What iLearned at ISTE 2011 – Part 2

What if? History Project

During our visit to the poster sessions at the conference, we learned of an interesting project conducted by students attending the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  The teacher, Diana Laufenberg, created a counterfactual or alternate history project that focused on the investigation of historical events through research and creativity.

Students were responsible for identifying a point in American History where they would change the outcome.  After reading background information and identifying the point of divergence, students researched three events preceding their point of divergence, and then introduced three new events in history leading up to 2011.

The essential questions addressed three main ideas for this project:

How do the actions of individuals impact the historical record?

How do systemic changes impact the historical record?

How influential can one decision be in the historical landscape?

Students worked independently and collaboratively with their peers in developing their presentation of ideas.  The project included an organizer, a work contract and a journal to record the process. Projects were assessed using a rubric and presentations were uploaded onto the school website.

American History can be one of the most difficult subjects for English Language Learners because of the unfamiliarity with historical events in the U.S.A.  The research needed for a counterfactual project can help ELLs gain an understanding of the impact these events have had on our lives today.

Just imagine the alternate history that would be created if a student had never moved to the U.S.A  How would this have affected their lives, schools, or communities?

For more information on the What if? History Project please visit:

http://tinyurl.com/whatifhistory

Finding their Voice

Finding their Voice        

English Language Learners develop basic oral communication skills during day to day interactions with peers and teachers, but how do we help our English Language Learners develop the cognitive communicative skills needed to be successful in academic settings?

The linguistic and contextual structure of vocabulary that is used in a school setting (e.g. a social studies text vs. a science text) challenges ELLs as they learn academic content.  In addition, ELLs encounter difficulties when attempting to orally communicate ideas and concepts because of their unfamiliarity of the grammatical arrangement of the words in phrases and sentences used in academic discourse.

ELLs need ample production opportunities with partners to develop oral fluency. Technology can be utilized to support oral language learning in both formal and informal settings within the classroom.  The use of technology provides a low anxiety environment with a focus on communication and error acceptance.

Here are a few interesting ways in which educators can help English Language Learners in finding their voice:

Voicethread is an amazing tool that allows students to upload images and files in different ways.  Students can post text, record their voices, and comment on other projects.  Students can write scripts and record with this useful web-based tool.  Like most students, ELLs enjoy recording and publishing their own podcasts. It’s simple to set-up and easy to use. 

Voki allows ELLs to create a Voki avatar and add voice to the character.  Students can record by phone, use text to speech, record using a microphone, or upload an audio file.  Customize the Voki voice, clothing, accessories, and background.  Then publish and share the Voki via e-mail or use a code to share it anywhere.

Just imagine students creating podcast discussions of book reports, autobiographies, debates, current events or just creating visual and oral representations of a set of instructions or a process.  With this technology, there are limitless activities and projects that will help ELLs find their voice.

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?

Using Wikis with English Language Learners

Looking for an appropriate collaboration tool to use with ELLs?

A Wiki is an excellent resource for students to develop skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.   Wikis encourage students to collaborate with each other without having to be in the same physical place.  It’s also a great opportunity for teachers to provide individual feedback on their students’ work.

There are many resourceful ways in which Wikis can be utilized in the classroom with ELLs.   Here are just a few innovative ideas:

Writing Projects - Wikis allow students to work on group projects for essays, reports and creative writing projects.  Students will be able to write drafts that can be edited by their peers and teachers.  For example, a student can upload a report while other students in the group can upload images and videos to the project.  A Wikispace can become a repository of work that will track an ELLs’ growth in writing by allowing the teacher to see every draft of a document.

Online Glossaries - Use Wikis to encourage students to create interactive online glossaries for academic vocabulary. Students can work individually or as a group to create, post and edit information.  Explanations of glossary terms can include native language translations, video clips, illustrations, audio recordings and web links.

Listening- Speaking Project – Students create their own audio clips by recording themselves reading their essays and posting them to the Wiki.  This project allows students to practice pronunciation and rerecord themselves as needed.  Students can then listen to each others recordings and share comments.  This Wiki activity permits ELLs to work at their own pace in a safe and low anxiety environment.

Discussion Boards – Teachers and students can upload texts, videos or images to further develop communicative competence in an online forum.  ELLs will discuss, develop and produce high quality texts while emphasizing language skills and technology skills.  They can create book clubs or study groups as a virtual class activity. Students no longer need to rely on e-mails to share their comments.

For more information on using Wikis and other Web 2.o tools refer to Empower English Language Learners with Tools From the Web by Lori Langer de Ramirez.

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.

NYSABE-New York State Association of Bilingual Education Conference

Encounter with an ESL “Rock Star”!

We were at the New York State Association of Bilingual Education Conference (NYSABE) on Thursday and Friday and had the pleasure of meeting Keynote Speaker, Ana Uhl Chamot, the co-designer of the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), an instructional model for English Language Learners. (if you haven’t heard).  We were like groupies, got our books signed and took lots of pictures. We even got to talk shop a little.

Of course, we discussed the use of technology with ELLs and how it aligns perfectly with the CALLA model.  Many tech tools encourage metacognitive development and reinforce the use of differentiated learning strategies.

E-Book readers are good examples.  They make it easy for students to practice their reading skills with links to additional content, one touch access to word definitions, instant highlighting, and note-taking tools.  iPods are great too, as you can teach study skills with electronic flashcards and applications such as iQuiz.

We know that our students learn best when they have a repertoire of learning strategies to draw from and when they are reflective, critical thinkers.  As Ana Uhl Chamot mentioned,  the CALLA model encourages showing students how to practice vs. practicing more, breaking down tasks and modeling what the outcome will look like.

This allows students to practice strategically and identify the thoughts and actions that they use to help them complete a learning task, especially when they are struggling with a concept.  Having many learning strategies means more use of higher order thinking skills which equals more success for our students!