Five Reasons Your English Language Learners Should Be Using Adobe Spark

When I first started teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), the classroom was a very different place. I had a chalkboard and one teacher computer. Fast forward seventeen years and even on campuses with the most limited technology resources, I can piece together enough computers or iPads to provide my ELLs with engaging lessons using any number of apps and sites. One app my students and I have fallen in love with is Adobe Spark (https://spark.adobe.com).

Here are five reasons to use Adobe Spark in your classroom.

The ELPS or English Language Proficiency Standards in Texas require that our lessons address both receptive (reading and listening) and productive (writing and speaking) language skills for ELLs every day. With Adobe Spark, your students can record their own voices to narrate videos they create using images from the app’s built-in library. Students can listen to their own and other student’s video presentations without all of the pressure of standing up in front of a class.

Intrinsic motivation in language learning can be nurtured through activities that allow for authentic use of English with a specific audience in mind. Many students tell me that their first year in school was filled with frustration and isolation because they could not communicate their deepest thoughts and feelings to their teachers and peers. Adobe Spark allows students to tell their own stories using images, music, and their own spoken words.

Speaking a new language can be very difficult without ever speaking the language! That sounds obvious, but in my experience, I see ELLs go through entire school days without saying a single word in English. Some teachers shy away from calling on ELLs because they don’t want to put them on the spot. Adobe Spark allows students to take their time thinking about what they want to say and to record their words as many times as it takes to be happy with the quality. When we can lower students’ affective filters by taking away the pressure to perform on the spot, students will be more successful.

Differentiation is a must with our classrooms becoming more diverse each year. The number of ELLs in our classrooms and communities is consistently rising each year. As an ESL campus specialist, I see teachers struggling to meet the needs of their students when the range of ability levels in a single class can be vast. Adobe Spark makes student-driven storytelling accessible to all of your students.

Free and easy accounts make Adobe Spark an irresistible choice for the classroom. If your school is one of the many that has jumped on the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) bandwagon, your students can sign up by clicking the “Continue with Google” button. Once they agree to the terms of use, they are up and running immediately. Since students don’t go anywhere these days without their earbuds, most will already have a microphone to record in their own pocket or backpack!

The true beauty of Adobe Spark is that it can benefit and empower all your students, not just your ELLs. Using technology tools in your classroom is a great way to engage students who may otherwise tune out another teacher-centered lecture. Twenty-first century literacy skills go beyond traditional text and trade books, and we must define what counts as knowledge by modeling a respect for digital literacy in our classrooms. This tech tool allows for creativity in student work beyond what can be produced with the minimalist pencil and paper of yesterday’s classrooms. Our future leaders and active citizens must think creatively if they are going to find and solve the problems of tomorrow’s world. We as teachers must keep in mind that we are not preparing our students for the world we know today but for the future we want tomorrow.

Faith Kane is the campus ESL Specialist at McCollum High School. She is a technophile using technology to empower students in her ESL Reading classes.

Teacher Education for English Language Learners: What We Know and What We Need to Do

Today’s blogger is Adrian D. Martin, New Jersey City University, whose essay (co-authored with Ana Maria Villegas, Kit SaizdeLaMora, and Tammy Mills) on preparing future teachers to teach ELLs appears in The Educational Forum.

In many respects Cecilia is a typical third grader.

She enjoys spending time with her friends, loves her family, and dreams about the possibilities for her future. Cecilia’s favorite class is art, where she creates masterpieces with watercolors, paints, brushes, scissors, glitter, and glue to adorn her bedroom walls. She hopes to one day become an art teacher and inspire boys and girls to create masterpieces of their own.

Yet in September 2017, her hometown of Corozal, Puerto Rico, experienced the widespread destruction and devastation of Hurricane Maria. Although Cecilia and her immediate family survived this tragedy, their home and her school suffered significant damage. As a result, Cecilia’s family decided that it would be best to leave Puerto Rico and live with relatives on the mainland United States.

The challenges of this major transition were compounded when Cecilia enrolled in her new school in Cleveland, Ohio. Although she had some instruction in English as a second language while in Corozal, Cecilia struggled to understand Ms. Williams, her new teacher; and as the only speaker of Spanish in her class, she experienced difficulty in communicating with her new peers. For Ms. Williams, teaching Cecilia was challenging. Like many mainstream teachers, Ms. Williams was a monolingual speaker of English and lacked professional experience with linguistically diverse students. Because Ms. Williams had never studied a second language, she had no personal insight into Cecilia’s experience learning English as a second language. Without preservice preparation or ongoing professional learning experiences to teach English language learners (ELLs), Ms. Williams struggled to identify ways she might aid Cecilia’s academic progress while simultaneously advancing her English language development.

Given the increasing number of students who speak a language other than English at home and are emergent speakers of English, along with the trend to place ELLs in mainstream classrooms, it is imperative for teacher educators to develop a teaching workforce that possesses the knowledge, skills, and dispositions conducive to the affirmative inclusion of ELLs in mainstream classes. Unfortunately, research suggests that ELLs are often marginalized in schools and classrooms, and that many mainstream teachers, despite best intentions, are unresponsive to these students’ academic, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. From a social justice perspective, such an approach to educating ELLs is not only negligent, but also antithetical to the aims of education in our democracy.

Yet despite this urgent problem, little is known about ongoing initiatives within preservice teacher education to promote teacher learning for linguistically diverse students. To address this knowledge gap, the article I co-authored with Ana Maria Villegas, Kit Saiz de la Mora, and Tammy Mills on the preparation of future mainstream teachers for today’s linguistically diverse classrooms offers a systematic review of existing research on this topic. Our critical appraisal of the empirical literature published since 2000 synthesizes the findings from 21 studies to identify the nature and outcomes of learning experiences provided to preservice teachers for teaching ELLs. Using the central tasks for learning to teach at the preservice level proposed by Sharon Feiman-Nemser to guide our analysis, we identified a variety of learning activities teacher educators are using to engage preservice mainstream teachers in learning to teach ELLs. Specifically, the review paints a detailed portrait of how teacher educators can help teacher candidates interrogate their beliefs about ELLs and how to teach them, develop their skills for learning about these students’ out-of-school experiences, and build their practices as linguistically responsive teachers.

To be sure, had Ms. Williams—and other teachers like her—been provided with professional preparation to teach ELLs along the lines depicted in the studies we reviewed, she would likely feel confident in her ability to support Cecilia in learning academic content while developing English language skills. Struggles to determine how to modify instruction, scaffold classroom activities, and promote a linguistically inclusive classroom would have been mitigated by professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions to engage in a linguistically responsive, affirmative, and sustainable pedagogy. Thus, our literature review serves as an entry point for teacher educators, education researchers, professional development providers, and other stakeholders in the field of education committed to supporting students like Cecilia, who struggle in schools due to linguistic differences.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Adrian D. Martin’s essay with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through April 30, 2018.