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

What iLearned at ISTE 2011 – Part 1

The ISTE conference in Philadelphia was one of the most exciting events we have recently seen.  Everything we attended provided us with new insights into tech and education.  

We left Long Island at 6:00 a.m. and arrived in Philadelphia bright and early ready to tackle the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  We found a parking lot for $10.00 just four blocks away!  That was a great start to a great day.

Our first workshop was “Tammy’s Top 20 Favorite Free Web Tools.”  Tammy Worchester demonstrated a variety of websites for educators.  Here are some of our favorites for English Language Learners:

Bibme.org is a fully automatic bibliography maker. It’s a very easy way for ELLs to learn how to build and format a works cited page.

Qwiki.com is a great way for ELLs to search for information.  The information is delivered in a storytelling format that uses visuals and audio.

Wolframalpha.com is a knowledge engine that generates results by doing computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods.  This is useful for ELLs because unlike typical search engines, results can be found for many different academic tasks.

Fur.ly is a site that shortens multiple urls into one.  This is a useful tool for teachers and students alike.  It makes it easy for ELLs to navigate and categorize webpages.

After the workshop, we met Tammy Worchester in the exhibition hall at the Visions Booth.  Visions publishes a large collection of classroom resources that incorporate technology.  For more information on their products visit www.toolsforteachers.com.

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.”

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.

Welcome to ESL Techies!


Welcome to ESL Techies. As technology integration specialists, we have been training ESL teachers to create 21st century classrooms that help ESL learners acquire both content and language skills.

The idea for ESL Techies.com began several years ago while we were training teachers on how to use iPods in the classroom. We presented our workshop “Using iPods in the ESL Classroom” at Channel Thirteen’s Celebration of Teaching and Learning in NYC and it was very well-received. We realized immediately that there was a great need to help teachers and administrators maximize the potential uses of technology in the ESL classroom.

What is really exciting is that we know technology is an incredibly unique, effective and engaging tool that helps our kids who are struggling to keep up with their native English speaking peers. So finally, today we have the blog we have dreamed about.

We hope you will visit and contribute often as we discuss the various ways that the classroom learning environment is changing for the better for our ELLs. Our aim is to provide you with all sorts of useful information. There is so much to share with you, that we hardly know where to start.

This blog will become a great resource for you and an even greater place to visit regularly for new ideas worth trying in your classroom, school, or district.