El Guiniguada, 31 (2022), pp. 28-40

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El Guiniguada

(Revista de investigaciones y experiencias en Ciencias de la Educación)

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Bilingual Education During a Pandemic: Family Engagement La educación bilingüe durante una pandemia: compromiso familiar

Víctor Antonio Lozada Holly Hansen-Thomas Jorge Figueroa

Mary Amanda Stewart

Texas Woman's University (Estados Unidos)

DOI (en Metadatos y en Sumario Revista)

Recibido el 24/03/2021 Aceptado el 28/09/2021

El Guiniguada is licensed under a Creative Commons ReconocimientoNoComercial-SinObraDerivada

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Bilingual Education During a Pandemic: Family Engagement

La educación bilingüe durante una pandemia: compromiso familiar


Víctor Antonio Lozada


Holly Hansen-Thomas HHansenThomas@twu.edu Jorge Figueroa jfigueroa2@twu.edu

Mary Amanda Stewart


Texas Woman's University (Estados Unidos)


Durante la pandemia global de COVID-19, los maestros han tenido que ser creativos para poder conectar con las familias de los estudiantes bilingües emergentes. Este análisis de contenido de cuatro grupos focales de maestros revela las maneras en que estos conectaron con sus estudiantes a distancia. El propósito de este ensayo es descubrir, desde el punto de vista de los educadores, estrategias de enseñanza efectivas que atrajeron a las familias y a los estudiantes bilingües emergentes durante la pandemia de COVID-19 y enseñanza en línea. Los resultados incluyeron los temas de la tecnología instruccional, construir relaciones con las familias y acceder a los activos de los bilingües emergentes y sus familias que conectan al concepto de cariño (Bartolomé, 2008), al concepto de educación (Valenzuela, 1999) y al término bilingüe emergente (García, 2009).




During the COVID-19 global pandemic, teachers have had to be creative on how they engage with the families of emergent bilingual students. This content analysis of four teacher focus groups reveals ways in which teachers have worked to connect with their students over a distance. The purpose of this paper is to discover, from educators, effective teaching strategies that engage families and emergent bilinguals during the COVID-19 pandemic and online teaching. Resulting themes included technology in teaching, building relationships with families, and accessing the educational assets of emergent bilinguals and their families. Connections to cariño

(Bartolomé, 2008), educación (Valenzuela, 1999), and using the term ‘emergent bilingual’ (García, 2009) are discussed.




Engaging with families is foundational to bilingual education (Morita-Mullaney, 2021). During the COVID-19 pandemic, family engagement has become even more important than before, for if teachers do not engage with families, students learning remotely might be left without consistent ways to connect to school. While the hope is that these pandemic-created conditions will be rare in education, it is important to document what has worked to prepare educators for future remote-learning environments and to provide some tools for family engagement.

The purpose of this paper is to discover, from educators, effective teaching strategies that engage families and emergent bilingual students during the COVID-19 pandemic and online teaching through four interviews conducted via Zoom. We are guided by the research question: in what ways do educators of emergent bilingual students connect with their students during the COVID-19 pandemic? As multilingual teacher- researchers, we aim to find tools, through the eyes of practicing teachers, that will better prepare us for future pandemic-created, remote teaching conditions and what lies ahead in education. The students we serve are also multilingual, or emergent bilingual, and come from a variety of places such as Mexico and Central America, yet their main linguistic repertoires include Spanish and English (including some with Polish, Arabic, and Chinese linguistic repertoires). We are teacher educators/researchers in Texas and interact with a wide variety of emergent bilinguals (and their families) from primary to secondary levels. We prefer the use of the term emergent bilingual over other conceptions of multilingualism because it references the positive assets that these students bring to the learning experience (García, 2009).


To best position students as learners, teachers must first be able to access all of their strengths. Asset-based pedagogies should be foregrounded in all educational practices (Paris & Alim, 2017). For emergent bilingual students, that includes moving from a focus on parental involvement to that of family engagement and developing student and teacher relationships through the ideas of educación and cariño.

