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.

Digital Storytelling for ELLs

Developing Writing and Oral Communication Skills

Teachers are enhancing their content-based lessons using 21st Century tools to develop ESL students’ language and communication skills. They are discovering that digital storytelling projects increase motivation, creativity and overall achievement in the language classroom.  Not only do learning projects like this enhance the acquisition of English, but the students are also acquiring transferable 21st skills.

Free or fee-based  online subscriptions to sites such as discoveryeducation.com provide teachers with a variety of media that can be searched by subject, grade or media type as well as lesson plan resources and classroom management tools. Teachers have the option to download full video or video segments and to save what they like so that students can view and review them anytime or anywhere.

Teachers and students can script, record and edit their own digital stories. The Flip camcorder is portable and easy to use, but we don’t use their editing software.  Instead video clips can be imported into Windows MovieMaker or iMovie to create video lessons and study prep guides on content area topics.  Both MovieMaker and iMovie allow the user to import additional sound and picture files to create a movie project that is polished, professional and tailored to the learning objectives of the class.

Hall Davidson, www.discoveryedspeakersbureau.com, an expert on digital storytelling and teaching with media technology states: “What veteran teachers suspected the research has proved: 21st Century students are different. With different attention spans, higher IQ test scores, and social networks, their sophistication comes earlier—with a different skill set. There is a silver lining: We can teach this “New Brain” more effectively, more efficiently, more engagingly. We have the technology! Media has evolved and education must evolve to match.”

ISTE Conference 2011

International Society for Technology in Education Annual Conference, Philadelphia PA

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?

Play-Based Learning On The Go

I recently spent 5 hours driving in a car from New York to Maryland with my eleven year-old daughter & twelve year-old son.   Before heading on our journey, I decided it would be a good idea to bring my iPad for entertainment.

First, I had to set some time limits on how long each one would have with the iPad.  It’s no easy task deciding how much time each could play or who will be the first!  Nevertheless, we were on our way.  Besides a few music requests from my music library, they got to play their favorite apps.

I encourage my kids to play educational apps that challenge their thinking and yet are fun.  Two apps in particular that we all like to play are Stack the States and Stack the Countries.  The object of the game is to earn a random state or country for every level completed to create your own personalized map.

The Stack the States app features questions about capitals, state shapes, abbreviations, bordering states, locations on a map, nicknames and other trivia.  The Stack the Countries app features questions about capitals, landmarks, major cities, continents, border countries, languages, flags, and country shapes.

Though some of the questions seem easy such as, “Which state borders New Jersey?”  Others were a little more difficult like, “Which country shares a border with Malaysia?”  My kids find it particularly interesting when I can’t figure out the answer.  Though those times are few, I do enjoy sharing the tips to figuring out the answers.

Educational apps help reinforce what is learned in school, build memory and critical thinking skills.  Why not use them in schools?  What a great tool to integrate in a classroom where English Language Learners can work side by side with their Native English speaking peers.  ELLs are a resource and bring a world of knowledge into a classroom.  Play-based learning with their classmates provides the perfect low-anxiety opportunity for them to use the English language to share their world view with others!

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.

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!

From Paint to Moviemaker

 I recently saw my daughter’s 5th grade comic strip writing project and was amazed at the creativity and simplicity of bringing creative story writing to life .  Her 5th grade teacher, Ms. Lawniczak, uses technology as the instructional tool for writing.   She empowers her students with the necessary tools and ideas needed to develop 21st Century skills.

Ms Lawniczak effectively meets the needs of all learners within her classroom by designing lessons that do not rely on traditional textbooks and teachings, instead, the instruction provides engaging and meaningful technology-based activities.  The comic strip writing activity includes pictures given to each student and the use of  programs such as Paint & Moviemaker.

In the lesson, the students create storyboards using the Paint program.  The Paint program is a drawing program that allows the students to draw, paint, and add text to their pictures.  These pictures can be saved as a jpg file and imported into MovieMaker to create a slide show.  The final steps include the addition of transitions, effects and music to their comic strips. 

The project is published on Moviemaker and shared with the class and parents.  The Paint and MovieMaker programs allow English Language Learners (ELLs) the opportunity of using visuals to express their understanding.  In particular, beginner ELLs may have a hard time creating stories, so you can help them along by giving them a sentence starter, such as “I wish I could…” or “If I could be a Superhero, I would be….”

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.