How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology
One thing every teacher asks when they have an English Learner in their classroom is, what more can I be doing to help support this student? Technology can be a great resource to help a teacher who wants to engage their EL as a literacy learner.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that learning a new language takes time. In our high-stakes testing environments, we want to have ELs reading on grade level as soon as possible. We see that they are intelligent and are curious about the world. We want to learn what they are thinking and share our passion for learning with them. We must remind ourselves that learning a new language, especially when there may be gaps in a student’s education, caused by time away from school due to travelling or differences in curriculum, which insist on us to give the student time to acclimate and listen first.
When the student is ready to work on literacy skills, there are digital tools that can support a variety of learning goals.
Communication: Teachers and students can make use speech to text programs. Tools like Google Translate and American Wordspeller & Phonetic Dictionary can support students communicating into their home language and converting language into English. Likewise, if a concept the teachers is talking about is unclear, it can be translated back into the student’s first language for better understanding. While not perfect due to issues in the connotations of all languages, it can help get an important message across.
Listening Vocabulary and Comprehension: Especially for entering, emerging, or developing listeners, hearing stories read aloud is essential. There are many resources with read aloud features:
- Scholastic’s Storia has a “read to me” feature for some of their e-books
- PebbleGo offers spoken-word audio and audio/video media to support emergent reader research
- Scholastic’s BookFlix pairs classic children’s storybooks in video format with nonfiction e-books
- Scholastic’s TrueFlix offers multimedia science and social studies readings for older readers
- Storyline Online, a free site featuring actors who creatively read books aloud
- One More Story a site that features high-quality oral reading and the ability to read books independently with support
A low tech, but very helpful suggestion is to encourage the family to turn on the closed captioning on their television. Students will see and hear English spoken this way.
For students who are ready to be stretched in their listening and speaking skills, the app Speaky allows them to practice language socially. There are also a number of language learning tools, some of which are game based, like Duolingo. With Duolingo one can learn over 20 languages through gamification. Many more languages are being added monthly. More importantly, English can be learned from many of those languages, making it accessible for the learner of English, not just for someone speaking English learning a new language. And it’s free. To support academic and content learning, Voice Thread allows multimedia to be accompanied with narration.
Most importantly, get to know your student(s), his or her family, and celebrate their heritage and culture. The best strategy is being patient and finding creative ways to engage the EL in learning.
Aileen P. Hower, Ed.D. is the K-12 Literacy/ESL Supervisor for South Western School District. She also teaches graduate level reading courses for Cabrini University in Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching, she is the Vice President for the Keystone State Reading Association and conference chair for the KSRA 50th Annual Conference in Hershey, PA, in 2017. You can find her on Twitter at (@aileenhower) or on her blog (aileenhower.wordpress.com).