Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ESL/ELL Learners and Technology

Here are a few quick research briefs shared from students in my ED 6030 Course: Technology in the Classroom:


In “Jump-Starting Language and Schema for English-Language Learners: Teacher-Composed Digital Jumpstarts for Academic Reading,” Judith Rance-Roney discussed how the use of digital storytelling technologies can help significantly improve language comprehension among ESL students. Initially, ESL students were dedicated during their first few months in school to acclimating to the English language and culture and only once a certain level of understanding had been reached, they would be expected to begin studying content areas. However, recently this has changed. ESL students are now required to combine these two stages into one due to statewide testing and teachers are forced to find alternative ways to teach language, culture, and their specialized area of study. Due to these changes, “it is critical that we seek innovative and effective skill improvement approaches that increase the rapidity of content literacy development while simultaneously developing the four language skills of writing, reading, listening, and speaking” (Rance-Roney, 2010, p. 386). The article focuses on the use of digital storytelling technology (such as iMovie) to create interactive presentations with students that will provide essential vocabulary training in multiple forms, illustrate the critical cultural background information necessary for ESLs, and connect this knowledge with the current classroom lesson. The advantage of using such technology is that the ESL students can review the “digital jump-start” in the back of the classroom on computers, at home on burned DVDs, or on YouTube in the library.


In her article “ELL to Go,” Jennifer Demski describes how ELL teachers in Arlington Heights, IL and New Braunfels, TX have utilized iPod Touches and iPads to not only help students with their academic grasp of English, but also give them a tool to improve their English with their peers and at home (2011). She notes how teachers in these classrooms used various apps like dictionaries, voice recording, note-taking, vocabulary games, and others to engage students in the classroom, at home, and with their peers. As an ELL paraprofessional at a public middle school, I have seen first hand how iPads and other technology can be a useful tool in looking up words and providing visual, image-based support to help students better understand certain concepts. Both this article and my own personal experience suggest that technology like iPads, Tablets, and iPod Touches can be valuable tools to help ELL students succeed academically in their ELL and general education classes.

Teachers must not use technology simply to complete tasks more efficiently, but rather must use it innovatively and creatively to meet students where they are intellectually, socially, and culturally. Demski describes the example of one teacher who allowed uncomfortable, still-adjusting ELL students to record their voice at home and send it to the teacher instead of speaking before the class. This teacher’s awareness of how intricately her students’ social and academic needs are interwoven is an excellent example of effectively utilizing technology. Although most educators do not have a classroom full of ELL students, this article provides several useful examples of how teachers can use different iPod and iPad apps to support ELL students in their general education classes. 


In addition to accessibility, the language learning content available on mobile phones is astonishing.  Mobile phones can store and deliver vast amounts of information, including different language learning programs and audio/visual language learning materials (Bahrani, 2011).  As a language learner, it is imperative that you have exposure to audio and visual content. Because of the large storage based content available on mobile phones, the learner has accessibility to a multitude of songs, and other audio/visual materials (Bahrani, 2011). This exposure will help the learner better understand and comprehend pronunciation for phonetic purposes, and see the spelling and usage of words in the target language as they are used in written context. This enables the user to learn on a more interactive level than just regular textbook based written activities. Being able to engage the student with audio content makes learning the foreign language so much more meaningful, especially if the user is able to record the sounds of their own voice for translation and pronunciation purposes.


Special thanks to Lauren Armstrong, Abra House and Annie Papineu. Read more about research regarding these topics from the folllowing sources:

Bahrani, T. (2011). Mobile Phones: Just a Phone or a Language Learning Device?. Cross-Cultural Communication, 7(2), 244-248.

Demski, J. (2011). ELL to Go. T.H.E. Journal, 38 (5), 28-32. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eft&AN=508202059&site=ehost-live.

Rance-Roney, J. (2010). Jump-starting language and schema for English-language learners: Teacher-composed digital jumpstarts for academic reading. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 386-395. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=47875752&site=ehost-live

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