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Going One on One

Jeanne Beck and Katt Simms describe how Chromebooks are dominating the 1:1 English learner landscape

Step inside today’s K–12 school and you’ll find English language learners using 1:1 devices, primarily Chromebooks, in conjunction with digital cameras, SMART boards, 3D printers, and more, taking student engagement and learning into the 21st century.

Innovative teachers are making headway with 1:1 technology, taking advantage of the 1:1 infrastructure within their schools to support English learners (ELs) in ways that were once only imaginable. In Missouri alone, 1:1 Chromebooks can be found in EL classrooms in rural and urban districts statewide, from Moniteau County R-I School District, a rural district in central Missouri, to the Parkway School District in St. Louis. 

Teachers and administrators at these districts prefer Chromebooks due to their versatility, numerous apps and extensions, and how they mimic computers students will use throughout their education and careers. For ELs in particular, 1:1 Chromebook implementation is beneficial in leveling the playing field with native-English-speaking peers. 

“We want ESL students to have access to apps that assist with their learning, whether that be translation software or learning apps,” said Dwight Sanders, superintendent of Moniteau County R-I School District. “Too many times classrooms are limited to a textbook, but we want to broaden our students’ perspectives and bring in worldwide learning opportunities and collaboration.”  

With a district population of 1,400 and an EL population of 110 students in California, Missouri, Moniteau County R-I was an early adopter of 1:1 Chromebooks in the region and has reaped the benefits. For newcomers to the district, like Max from Brazil, receiving their own Chromebooks can be a shock at first. “I was surprised because I never had such technology in my school in Brazil, we just had papers,” he said. Max, who has excelled in both ESL and content-area classes since arriving in January, particularly enjoys using Quizlet Live in his classes. “I could study and remember stuff by playing games in a fun way,” he stated.

These districts are capitalizing on Chromebooks’ open-source features for their ELs, catering to students who are both technology natives and learning an additional language. “I hope the functions in a Chromebook, such as the translate functions, allow the ESOL population greater equality and access to the curriculum,” said Greg Bergner, assistant principal at Parkway Central Middle School (PCMS). Parkway, with 1,000 ELs from over 50 countries, has been 1:1 with Chromebooks since 2017. “I see Chromebooks as a valuable learning tool—that could replace textbooks and worksheets,” Bergner remarked, stating that educators need to be part of 21st-century learning.

Thanks to Parkway’s 1:1 Chromebooks, teachers have gravitated toward using more technology, organizing their materials and assignments in Google Classrooms and providing students with documents, articles, and hyperlinks. Online education sites like Clever, Schoology, and Blendspace are commonly used in place of textbooks; ELs can usually translate these sources, supporting their first- and second-language growth.

Parkway content teachers have seen the benefit of 1:1 devices for their ELs, noting improved class participation and assignment completion. For newcomer and refugee students, the use of adapted English materials is beneficial; however, students seem to understand more when they can translate the material and follow along. “One-to-one levels the playing field. ELs can translate, find pictures online to make connections, and it allows them an opportunity to communicate with their fellow peers—all in real time,” said PCMS eighth-grade American history teacher Bryan Britts. “[ELs] become more active participants in the classroom.” 

Seventh-grade math teacher Tina Miller agreed by adding, “ELs with one-to-one devices get to go at their own pace. Online review videos, through Blendspace, provide additional exposure and practice to students when needed. ELs get help translating when needed, and when appropriate, to better improve their understanding.” 

Across the state, at California Middle School in Moniteau County R-I, Amelia Elliott takes full advantage of 1:1 Chromebooks in her eighth-grade English language arts and reading classrooms by utilizing flipped learning. “I feel [ELs] benefit from the Chromebooks because, through flipped learning, it allows [teachers] to diversify instruction and adapt materials to their individual learning needs,” Elliott said, who has many long-term ELs in her school. Pear Deck and Edpuzzle are helpful for ELs, as she can see students’ understanding in real time, filling in any gaps in knowledge.

For all ELs, utilizing Google’s G Suite apps to write papers and create projects provides opportunities for language learning. In urban and rural schools alike, one will find ELs writing reports in Google Docs, presenting in Google Slides, and even analyzing data in Google Sheets. ELs and teachers alike find document sharing, the comment feature, and the editing and suggesting feature helpful for language learning and collaboration. Paired with voice typing and the accessibility settings, teaches can level the playing field even more.

Even with the benefits to language learning, 1:1 devices are not without challenges. ELs have similar behavioral issues to their native-English-speaking peers—opening distracting links and apps, misusing educational devices, and not recharging the batteries. Newcomer ELs can become overly dependent on translation apps, such as Google Translate, instead of attempting the classwork in English, and some students will change their computer settings to their first language. When teachers give corrections or comments in Google Docs, students may click “accept suggestion” without taking the time to learn from their mistakes. To counteract these measures, teachers are setting up firewalls and using lockdown features to prevent distractions and cheating. Good teaching strategies, such as establishing expectations and monitoring students’ use, help mitigate issues as well. 

The introduction of 1:1 devices has aided ELs in their language development and aided teachers in preparing them for their futures. Teachers and administrators agree that 1:1 Chromebook access is improving student language progress and are supportive of the continued use of technology in the classroom. As the number of English language learners grows, teachers will need to find more ways to engage and equitably serve students through 1:1 technology.

Jeanne Beck is the ESL and technology teacher at California Middle School, a rural school in Missouri, and will be pursuing a PhD in applied linguistics and technology at Iowa State University this fall. She has taught all ages in the U.S., Japan, and South Korea and presented on educational technology at TESOL, MIDTESOL, and JALT.

Katt Simms is an ESL teacher’s assistant (TA) at Parkway Central Middle School in the Parkway School District in St. Louis, Missouri. Simms has recently earned her MA in TESOL from Webster University, after teaching abroad for several years. Having previously worked in South Korea and Japan, she taught ESL to students in the K–12 school system up to undergraduates and adults.

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