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English Language Learners, Digital Tools, Authentic Audiences

Colored Scene with Bridge

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.

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hurst.claggett's picture

Three NWP participants in my district (including myself) are going to be piloting iPod Touches for middle school ELLs.  Do you know of any great iPod or iPad literacy apps or ideas for ELLs?  I found several great free apps (without ads) that I really like.  You can see my recommendations on my blog:  MullOverThings Free Apps

WritingforChange's picture

Our site is using both iPods and iPads with our students. Our population is predominately English Language Learners. We are documenting our journey on a blogpage called Writing in my Hand http://writinginmyhand.org/?p=275 We have lessons and app ideas. Hope this helps.

erinwilkey's picture

Hi Matt,

How exciting for you and your students!

Not sure if you have seen this resource, but there is a Google Doc that is an open, collaborative list of Apps for Education. You may find some new ideas there. Also, you can add any new apps you find to the list!

Click here to access the doc.

Good luck!

hurst.claggett's picture

Thanks for the link to the doc.  That is a very nice collection, and I like the way it is sorted.  I'll be adding some to the list.  - Matt

apang4's picture

Hello -- I just joined so that I could see these resources -- This was advertised on Edutopia -- and yet it says the resources are to follow.  I am unable to find a link to discover the resources!  Please help!

christina's picture

Hello Amy - Welcome to NWP Digital Is. The resources you will find here are mostly those of teachers' stories and inquiries, coupled often with classroom resources and student work examples. There is a search you can use in the upper right hand corner of the website and also a set of tags on the community page that can help you get a sense of the range of topics here (see http://digitalis.nwp.org/tagadelic/chunk/1).

Also I noticed that you started here, http://digitalis.nwp.org/collection/english-language-learners-digital-tools ... and if you look in the right column you will see a set of resources the authors have curated related to this topic of English learners, tools and audience. Are these topics you'd like to find more resources about? There are more resources related to these topics so happy to help you find some more things to look at too.

Btw, can you point me to the EduTopia article you read? We love EduTopia and I wouldn't want to miss it!


fctrvl's picture

I also read the article on EduTopia and came looking for ideas.  Thanks for the information.  Here is the article that led us here.  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/20-ideas-for-engaging-projects-suzie-boss

Best wishes, Francesca

anne-charlie's picture
on Oct 30 2012

Resources in this collection

High-Rise Rainbow
Rainbow Ball Lights, Camera, Social Action!
Rainbow Quilt A Fourth Grade Service Learning Project
Buildings Reflected Literacy, ELL, and Digital Storytelling
Crossing a Golden Bridge Technology Recipes for English Language Learners