As a high school English as a second language (ESL) teacher, I have seen firsthand the positive results from the use of instructional software with secondary level English language learners (ELLs). Instructional software is an exceptional supplemental resource in the ESL classroom as well as at home, where ELLs often have little to no English interaction. On top of extending the time ELLs might be actively engaged in direct language instruction, instructional software offers a safe avenue for students to practice and learn the English language. As pointed out in Roblyer and Doering (2013), “computers don’t get impatient or give disgusted looks when a student gives a wrong answer.” Personally, I have found a very high relative advantage with the use of drill and practice, tutorials, and gaming software.
Drill and practice software is an excellent resources for ELLs. Quizlet, for example, is an excellent resource that provides drill and practice activities for vocabulary including virtual flashcards, spelling, and definition matching. These drill and practice activities highlight one of the key benefits of this type of instructional software: automaticity, or the ability to recall lower order skills automatically. Roblyer and Doering (2013) explain that “drill activities can allow the effective rehearsal students need to transfer newly learned information into long-term memory.” Specifically, the availability to immediate correction and feedback guarantees that the ELLs will not be repeating a practice incorrectly and thus “memorizing the wrong skills” (Roblyer and Doering).
Tutorial software is also a wonderful resource for ELLs, if the ELL has the prerequisite reading skills to maneuver through the activities. Due to the nature of tutorial software “it is difficult to explain or give appropriate guidance on-screen to a non-reader” (Roblyer and Doering). However, Scholastic offers an impressive reading tutorial program called System 44, used “to help students master the foundational reading skills required for success with the Common Core through explicit instruction in phonics, comprehension, and writing” (Scholastic, 2011) that works wonders for ELLs who lack basic phonemic awareness.
Online games are also a fun way to engage ELLs in language instruction, which can sometimes be a tedious and tiresome act for the student. Educational games provide a unique motivation to students: they “make kids want to strive to do better — to earn better scores and to level-up to new challenges, always trying to improve” (Sutter, n.d.). Brain Pop ESL offers a variety of games at three different ability levels for ELLs. This is great because in a mixed-ability classroom, all the children can be actively participating in the activity on a level that is most appropriate for them. This level of differentiation would be time consuming for the teacher to prepare for only one class period or less.
As with any use of technology, it is for the teacher to assess if the technology will benefit the students. Not all instructional software is created the same, and teachers must prudently review the resources they plan to use with their students to verify that it is appropriate and an efficient use of curricular time. The Discovery Channel offers a website to help parents and teachers evaluate instructional software. It is definitely worth a glance.
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
Scholastic, Inc. (2011). System 44 Next Generation. Scholastic. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from http://system44.scholastic.com/
Sutter, J. D. (n.d.). Gaming Reality. CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/08/tech/gaming.series/teachers.html