Even though our students come from a variety of places, they meet in the United States and are bound by U.S. policy. Because of this, we look at how federal policy influences family engagement with emergent bilingual students’ families. In the United States, parental involvement and family engagement have a history in federal law. The focus on school-family relationships in the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) enshrined into law a focus on parental involvement, which is defined as parental communication and volunteering at school sites. This can positively impact academic achievement for minority Latino students (Jeynes, 2003; 2017). However, upon the enactment of the recent U.S. educational legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), the focus in research and education shifted from parental involvement to

family engagement, which centered home life and the community in schooling (Jeynes, 2011).

This shift from parents being physically present at a school to parents engaging in their student’s education in the home offers help during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this point of view may seem like it is only situated for the United States, the authors would like to suggest that engaging families in learning can be applied to many different educational experiences around the world. These types of shifts are documented within the literature. For instance, González and Moll (2002) documented how to use ethnographic fieldwork for educative purposes. Precollege students interviewed community and family members about their lived experiences in regard to family and labor, regular household activities, and parenthood, in order to gain a deep understanding of their culture. From the discussions that emerge from the fieldwork, students are able to identify and validate the local culture as social capital as well as engage the community and family in learning. Social capital consists of the social connections one has that can translate into other types of capital (Bourdieu, 1986). As Yosso (2005) noted, social capital can be leveraged as community cultural wealth in which the family provides an asset to education through their social connections, which in turn are also funds of knowledge. These funds of knowledge provide the basis for education and the basis for engaging family in education.

Moving beyond family engagement, another key relationship in education lies among the teacher and student. Adult-child interactions are paramount to child development (Pianta, 1999). We know that positive parent-child relationships can lead to better outcomes in primary (Pianta et al., 1997) and secondary education (López Turley et al., 2010). These relationships are extended to the other adult relationships including those of teachers (Pianta et al., 2003). Pianta and Stuhlman (2004) found that while there are many factors to student attainment of social and academic skills, teacher- child relationships played a role as well.

Because the aforementioned studies did not take language or culture into account, it is of key importance to center the understanding of adult-child interactions around language and culture. While it is necessary to understand language and culture from a variety of vantage points, as researchers in the southwestern part of the United States, many of our multilingual students come from a Latinx background, which would necessitate approaching language and culture from this broad category. The term Latinx is a gender inclusive construction of similar terms such as Latina/o, Latin@, Hispanic, etc., that includes people from broad geographies including Latin America and Spain (Salinas & Lozano, 2017). While the Latinx community should not be considered a monolithic one, it is important to understand some aspects common among many Latin communities throughout the United States, especially that of educación (Espino, 2016; Valenzuela, 1999) and cariño (Bartolomé, 2008).

Educación includes “the values of personal development and respect for others as part of what it means to be educated” (Espino, 2016, p. 75). For Mexican Americans, this indicates that schooling and education should include the betterment of oneself through respect for others, which is beyond traditional measures of education. This ideal of educational formation is not limited to the Mexican American context, for von Humboldt (2000) developed the idea of Bildung, which is the moral, cultural, and academic development of an individual, in the context of late-eighteenth century Europe. Educación, like Bildung, places relationships at the center because one must show respect to others. While this can be accomplished within the family unit, the

possibility for applying one’s educación could be found in school, especially between teacher and student.

One way that teachers can model respect for others is through an ethic of care (Noddings, 2016). When students feel that they are cared for, they are able to have positive self-esteem, which leads to an enhancement of school culture and community (Owens & Ennis, 2005). While some asset-based pedagogies base their understanding on an ethic of care (Gay, 2018), often they still come from a Eurocentric point of view that lacks political and ideological dimensions (Bartolomé, 2008). Freire (2005) called it an armed love; Valenzuela (1999) called it authentic caring; Bartolomé (2008) based her notion, like educación, in a linguistically responsive way by calling it cariño.

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, educators have needed to show cariño more than ever. Browsing social media allows educators and researchers to hear many anecdotes about the ways in which educators interact not only with their students, but also with their students’ families. Nevertheless, educators continue to focus on student-teacher and teacher-teacher relationships with minimal attention paid to school-home relationships (Ferdig et al., 2020).

