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Promote Active Learning in ESL Classrooms With Instructional Technology

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Active learning is an organic process, and while it challenges the traditional classroom framework of teachers doing all the instruction and students doing all the listening, it is one of the most effective ways to engage 21st-century learners. The Association for Psychological Science argues that, regardless of the diverse scenarios that can all define active learning, data shows that this classroom style improves test scores and results in fewer students repeating courses due to a lack of mastery.  

What Are Some Considerations for Using Instructional Technology to Support Positive ESL Learning Outcomes?

  1. Students can learn at their own pace, inspired by their own curiosity.

Technology can help end an educator’s dissemination of facts and figures to an unengaged classroom. Experiential curriculum, for example, allows students to utilize primary sources by “becoming” historians for a spell, not as students studying what historians have theorized or revised. ESL students tend to be more marginalized in a traditional classroom because the structure tends to favor correct answers to the teacher’s questions.

  1. Active learning and technology are not mutually exclusive in the ESL classroom.

Edutopia points out that technology allows educators to gather data on student success in real time and with less effort, and data-driven learning supports academic growth in the classroom. Even while students are engaging in their own active learning, if done electronically, teachers can observe and measure data as needed.
Technology also invites the learner to take advantage of the material from many spaces — not just the classroom. A student can continue to master various lessons anytime and anywhere with internet access while using flexible and transportable technology tools.

  1. There are many good options for successful ed tech in an ESL classroom.

Common Sense suggests that resources like Khan Academy are highly effective in an ESL classroom because they can support a diverse group of English language learners. Khan Academy lessons, for instance, come in 12 languages. Newsela is similar in that it offers five levels of text that increase in rigor at the student’s pace. These manipulatives are easier to facilitate online than in person, and they allow a teacher to differentiate with greater ease and more equity. Finally, ThinkCERCA is an instructional tool with embedded scaffolding and an audio option as well. 

  1. Seek out technologies that best support the specific elements of ESL instruction.

The use of films in ESL instruction is effective because it illustrates the natural use of the English language. Virtual trips to museums, zoos and the Library of Congress or presidential museums can be both fascinating to ESL students and helpful as they learn the sociocultural characteristics of America.   

  1. Keep in mind the human element of technology-based classrooms.

The Journal of Creative Education maintains that the prerequisite to making technology a successful teaching tool in the ESL classroom goes beyond having the right laptops or the most innovative software. Technology might put more instructional power in the hands of English language learners, but the teacher’s human ability to apply this technology effectively is just as important as trusting students to work from their own sources of motivation.  

When students utilize technology to make their own discovery, they experience learning on their terms, under less punitive conditions. In this student-focused modality, educators act as facilitators, not lecturers. For an ESL student, this real-world simulation is more beneficial than a traditional classroom approach to learning because it is empowering and not competitive.

Learn more about Southern Oregon University’s MSEd in Adult Education, ESL online program.

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