acts:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act)
  • McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act
  • Adult Education and Family Literacy Act
  • Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, Support, and Assistance Act

The ESSER II guidelines added the following allowable activities:

Addressing learning loss among students, including low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care, of the local education agency, including by—

  • Administering and using high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable, to accurately assess students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic needs, including through differentiating instruction;
  • Implementing evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students;
  • Providing information and assistance to parents and families on how they can effectively support students, including in a distance learning environment; and
  • Tracking student attendance and improving student engagement in distance education.

The chart below summarizes all allowable activities – note the relevant activities that are circled:

  • activities authorized under the Adult Family and Literacy Act;
  • activities to address the unique needs of English learners;
  • purchasing education technology for students;
  • providing online learning;
  • Implementing summer learning and after school programs.
Full set of allowable activities.
Source: https://www.wallacefoundation.org/news-and-media/blog/pages/the-cares-act.aspx

Adult Education

The following are relevant examples of allowable activities relating to Adult Education in K-12 districts, in particular activities allowable under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act:

  • Family literacy activities that include the four required components
  • High school equivalency preparation for students ages 17+ who are not currently enrolled in secondary school
  • Materials/Supplies in support of adult education services
  • Software/Technology in support of adult education services
  • Professional development for adult education instructors

GEER Funds

According to the Hunt Institute, some governors are using the GEER funds for K-12 activities that are specifically relevant to English language learning. For example, thirty-five governors are designating GEERF money for curriculum and teacher training to deliver remote learning. Oklahoma has established grants to families for tutoring and online curriculum as well as expanded its virtual AP offerings. Missouri is developing training for educators that will “address the technical and instructional expertise” needed for remote teaching. This training will include the unique needs of students with disabilities, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students, and students from racial and ethnic minorities. See details at https://hunt-institute.org/covid-19-resources/geer-fund-utilization/

Application Process

Only State Education Agencies (SEAs) in the 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia apply directly to the Department for ESSER funds. School districts (LEAs) must apply to the relevant SEA. Every SEA must use at least 90% of its ESSER Fund grant to make subgrants to LEAs by formula based on FY 2019 Title I, Part A allocations.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has developed a very useful Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker which provides (a) links for LEAs to apply for funding (subgrants) in each state, (b) ESSER I and ESSER II allocations to each state, and (c) plans announced by each state’s SEA.

ESSER funds are available through September 30, 2022; the SEA deadline for awarding funds is May 2021.

ESSER II funds are available through September 30, 2023; the SEA deadline for awarding funds is January 2022.

This diagram shows the timeline for using ESSER funds from the CARES Act (ESSER I):

Time for using ESSER funds from the CARES Act

The following chart illustrates the timeline for ESSER II funds:

The timeline of ESSER II funds

Associated Documentation for K-12

This chart provides an overview of the CARES Act ESSER funds allocated to each state:

ESSER-Fund-State-Allocations-Table.pdf

See this chart for an overview of the ESSER II funds allocated to each state: Final_ESSERII_Methodology_Table_1.5.21.pdf

Higher Education

HEERF grants are allotted directly to Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs). Institutions are required to provide at least 50% as emergency aid to students, as was required by the CARES Act. Institutions with approved applications from the CARES distribution are not required to submit a new or revised application.

Under the CARES Act, 90% of HEERF grants ($12,557,254,500) were allocated to institutions based on the proportion of two student populations compared with those student population totals nationwide before the onset of the pandemic, weighted as follows:

  • 75% for full-time-equivalent Pell students not in distance education only
  • 25% for full-time-equivalent non-Pell students not in distance education only

HEERF II uses a different formula for allocating funds to public and private nonprofit institutions. The formula below accounts for both full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment and headcount — a change from the CARES Act formula, which only factored in full-time enrollment.

  • 37.5% based on FTE enrollment of Pell recipients who were not exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the qualifying emergency;
  • 37.5% based on headcount enrollment of Pell recipients who were not exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the qualifying emergency;
  • 11.5% based on FTE enrollment of non-Pell recipients who were not exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the qualifying emergency;
  • 11.5% based on headcount enrollment of non-Pell recipients who were not exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the qualifying emergency;
  • 1% based on FTE enrollment of Pell recipients who were exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the qualifying emergency; and
  • 1% based on headcount of Pell recipients who were exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the qualifying emergency.

IHEs have one calendar year from the date of their award to expend funds unless the institution receives a no-cost extension.

Allowable Activities

Colleges have more flexibility in how they can use HEERF II funds than they did under the CARES Act. These expanded allowable activities apply both to new funds distributed under the omnibus bill and any unspent CARES Act funds. Institutions are still required to spend at least 50% of any unspent CARES Act funds on emergency student aid.

