3 Steps to Leverage Technology for English Language Learners (ELLs) (Draft #2)

posted Mar 24, 2016, 8:06 AM by Miguel Guhlin   [ updated Mar 24, 2016, 8:19 AM ]

"¿Como podríamos mostrar lo que hemos aprendido?" It's a question every teacher could ask students--what are some ways that we can use technology to show what we have learned? Since technology can change the way students communicate--via rich multimedia that amplifies their voices--in the classroom, it introduces new patterns of discourse. Students have the opportunity to develop a "dynamic understanding that is collaboratively constructed in discussion among students" in the target language (Source: Handbook of Discourse Practices). In this blog entry, we'll briefly explore some ways to leverage technology that enable students to collaboratively construct dynamic understandings of a second language with technology.


While the first impulse may be to buy content and/or apps that have technology components, my experience as a bilingual/ESL education technologist indicates that those materials are seldom available for purchase when needed. Unfortunately, "access to a rigorous curriculum continues to be a critical issue for Latino and other minority students....[researcher] cited evidence that Latino and other underrepresented students are more likely to be assigned to low curriculum tracks" (Source). How can ELL, and/or dual language, educators have an impact?

By leveraging technology to enhance second language learning opportunities, instructional professionals can create new patterns of discourse in their English Language Learner (ELL) classrooms with "off-the-shelf" technologies. These "off-the-shelf" technologies will seem commonplace to digital coaches, and offer increased interactions between students keen on technology and learning.


Some ways to leverage technology include the following:
  1. Students have increasing access to digital tools, especially as they enter middle and high school. For example, most standard mobile devices are smartphones that include a built-in camera capable of still photos and digital video, multiple communication apps. Consider inventorying what technologies students have access to, such as smartphones, level of network/internet access on devices, home technology, computer access.
  2. Increase home access to technology through programs that transfer school computers unusable for education purposes--such as older desktops and laptops that can't be upgraded to run the latest software needed for high stakes assessments--to students. Encourage your school district to follow in the footsteps of districts like Abilene ISD, Arp ISD, East Central ISD, RoundRock ISD, and Weslaco ISD, which have technology take-home programs in place.
  3. Students and teachers can use digital devices as tools for authentic communication and for accomplishing intellectually challenging, nonremedial tasks in the context of culturally appropriate whole activities. We have already discussed in the TCEA TechNotes blog tools like Voxer ("Ready, Set...Vox!"), Appear.inGoogle HangoutsMicrosoft Skype, to facilitate real time collaboration. It is heartening to know that students, in flipped and blended learning settings, take advantage of apps like Adobe Voice, SnapchatYouTubeKikCelly to connect with each other already. Even with home internet access at less than 70% (as cited in this study at a Texas school), students at intermediate campuses and above may enjoy a higher rate of access to connected, mobile devices.
  4. Students can use technology to produce theme-centered, multimedia slide shows, electronic hypermedia books, and publish their poetry and written pieces. More on apps in a minute.
  5. Students can use technology to graph real life data and explore--with audio recordings--the relationships between data and their graphical representations using programs like GoogleSheetsMS ExcelLibreOffice, and/or Haiku Deck app for iOS.
  6. Students begin to learn the words for the graphics they wish to incorporate in their slide show, as well as the processes of modifying, saving and retrieving their work. Students learn to interweave audio narration using the microphone on their digital device, with some experimenting in the target language by reading or translating their work
Here are 3 easy steps you can follow in any classroom, but especially, a language learning class:

Step 1 - Create Content:

The tools for creating content have never been easier to use. Consider the following:
  • Narrated Audio Slideshows  - (read more)
  • Create eBooks - Students can create ebooks that incorporate audio, video, and text. (read more)
  • Digital Storytelling - Students can approach storytelling from two perspectives - oral composition or written composition. Remember digital storytelling approach can be used for any content area, not just text. And students reading peers' context while listening to audio is powerful and supported in the research.
    • Oral Storytelling - Focus is on audio recording. Take pictures and then add audio narration. Or, simply record audio of a child's story, then have them prepare text to match it.
    • Written Composition Approach - Students write a script, match pictures to main events in the script, then narrate it, combining all the components into a narrated slideshow.
Step 2 - Publish Content
If your district doesn't have its own online space where staff and students can publish video, audio and images, you can take advantage of GoogleApps for Education with its unlimited storage--or, Microsoft for Education's OneDrive with 1 terabyte of space--to house content and/or YouTube. There really isn't any reason why you can't share content with a global audience!
Step 3 - Share, Share, Share
Once content is shared online, consider creating a district (or classroom) clearinghouse for awesome content in a GoogleSite (web site), Microsoft Microsoft's OneNote, or a web-based sharing platform you feel comfortable with and enjoys your organization's support. This can be organized by grade level, reading level, etc.
The main benefit of these 3 steps is that it removes the some of the pressure of finding materials in the target language, and instead helps students and staff create content--while collaboratively constructing a product that embodies their dynamic understandings of academic topics--that are relevant, appropriate, and engaging, while building on students' key learning experiences.

Image References
Key fob. Available online at http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Key-Fob-626x382.jpg