New toolkit suggests use of educational technology to support English learners

Educational technology can support instruction for all students, including English learners for whom multiple modes of understanding and communicating offer important supports, said Educator Toolkit: Using Educational Technology — 21st Century Supports for English Learners.

The U.S. Education Department released the toolkit for educators and a companion Developer’s Toolkit on Oct. 22, based on findings of the National Study of English Learners and Digital Learning Resources conducted by ED’s Policy and Program Studies Service, on behalf of the Office of English Language Acquisition and the Office of Educational Technology.

“Technology can support all learners, addressing their different needs, through a universal design for learning approach to designing new resources,” the educator’s toolkit said. “While UDL initially focused on designing for accessibility for students with disabilities, it applies to resources for all students and their needs.”

Digital support features can assist struggling learners, including ELs and students with disabilities, by providing visual images, graphics, or short videos to explain a concept to students, thereby lessening the language proficiency that a concept or idea would otherwise require, the toolkit said.

Technology can scaffold grade-level content instruction for struggling learners, including ELs, students with disabilities, and students with low literacy levels.

Text-to-speech or read-aloud functions, and a function to record a student’s own speech and play it back for review also supports students, including ELs with disabilities, the toolkit said.

Digital academic content tools may also embed a translation function to let students hear the Spanish version of new vocabulary word, or a sentence, in Spanish or another language.

Administrators should look for the features that may support ELs, including those with disabilities when their district or school considers educational technology purchases, the toolkit recommends.

Some educational technology purchases could be funded through Title I or Title III depending on the intended purpose and the district or school’s needs assessment.

Hands-on professional development

Many teachers, particularly EL specialists, receive very little professional development related to educational technology, the toolkit said. However, teachers request PD that shows them examples of instructional practice with ELs.

School technology leaders can give very practical suggestions that fit teachers’ goals and their students’ needs. However, local technology leaders may not be aware of ELs’ needs, the toolkit cautions. Technology leaders also need ongoing PD on promising and effective strategies for ELs.

It suggests that administrators ensure that their EL specialists, including those who are itinerant across schools, receive information about and participate in PD on using educational technology.

When educators search online sites of collections of educational technology, they could search using keywords including English learner and English language learner, the toolkit suggests. When searching sites such as ED’s National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition, they could use the term “digital” in their search to find examples of technology relevant to ELs.

The toolkit suggests that administrators and other educators keep the needs of ELs in mind as they explore educational technology. Ask whether a resource will support the specific languages of a school or district’s ELs and their levels of English language proficiency. Consider whether the resources are culturally appropriate.

Dayna Straehley covers ELs and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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