Colleges and universities can use the HEERF II funds to:

  • Defray expenses associated with Covid (including lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology (hardware and software) costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll);
  • Carry out student support activities authorized by the HEA that address needs related to Covid; or
  • Provide financial aid grants to students (including students exclusively enrolled in distance education), which may be used for any component of the student’s cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to Covid, such as tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care), or child care. Note that this financial aid can be used for emergency grants to help students meet urgent needs, such as technology.

In both the CARES Act (HEERF) and in CRRSAA (HEERF II), 7.5% of the HEERF total funding is reserved for Historically Black Colleges & Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions. (NOTE: Minority-Serving Institutions include institutions that would be eligible to participate in the following programs: Predominantly Black Institutions, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions, Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, and Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans.)

Application Process

The Education Department extended the application deadline for HEERF I grants under the CARES Act until September 30, 2020. Applications are no longer being accepted for HEERF I funds.

For institutions that received HEERF I funds, applications are not required to receive supplemental awards under HEERF II.

Public and nonprofit Institutions that did not previously receive CARES Act funding must submit their applications for the CRRSAA student aid portion and institutional portion of Section 314(a)(1) funds by April 15, 2021. (See detailed information at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/crrsaa.html )

All HEERF grants must be spent by September 30, 2022.

All HEERF II grants must be spent by September 30, 2023.

Associated Documentation

See this site for state-by-state information on CARES Act funds awarded to LEAs and colleges/universities: https://covid-relief-data.ed.gov/

See this file, which shows the CARES Act (HEERF) allocations to colleges and universities. Also see this file, which shows the CRRSAA (HEERF II) allocations to colleges and universities.

Supporting English Language Learners in the Time of Covid-19

Due to school closures, many English language learners lost opportunities to learn and practice their new language, and programs have struggled to create a rich and engaging environment for their students. Pearson’s commitment to providing the best solutions for English language learners of all ages is unwavering. From top-notch English language materials and digital platforms and resources to teacher support and guidance, we are excited to partner with schools and programs to ensure that learning continues despite recent disruptions.

We have materials and solutions that delight and engage learners, work well in the online or hybrid setting, and can help you address the needs of your learners and ensure they progress on their path to full proficiency.

Reach out to us for more details and product demos. Locate your specialist here.

Visit our Covid-19 support site where you can find resources for moving instruction online.

5 Halloween-Themed Activities for Your Young English Learners

image of pumpkins

It’s almost Halloween and the ghosts and vampires will soon be coming out to play! Did you know that although we often associate Halloween with pumpkin carving and eating candy, the festival has much older origins?

Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival which celebrates the end of the harvest and the start of winter. This is why people often associate the colors of orange and black with Halloween: orange is the color many leaves turn in autumn and black is the color of the darker winter months.

People used to believe that spirits walked the Earth on the night of Samhain. The tradition of dressing up as ghosts and demons started as a way to hide from the spirits who walked the streets. Similarly, people used to leave treats outside their houses for the spirits and from this came the tradition of trick-or-treating.

It’s always fun to engage with students in Halloween activities to get them into the Halloween spirit while they learn English. Even though many programs are teaching remotely during the Covid crisis, we can still engage in fun Halloween activities. Here are a few ideas to get students playing and learning, even when remote.

1. Who or What Am I?

In this activity students will practice using descriptive words and learning Halloween vocabulary. Search images online that include Halloween imagery (jack-o-lantern, pumpkin, ghost, black cat, bat, vampire, etc.) Email each student one picture ahead of the class. During class, give each student one to two minutes to describe their picture to the class without telling others what it is. The student who first guesses the object correctly gets a point. Play until everyone described their object. After each guess is completed, you can show the picture to everyone on your shared screen. The student with the most points wins the game.

2. Pumpkin Oranges

Pumpkin carving is fun – but it’s also messy and pumpkins can be really heavy! Instead, have students use an orange and a black marker! Get them to draw a scary face on their orange and then write a short text describing it. Here’s an example you can share with your students:

pumpkin orange

My pumpkin orange, Ghoulie, has two big eyes. He’s got a small nose and a big mouth, with lots of teeth. This Halloween, he’s going to sit outside my house. He’s going to scare people but he doesn’t scare me! I think he’s very funny!

3. Let’s Play Halloween Bingo!

This is a great activity to review the Halloween vocabulary. Email students a blank bingo board or have them draw one on a piece of paper. Then have them draw Halloween items, one for each box. You might want to give them some ideas, such as ghost, black cat, pumpkin, bat, etc. Then play bingo, calling out different Halloween-related words. Students listen and mark their boards if they have the item that was called out. The first person with five in a row wins the game.

