ESOL Assistive Technologies

Overview of ESOL and Implications on Learning

"We are our language," (Hill 1). The language we speak and the culture we come from are defining attributes of who we are as people. Many English language learners (ELLs) are enrolled in U.S. public schools. For these students learning in a secondary language can be frustrating and isolating. Many students suffer a loss of self-esteem and some even are misdiagnosed with a learning disability. Becoming fluent in another language can take up to 10 years, nearly an entire general education career. Therefore, learning to accommodate students in language acquisition is a must for all teachers in public education. It is the teacher who must know how to teach students content and language. Balancing the two can be challenging. In this assignment we focus specifically on Juan, going on 3rd grade and in early stages of English language acquisition, and the resources are available for him and his teachers to make his learning experiences in our schools positive and meaningful.

Case Study

Juan is a 9 year old boy who will be starting 3rd grade in August, 2009. He is enrolled in the Elementary ESOL program in his school district.His birthplace is Mexico and he has lived in the United States for two years. His family moved to Missouri for his parents' jobs. Juan lives with both parents and 2 siblings. The primary language in the home is Spanish. His parents' English is limited, but they are easily able to communicate important ideas.His teacher reports that his attendance is average. He is average size and is in good health.

Due to the fact that Juan has English as his second language, there are certain educational needs that must be met. His teacher reports that his main needs due to ESOL are in the areas of: reading, writing, and social communication.

His social communication needs were noticed the first year when Juan was very shy and preferred to work alone. Even as the year continued and he became more open, he continued to struggle within the regular classrooms to communicate with his peers and others. The teacher reports that Juan lacked social skills and confidence to talk with peers and adults. He has reported to the teacher that he is afraid of speaking incorrectly or not being able to understand other students if they talk too quickly.

Reading and writing are really a struggle for Juan as he works to develop language skills. The main areas of need are in vocabulary recognition, word recognition and fluency. Juan needs visual cues, picture dictionaries, modeling of ideal reading and writing samples, and needs to hear English read to him often. He lacks confidence to attempt much writing. He continually needs specific models to compare to and often becomes frustrated with the use of the dictionary. He requires immediate feedback that is often difficult to provide within the classroom setting.

The teacher reports that she currently uses these technologies: Internet games, CD listening activities, Smart Board and digital cameras. She has a webcam, digital videorecorder, and computer microphone. She reports that she is interested in other uses of technology to assist her ESOL students.Juan is motivated to learn and when using the computer does attempt most activities with little frustration. The visual and audio components help keep his interest and often encourage him to try harder.Juan does not have a computer at home, but his parents report that they would eventually like to have one in their home.


Action Plan for Juan: ESOL Technology Interventions

1. Identify Needs-Identifying the current needs of our ESOL students can be done by using the district's current assessments such as the Direct Reading Assessment (DRA), teacher and student interviews, formal and informal observations and research of ESOL overall. For this project we focused on the interview of teacher and current research of ESOL overall.

2. Locate Assistive Technologies-
After identifying the main areas of need, we looked for assistive technologies to help meet these needs. Our main focus was in Reading/Writing and Social Communication. In addition, we added some assistive technologies to supplement math skills for ESOL students.We have discussed these assistive technologies and how they would benefit Juan and other ESOL students with similar needs.

Reading and Writing:
Juan could benefit from collaborative Wiki projects in the mainstream classroom. Wiki projects would give him opportunities to read peer writing and receive peer feedback. It would also be motivating and create the desire to write for a purpose. Wikis are a free online resource that should not be a problem for classroom access.

Podcasts are another recommendation for Juan. Podcasts provide students the opportunity to work collaboratively writing the podcasts. Then Juan would have the opportunity to practice reading and speaking in order to prepare for the recording. Listening to podcasts would be beneficial for Juan to give him a good model of the English language. Juan would also benefit from listening to the recording of himself in the podcast. Podcasts can be created using free online resources such as Audacity. There are many podcasts available for free download.

Juan would benefit from many available visual cues, photos, clip art, and virtual field trips to aid his reading comprehension and writing attempts. These items can easily be obtained with a digital camera or through online resources. There are several appropriate resources listed in our blog article "Technologies to aid in Reading for ESOL Students."

Social Communication:
Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab:
 This site has interactive listening exercises where students take part in a virtual conversation and then are asked to choose the appropriate response. This would help Juan develop better communication skills in a safe and forgiving environment. He would be allowed the necessary think time and also would be presented with models and examples of how a normal conversation should sound.

English Daily:
This website has many categories that would help with social communication for Juan and other ESOL students. The two areas that would be most beneficial is the Conversation and Idiom areas. The Conversation area provides examples for Juan to see how a real-life casual conversation looks and sounds. The Idioms section would clear up some confusion caused by many common idioms used by Juan's teachers and peers that are often taken literally and cause a gap in clear communication.

 Teachers can create VoiceThreads that contain pictures of vocabulary and the spoken vocabulary word for students. Juan can view the VoiceThread which will provide him with multiple opportunities to see and hear the vocabulary in context. Jaun can also create his own VoiceThreads. Juan could be paired with English speaking students to create social communication practice.

