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.

Top Websites for Inclusive Classrooms

The demands upon teachers continue to grow, especially as they seek to accommodate all of their students’ learning needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act provides that students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment, or that of their same-grade peers. According to the The U.S. Department of Education, 95 percent of 6- to 21-year-old students with disabilities were served in regular schools.

It is incumbent upon teachers, in an era of accountability and mandates set by the Every Student Succeeds Act, to prepare themselves to face the challenges in meeting the needs of students with exceptional learning needs. At the same time, student engagement is at an all-time low and decreases every year starting in the fifth grade; reaching its lowest point by eleventh grade.

Continuing to build classroom supports is essential to keep students encouraged to learn and hopeful for their future. The following websites offer teachers the opportunity, at no cost, to reinforce classroom knowledge and skills while giving students the opportunity to use technology to reinforce their learning.

Flocabulary

Flocabulary offers an engaging approach to K-12 vocabulary instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards. It offers a free trial and discounts for school-wide subscriptions. Through the use of rap music, Flocabulary helps activate auditory processing and memory and reinforces concepts in all academic subjects including Life Skills and Current Events, necessary for students with exceptional learning needs. All videos have captions, include transcripts, and have variable speed controls to accommodate all learners.

Reading Educator

Students with disabilities must be explicitly taught how to use reading strategies because they do not automatically know how to use these strategies. Reading Educator assumes that every teacher is a reading teacher, and support in the general education classroom comes through the teaching of research-based strategies, which help students become more active in their learning. The website provides sample lesson plans and models of effective strategies such as active reading, vocabulary development, classroom discussion, and higher-order questioning. Additional resources include fun supplemental activities for parents to encourage reading at home.

Funbrain

Designed primarily for grades Pre–K through grade 8, funbrain includes a variety of educational games and videos including all traditional academic areas as well as memory challenges, strategy skills, patterns, logic, and sign language. These animated and interactive games disguise learning through video gaming modules.

Free Rice

Students with exceptional learning needs require review and practice of basic concepts and reinforcement of material previously learned. Based at the United Nations World Food Programme to end world hunger, Free Rice is a win-win website. Teachers are able to register their students to play as a group. As the students answer the questions correctly, a visual representation is shown of the grains of rice that will be donated. This website is appropriate for students at all grade levels. Subjects include: basic math operations, grammar, science, and geography, anatomy, chemistry, pre-algebra, and SAT preparation.

Bookshare

Accommodating the diverse learning needs in the classroom can be challenging and costly. Bookshare.org is an accessible online library for persons with a documented print disability. This website has over a half a million titles and many different options to read books. Students are able to listen to books using text-to-speech voices. Books are available in enlarged font, digital braille, and image description.

Quizlet

Quizlet is an interactive website which allows students the opportunity to practice material learned through digital flashcards that are created by both teachers and students. Study sets can be transformed into games and practice tests to promote application of the vocabulary terms. Students can search for previously created study sets that align with specific course content. Quizlet Live is another version of quizlet. In this feature, teachers can create teams throughout their classroom to play collaborative games to further reinforce vocabulary.

Guysread

Students with learning disabilities are reluctant readers and have motivational problems due to repeated reading failure and negative reading experiences (Melekoglu & Wilkerson, 2013). It’s based on the premise that when children and youth are given interesting material to read, they become more proficient and life-long readers. Guysread is a web-based literacy program for boys, who are more likely than girls to receive special education services and have markedly lower achievement in language arts from elementary through high school (2009). The website includes book recommendations by genre and age range. Interesting reading material on superheroes and supervillains, graphic novels, cars, mystery, fantasy, and sports can also be found.

With these resources, you will provide opportunities for students with disabilities to review and practice educational concepts with technology, all the while facilitating your engagement and motivation to learn.

 

Rachel is a senior undergraduate student at Flagler College and plans to attend graduate school in the fall. Her current interests include students with exceptional needs with focus on best practices in working with children with autism, and behavioral issues.

Cheryl has a Ph.D. in Special Education with expertise in Learning and Behavioral Disorders. She currently teaches in the Education Department at Flagler College.

Standardized Testing: A Disruption To Quality Learning

On October 24th, President Obama released a statement calling for changes in standardized testing in America’s schools. Although the details have yet been released, it is encouraging the Obama Administration acknowledges that standardized testing has overextended its purpose.

As a veteran of public education, such news is profoundly welcomed.  Over the past 20 years, going back to the Clinton Administration and Goals 2000, through the Bush Administration and No Child Left Behind, to the Obama Administration and Race to the Top, public education has increasingly become burdened by the increase of testing. With it came increased scrutiny and accountability on states, local school districts, and individual teachers. Although the results of these initiatives have been mixed, all now agree there is no correlation between increased standardized tests and increased student achievement.

