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English Learners and Technology: What We Know, and How to Do Better

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Roundtable presentation


Thursday, December 3, 1:45–2:30 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 2 of 3
Other presentations:
Online Graduate Student Surveys: Engagement, Technology and Instructor Behaviors
Knowledge Building Framework for Enhancing Online Discussions Among In-Service Teachers

Dr. Annette Zehler  
Dr. Phil Vahey  
Yesim Yilmazel-Sahin  

Learn key findings from national survey data and six case studies. Administrators and teachers reported how they used technology with K-12 ELs, including types of technology, supports and barriers. The session examines findings with implications for research, practice, and technology design and recommendations for practice in two toolkits.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Participant accounts, software and other materials: NA.
Topic: Instructional design & delivery
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: ESL
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
Designer
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
Learner
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary

Framework

English learners (ELs) are one of the fastest growing student demographics in the United States, and are a diverse group, representing over 400 different language backgrounds. In the 2015–16 school year, there were 4.8 million EL students in grades K–12 in U.S. public schools, accounting for 10 percent of all enrolled students. Also, over past decades, grade K–12 teachers in public schools have gained increased access to computers and digital technology for instruction, and many report using digital learning resources (DLRs) to enhance and differentiate their students’ language and content area instruction. Findings from this national study describe how districts and teachers are using Digital Learning Resources (DLRs) for instructing EL students. In addition, the study developed two toolkits for practitioners, one to inform educators about the range of DLRs that are available and considerations for using DLRs to support their EL students, and one to assist educational technology developers in improving the usefulness of DLRs for instructing EL students. The broader goal was to develop an understanding of technology use with ELs to inform future research directions and practice.

Methods

The study collected data during the 2016─17 school year through a nationally representative survey of districts that enrolled EL students, a teacher survey that included both mainstream teachers and EL specialists, and case studies of six districts to provide more in-depth information about district and teacher practices. The district survey sample included 999 public school districts, stratified by level of EL-student representation in the district (high-EL, moderate-EL, and low-EL districts). The purposive case study sample included 12 schools within six districts that varied in the number and percentage of EL students enrolled.
The findings describe data based on survey responses from 767 districts and 706 teachers, and qualitative data from 65 case study interviews with district administrators, principals, and teachers of EL students.
The final teacher sample included both randomly selected teachers and teachers selected by principals. Roughly half of the responding teachers were randomly sampled. While the principal-selected teachers responded similarly to the randomly selected teachers, the teacher data are not nationally representative and should be interpreted with caution.
Survey questions addressed how respondents identified and selected Digital Learning Resources (DLRs) for ELs, what types of DLRs they used, frequency of use, and types of supports and barriers for DLR use in instruction of ELs. Respondents also provided recommendations for educators and educational technology developers.
Analysis
Descriptive analyses were conducted on weighted district and teacher survey data, collected in the 2016-17 school year. The statistical tests used for comparisons were either independent t-tests or, when the comparisons were not across independent groups, chi-square tests. Where appropriate to adjust for the risk of multiple comparisons, Bonferroni corrections were applied.
All recorded case study interviews were transcribed and the transcriptions coded using qualitative analysis software (Dedoose). Researchers applied initial codes relevant to each research question and expanded and refined the codes through an iterative process in which emerging themes were identified. The research team discussed the key themes emerging within individual sites and examined dimensions of similarity and variation across districts and across types of respondents.

Results

Examples of key findings are:
• Most teachers surveyed reported that they identified specific DLRs for instructing EL students based on the recommendations of fellow teachers and district or school administrators.
• Teachers were more likely to report weekly or daily use of general education DLRs than of DLRs designed primarily for EL students (85 percent vs. 65 percent).
• About two-thirds of teachers surveyed reported using digital references and resources, language tutorials or practice tools, and academic tutorials or practice tools weekly or daily in instructing their EL students.
• The majority of teachers reported that EL students often used DLRs when working independently (61 percent) or as part of a whole class activity (60 percent); few teachers reported assigning EL students to use DLRs outside of class.
• High-EL districts were more likely than low-EL districts to report providing professional development workshops, coaching, and in-class assistance related to DLR use in instructing EL students.
• Across all districts, EL specialists reported fewer hours of professional development in DLR use than did mainstream teachers.
• Frequently reported barriers to using DLRs with EL students were students’ lack of DLR access at home, and teachers’ needs for EL and technology expertise and for time to learn and use DLRs.
• Educators suggested that DLRs could improve by engaging students in academic content while building language and literacy skills; embedding visual, auditory, and other support features; providing multiple languages; and providing grade-level content and age-appropriate design for older beginner-level EL students.

Importance

The study presents the first set of national data on the use of educational technology with English learners. It identifies gaps and areas for further research and recommendations for practice.
The results informed the development of two toolkits for practitioners, one to inform educators about the range of DLRs that are available and considerations for using DLRs to support their EL students, and one to assist educational technology developers in improving the usefulness of DLRs for instructing EL students.

References

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. (2019). Supporting English learners through technology: What districts and teachers say about digital learning resources for English learners. Volume I: Final Report. National Study of English Learners and Digital Learning Resources, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. (2018). Educator Toolkit: Using educational technology—21st century supports for English learners. National Study of English Learners and Digital Learning Resources, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. (2018). Developer Toolkit: Creating educational technology for English learners. National Study of English Learners and Digital Learning Resources, Washington, D.C.

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Presenters

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Dr. Annette Zehler, Education and Language Research Group LLC
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Dr. Phil Vahey, SRI Education

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