May 13 2020

Leveraging Technology Can Help English Language Learners Graduate

Digital tools and data analytics allow teachers to tailor instruction to ELLs’ unique learning needs.

Educators are always looking for ways to meet the needs of English language learners in their school district.

After all, the number of ELLs entering U.S. public schools continues to rise. In fact, they are the fastest-growing student population, according to the National Education Association, and by 2025, are expected to make up an estimated 25 percent of public school students.

Yet when it comes to academic achievement, ELLs still struggle to keep up with their non-ELL peers. Their graduation rate of 67 percent falls behind that of non-ELLs, which was 85 percent in the 2015-2016 school year, the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education.

“This difference in the graduation rates is especially concerning because we know those without a high school diploma experience lower earnings and higher unemployment than those with a diploma,” states the DOE report.

DISCOVER: Learn how a school district is solving the digital-equity problem for ELL students.

One of the reasons why they struggle is because they have “little or no access to quality instruction tailored to their needs,” according to NPR’s deep dive into the state of education for ELLs nationwide.

That issue is even more apparent today as many students adjust to a remote learning environment due to the novel coronavirus. Educators across the country are quickly finding that existing achievement gaps among ELLs could be exacerbated by remote learning challenges — from the digital divide to the decline of face-to-face interactions between students and teachers.

However, there are still ways for educators to ensure ELLs achieve their full potential — whether learning takes place inside or outside the classroom — with the help of technology.

Educational Technology Transforms Learning for ELLs

Meeting the diverse instructional needs of ELL students can be a challenge for many teachers. Not only do these students come from different geographic, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, but they also bring a variety of educational and cultural experiences into the classroom.

To accommodate those factors, researchers have found that differentiated instruction, which focuses on creating learning opportunities for students where they can approach the same content in different ways, is the most effective way to teach ELLs.

Digital tools enable teachers to do just that, even if they have to teach remotely. For example, incorporating multimedia content creation in a lesson using collaborative suites or mobile apps allows teachers to present new material in visual and auditory ways. Rather than having students go through vocabulary drills, teachers can introduce storytelling activities with tools such as Google’s G Suite for Education and apps like Book Creator and Flipgrid.

Makerspaces also support ELL students in their STEM learning. Even if they lack fluency in English or academic language, working on projects with 3D printers or coding kits allows them to build problem-solving, communication and critical-thinking skills.

MORE ON EDTECH: Find out how schools bring e-learning to ELL students.

Supporting ELL Success with Data Analytics

Today, many schools are seeing the impact of making educational decisions based on student data, such as improved retention and graduation rates.

“It really helps teachers personalize learning and pathways,” shares Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, the president of the Data Quality Campaign, in an interview with EdTech.

That approach is also beneficial to tailoring instruction and assessment for ELLs. “Now, ELLs come with various levels of English proficiency, so data analysis provides a snapshot of what they should know, and what can be done to meet their academic needs,” writes Camelia Perez, a middle school assistant principal at United Nations International School, for EdSurge.

But educators need to have the right tools and training in place to make that a reality. Districts with high ELL populations can review how others have used cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft Azure to compile student profiles that enable administrators to easily track and identify at-risk students.

“By reflecting on the data collected and your students’ learning needs, you can ensure their successful transition to a tech world and 21st century job market,” Perez adds

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