Strategies to Create an Equitable Learning Environment for English Learners

Integrating digital resources into every day instruction can help close the digital divide, address differentiation needs, and provide multiple ways for English Learners (ELs) to both access and respond to content.  Today’s learners need to develop multi-literacies and use multimodalities to develop language and content together. How can teachers support language development of academic and non-academic language equitably?  

As stated by Rubin, Estrada, and Honigsfeld in the book, “Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students,” you can leverage the following eight strategies to support English learners and ALL learners.

Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners

“Culturally responsive education practices include addressing the digital divide that disproportionately affects ELs and their families.” (1)

English Learners, from newcomer to advanced, need authentic reasons to communicate, multiple ways to communicate, and a community that fosters engagement with others.  A digital-age learning environment supports all of these goals.

CONSIDERATIONS: What digital tools do you use in your classroom?  In what ways do they address the digital divide for your learners and families? What other tools are considering adding to your digital learning environment? 

The Six Language Domains

“When we design instruction for ELs for in-person, remote and hybrid learning environments we must be mindful to break activities into concrete steps using digital resources that incorporate the six language domains.” (2)

Four language domains (listening, reading, writing, speaking) have been the prevailing idea of “literacy” for many years.  And yet, viewing and visually representing have been officially recognized as forms of literacy for over twenty years.  When we intentionally incorporate all six language domains, we foster language and content growth for English Learners.

Critical Thinking and Assessment

“Digital learning resources provide opportunities to design, develop, and validate new and more effective assessment materials to measure performance that cannot be assessed with conventional testing formats.” (3)

Does a pencil-paper test accurately assess what an English Learner knows?

Our assessments always include access skills, which are the skills needed to complete the assessment, and target skills, or the skills or knowledge being assessed (The Iris Center, 2022).  We can use digital resources to reduce the linguistic demands of an assessment, focus on the target skills, and give students multiple ways to represent their knowledge. 

Responding and Creating

“Multimedia projects require ELs to use higher-order thinking skills to shift from consumers to creators of digital content.  The creation of multimedia content in cooperative learning settings can help ELs develop literacy skills.” (4)  

This idea of responding and creating is integrated into the SIOP model, especially in the “Practice and Application” and “Interaction” components.  If you are using the SIOP model in your instruction, digital tools can support the integration of these components.

Creating digital content does not always have to come in the responding or practicing part of a lesson or unit.  Remember Bloom’s taxonomy?  Now think about flipping Bloom’s upside down.  We can start with creating! When we start here, we give ELs multiple ways to both learn and communicate.

Flipped Learning for English Learners

Imagine having enough time to conference with learners, give students rich collaboration opportunities, and provide learning that is differentiated by language and academic proficiency.  This can happen through flipped learning.

“Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space.  It is also beneficial to ELs because they can access content to build background through a pre-work viewing assignment.” (5)

Collaboration and Communication

“Collaborative learning is beneficial to ELs because it increases opportunities to use the target language to communicate with peers and engage in real-world conversation in order to complete an academic task.” (6) 

We know that the best way to learn a new language is to use it with real people for real purposes.  In the classroom this can come through collaborating with peers as well as communicating with additional authentic audiences. Digital tools allow our students to collaborate with others across time and space, as well as have access to audiences they may not otherwise have access to. 

CONSIDERATIONS: What authentic audiences might your learners communicate with outside of your classroom walls?

Virtual Communities and Digital Citizenship

Have you ever had to “unfriend” someone from a virtual community because they just couldn’t be civil in a hot topic conversation?  We are raising a generation whose primary means of civic engagement will be through virtual platforms.  Therefore,

“teaching digital citizenship explicitly is essential to building culturally responsive and sustaining global communities and providing safe and effective online collaboration.” (7)  

Not only does explicitly teaching digital citizenship raise up a generation capable of holding a civic dialogue virtually, it also engages English Learners in authentic communication with authentic audiences.  Through virtual communities, English Learners can hone their communication skills in both their home language(s) and in English, and make their thoughts and ideas known to the greater world.

Fostering a Digital-Age Learning Ecosystem

“A digital-age learning ecosystem is based on personalized learning, inquiry, research, and positive student engagement. It will also encourage a shift in teaching from what we learn to how we learn.” (8)  

Think about your own classroom.  How would you describe the learning environment? What opportunities exist for authentic engagement and communication for English learners?  When we intentionally foster a digital-age learning ecosystem, we provide multiple ways for students to access content, hone precise language use, and become true collaborators in learning.

Digital-age tools allow our English Learners multiple ways to both engage with content and respond to content. They provide a literal world of opportunity for collaboration and authentic communication. Through engaging with these eight digital-age strategies, you can equitably support ELs’ growth in academic language, social language, and content area knowledge.

Get Started Creating an Equitable Learning Environment for Your EL Students?

Join the conversation through an exploration of the book, “Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students.”  Spend your summer reading the book and then engage in discussion to put your learning into action in late September-mid November.

Sign Up TODAY!

#EnglishLearner #Equity #WeLeadLearning #KentISDpd #SummerLearning

Citations
  1. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 18.
  2. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 33.
  3. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 47.
  4. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 63.
  5. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 84.
  6. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 99.
  7. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 113.
  8. Rubin, Heather, et al. Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2022, page 130.
This blog post was written by Sarah Wood, Kent ISD Education Technology Consultant and Christina Gilbert, Kent ISD Early Literacy Coach and was edited by Sara Sefcik, Kent ISD PD Hub Intern and Amanda Walma, Kent ISD Professional Learning Coordinator.

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