May 8, 2011

Article: Mobile Devices for English Language Learners


ELL to Go

Two schools transform their ELL programs by giving students around-the-clock access to some of the latest mobile devices.
By Jennifer Demski
May 2, 2011

The typical student at the Newcomer Center, an alternative school in Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, IL, is a recent immigrant with little or no English skills. The students at the center emigrated from countries around the world, and up until about a year ago, if you walked into the school's cafeteria during lunch, you'd see them separated into cliques or pairs based on their native tongue, chatting in the language they're most comfortable with rather than practicing the language they're trying to learn. But if you walked into that cafeteria anytime after September 2010, when the school launched its iPad initiative, you'd see a much different scene: students from around the world connecting with their fellow English language learners in their new, shared language. Each armed with an iPad, they swipe their fingers across the screen, consulting their translation and dictionary apps to access forgotten key words and clarify difficult ideas--conversational moments that in the past would have left them frustrated enough to remain segregated outside of the classroom.
Meanwhile, in a middle school ELL classroom at Comal Independent School District in New Braunfels, TX, a teacher asks her students to bring their iPod Touch devices home and use their voice memo apps to record themselves reading aloud in English. The next day, after she syncs the devices to her iTunes library, she listens to a recording made by a student who has refused to speak English since joining her class two years prior. In the classroom he would only communicate in Spanish, but in the privacy of his own home, knowing that only the teacher would hear the recording, he had a breakthrough; his teacher was able to hear him speak English for the first time.
District 214 and Comal ISD are pioneers in the incorporation of mobile devices such as the iPad and iPod Touch in the ELL classroom. Though it's too soon to collect significant quantitative data regarding the effect these devices have on English language learners, the experiences of the students and teachers using iPads and iPod Touches at these districts demonstrate the devices' potential to enrich, enhance, and extend ELL instruction beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom environment.

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