Michigan has made considerable efforts to prepare schools for the inevitability of online assessments. Since 2012, the Michigan legislature has provided $95 million to support district's technology improvements.1 However, only 262 districts, encompassing approximately 11.5% of Michigan's K-12 students, have provided one-to-one internet-ready devices for students to use in the instructional setting.2 One of the most significant arguments against online assessments in Michigan is that many students, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have not had the opportunity to utilize these technologies on a regular basis. Past studies have indicated that students living in under-resourced areas are more likely than other students to attend schools with limited access to technology.3 This lack of exposure to technology in schools may be exacerbated to an even greater extent when considering the English language learners (ELLs). Almost 74% of Michigan's students identified as ELLs are also considered socioeconomically disadvantaged.4 The potential for a digital divide is real and great for ELLs. Therefore, effectively integrating technology into instruction is particularly important for classroom teachers who work with ELLs.
Educators who have limited access to technology during the school day must use the time they do have efficiently and wisely with students. It is important to resist utilizing "drill and kill" types of software packages, which researchers have shown are used more frequently in schools with higher concentrations of poor students.5 It is easy to perpetuate use of these tools when faced with limited technology time, but there are many ways to better stimulate deeper cognitive processes and language acquisition for their ELLs.
For ELLs, the use of technology can actually open up many different opportunities for language development, and allow educators to offer instruction across a range of modalities. By allowing ELLs to interact with text in new ways using graphics, video, and audio, students are provided with new opportunities to engage in meaningful English language development. Here are some specific examples of how teachers can use technology to help ELL students:
- Digital audio recorders can enable students to practice their speaking skills by recording their sentences and playing them back.
- Speech-to-text can allow students to focus more on their speaking skills and even their writing skills without focusing on usage of a keyboard.
- Audible dictionaries can provide students independent access to correct pronunciations.
- Instant messaging services or video calls can give students practice opportunities with other native or non-native English speakers.
- Simple tools such as digital highlighters for use with digital texts replicate the paper-based version of this tactic. This can help students keep track of important words and sentences as they are reading
One resource educators might find particularly helpful for helping use technology to enhance instruction for ELL students is “Technology –Enhanced Instruction for English as a Second Language (ESL) and Bilingual Education”, a resource guide generated by the New York State Education Department. This resource helps educators working with ELLs think about how to integrate technology into their instruction while enhancing their learning. It also provides an exceptionally useful self-evaluation tool that educators can use to think more deeply about the degree to which they are integrating technology into their instruction.
Here are a few additional resources showing how technology can be effectively used in the classroom to support ELLs:
- Colorín colorado, a website designed to support the families and educators of ELLs, provides a series of videos illustrating innovative ways to meaningfully integrate technology into English language acquisition activities such as how to use digital cameras to teach vocabulary.
- Edutopia provides additional ideas for how to use technology to support ELL instruction, such as creative ways to use videos to encourage language acquisitions.
- Nebraska Mosaic showcases how ELLs in high school make use of iPods to practice English listening and speaking.
It is important to note that, regardless of student access to technology at school or home, educators should remember, above all, that students are absolutely capable of learning how to use this technology. Sugata Mitra’s technology experiments in India and in other places across the world beautifully illustrate children’s self-teaching abilities regarding technology use. His 2010 TED Talk is a powerful reminder that education is a “question of attitude, not technology.”
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1 Cavanagh, S. (2014). Evaluating Schools’ Tech. Readiness for Common-Core Testing, Education Week, March 10, 2014. Retrieved on November 3, 2014 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/13/25challenges.h33.html.
2 Keesler, V., Forward, L., & Judd, D. (September 10, 2013). Presentation delivered to the Michigan State Board of Education. Retrieved on October 19, 2014 from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Item_B_Tech_ReadinessPPT_435617_7.pdf.
3,5 Kemker, K. (2007). Technology in low socio-economic K-12 schools: Examining student access and implementation, Graduate Thesis, University of Florida. Retrieved on October 19, 2014 from http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3239&context=etd.
Livingstone, S. & Helsper, E. (2007). Gradations in digital inclusion: children, young people and the digital divide. New Media & Society, 9 (4), 671-696. Retrieved on October 19, 2014 from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/2768/1/Gradations_in_digital_inclusion_(LSERO).pdf.