6 Edtech Essentials for Emergent Bilingual Students
With a year of remote and hybrid learning under our belts, incorporating effective education technology is at the forefront of many educators' minds. Since the pandemic, technology has become not only an integral part of everyday life for many of today's students, but a core classroom tool. Now teachers are seeking dynamic and personalized edtech programs that can be easily integrated into district curriculums. As explained by NEO Blog:
"Learning is a profoundly unique process. Each student learns differently and overcomes various challenges, and celebrates small victories in their individual way. ...It's impossible for a single educator to differentiate instruction to meet each student's needs—without help, that is. This help comes in the form of edtech."
Emergent Bilinguals and edtech
Although Emergent Bilinguals (EBs) may not be the first students who come to mind when considering an edtech rollout, they should be. In fact, 1 out of 10 children in classrooms across the nation is an Emergent Bilingual, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Since 2010, the number of Emergent Bilingual students has increased by more than half a million, and Emergent Bilinguals compose close to 20% of students in states such as California and Texas.
Where do these students stand now, after a year of interrupted learning? While the pandemic negatively affected academic growth across the United States, a report from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education observed that:
"Even before the pandemic, many students learning English struggled to participate on equal terms in the classroom as they confronted the dual challenge of mastering grade-level content while continuing to learn English. For many English learners, the abrupt shift to learning from home amid the challenges of the pandemic has made that struggle even harder."
That means the solution must address not only the potential of learning in a hybrid or remote environment, but the unique challenge of studying multiple academic subjects in another language while still gaining speaking and reading skills in that language. Edtech can make facing these challenges easier and overcoming them more achievable. Specifically, adaptive blended-learning edtech can set up Emergent Bilinguals for success by providing the tools they need to surmount these challenges.
Emergent Bilinguals and adaptive, blended learning
An adaptive program uses the information that it gathers as students move their way through the program to personalize learning. Adaptive programs like Lexia® English Language Development™ are tech-enabled language learning programs that allow educators to easily personalize learning for each student, based on skill and proficiency level.
For years, adaptive blended-learning technology has proven to be an effective way to support Emergent Bilingual students by combining English language and academic learning, enabling flexibility for use in the classroom and at home, and allowing students to work and learn at their own pace. This type of edtech allows students to direct their own learning in ways that are both culturally and socially relevant. When this learning mode is combined with a robust curriculum that positively depicts a range of cultures, Emergent Bilingual students can process the content more effectively.
With the right edtech, this approach provides educators with the data and resources they need to better personalize instruction for and build relationships with their Emergent Bilingual students.
Selecting the right edtech for Emergent Bilinguals
As the Emergent Bilingual student population grows, educators are discovering more about their unique needs and how they can be supported with edtech. Here are important considerations for selecting the right edtech for your Emergent Bilingual students:
Personalized learning allows educators to engage every student at every level. Adaptive blended-learning edtech has proved to be an effective way to support Emergent Bilinguals by combining personalized learning paths with teacher-led instruction and ongoing progress-monitoring to accelerate English language learning. Features like the Lexia English learner dashboards allow for student choice and encourage risk-taking and persisting in activities that allow students to fail in a safe, private, and nonjudgmental environment.
2. Embrace an asset model
Learners who come to school not knowing English shouldn't be viewed as needing to "catch up" with their English-speaking peers. An asset view of language learners focuses on the language skills the learner already has and on the bilingualism they can successfully attain, which ties directly into culturally sustaining pedagogy. When students see themselves and their communities reflected and valued in culturally responsive edtech content, this keeps them focused on their assets, strengths, skills, talents, interests, and competencies.
3. Emphasize oral skills
To learn a language, Emergent Bilinguals need frequent opportunities to speak it. For their language and literacy skills to flourish, they need daily opportunities to learn and practice spoken English. A 2016 study on effects of accent familiarity on English as a Foreign Language students suggested that familiarity with an accent can aid listener comprehension (White, 2016).
4. Don’t assume all students are digital natives
Not all students have had the same level of access to computers, the internet, or smartphones. Due to diverse backgrounds and levels of technological fluency, teachers preparing to introduce edtech should conduct a preliminary assessment of students' technological familiarity and incorporate digital literacy lessons to maximize edtech value.
5. Provide instructor support
The right edtech should not only provide a dynamic and personalized learning environment for students, but also support educators in their progress-monitoring, assessment, and action plan development. Ideally, edtech should offer real-time performance data, so educators can identify when and where a student is struggling early on.
6. Adhere to proven methodologies
This may go without saying, but edtech that has been developed based on learning science and proven Emergent Bilingual literacy strategies will make for more effective learning. There are now decades of research addressing the unique challenges and learning needs of bilingual and multilingual students. Edtech designed with this in mind will incorporate many of the elements mentioned previously, such as being asset-based and culturally responsive with oral-emphasis and accent usage.
The bottom line
Educational technology has been shown to be beneficial for language learning—especially the use of speech recognition to provide practice and pronunciation feedback in a safe, nonjudgmental space. Furthermore, adaptive blended-learning programs that offer personalized, culturally responsive content and timely progress-monitoring set up students (and teachers) for success. When helping Emergent Bilingual students thrive and strengthen their language and literacy skills, the right edtech can be an invaluable tool.