English Language Learners, Digital Tools, Authentic Audiences
The pressure to prepare English language learners for high stakes tests can lead to test-driven curricula that focus too narrowly on an arhetorical drill-and-skill, error-avoidance approach. The resources in this collection stand in stark contrast to this approach. They assume that curricula and teaching approaches for English language learners, as with all learners, should honor students’ own languages, cultures, and interests; engage them in meaningful projects where they write and speak for real audiences; and provide them with a range of tools, including digital tools, for inquiry and composing.
The collection opens with an article by Floris-Wilma Ortiz-Marrero and Karen Sumaryono that frames the resources that follow. In it, they critique what they call the “unconscious impatience with student learning” that can result from the pressure to prepare students quickly for standardized tests and that, in turn, can lead to arhetorical instruction that focuses on correcting errors, instead of using language in meaningful ways. They call instead for approaches that honor students’ home languages and cultures and use “interactive and critical methods of discovery and collaboration.”
That is just what we see in the three resources that follow. For all three of these projects, the dominant language of the created texts is English, but it is clear that in each classroom, students’ home languages and their cultures are also valued. Further, all engage students’ interests, all are project-based, all involve collaboration with much purposive talking as well as writing, and all result in public “texts” with specific purposes for public audiences, whether that be to honor immigrants’ life stories, to inform community members about water pollution, or to persuade other children and adults to work for social justice. All three also use digital tools for inquiry and drafting and editing the public “texts,” delivered as Powerpoint slides, digital stories, and/or podcasts. Strikingly, the published texts for all three projects involve students speaking as well as writing, and the teachers who created the projects underscore the important influence of audience in motivating students to craft their voices for their published texts. What we see with these projects, then, is how digital tools can be embedded in project-based learning, particularly for speech as well as writing and for reaching a range of audiences beyond the classroom.
For those teachers who are not yet comfortable with some of the technology tools, the final resource provides basic instructions on using web sites for blogging, collaborating on group projects, creating digital stories, and podcasting.