Mahaffey and Kinard (2020) focused on how one rural school district in Texas delivered instruction focused on meeting students’ social and emotional needs. They understood this to be meeting children’s needs according to Maslow (1987) and focusing on love and belonging. This stage relates to both Noddings’ (2016) ethic of care and by extension Bartolomé’s (2008) cariño. Even though Mahaffey and Kinard (2020) shared how emergent bilingual students could engage in learning, they only provided a cursory mention of how they could use a translate feature within a software application to engage with material. We believe this is not enough to engage students’ families. We believe that teachers can show culturally responsive cariño to their emergent bilingual students.

Bartolomé (2008) detailed that cariño moves beyond an ethic of care but instead recommended that teachers become accomplices in dismantling dominant discourses. Many teachers choose to “‘lovingly’ coddle their students and shelter them from having to learn dominant academic discourses” (Bartolomé, 2008, p. 3), which might aid in developing an ethic of care but does not offer antiracist and liberating possibilities. She suggested rejecting this simple view of love and instead offering students an armed loved that works to see the oppression within education and alternatively dismantle these oppressive systems with students (Freire, 2005).


In order to best understand the ways in which educators led students’ families to engage with learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked: in what ways do educators of emergent bilingual students connect with their students during the COVID-19 pandemic? To answer this question, we took a qualitative, grounded theory approach (Flick, 2018). We utilized focus groups to see what themes would emerge, and conducted a content analysis (Krippendorff, 2003). In order to reach saturation with the data, we conducted four semi-structured interviews in the focus groups over Zoom (Harrell & Bradley, 2009).

The transcriptions of the interviews are meant as textual representations or illustrations of the words spoken by each participant (Baker, 2014). Each transcription is meant to allow the reader to hear the informant speaking in their particular way of

using language. Rather than letting the researcher edit the content for clarity, the informant’s voice prevailed even if that meant that some of the nonlinguistic verbalizations such as “um” or “eh” interrupted the text.

From these data, field notes were used to see what themes emerged from initial and axial coding (Saldaña, 2016). Data were triangulated to maintain validity (Hesse- Biber & Leavy, 2011). Initial coding was done with each focus group. After the initial coding, axial codes emerged from the entire data set from which themes emerged. These themes were (1) technology and its uses during the pandemic, (2) the various relationships developed among educators, students’ and the students’ families, and (3) the educational assets of students and their families.

The focus groups included a total of seventeen educators from two high schools (10 educators) and four elementary schools (7 educators) in a medium sized community in Texas that lasted between 45 and 60 minutes. These schools had diverse populations containing a large number of emergent bilingual (English Learner) populations (See Table 1). Two focus groups were for the high school teachers and two were for the elementary teachers. The educators had an average years of experience of approximately 16 years and included content area teachers (8 teachers), professional support staff (6 teachers such as librarians and literacy interventionists), teachers that had both content teaching and support duties (2 teachers), and administration (1 office administrator). Elementary teachers interacted with approximately 32 students on average with a range of 6 to 100 students. High school teachers varied greatly with the number of students with which they had interactions. Some, such as librarians, reported that they interacted with all emergent bilingual students; however, most teachers reported that they interacted with more than just the students assigned on their rosters.

Table 1

School Demographics by Race and English Learner Status

African American*



English Learners*

Elementary 1





Elementary 2





Elementary 3





Elementary 4





High School 1





High School 2





* These demographic terms are how they are presented by the state government.

Because of the multilingual nature of our participants, they were encouraged to include all of their linguistic repertoires; however, many chose to communicate solely in English. Additionally, because of the multimodal affordances of the online meeting platform Zoom, we had additional data from the chat from one of the focus groups.


The purpose of this study is to discover, from educators, effective teaching strategies that engage families and emergent bilingual students during the COVID-19 pandemic and online teaching. The data from each of our focus groups were converted into field notes from which themes could emerge. These themes were what affordances technology had (and didn’t have) to offer, the importance of relationships, and the educational assets of emergent bilinguals and their families. All names used are pseudonyms.


