Blog entry by Jamie Earnshaw

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by Jamie Earnshaw - Monday, 17 May 2021, 3:29 PM
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.

Talking album

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.


From the perspective of learning EAL, since acquisition of English should not be the totality of a pupils 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 pupilswider learning; enhancing curriculum access, utilising proficiency in heritage languages, providing flexible opportunities for demonstrating learning and supporting the development of English across the curriculum.


Using 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.


Using 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.


There are many digital resources available to support pupilsmaintenance 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 Mantras 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 Childrens Digital Library is an excellent source of free texts that can be filtered in several different ways e.g. by age category and language.


pen

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.).


Storytelling 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.


Technology 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.


The 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.


The link between understanding text and wider educational attainment has resonance for learning EAL, since pupilsreading 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 pupils lifelong passion for reading. It is important that teaching builds upon pupilsexisting reading proficiencies in other languages, that practitioners use age-appropriate texts and capitalise on pupils’ interests through presentation of a diverse mix of texts.


There 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. Its also possible to look up word meanings and translation equivalents directly using online resources that interface with a users 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.


dictionary pen

It is 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 Osrics Bingo Card Generator as well as a wide variety of word-definition matching activities using Formulator Tarsia software. 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.


References:

Coles S., Flynn, N. & Pim, C. EAL MESHGuide. Accessed 2.1.20
http://www.meshguides.org/guides/node/112?n=119

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 Hatties Ranking list of 256 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement
https://visible-learning.org/backup-hattie-ranking-256-effects-2017

Murphy, V. (2015) Assessing vocabulary knowledge in learners with EAL: Whats in a word? NALDIC Conference.

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.
 
Pim, C. (2018, June 12). Arent digital translation tools only useful for keywords? [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://emtas.hias.hants.gov.uk/blog/index.php?entryid=18


Smith, 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

Useful websites:

EAL-Bilingual Google group - https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/eal-bilingual

EMA/EAL 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

TTS-Group - https://www.tts-group.co.uk/primary/computing-ict/speaking-listening

Scanning Pens - http://www.dictionarypen.com

The International Childrens Digital Library - http://en.childrenslibrary.org

Widgit - https://www.widgit.com/products/widgit-online/dual-language.htm

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 


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[ Modified: Wednesday, 19 May 2021, 3:22 PM ]

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