Home ESL/ELL Three Steps to Leverage Technology for English Language Learners (ELLs)

Three Steps to Leverage Technology for English Language Learners (ELLs)

by Miguel Guhlin

“¿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 in the classroom via rich multimedia that amplifies their voices, 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). Let’s explore some ways that enable students to collaboratively construct dynamic understanding of a second language.

Leveraging Technology for ELLs

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 English Language Learners (ELLs) 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 ELL classrooms with “off-the-shelf” technologies. These “off-the-shelf” technologies will seem commonplace to digital coaches, yet can offer increased interactions between students keen on technology and learning.

Key Ways to Leverage TechnologyELL

  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 capturing photos and video and multiple communication apps. Consider inventorying what technologies students personally have access to, such as smartphones, level of network/Internet access on devices, home technology, and 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, Round Rock 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 VoxerAppear.in, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Skype to facilitate real-time collaboration. It is heartening to know that students, in flipped and blended learning settings, can take advantage of apps like Adobe Voice, Snapchat, YouTube, Kik, and Celly 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 slideshows and electronic hypermedia books, and publish their poetry and written pieces. More on apps in a minute.
  5. ELL 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 Google Sheets, MS Excel, LibreOffice, or the  Haiku Deck app for iOS.
  6. Students begin to learn the words for the graphics they wish to incorporate in their slideshow, as well as the processes of modifying, saving, and retrieving their work. They 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

Three Easy Steps

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

Step 1 – Create Content

The tools for creating content have never been easier to use. Consider the following:
  • Narrated Audio Slideshows
  • Create eBooks – Students can create eBooks that incorporate audio, video, and text. (read more)
  • Digital Storytelling – Students can approach storytelling from two perspectives: oral or written composition. Remember that the digital storytelling approach can be used for any content area. And students reading peers’ content while listening to audio is powerful and supported in the research.
    • Oral Storytelling – The focus is on audio recording. Take pictures and then add audio narration. Or simply record audio of a child’s story and then have them prepare text to match it.
    • Written Composition Approach – Students write a script, match pictures to main events in the script, and 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 Google Apps for Education with its unlimited storage, Microsoft for Education‘s OneDrive with one terabyte of space to house content, 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 Google Site, Microsoft’s OneNote, or a web-based sharing platform. This can be organized by grade level, reading level, etc.
“¡Por fin, sabemos como aprender juntos y usar tecnología para compartir lo que hemos aprendido!”
The main benefit of these three steps is that they remove some of the pressure of finding materials in the target language and help students and staff create content that shows their understanding of academic topics.

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