"Voice to Text" :
 Allows students to see their words in print. This would help Jaun practice with how his voice sounds aloud and then what it looks like in print. This again would allow for the reflective time he needs to be confident in his speaking.

Other basic assistive technologies: Digital video recordings, audio recordings and digital video chatting online can benefit Juan to hear his own voice. Paired with an English speaker, Juan would be able to compare and contrast the different oral presentations.

Though mathematics is often considered the universal language, students with weak reading skills can struggle considerably. It is important to understand what a problem is asking. Good reading skills are essential for understanding how to solve word problems. So the aforementioned reading strategies are certainly applicable in a math setting.

Virtual Manipulatives-These are especially good for getting students, especially those in ELL programs, to higher levels of cognitive thinking. Here are some examples of virtual manipulatives that can be used with mathematics, these are specific to second/third-grade:

Base 10 Blocks: This also has a language option to read in other languages.

Pan Balance: NCTM Illuminations has lots of lessons with virtual manipulatives

Internet4classrooms: This part of the site contains lots of second-grade skill level online math games and activities.

There are more suggestions for helping Juan with mathematics in the post about Instructional Strategies.

3. Implement these assistive technologies-
Implementing these technologies must occur in many different ways. We must consider resources, time, assistance and participation levels.

Having the proper resources is essential. Juan's classroom is equipped with Internet and access to many student computers. This will allow access to many of the online resources we have listed above. We attempted to choose many that were free to access online. Juan is also fortunate in that his classroom is equipped with digital cameras, video cameras, microphones, etc. This will also allow the use of the audio and video technologies listed above.

Time must be considered in that Juan's school day only allows for so many minutes in each subject area. The teacher must work to incorporate as much of this as time will allow during school hours and may request help from after-school programs or home if possible.

Assistance will be needed at first to make Juan familiar with the programs and ensure they are being utilized effectively. A teachers' aide, parent volunteer, upper grade student would all be considerations for this additional assistance.

Juan's level of participation is critical in implementing these suggestions. He must see the relevance and have the level of understanding necessary to create meaningful learning. If these resources are used properly, he should see their importance and desire to increase his learning with the help of technology.

4. Plan for assessment to determine effectiveness-
Obviously, there is a need to determine if the above mentioned technologies are effective. We know that we could ideally see any improvement by reassessing using the same district assessments (ex. DRA), informal observations, another teacher interview and even interviewing Juan.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


While many of these instructional strategies are effective in any classroom with many students, they are especially successful with students in language acquisition:

Graphic Organizers: One example, (created in Notebook 10 software) is shown right; it could be used for taking notes. Adding images to advanced/graphic organizers is a good way to help students in varying stages of language acquisition to understand the organizer. This should be modeled first. This could be printed or provided electronically depending on the grade level and technological ability of the student. (adapted from Classroom Instruction that Works for English Language Learners)

Physical Models: "The use of nonlinguistic representations enhances students' ability to represent and elaborate on knowledge using mental images," (Hill 7). Words alone are not sufficient to convey meaning to ELLs. "Their instruction must by supplemented with real objects, visuals, body language, facial expressions, gestures, and hands-on experiences," (Hill 37). One example of using physical models is using Claymation for students to create short movies and stories. Claymation is basically animation with clay--students create figures out of clay with which to tell a story. Using a digital camera, computer, and video software, their story comes to life. This can be motivating for a student in early stages of language acquisition because it is something interesting, relatively short, and gives them a reason to tell a story. Also, the focus on language takes a backseat to the animation of the figures. This lends itself well to cooperative learning assignments as well. By working with others, a student like Juan could help with the figures and the story, but maybe doesn't have to narrate on film. And in a cooperative setting, students often feel safe in conversation amongst a small group and group discussions are necessary so it gets the students talking.

Setting Goals and Providing Feedback:

  • "Set goals that are specific but flexible, and contract with students to attain specific learning goals," (Hill 28). If ELLs can write their own learning goals with their teacher they have a greater sense of control over their education and may feel more compelled to meet that goal. This can also foster a good working relationship between teacher and student.
  • Feedback is vital to learning. The way language usage is corrected by a teacher affects the modifications a student makes. If feedback is constructive in nature, students will use that feedback to rephrase. With ELLs one recommended method of correcting language usage errors is called Reformulation. Reformulation is a correction that is disguised as a "conversational aside." For example if a student says "She has a brown hair," a reformulation response would be "Oh, she has brown hair, has she?" Basically, it is better not to outwardly correct the grammatical mistake, but to rephrase and model correct usage instead. It is also recommended to used rubrics to provide feedback as often as possible, especially if ELLs take part in the development of the rubric. (Hill 31-33)

Cooperative Learning:
Working in cooperative learning groups allows students to have more opportunities to speak and each member has a stake in the success of the group. Working in small groups can minimize the anxiety that many ELLs feel, especially if the group works together often and had had team-building experience. One example is a cooperative learning jigsaw: Each member of the home team has a topic relevant to the lesson, students are then reorganized to topic-alike teams and, using resources provided around the classroom, learns that topic exclusively. Then each member goes back to their home team and teaches their group about their topic. Then each home team prepares a group presentation. Click here to read more about cooperative learning. (Hill 56-61)

