Blog entry by Jamie Earnshaw
Anyone in the world
In this blog, Chris Pim, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor, explores how technology can be used to support learners of EAL.
Technology, when used appropriately, can enhance any pupil’s learning experience. However, technological solutions have been shown to have relatively small effect sizes in many circumstances (Hattie 2017); when used in the wrong situation, technology may even interfere with learning. It is apparent that effective use of technology is “dependent on context and predicated on the notion that what works in one context may not be entirely replicable in another” (Pim, 2013). This is especially true where practitioners have the additional consideration of matching provision to the proficiency in English of their target EAL pupils.
the perspective of learning EAL, since acquisition of English should not be the
totality of a pupil’s learning journey, technology just used to ‘teach English’, particularly where it supplants quality mainstream provision,
is best avoided. Instead, the power of technology lies in the potential for
enhancing pupils’ wider learning; enhancing curriculum access, utilising proficiency in heritage
languages, providing flexible opportunities for demonstrating learning and
supporting the development of English across the curriculum.
technology to provide pupils with greater access to the curriculum is an
obvious starting point. In order to make learning more explicit for EAL
learners, to make the messages more abundant (Gibbons 2008), practitioners need
to infuse their lessons with multimedia. Images, infographics, videos,
podcasts, animations all enhance meaning and are essential to overcome the
additional linguistic and cultural challenges EAL learners experience, whether
UK born or recently arrived from abroad.
translation tools, either for ad-hoc communication or more academic purposes,
is another useful strategy. These tools have become extremely powerful,
although they still have their limitations (Pim, 2018). There are many
solutions available – these range between dedicated digital devices like ECTACO products, through
text-based online translation tools, to apps like SayHi that use voice
recognition and the power of neural networking to provide instant translations,
read aloud in authentic, synthesised speech. The camera on a portable device
can be used through Google Translate to render real-time on-screen
translation as well. Whilst not good enough for formal translation, these tools
are genuinely useful for two-way conversations, mediated by both parties. With
care, they can be used by practitioners to prepare dual-language glossaries and
to communicate simple ideas in text. Pupils literate in first language, with
guidance, will find them immensely useful to facilitate access to the
curriculum and even as a means of providing support with translating their
writing from first language into English.
are many digital resources available to support pupils’ maintenance and development of heritage languages.
Companies like Mantra Lingua have had a long association with the
EAL field through their audio-enabled, multilanguage books and learning charts.
Many schools will already be aware of Mantra’s TalkingPEN technology which provides a natural
link between touch, print and sound to bring interactive learning to the user.
Their Kitabu library is also an efficient delivery platform for their
bilingual e-books. There are plenty of free e-books available in different
languages on the web, but as always with online materials, their provenance
will need to be checked. The International Children’s Digital Library is an excellent source of
free texts that can be filtered in several different ways e.g. by age category
The importance of developing listening and speaking skills should not be underestimated, whether children are at an early stage of learning EAL or more advanced learners. EAL learners will benefit from structured approaches to develop such skills in English, building on practitioners’ understanding that children are not blank slates and carry relevant skills from their own heritage languages (Coles, Flynn & Pim n.d.).
is a perfect opportunity for all children, whether learning EAL or not, to
practise their oral skills for authentic purposes; technology can both
facilitate the process as well as enable recording and playback. Children can
use first language, or a combination of languages alongside English. Using
tablet devices and an app like Puppet Pals HD, pupils can work
independently - or collaboratively - to create digital stories from
backgrounds, moving characters and a recorded narration that is eventually
bound up into a movie clip. Software like Crazy Talk, Morfo and Voki
allow shy children to develop oral confidence by enabling them to make a
private recording and then attach it to an animated ‘avatar’ such as their
face, an animal or even an inanimate object.
can also help pupils to create and self-publish stories with digital elements. Book
Creator, available on most platforms, enables a user to produce e-books
from text, drawings, images, audio and video. Pupils can be encouraged to write
independently or collaboratively, using Storybird. This free online
tool, accessible from school or home, provides glorious imagery to stimulate
creative writing in any language. Mantra Lingua offers another solution
in the form of recordable sticky labels, TalkingPENs and a range of software for
producing audio-enabled stories.
