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Applying the Right Technology for English-Language Learners

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There are numerous barriers in place when it comes to the instruction of English-language learners (ELLs) in America's K-12 schools. There is the obvious barrier—the language one—along with cultural differences that may impact the way these students learn in comparison to their peers who are native English speakers. There are also some superficial and deep-seeded barriers that can hinder the progress of ELLs in the classroom—ones that are all-too-familiar to educators.

Tracking and documenting the progress of ELLs is complicated, even within the scope of what just one teacher has to do. There are forms to fill out, assessments to be administered and regular day-to-day learning activities to track. Understanding specifically how ELLs are progressing is important though, particularly since the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 10 percent of public school students in the U.S. are ELLs (that's about 4.7 million students). In states like Alaska, Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada, that percentage is even higher. 

ELLs on the rise

From the school years of 2002-2003 to 2011-2012, the percentage of ELLs went up in 40 states, with the highest hike experienced in the western U.S. ELLs are also present in higher numbers in urban areas. In the 2011-2012 school year, ELLs made up just over 14 percent of public school enrollees—up to nearly 17 percent in the largest cities of the U.S. This is important to note, as city and urban settings tend to have the highest issues with overcrowding and lack of resources. In many city schools, educators struggle just to keep up with their burgeoning class sizes, let alone to adequately reach students who may experience ELL challenges. Understanding the best ways to teach ELLs not only makes a difference in the individual lives of the students, but has an impact on society at a greater level.

So how can we teach this growing subset of K-12 students more effectively, particularly within our public schools? The answer lies in how we best harness the technology available and couples it with our best ELL teaching practices.

ELL technology solutions

Companies like EduSkills are actively working on ways to bridge the gap between educators and what they are able to provide to their ELLs when it comes to academics and even social skills. EduSkills  offers ELL data portfolio software (AccountabELL) that helps educators better manage the often fragmented school system data for ELLs. By streamlining the management side of ELL initiatives and documentation, the AcountabELL system makes it possible for all educational stakeholders to make informed decisions about ELL instruction and progress.

A few of the features of the program include scanning and uploading capabilities that help track the Home Language Survey and other ELL forms, calculations of immigrant/bilingual/ELL students across a chosen selection, and support of Title III requirements like language instruction education plans, parent notification and reporting. All of these specific tasks centralize ELL tasks and give educators easier ways to look at the data sets, and apply what it all means to real-time classroom activities. The software makes it easier for communication between all of the important people in a student's career: current teachers, future teachers, administrators and parents.

The company was founded by an educational software designer and former teacher and ELL program coordinator working toward a doctorate in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Oklahoma. Unlike other edtech companies that often see the technical side of their projects before seeing the students and educators they will impact, EduSkills has worked backward. By pinpointing exactly what is needed to make ELL classrooms more impactful, then building the software to support it, EduSkills has been able to create a truly effective tool for ELLs and their educators. The company also has program evaluation software that helps schools assess their effectiveness as a whole and personnel to help implement any needed changes—extending its ELL focus to the overall management of schools.

School systems do not need sweeping change in educational practice  to effectively address the growing numbers of ELLs in U.S. public schools—we just need better streamlining of the technology that exists. With better tracking, documentation and communication, ELL educators will be able to better reach their students and our ELLs will experience a stronger education.

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the newly released textbook, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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