While some have documented how technology can be applied to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic (Ferdig et al., 2020), there continues to be a dearth of research that discusses the intersections between family engagement and emergent bilinguals. Many teachers noted how the variety of technological tools offered such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Translate, Seesaw, Screencastify, and Loom, among others, created many opportunities for learning. Nevertheless, these technological tools did not always coincide with the digital literacies of the students.

One teacher, Susanna, noted how her students were very apt at interacting with their phones or X-Boxes, but still had room for growth in regard to the digital literacies needed to use the aforementioned software:

We assume that students have this level of technical ability because they’ve grown up with technology so we just assume that they should be able to make a video or take a picture or upload these things and sure they are technologically savvy, and I’m not saying that they are not, but trying to figure out how to fix your X-box so that you can play your video games is a hell of a lot different than figuring out how to work through your Canvas assignment in a course that you already don’t like.

Even though some teachers said that they needed to explicitly teach digital literacies to their students, others mentioned how one learning management software, Seesaw, gave some students additional opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways as detailed by Francisco:

And I was noticing we were sharing documents uh like if we were doing a country study or something. These kids were going above and beyond just finding resources and trying to make their slide look good and just adding music to it and just I was like I was blown away. I would have never known they had this strength. And just uh just uh drive that I didn’t have to kinda like push them that much.

While technological tools such as Seesaw afforded students the opportunities to express their learning in new ways, communication methods with parents remained based on more established technologies such as the telephone according to Pablo: “Sometimes I send texts uh through Remind101 [a communication platform that informs families of educational activities/assignments, etc.] but to me when it comes to Hispanic culture, I’d rather do the phone call than doing it through a text or an email.” Still, some teachers such as Maria extended the informal interactions that they were used to in their classrooms with informal interactions on Zoom:

I would connect with the parents and teach them how to share their screens with me so that I could help problem solve the problems that they were having because they were sort of immersed in this new technology world which a lot of them could do

basic stuff with the cell phones but none of them were as advanced technologically so um a lot of communication through Zoom, Google Meets.

Another technology that teachers continued to use from become the global pandemic was email. Pablo noted that: “I send them emails and some and sometimes eh some parents respond and sometimes I don’t know if they read the email,” so they leveraged screen recording software such as Loom or Screencastify to create Spanish, English, and bilingual video recordings for their students’ parents as Francisco did:

I was sending out emails, and I wasn’t getting a lot of response for it, so I set up a Remind where I sent um I don’t know if you’ve ever used Screencastify but it’s like it records your face and it also shows your screen um but then I found another program called Loom where I do the same thing.

Overwhelmingly, teachers leveraged technology to maintain relationships with their students and their students’ families. Whether it was through more traditional methods such as phone calls and emails or more adaptive techniques such as informal conversations on Zoom or unique ways of leveraging technology such as screen recordings, most of the uses of technologies included ways to reach students and their families at a social and emotional level and build relationships.


Teachers used technology to help students and their families feel connected to school at a time that many felt disconnected from not only education but from society as a whole. When health experts asked us to cloister ourselves away from people, educators found ways to allow students and their families to connect through technology. Educators used these connections to foster relationships with both their students and their students’ families.

Educators connected with students’ parents in a variety of ways including phone calls, email, video messages, and home visits. Most of the time, teachers helped parents to understand how to use technology to support their child’s education. Maria recounted a phone call turned into FaceTime call with a parent about how to access and login to online materials:

At the beginning of August I had a parent that said, ‘I need to return the computer because you’re logged in and you need to log out so that I can get my son in um’ so I said, ‘Okay let me call you on Facetime and you show me what you see” cause you assume that they have like a basic basic understanding of technology so um I said, ‘Okay touch the phone so that the camera turns around and I can see what you’re seeing’ and she says, ‘That you see the cursor’ and she didn’t call it a cursor but ‘the little stick is staying there and it won’t come out of the box’ cause I kept telling her, ‘Go over here at the bottom right at the very bottom and click on whatever’ so and she says, ‘That this little thing doesn’t come out’ and I said, ‘Okay can you click on it?’ and she was like, ‘I moved the arrows and I can’t get it to work’ and then I realized that she didn’t know that the rectangle in the middle of the computer was the the mouse!