Homework and Practice:
  • A homework policy should be made clear to parents and students. For ELLs it is good to send home a policy in a language their parents can understand.
  • Homework assignments should have a clear purpose. It is okay for homework assignments that ELLs do to be modified or given extended time. Homework for ELLs in early stages of language acquisition should focus on vocabulary. Lots of visual cues and directions in primary language are helpful. Also, a preparatory homework assignment may be beneficial for ELLs--if they can prepare ahead of time for the lesson, they might not feel as overwhelmed or have as much anxiety if they have had vocabulary development on an upcoming lesson.
  • ELLs can benefit from peer review and seeing examples of homework.
(Hill 78-80)

Technology and Software Ideas:
Using technology is a good way to differentiate and motivate for all students. Here are some sites I think are especially helpful for ELLs.
  • Comic Life- "A comic can be purely graphical in nature and help provide practice with sequencing as well as concrete to abstract transitions using illustrations instead of written words," (Thacker). When teaching reading skills of pulling out important information from a story, give students 6 boxes and have them pick out six of the most important things in the story and create a comic slide for each event. This can be a way for ELLs to learn a graphical way of summarizing. And for early acquisition stage learners, they don't have to add words, maybe just pictures at first as a modification (Hill 63).
  • Memorize words Flashcard System- this can be helpful for vocabulary development.
  • BrainPOP creates animated, curriculum-based content that supports educators and engages students. BrainPOP is used in numerous ways, from introducing a new lesson or topic to illustrating complex subject matter to reviewing before a test. Content is aligned to state standards. All products are fully compatible with PCs, Macs, projectors, and interactive whiteboards. No downloading, installation, or special hardware is required.
  • There is also a BrainPOP Jr. site that provides educational movies and homework help for K-3 students. Each animated movie has quizzes, games, vocabulary, and activities for kids. BrainPOP Jr. is a great resource for teachers, offering lesson plans and lesson ideas that develop critical thinking and inquiry skills.
  • BrainPOP is also available in Spanish.
  • Kidspiration- This software is really incredible. Please go to the site if you haven't heard of it. It does so much: develops critical thinking and problem solving skills, helps visual enhance reading and writing skills, develops conceptual understanding in math, and has special accommodations for ELLs. Here is what the site says about support for ELLs:
    For ELL and ESL learners in grades K-5, vocabulary building is critical for reading and writing proficiency, the core of academic success. Kidspiration uses proven visual learning strategies to build students' vocabulary and English comprehension with the integrated Picture and Writing Views, the Word Guide, longer audio recording capacity and expanded symbol search and libraries. ELL and ESL students will also benefit from Kidspiration's emphasis on developing and using independent strategies such as pictorial representation of thoughts and concepts, and sight vocabulary lists in Word Guide which align with Fry's Instant Word List, Dolch Word List and TESL vocabulary.
  • ESL Pro English for Kids -This is software designed by ESL professionals. It helps students learn the English language with sounds, pictures, definitions, and diagrams.
  • Student Response Systems (clickers)- these can be an effective way of doing informal assessments. And since everyone can answer, or "click-in", without speaking it can be a good way to give ELLs a chance to participate without feeling embarrassed or called-out. It can also give ELLs a chance to think about what they want to select or say before clicking in.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What technologies are available to aid in Social Communication for ESOL students

ESOL students often find it difficult to communicate and interact with others because their English is limited. ESOL students are often shy, embarrassed or nervous about communicating aloud, in person, and in groups. What types of assistive technologies are available to help meet these needs? (click on comments to find resources to meet these needs)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Technologies to aid in Reading for ESOL students

There are many online sites available that would be beneficial to ESOL students. We have listed a few here that we feel are quality sites along with explanations of why they are appropriate and how they will help ESOL students.

The Teacher's Lounge at Professor Garfield - This site has electronic field trips and vocabulary links that would benefit students learning the English language.

Mrs. Levin's Classroom Website - This page has ideas for using ipods for ESL students in the classroom. Mrs. Levin's Class is kindergarten but the ideas can be adapted for students in higher elementary grades. Audacity is a "free open source software for recording and editing sound" (audacity website) that can be used to create podcasts. Podcasts would be beneficial to English language learners because it gives them the opportunity to practice speaking and listening. StoryNory is a site with free stories to download to your ipod to help students learn English. The Dept. of Education website offers an article, Podcasts in the Classroom, with general information and explanations of podcasts. Learning in Hand provides another useful article with information about iPods and podcasting in education to help you get started.

Pictures of vocabulary can be found in many sites all over the internet. An
online picture dictionary could be very useful for students to use as a reference during writing and reading activities. My English is a great picture dictionary with audio pronunciations of the word.

Digital Cameras in Education are very helpful for enhancing learning and communication in the classroom. The digital camera could be used for students and teachers to capture and share pictures of vocabulary. These pictures also make wonderful prompts for writing and speaking.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reflection from Contributors

Here each contributor will respond to these two reflective questions:
  • What experiences do you have and what needs do you foresee in your situation?

  • What did you discover that was new to you?