4. Halloween Theater

This activity will let your students be creative while they are practicing modals. Put students in small groups, and give each group a scary scenario. For example: Frankenstein has stolen your lunch. A big black hairy spider is chasing you. A vampire asked you to go for a walk with him. Have the groups discuss what they would do in each situation. Encourage them to use modal verbs (should, could, would). Then have groups share their ideas with the rest of the class.

5. Tell a Scary Story

Have the class create a scary story. Students take turns adding one sentence to the story. For example, Student 1: One night I was home alone when the lights went out. Student 2, All of a sudden, I heard a big bang coming from the basement. Continue until everyone contributed to the story. For a larger class, you might want to put students in groups to work on their story, write it down, and then present to the whole class. You might also want to give students sentence starters or some vocabulary to get them going.

Secondary School Remote Learning Solutions with the Side by Side Extra eTexts

By Bill Bliss and Steven J. Molinsky

This is a back-to-school season like no other. Many school systems are either delaying openings, remaining fully remote through the fall, or reopening partially with limited attendance, smaller class sizes, staggered schedules, and hybrid instruction in order to follow social distancing guidelines. As a result, remote learning is continuing to fully or partially replace face-to-face classroom instruction as the new school year gets underway.

Realizing that the challenges of remote and hybrid instruction are particularly acute for English language learners, we have developed some new training resources to support middle school and high school instructors and students who are using our Side by Side Extra course and its eText. Instructors are finding the eText version especially useful for online learning, citing the programmatic and predictable nature of the course and its communicative methodology that maximizes student interaction through conversation practice during synchronous learning sessions.

(Side by Side Extra is a streamlined intensive course especially appropriate for middle school and high school newcomers. Side by Side Plus is the adult education version of the course.)

To support instructors, we have created new quick-start guides for remote learning strategies with the eText. The guides offer tips for using the eText along with Google Meet and Zoom to create a dynamic and interactive remote learning experience. The guides also explain how teachers can use the eText to create classes, modify course content, communicate with students, and document their program participation and progress. Video training resources are also available.

remote learning with Side by Side

Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Independent Learning

Synchronous instruction is easy, interactive, and fun using a conferencing platform such as Google Meet or Zoom. Instructors can use screensharing to display the lesson page on students’ devices. Breakout rooms enable the highly interactive pair practice that is the hallmark of the Side by Side guided conversation methodology.

Asynchronous learning is an important component of the remote learning experience as students preview on their own activities and content to prepare for a synchronous class, and then do follow-up activities to reinforce and expand upon the online lesson.

Independent learning is promoted through easy-to-access embedded audio, course features such as the Side by Side Gazette, and the unique FunZone digital amusement park that offers informal, self-directed, and flexible learning through motivating instant-feedback activities, games, and videos.

Synchronous Instruction with the eText

Side by Side eText

Screensharing allows instructors to display the digital student book page for all students, with instant access to the audio program for each page. The eText’s enlargement tool makes it possible to focus on a particular activity, such as a dialog, illustration, or exercise. This is especially helpful to students who access online sessions on a smartphone or small tablet device.

gallery view

Tiled/Grid View (in Google Meet) and Gallery View (in Zoom) build community in the online classroom as students participate together in listening and speaking practice, present dialogs and role plays, and engage in discussions.

grid

Breakout Room is the ideal environment for pair practice that is at the core of the Side by Side guided conversation methodology. (The Breakout Room function is available in Zoom and forthcoming in Google Meet.)

Learning Management Using the eText

The Instructor Version of the eText enables teachers to create classes and post assignments and notes to students directly to their students’ eTexts, without the need for an LMS such as Canvas or Blackboard. Onboarding students is an easy registration process at the Pearson English Portal, and creating courses and class rosters happens through the eText platform and a simple email invitation to students to join a class.

Teaching Strategies

The quick-start guides offer step-by-step suggestions for using each type of Side by Side activity in a blend of remote learning modes of instruction: synchronous, asynchronous, and independent. The guides also provide simple instructions for onboarding students, creating courses, and using the eText platform to document learner participation. Video training resources are also available at the links below.


We hope that these resources are helpful as you continue to flexibly adapt your instruction to meet your students’ language learning needs during this unusual and challenging school year.

To download a quick-start guide for using Side by Side Extra with Google Meet,  click here.

To download a quick-start guide for using Side by Side Extra or Side by Side Plus with Zoom, click here.

To access a training video for the Side by Side Extra eText, click here.

To access a webinar recording about the Side by Side Plus eText, click here.

For more information about Side by Side Extra and Side by Side Plus, click here.

To view the new Pearson ELT K12 catalog with additional elementary and secondary school resources, click here.

To locate your dedicated Pearson ELT Specialist, click here.