Digital Learning For English Language Learners

November 16, 2020

Vipula Sharma shares a collection of digital learning tips and strategies for supporting English Language Learners.  

Digital Learning For English Language Learners

English Language Learners in my classes have a diverse range of needs; from needing help to build their vocabulary to making sense of content rich text within the curriculum. Due to gaps in their language it is difficult to assess their real understanding of the topics being studied and this is where I find using technology to be really beneficial. We use tech tools to translate, to research in the home language and to find images and videos to help make sense of the topic being covered in Maths, Science or Humanities.

When working with my ELLs my key learning goals are to:

  1. Discover their current knowledge, skills and understanding
  2. Support them to become more independent learners who can use technology to guide their own learning, especially in terms of understanding and using academic language
  3. Build intrinsic motivation through more active engagement and discussion around the whys of the learning
  4. Provide immediate feedback in order to support further progress

As a Digital Learning Coach I advocate for a balanced and purposeful use of technology; more traditional workbooks, textbooks and non-tech based learning tasks are equally important and I also use board games such as Scrabble and Bananagrams as part of my teaching and learning toolkit. We deconstruct texts and focus on how language is used to organise ideas.

 In this article however, it is my aim to share various tech tools that I find to be particularly useful with ELLs and it has to be said that these have been invaluable in supporting both face to face and distance learning. I would add that these tech tools would support learning for all students in any class and not just ELLs – tech tools that make it easier for students to access content, to collaborate and to create. I would not be the first educator to say that when planning on integrating tech into my teaching and learning, I start with my learning outcomes, my learning goals, I then consider what tech tools would really enhance the learning and how; I also share this with my ELLs so that they fully understand and appreciate the reasons behind the tech being used.

I’ll categorise the tech I use into the following 4 areas:

  1. Tech to build vocabulary
  2. Tech to practise grammar points
  3. Tech to show comprehension of concepts (input of language and content)
  4. Tech for production (output of language and content)

Embedded within our use of technology are conversations around Digital Citizenship, Digital Wellbeing and Digital Learning. I think it is really important to raise awareness about the positive and negative uses of technology; I want my learners to be mindful when they are online. We talk about how to use technology respectfully and responsibly, how to use it in a balanced and safe way. 

1.  Tech to build vocabulary

ELLs have a lot of new words to learn within their mainstream classes. Tools such as Quizlet, Quizizz, Socrative and Google Forms allow me to create quizzes and formative tests to build understanding of key terminology – the key word and its meaning. My learners enjoy the self-paced and competitive nature offered by these platforms and their results prove that learning takes place and key terms are retained. During this stage we also explore word roots, etymology, morphology, antonyms and synonyms in order to further consolidate vocabulary acquisition.

 2.  Tech to practise grammar points

I find my ELLs have a wide range of understanding of grammatical points and in order to support each child individually and also to make them more independent, I show them how to access websites where they can work on exercises for the various grammar points that they may be struggling with. I find the element of choice, active engagement and receiving immediate feedback really supports their learning. You will find links for some of our favourite sites within the Wakelet collection shared at the end of this article.

 3.  Tech to show comprehension of concepts

ELLs have to read a lot of texts that contain tier 2 and 3 words (academic, technical and specialist vocabulary) and they also need to listen to and make sense of explanations and teacher instruction around topics they may find abstract or unfamiliar. I make use of tools such as Edpuzzle as this allows me to embed questions into a video thus ensuring that there is active engagement with the listening and a presence of visual cues. I receive immediate feedback on the learning and can make personalised adjustments to the learning as needed by individuals. Google Forms is also a useful tool to design a differentiated learning pathway activity; based upon their answers I can send the learner on to a recap or an extension task all within the same Google Form. Seesaw, Nearpod and PearDeck also play a key role in helping me to ensure that I hear the voice of all my students – be it face to face or in hybrid teaching. These tools allow my learners to participate actively, they need to engage with the learning as they will all be required to share their understanding.

 4.  Tech for production

In order to show me their knowledge, skills and understanding I also need my learners to be able to express themselves orally and in writing. I support them through this production stage through think-alouds as I model how I would tackle the task. I share graphic organisers with them within our Google Classroom and we talk about the importance of planning, drafting and editing. Although I love the power of Google Docs and Google Slides to create interactive digital notebooks, one of my favourite platforms has to be Book Creator. I create a library within Book Creator and invite my learners to create their individual books where not only can they write text but also record themselves talking. I can easily monitor their progress and make suggestions for improvement or correct misunderstandings. I find my students love the creative opportunities offered through the production of multi-media books, they are inspired by each other’s work and are always keen to share their learning thus further building social relationships and the culture of learning within our lessons.

Our ELLs need to be provided with the right tools and strategies to help them to become more independent learners, especially during hybrid or distance learning scenarios as the mainstream teacher may not always be able to provide them with the time and support needed. There is a wealth of excellent Digital Learning resources and ideas being shared by educators; I would like to end this article by sharing a wakelet collection of ideas, tech tools and websites that work well for my learners and I hope you too may find them of some use:

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