I firmly believe the first step is to eliminate the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balance Assessment. Being an educator in a state that mandated that all districts implement the PARCC test, I can speak directly to the negative impact it created. PARCC is a computer-based assessment. The drain on school district technology resources both in the setting-up phase, which began in January, through the implementation phase, the months of March and May, were profound. The length of the tests, both in March and May were extremely disruptive to school schedules and classroom routines.

Many educators across the state questioned the developmental appropriateness of PARCC, in terms of format, length and difficulty. Although PARCC has announced there will only be one test instead of two in 2016, overall test time has not been decreased significantly. In addition, if the purpose of standardized testing is to inform and improve teaching and learning, PARCC is not the answer.

First round of tests were completed by April 1st and the second round by the end of May.  It is mid November, and my school district just now received the results for our high school students; hardly timely if we are to use the information to improve instruction. We have no idea when elementary will receive the results. Given states can’t agree nationwide what curricular content is worth knowing, and given a growing number of states have opted out of Common Core standards and/or PARCC or Smarter Balance Assessment, more and more educators question the validity or purpose of a “one size fits all” test.

Let’s band together and work with our state legislators and create assessments that reflect what we as states have committed to in terms of standards-based teaching and learning. In addition, at the local level, let’s support individual school districts to develop and utilize assessment practices that align with instruction, provide timely feedback, and create partnerships of learning with teachers and students.

Dr. Vicky Tuskenvicky tusken is the Secondary Curriculum Coordinator for the DeKalb Community Unit School District in Illinois. She also teaches at Northern Illinois University as an Adjunct for the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Foundations.

Technology—The Great Equalizer?

Faye Snodgress is executive director at Kappa Delta Pi.

I found the article about an autistic teenager who developed a friendship with Siri, the voice on his mother’s iPhone, both interesting and heartwarming. For children who struggle with social interactions, the discovery of a “person” who is always there when they need someone to talk to, and who is always patient and kind, may be life-changing. As the child’s mother noted in her reflections, continued conversations with Siri have led to real improvements in her son Gus’s ability to communicate with humans and to acquire some new social skills.

In a time when everywhere we look we see families or friends sitting around together with each hovering over his or her cell phone, the article reminds us of how technology, which can be isolating, can also connect and engage people with one another.

Children like Gus, who have access to both a technological device, like an iPhone, and a parent who recognizes the potential benefits of her child’s interaction with an intelligent assistant, have a significant advantage.

Unfortunately, while technology is often viewed as the great equalizer in educational settings, that perception isn’t entirely accurate. Will an increase in the number of laptops or tablets and Internet access really allow all students to benefit equally from what technology can offer? Figures from the 2014 Pew Research Internet Project Survey tell us that 90% of American adults own cell phones, while only 58% own smartphones. Smartphone adoption is highest among the affluent and well-educated. The substantial difference in the number of cell phones and smartphones is significant, because the smartphone is where so many of the exciting digital learning opportunities exist.

Just having access to technology isn’t going to magically level the playing field. In other words, if every child had access to a computer and smartphone, not every child would realize the same benefits and develop the same skills. In her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Annette Lareau contrasts the ways technology is used by children at home, based on the different parenting styles associated with socioeconomic status. Middle- and upper-class parents view their children as projects, and they continually invest time and resources to help develop their children into the best finished projects they can. They enroll them in organized activities, are involved in their schools, and engage them in discussions and questioning. Lower-income families don’t have these opportunities to offer their children. They have to work multiple jobs and use their limited resources for food and clothing for their children. There is little or no time and disposable income available for organized activities and traveling.

Given the challenges associated with poverty, lower-income parents often don’t have access to or the time available to model the use of technology as a learning tool in the same way as more affluent parents can.  There is a clear difference in how middle- and upper-income families and lower-income families think about technology and how they incorporate it into their lives and the lives of their children. Lower-income families look to technology as a means to stay connected with others, while middle- and upper-income children are encouraged to use it also for informal learning—gaining exposure to new ideas.

As school districts and the government consider funding for technology, our policymakers must understand that providing access to technology is just one part of helping all children to develop the skills necessary for the workplace. Addressing structural inequalities is another critical component in ensuring that all children benefit from access to technology. As educators, we want all children to benefit from the limitless information available through the Internet and the many ways technology can enrich their lives, including possible life-changing relationships with virtual assistants.