ISTE Standard 1: Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Triggering Question: How can I use technology to support active student engagement and authentic language use for my English Language Learners?
When considering the public school classrooms of the 21st century, two features are inevitably prominent: a high population of English Language Learners (ELLs), and the overarching influence of technology on the environment, curriculum and learning materials. With this in mind, it would be negligent for teachers to think that they could ignore the innumerable benefits that using technology can have in working with their ELLs. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) defines in their first standard that teachers must “use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments” (ISTE, 2016). Although it seems daunting to add another element to a task that can already be overwhelming outside of the scope of general education, I am learning that invoking technology in the instruction of ELLs actually allows for more active engagement in materials and content, as well as more productive peer collaboration leading to greater language use and expanded vocabulary.
Of the countless choices in kind of technology to use in the classroom, one choice seems to be most obvious and easiest to implement: iPads and iPad applications (apps). Although many schools do not have the resources to provide iPads to all of their students, most classrooms these days have access to at least a set of 2-4 iPads to be used at teachers’ discretion. With just this small addition to classroom materials, iPads can allow students to participate in collaborative learning, individual engagement and even social networking. With iPads students gain easy access to discussion boards, which are especially useful to ELLs in practicing social English. A peer of mine shared an article that explored the use of technology in working with English Language Learners, which stated this: “Discussion boards can create a platform for students to be actively engaged in academic and social English while outside of the classroom environment” (Brozek & Duckworth, p. 14).
Of course, incorporating iPads into daily instruction requires teachers to select appropriate apps to present and make available for students. In my research I found four distinct features to look for in selecting iPad apps for promoting active engagement and language use among ELLs. These features include an open-endedness in academic goal or outcome, an invitation for joint collaboration, an element of synchronized learning, and a multimodal characteristic of communication. Two apps that I found reflect all of these features, and have been found to be extremely successful in working with young ELLs. These are Nearpod, a teacher-directed app used for guided reading in small groups, and Our Story, a student-directed story building app.
Nearpod allows teachers to create what is essentially a powerpoint presentation, upload the slides to the app, and then share and progress through the presentation with all students on an iPad. This is especially recommending for guided reading with small groups because the readers and the teacher can work through a text one page/slide at a time. The teacher can also embed opportunities for quizzes, poll questions and drawings for comprehension – all of which can be shared from the student’s ipad directly to the teacher, or among all of the users present in the group. This is a clear use of synchronized learning because the teacher can control the rate at which students move through the app by only making certain slides available at a time. It is multimodal because the app allows for many different modes of communication through the various additions the teacher can provide. Delacruz (2014) asserts that “In order to meet linguistically diverse student populations, teachers need to find creative means of communication and expression. Using Nearpod as an app allows students to communicate through drawing, poll questions, and quiz answers” (p. 67). The following short video gives an overview of the app’s overall abilities through examining its use in large group lecture.
Apps that allow students more open-endedness is learning outcome also promote high levels of engagement and interaction. One such app is Our Story, as described by Kucirkova, et. al (2013). Our Story lets children create their own digital stories through pictures, text and sounds. They can then share their story digitally, or present it orally. “There is evidence that older children (9-11 years) participate in collaborative engagement through creating multimodal stories on computers” (p. 181). Technology such as Our Story that allows for creative expression and collaborative exploratory language use is excellent for engaging all students, and especially English Language Learners. Such programs especially support the first component of the first ISTE standard: “Promote, support and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness.”
Overall, contrary to my previously-held assumptions, technology use in classrooms actually tends to evoke more peer interaction among English Language Learners, rather than less. Cooperative computer activities allow students to interact socially without adult guidance, and therefore asks them to practice both social and academic language in a more authentic setting than teacher-directed instruction. I am eager to implement these apps and more in my future classroom, and navigate the wide open world of technology use in ELL instruction.