ability to record and playback speech allows children to practise
pronunciation, rehearse vocabulary and play around with chunks of language in
preparation for further tasks. There are numerous portable solutions around (Talking
Products and TTS-Group) such as talking tins, pegs, cards and photo
albums. The latter devices are especially useful for combining text, imagery
and artefacts with recorded speech as a talk-for-writing approach.
link between understanding text and wider educational attainment has resonance
for learning EAL, since pupils’ reading skills are reportedly on average a year behind monolingual peers
(Smith 2016). Whatever approaches schools take to address this discrepancy,
practitioners need to bear in mind that learning to read is just one element
woven into a rich tapestry that results in a pupil’s lifelong passion for reading. It is important that
teaching builds upon pupils’ existing reading proficiencies in other languages, that practitioners use
age-appropriate texts and capitalise on pupils’ interests through presentation
of a diverse mix of texts.
are some genuinely useful resources and technologies for enabling pupils to
access texts which might ordinarily be beyond them. It is worth looking online
for translated and abridged versions of typical class and course readers. Many
book schemes provide texts with an audio CD such as Oxford and Cambridge graded
readers. Providing an audio accompaniment for an associated text like
this is a particularly useful technique. E-books offer another option,
although practitioners should bear in mind that some pupils may not
particularly like them, rather preferring to read an actual book. However,
along with high quality audio, e-books do provide additional features such as
contextualised glossaries. Print can be read aloud from paper-based sources
through OCR scanning technology using a device like C-Pen; different
versions of C-Pen offer additional functionality such as in-built
dictionaries and translation capability. Digital text can easily be read
aloud from the screen on computers and mobile devices using integrated
text-to-speech software. It’s also possible to look up word meanings and translation equivalents
directly using online resources that interface with a user’s digital reader of choice. Finally, it is worth
considering how to ensure that online texts are as accessible as possible to
emergent readers; for example, finding appropriate sources that present
information simply. There are websites like Kidrex, which assist web-safe
refined searching, that do exactly that. Also consider use of Simple English
Wikipedia for older learners.
well established that children learning EAL need opportunities for explicit teaching
and learning of new vocabulary across the curriculum (DfES 2006). Typically,
pupils learning EAL have smaller vocabularies in English compared with non-EAL
peers, a factor that has been shown, for example, to be an important predictor
of reading comprehension Murphy (2015). There are numerous ICT-based tools
available for reinforcing knowledge of vocabulary (in all its forms).
Dual-language glossaries, supported visually, are easy to create using Widgit,
something that may be useful to L1 literate pupils, as well as their parents. Quiz-based
vocabularies can be created and/or sourced online from pre-built versions, via Quizlet.
Plickers is a free polling tool suitable for whole class vocabulary
building activities. Other games can be made using tools like Osric’s Bingo
Card Generator as well as a wide variety of word-definition matching activities using Formulator
Word clustering tools like WordArt.com help learners focus on topic
words, as well as encouraging inference around the text-type and genre the
words have been drawn from.
One of the biggest challenges for EAL learners is to
convert their thinking and talking into writing. Some children will be ready
for sustained free writing, whilst others may be limited to composing smaller
chunks of text within digital scaffolds. They may choose to write in English,
first language or a combination. It is worth mentioning that computers and
mobile devices need to be set up specifically to enable children to interface
voice and keyboard input to search, translate and write digitally in a
preferred language other than English.
Emergent writers benefit from technologies that enable
them to convey their ideas through multimedia elements and snippets of text,
rather than full prose. Cartoon makers like Comic Life provide a
framework in which to drop imagery, either from a device’s camera or an
external file, alongside the use of text holding areas like speech bubbles and
legends. An app like iMovie can be used across the curriculum to help
pupils demonstrate learning in creative ways. Within iMovie, the Trailer
feature offers different storyboard templates across a range of genres,
encouraging pupils to edit default text with their own short, snappy version to
accompany the visuals. Adobe Spark Video is another tool for
producing annotated movies. This app allows a user to record an audio narration
and build up a storyboard using copyright-free imagery, but interestingly, once
again, deliberately constrains writing to short sentences.
