Breaking language and digital barriers in bilingual education

This bilingual school is using technology to integrate students


Taking a foreign language class can help when ordering a French crepe or finding the nearest bathroom, but it can only get a student so far in a globalized world.

As the internet connects people across the world and as the United States continues to diversify, it is becoming more necessary to know multiple languages well.

To do this, many are not only turning to foreign language classes, but they also are finding opportunities for immersion. Perhaps this is why there are more than 6 million bilingual learners now in public schools.

“Parents are now recognizing the importance of exposing their children to global realities,” said Santiago Wood, Ph.D., executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education. “It’s amazing the amount of dual language programs that are skyrocketing across the country.”

Bilingual education models attempt to address the language barrier between English Language Learners (ELL) and native English-speaking students. One school has found that technology can help bridge that gap.

(Next page: Closing the linguistic gap)

University Hill, a Spanish and English bilingual elementary school in Boulder Colorado, recently integrated more technology into its classes. One 5th grade class started to use Chromebooks regularly and by the end of the school year, the school secured another classroom set of Chromebooks, two iPads, two SMART Boards, and several recording devices with headphones.

Being able to use international keyboards on the Chromebooks is critical for bilingual students, said fifth grade teacher Elizabeth Jette.

“Taking the time to become efficient at typing in Spanish and holding everyone accountable is an important part of elevating the status of Spanish in our bilingual learning community,” said Jette.

Access to technology at home varies by student, depending on whether their family can afford it. Teachers also noticed that over time, segregation in class due to the native language learning model naturally caused the kids to self-segregate on the playground and during lunch breaks.

Jette decided to establish a tech club to help with more than just access to technology.

The club gives native Spanish and native English speaking students opportunities to work together on projects like making videos on iMovie or teaching younger students how to effectively use technology. The result was better than expected.

“The tech team did wonders for kids to be integrated,” said Ayon. “The technology really empowered a lot of our Latino students.”

Members of the tech club share what they learn with their peers and other teachers.

“Students also really respond to teachers who want to learn technology with them, rather than only teaching it to them,” said Jette. “This shared approach seemed very motivating for students because it gave them the opportunity to learn as a group, as well as do some peer teaching and teaching their teacher.”

Jette found that first modeling technology and then allowing students to physically work with it is the best method of teaching technology competency. Having this skill set, she says, is critical in such a globalized world.

Students like Quinn and Alexis Bernthal, ages 8 and 11, said using technology in the classroom helps them learn and stay engaged. They both enjoy using Chromebooks, but they agree that their favorite classroom technology is the SMART Board.

“It can do basically everything technological,” Alexis said. “It can’t make a hamburger, obviously.”

Classroom technology may not be able to flip burgers yet, but Quinn says she likes how it provides another opportunity to learn. “You can learn how to use technology and you can learn what you’re studying at the same time,” she said.

In addition to using more technology to promote interactivity and integration, University Hill has already been approved to replace their native language literacy block with an integrated literacy block starting this year. With the more updated model, students with different language backgrounds will be put in class together with either an English or Spanish teacher for an entire month and then switch. They will still honor the federal mandate requiring ELL students to have their own 45-minute English as a Second Language (ESL) class time.

“We are one global community of over 8 billion people. For us to be able to communicate, it really starts with our children,” said Wood.

Lisa Driscoll is an editorial intern at eSchool news.

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