FETC session offers strategies to incorporate educational technology in the classroom for ELs

Applying concepts founded in technology to support language acquisition for English learners helps to integrate the technological part of STEM in the classroom, says Lori Menning, English learner and bilingual consultant for Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6. She observed that ELs should have the same opportunities to be exposed to STEM classes as any other student, and the language proficiency shouldn’t be a barrier to attend any kind of class. “[Language and STEM] should come simultaneously because we know they learn through those experiences. It’s challenging acquiring another language, but with support and the proper environment, they can learn.”

Menning presented a two-hour workshop called Technology to Support English Learners at the national Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Fla., which offers administrators, school leaders, and teachers several learning opportunities connecting current and emerging technologies with best practices developed through research and classroom experiences.

Time is the biggest challenge to incorporate and implement educational technology in Title I schools, said Menning. She explained that teachers are naturally busy and don’t have as many opportunities as they should to learn what is out there when it comes to technology to incorporate in their lessons. Therefore, she considers it important to share free educational technology resources and tools that provide additional language support and motivation for ELs.

· Use available resources. Menning talked about the Educator Toolkit: Using Educational Technology — 21st Century Supports for English Learners released by the U.S. Education Department last October. She said the toolkit uses five guiding principles to help educators understand what educational technology has to offer for ELs, what is available, and how to maximize those possibilities. The toolkit stated, for example, that technology offers multi-modal ways to present information to students through visual images, short videos, audio recordings, and interactive features.

· Conduct PRIME evaluation. She also referred to the article Quick Tip: PRIME: 5 Guidelines for Integrating Appropriate Technology written by Baburhan Uzum, assistant professor of bilingual and English as a second language at Sam Houston State University, which proposes a framework for teachers to evaluate whether a computer-assisted language learning activity is meaningful for students’ learning and worth teachers’ and students’ time and effort. The article gives the example of a teacher who wants to assign a news reporter activity using the free website Easyprompter. Before deciding, the article explains, the teacher should answer the five questions in the framework — productive, real, interactive, meaningful, and engaging (or PRIME) — to establish if the activity is a good investment of time. “When teachers have PRIME framework, they can make sure to meet the needs of the students and have the best use of technology in the classrooms,” Menning points out.

· Use language transfer tools. As a practical example of how technology can be used for administrators and teachers to integrate ELs in classroom content, Menning highlighted the experience of two students using the online resource library Epic in a public school served by CESA 6. She explained that both students — one in elementary, the other in middle school — were refugees from Haiti and spoke French. They were able to go on Epic and access stories written in their own language before transitioning to English. “Research [from Stephen D Krashen] shows that language transfer is good for students. If the student has a first language, it will be better to learn new languages,” she said.

· Utilize existing resources. Another way to integrate technology and ELs is to be wise about the resources schools and teachers already have, she said. Menning observed that many students bring their own electronic devices to school while schools don’t go much farther than imposing restrictions. She suggested that schools should filter content that is not appropriate for learning and allow the use of those devices as a tool to motivate students in class.

“Research shows that ELs exhibit more engagement with the content when they use technology. The schools could block websites and still let them bring their iPads and Google Chromebooks. If it’s motivating, why not bring it to class to help them?” she said.

For Menning, when teachers and educators take advantage of any opportunity to incorporate technological resources, they help ELs to be successful in the communities. She affirmed that even a cellphone app, such as Google Translate, can be a useful tool in the classroom. “Before, teachers needed to go their computers to translate a text, but now they can use the cellphone camera to point at a page and make a translation for the students.”

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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