There are many digital writing tools available for
more cohesive writers. These take the form of dedicated supportive word
processors such as Book Creator and Clicker Docs as well as plugin
software keyboards like Texthelp’s read&write and Grammarly. Traditional
supports in digital writing tools like spelling and grammar checks will of
course be useful, but only when children are explicitly taught the conventions
of red and green underlining. Integrated thesauri will also help those pupils
with a strong enough lexical knowledge to make sensible choices between
synonyms. Newer features like predictive text assist pupils with word choice,
both within and between words. They can also hear back what they have written
via text-to-speech synthesis, a feature which can help some users spot their
errors more easily. A user can also shortcut typing via the speech-to-text
listening capability of the operating system; an easy way for pupils who are not
confident in their use of keyboards to render digital text through natural
speech. Clicker Docs has an additional feature where topic word banks
can be imported from online repositories, enabling easy access to
context-related subject glossaries.
To conclude, it is worth considering what networking
tools are available for busy practitioners to keep up to date and access
additional guidance from the wider community of EAL professionals. One idea is
to register for the EAL-Bilingual Google group. Following organisations
and professionals on Twitter and tweeting around the #EAL hashtag is
another great idea. Curating apps like Pinterest and Pearltrees
offer a cornucopia of relevant content when searched for relevant terms such as
a ‘EAL’ and ‘ELL’. Finally, subscribing to relevant blogs is a useful way to
keep up to date with current thinking.
This blog first appeared in the EAL Journal, Spring 2020.
Coles S., Flynn, N. & Pim,
C. EAL MESHGuide. Accessed 2.1.20
Department for Education and
Skills (DfES) (2006) Excellence and Enjoyment: learning and teaching for
bilingual children in the primary years. Unit 2 Creating the learning
culture: making it work in the classroom. London DfES.
Gibbons, P. (2008). Challenging
pedagogies: More than just good practice? NALDIC Quarterly, 6(2), 4-14.
Hattie, J. (2017). Backup of Hattie’s Ranking list
of 256 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement
Murphy, V. (2015) Assessing
vocabulary knowledge in learners with EAL: What’s in a word?
Pim, C. (2013) Emerging technologies, emerging minds:
digital innovations within the primary sector. In G. Motteram (Ed.), Innovations
in learning technologies for English language learning (pp. 17-42). London. British Council.
C. (2018, June 12). Aren’t digital translation tools only useful for keywords? [Blog post].
Retrieved from: https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/blog/index.php?entryid=18
N. (2016, September 26). Reading comprehension is the key to accessing the
curriculum. [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://naldic.org.uk/httpsealjournal-org20160927reading-comprehension-is-the-key-to-accessing-the-curriculum
EAL-Bilingual Google group - https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/eal-bilingual
related Blogs: https://naldic.org.uk/professional-learning-cpd/links/blogs-news-resources
Mantra Lingua - https://uk.mantralingua.com
Talking Products - https://www.talkingproducts.com/educational-resources.html
Scanning Pens - http://www.dictionarypen.com
The International Children’s Digital Library - http://en.childrenslibrary.org
Formulator Tarsia - http://www.mmlsoft.com/index.php/products/tarsia
Osric’s Bingo card Generator - https://osric.com/bingo-card-generator
Plickers - https://get.plickers.com
WordArt.com - https://wordart.com/
Crazy Talk - https://www.reallusion.com/crazytalk
Voki - https://www.voki.com
Comic Life - https://plasq.com
Storybird - https://storybird.com
Grammarly - https://www.grammarly.com
Book Creator - https://bookcreator.com
Read&Write - https://www.texthelp.com/en-gb/products/read-write
[ Modified: Wednesday, 19 May 2021, 3:22 PM ]