The iPad Revolution!

Using iPads with ESL students

So, by now I am sure that every teacher reading this has gotten his or her hands on an iPad, right? Well if you haven’t, you have just been given your summer assignment.  In my opinion, there is no other tech product currently available for teachers that can facilitate teaching and learning like this one.  I think you will find that the iPad is a revolutionary educational tool.

For our purposes, I’m going to narrow the focus to the use of the iPad for English as a Second Language Learners. If you haven’t become a devotee of the iPad universe, join me. Let’s take a look at just a few of the things that make the iPad so unique and so useful for ELLs.

iBooks Struggling readers will find the tools available through iBooks absolutely indispensible.  The highlighter, bookmark and note tools facilitate student comprehension and encourage students to use the reading strategies we have taught them to readily access the content of a text.  By simply touching a word or phrase, they have the option to get the dictionary definition, highlight, annotate, or search.  In addition to marking up a page, the student can  find all the notes and bookmarks in one place when reviewing the text. They can also type in and search for key words or phrases within the text.

Students are able to download  and store books and pdf files without breaking their backs with overloaded book bags.  The library can then be sorted by title, author or category.  Upon opening a book, students can browse the table of contents, flip through pages, or advance to any page in the book with one or two gestures. The brightness, font size, or page color can be adjusted to suit the reader’s preference.  If you prefer to use a Kindle e-reader, (I like it too) you can download the app to your iPad and use that one as well.  There is also an app called OverDrive, which allows you to borrow e-books from your local library!

Notes Lisa and I have been experimenting with several different note tools.  I have found that for basic note-taking the Notes application that comes standard with the iPad is okay.  However, several of the apps now available allow students to record a lecture while drawing, writing or typing their notes.  This is very useful for ESL learners. They can play back the lesson as many times as they like while reviewing and revising their notes. Notes Plus is one such app.  inClass is an app that offers audio, video, and photo note-taking, as well as a student organizer. Other writing apps that are being used in school districts include Office2HD, PaperDesk and iAnnotatePDF.  Dragon Dictation is a speech to text application that is great to use with Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE). Verbally is an assistive speech application that allows users to communicate by selecting from a word bank. Speak it! is a text to speech application that allows  students to hear what they are typing.  UYH Gold is a good for practicing handwriting with SIFE.

Educational Apps We continue to test out apps that are both fun and educationally useful for ELLs.  There are several good ones.  Flipboard allows you to customize and browse the web in a magazine layout that is easy to scan and fun to read. There are also many good word game applications. I like the traditional Boggle and Scrabble.  There are also lots of flashcard apps, such as Index Card, that help students learn study skills. Apps like Stack the States and Star Walk help with content area studies.

Other Tools But wait..there’s more.  Some of my favorite apps include Google Earth and Translator.   We know that our ELLs benefit from having visuals and the iPad screen is the perfect size to view videos and images – not too big and not too small. You do run into a wall sometimes because iPad does not support Adobe Flash, but you can definitely work around that.

This is just a quick look.  There is a lot more.  I hope this has piqued your interest.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to use an iPad yet, my best advice is to get one and see for yourself.  If you know about some useful apps, tell us!

There are a lot of pilot programs for iPads springing up in schools. Here’s a link to an article from Scholastic.com that highlights an iPad pilot program in a  NY school district on Long Island. Who knows, maybe your district will be next?

Every Teacher is a Language Teacher

During a meeting with educational administrators today, Lisa and I were asked a question that we hear over and over again.  Every time, it goes something like this: “How do I help my English, (Math, Social Studies, Reading, Science, etc.) teacher work with the ESL students in his/her classroom?”  They go on to explain that their teachers don’t know what to do.

One unique book that addresses this very important issue is “Every  Teacher’s Toolkit – Closing the Achievement Gap for English Learners” by Karen Kwaguchi (Pearson-Longman).  This is a great book for teachers who have little or no experience with ELLs.  It includes lots of basics like a description of ELL language proficiency levels, a glossary of commonly used terms in English language teaching, and tips on teaching academic vocabulary. Each unit includes mini-lessons, useful graphic organizers and insights on ESL methodology.

Content area teachers need to be reminded that every teacher is a language teacher and every lesson they teach  includes a language component. At the same time, we need to provide all teachers with strategies that will enable the English Language Learner to access the content of each lesson.  This is the basic premise for The SIOP Model (The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) created by D. Short, M.Vogt and J. Echevarria (Pearson-Allyn&Bacon/Merrill). Visit http://www.siopinstitute.net/ for more information.

The SIOP model is  “a scientifically validated model of sheltered instruction designed to make grade-level academic content understandable for English learners while at the same time developing their English language.  The protocol and lesson planning guide ensure that teachers are consistently implementing practices known to be effective for English learners.” -from the SIOP Model for Administrators, 2008

Of course, I know there are no quick fixes or easy answers on training all teachers to effectively address the educational needs of English Language Learners.  The good news is that the right questions are being asked, which means better instruction for all ELLs in the long run.

A Multicultural Perspective on Women’s Rights

Women’s History month is the perfect time to raise awareness that multicultural views and perspectives must be part of the curriculum all year around. Wow! By far one of the best group projects I have seen recently is about Women’s Rights, created by Larry Reiff, an English teacher from Roslyn High School, NY.

Using Proboards.com, Mr. Reiff has set-up an online forum for his students’ group based discussion on women’s rights around the world. Each group is assigned a video clip for viewing along with several thought provoking questions to discuss together during class.  When they go home each student must watch the remaining videos and blog the answers to their questions using Proboards.

Proboards allows teachers to set up free forums for their classes to interact on.  Mr. Reiff set his pages up so that the students could easily find their assignments by clicking on the tab that had their group number on it.  More importantly, the content of each video expressed authentic, real-life struggles and successes of women from around the world such as the Dowry Killings in India or the moving speech “Ain’t I A Woman” read in honor of the author and abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

This is exactly the kind of rich multi-cultural content that ELLs and all students need exposure too.  When it is delivered to the students through tools such as Proboards and video,  the diversity of the world comes to life in the classroom, the content is more comprehensible and the students will remember it!  By the way, I discovered that Mr. Reiff is currently a participant in the Apple Distinguished Educator program.  Congratulations to him!

Learning…Driven by Technology or Instructional Model?

Today at the Celebration of Teaching & Learning Conference, the NYC iSchool discussed how it is changing pedagogy and is utilizing 21st century tools to differentiate and individualize instruction, as well as monitor mastery learning for high school students.

What makes this concept unique is iSchool’s approach to prepare students for college and to the global changes in the work environment.  Traditional classes are conducted along with increased virtual interaction, and self-selected coursework.

In addition to online courses used to prepare students for New York State exams, other learning opportunities include AP courses via Skype, and modules based on student suggestions that teachers create and offer as courses.  

Modules are interdisciplinary challenge-based courses. They last nine weeks. Modules are not like project-based learning which is mapped back to a curriculum, but are about real-life problem solving.

Technology supports the instructional vision of the school. Some of these technology tools include video conferencing, mobile devices, laptops, interactive whiteboards, Moodle LMS, and virtual desktops.

The school reports that students earn over 10 credits per year and that 45% of the students complete all five regents exams in their first two years.