While most teachers used technology to connect with their students’ families, some noted, like Maria above, how access to technology was a barrier, which necessitated using more traditional means such as socially distant home visits as detailed by Jack:

It started with technology distribution. There were all these kids who needed computers and the school was like come pick ‘em up and I’m like they don’t have a

car I’m like how you ‘spose to come pick it up if you don’t have a car? These are like some kids who live in the trailer park near [another high school in the same city] there’s no walking to [our high school] to get your computer so we grabbed these computers we grabbed jet packs we jumped in [my teaching partner’s] truck, masked up and we went out there and we delivered a bunch of computers and that that was the beginning of the home visits.

In addition to traditional ways of developing relationships with students such as home visits, some teachers noticed that students were becoming self-advocates when they did not understand something, especially as it related to technology. EmmaGene, a secondary teacher, noted how one student began practicing self-advocacy-

Self-advocacy is kinda what needs to uh it’s I’ve seen it grow. And then I have the one student that loves to email me and I would it slowed down actually at the beginning of the year it was like every single day he emailed, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’ which is good because at least he had that skill to be able to send that email to say, ‘I need help,’ and really kinda self-advocate for this the help that they need in order to be successful in the class.

While many of the interactions with parents and students centered on accessing technology, Pablo connected all of these interactions to a bigger purpose: building relationships “I try to build a relation[ship] and then tell them those the expec- expectations of the of the grade at this at this time of the year and your child is here so I need your support at home but also I just talk about the positive things that he has or the student the student specifically things have improved or have achieved but I spend a lot of time.” Once these relationships developed, teachers could leverage their students’ and their students’ families’ cultural capital to grow academically (Yosso, 2005).

Assets of Emergent Bilinguals and Their Families

Students come to schools with many funds of knowledge (González & Moll, 2002) and a vast array of community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005). These are only useful if educators look to these resources for schooling. In our study, the educators found numerous educational assets from both their emergent bilingual students and their families.

While not every student flourished during school closures, Jammica noted that “if given the ability, they [emergent bilingual students] are able to be more creative.” Many of the teachers reported that students flourished during the school closure and increased their academic output in a variety of subject areas including math as detailed by Pablo:

We were talking about 3D shapes and one student with with his mom’s help created a video just teaching us teaching the class how what what are the 3D shapes so he just had the tie and it was neat because it was what Francisco said sometimes we are in the classroom we don’t have the opportunities for that so he was the teacher.

And at the high school level, a social studies project about telling your family’s history as detailed by Jammica: “He was able to um turn his into uh actual video and I didn’t even tell them to do that. Like that wasn’t an option er that wasn’t even an option he just kind of did it but I’m glad he did it”.

Beyond the educational assets of the students, students’ families also provided cultural capital in many ways. Ilaria conducted family cooking classes where students

and their families participated at which they demonstrated traditional academic skills such as measuring to more holistic skills such as cultural competence:

In order to engage my students I even started like cooking lessons online. Like I had Zoom calls where they were cooking with me like I told them the day before or two days before what were gonna be the ingredients. Some days we did French dishes because for my French classes but everyone like joined the classes not only my French students so and it was open to everyone and then some days we did like Hispanic…and that was different and some of them enjoyed it and and are even asking me like right now, ‘Are you gonna do that [teacher’s name]?’ [laughs] but that’s just like to keep them engaged and not concern or worry or stress about the schoolwork and they were still learning about culture like okay so this is something we eat in this country or this is something that we prepare here. So it was fun.

Other teachers such as Lynette looked for families to provide information about their family history in order to engage the students in a writing project:

Well every year at the beginning of the year I do something along the lines of an about me or they’re doing something about themselves and then um because of this [COVID] this year they made the video or they took the pictures and they were able to decide if they were gonna do the video or if they wanted to do just the still pictures.

