iPad Training for Teachers: It’s all about the Apps

We recently conducted a three-day workshop for teachers who are using iPads with kids in grades K-12. Although all of the teachers worked with ELLs, some of the teachers were ESL teachers, others taught ELA, Math, Social Studies, or Special Education.  You get the picture. We were all over the map as far as our audience was concerned.

So, the obvious question is how do we train teachers from such a wide variety of settings to use the iPad effectively in their classroom? This answer lies at the very core of what makes the iPad so unique: differentiation through apps!

Once the initial how-to session about the functions and features of the iPad is completed, the emphasis must switch. Professional developers must model differentiation for the teachers, just as they would do for the students in the classroom, through the use of solid apps.

This begins by exploring applications that are truly educational and useful for each teacher in their subject area or focus. First share the apps that are basic tools for instruction such as reference tables, calculators, readers, and dictionaries. Introduce apps like iBooks, Stanza, Periodic Table of Elements, Google Earth, and CalcMadeEasy.

If you are part of a district wide initiative using iPads, there should be one set of student tools for managing notebooks, submitting classwork and studying for all students. You must decide as a class which tools you will all use.  Index Card is a great app that allows users to customize flash cards and organize them into categories for studying.

Ideally teachers should create a paperless system. (Can you imagine a world where you do not have to carry home 5 classes worth of assignments on Friday night?) By allowing students to submit their work via the iPad, teachers begin to model one of the true 21st Century learning protocols.

The buzz at ISTE 2011 was that Evernote works very well for this and is a robust app for creating, storing, and sharing documents. The native app Notes is a simpler note-taking tool. Of course, you always have the option to print out assignments when necessary.

As for instruction, remember that oftentimes the best apps cross over into many disciplines. For example, after we distributed our best apps list for ELLs, a teacher shared with us her best apps for Special Ed and we discovered a whole new bunch of apps that can be used with a variety of students.Apps for brainstorming and mindmapping such as iThoughtsHD and Popplet are universal tools for differentiated instruction.

Finally, teachers have to establish a classroom routine that works for them and their teaching style. Whether you have an iPad center a few times a week, or each student uses an iPad every day, the priority must be to set up classroom rules about how and when the iPad is used to achieve the instructional goals the teacher has designed.

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.

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.

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.