Friday, April 15, 2016

Supporting ELL Students with EdTech

Over the last 13 years, I have spent my career in education in the Springdale School District in Springdale, AR. The 3rd and 4th grade classrooms I have taught were at about a 75% or higher ELL (or ESL) population. As I have seen the boom in EdTech over the recent years in our district, I have really paid attention to the technology tools that are available to help our ELL students succeed.

There are several tools out there to provide the scaffolding and support to these students, but I am just going to focus on a few of them for this post: Translation Tools, Auditory Tools, and Recording Tools. These tools are nothing new in the world of technology, but as more students are able to access technology in the classroom they should not be overlooked.

Translation Tools:
Google Translate
 used on iPhone
The translation tool I have seen the most success with is Google Translate. It works very well in multiple ways:

  • Tablet/Phone App: The app allows you to point your camera at a sign and translate it to a different language. It also allows you to speak one language into the device and it will translate and speak out loud in another language.
  • Google Search/Website: If you search google translate, a text box will appear at the top of your search results that allows for instant text translation. also does this function.
  • Chrome Extension: The Google Translate Chrome extension allows you to change the language of any website you are looking at with a few simple clicks, never leaving the web site you are viewing. 
Auditory Tools: 
I am defining auditory tools as any type of tool that reads texts to students. Many of our ELL students comprehend speech at a much higher level than they are able to read (in English). The use of auditory tools will allow students to hear the content needed even if they are struggling to read the words on the screen. There are several text to speech apps out there, but the following have worked best for me:
  • iPad/iPhone: I simply use Siri. This is activated through the accessibility menu within settings. Students can change voice accents and also speech rate.  
  • Chrome: I prefer the extension SpeakIt! Voice accents and speech rate are also controllable. 
As mentioned, I realize that these may seem like fairly simple tools in today's high tech classrooms, but the importance of what these tools can bring to our ELLs should not be looked over.

Recording Tools:
Apps that record student voices, screens, and actions can make a great impact with our ELL students in two ways: comprehension/assessment and reflection/meta-cognition.

Comprehension/Assessment - Giving ELL students the option to record their voice to explain a concept and turn it in to their teacher is critical. Our ELL students comprehend information at high levels, many of them just have difficulty putting their learning and understanding into writing. Why not allow them to record their understanding verbally and send that to the teacher for a comprehension check/assessment? There is a relatively new website/app called Recap just for this purpose.

Reflection/Meta-cognition For decades, coaches have recorded players on the field and reviewed it with their players. Music directors have recorded performers and had them listen back for reflection. This can now be done with every single student in the classroom. Having students record their thoughts through screen-casting, audio notes, or video will allow them to reflect upon their learning and presentation skills. This is only effective if part of the assignment is that the student listen back to their recordings for that reflection piece. There are so many great tools out there, but a few to check out are:
Chrome Extentions: Screencastify and Snagit Chrome Extensions.
iPhone/iPad: Book Creator, Draw and Tell, Educreations, Explain Everything, Seesaw, Shadow Puppet, Tellagami, and simply just use the camera. (If you would like to learn more about some of these apps, then check out my post 5 iPad apps for Student Presentations and Meta-Cognition)

As with everything with EdTech, it is important to not get wrapped up in the "bells and whistles" of an app/site, but what it really offers your students. In the case of our ELLs, thinking of how these tools can support language development should be our number one goal.