Lastly, teachers such as Lisette took an additive stance toward their students’ linguistic repertoires by opting to use García’s (2009) term emergent bilinguals over other names for their students:

I think one of the greatest strengths of our kids is they their ability to to use their full linguistic repertoire you know being able to understand two languages and um and this uh this is something that um sometimes we don’t adults or teachers we don’t really understand what it means so we are still talking about hey they are English language learners no most of them are not you know they are emergent bilingual students they have grown here and that’s like that’s like that’s a skill that they have and that’s a skill that we need to encourage.


The purpose of our study was to determine—from educators—effective ways to connect with families of emergent bilingual students during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Our interviews indicated that these educators were concerned with technology, building relationships with their students and families, and leveraging their students and their students’ families’ assets during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Many of the strategies could be effective both during and beyond global pandemic conditions.

While many teachers noted a change in how they connected with families of emergent bilingual students, they consistently leveraged the skills they had developed before the pandemic such as using tried and true technologies like phone calls and home visits, using those technologies to show that they had authentic care for their students, and perceiving their students’ assets over any perceived deficits.

Seemingly less complex technologies such as phone calls and home visits led to some of the deeper conversations, for like Maria, a Latinx elementary teacher, noted, “when it comes to Hispanic culture I’d rather do the phone call than doing it through a text or an email.” Having these cultural connections between the teachers and their

students’ families made engaging with the family seem more authentic. This authenticity led to family interactions that exemplified Bartolomé’s (2008) cariño as noted by Jack, the high school teacher who conducted home visits: “You’re really communicating to them hey I’m here I value you and your child and their education.” When teachers engaged with families using familiar technologies, it demonstrated a level of authentic care (Valenzuela, 1999) that allowed teachers to express their cariño for their students and their students’ families (Bartolomé, 2008). In online learning environments, teachers and students opened their homes both physically, with campus home visits to distribute technology, and metaphorically with cooking classes. In addition to expressing authentic care, teachers could use their students’ funds of knowledge (González & Moll, 2002) and their students’ family’s cultural capital (Yosso, 2005) to create puentes or bridges between the school and home much like Ilaria, the high school teacher who gave cooking classes: “that’s just like to keep them engaged and not concern or worry or stress about the schoolwork and they were still learning about culture like okay so this is something we eat in this country or this is something that we prepare here. So it was fun.”

Building those bridges between school and family led teachers to view their students for what they could do instead of what they couldn’t. In the United States, emergent bilingual students have multiple terms to describe them. García (2009) noted how terms such as Limited English Proficient (LEP) or even English Language Learner (ELL) have come from a deficit-oriented, English-centered point of view. The teachers in this study, especially Lisette, rejected these notions and embraced García’s emergent bilingual term: “they are emergent bilingual students they have grown here and that’s like that’s like that’s a skill that they have and that’s a skill that we need to encourage.”

While these results and the teaching implications directly relate to the COVID-19 global pandemic, they can go beyond and affect change in educational opportunities for emergent bilingual students. Simple technologies such as phone calls or home visits can go a long way. While the content area teachers expressed frustration over not being able to make these phone calls on a quick enough of a timeline, the support teachers offered help to connect with those families. Students begged Ilaria, the teacher who conducted the cooking class, to keep offering things like that: “[students] are even asking me like right now, ‘Are you gonna do that [teacher’s name]?’” Students want to find ways to connect with their teachers and build relationships that foster academic and social growth. This is exactly what previous studies noticed with the concept of educación (Espino, 2016; Valenzuela, 1999). Creating the puentes [bridges] between the school and home is not limited to the global pandemic. This is something that students will continue to need once all social restrictions are lifted.

As students see the authentic care of their teachers, they will begin to take an asset- oriented viewpoint of themselves, which could benefit them beyond the global pandemic. As their teachers move from deficit-oriented language ideologies that label students as Limited English Proficient or English Language Learner to more asset- oriented language ideologies that label students as emergent bilinguals (García, 2009), the teachers and the students will see each other’s linguistic repertoires as skills that need to be honed and developed. As Lisette, an elementary teacher, put it: “that’s a skill that we need to encourage.”


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