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Fall 2016

Have ESL, Will Travel

Have ESL, Will TravelFor many adults, trying to learn English can be challenging, as Heidi Larson, Ed.M.’04, and the Ed School students she mentored last year found out. Some adults don’t have access to English-language learner (ELL) classes because of cost or distance. Others have access but, given the busyness of their lives, can’t attend classes on a regular basis or focus fully on the material.

However, one thing most adult learners can easily access is a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet. Knowing this, Larson started working last fall with students in two of Professor Chris Dede’s technology classes, in conjunction with the Framingham Adult ESL Plus Program in Massachusetts. The group created a website called ESL Mobile that included digital resources like apps and online learning games that teachers can use with their adults students in class and students can later use outside of class. Larson says the need to help ELL teachers is great.

“Teachers spend enough time preparing for and teaching classes, and for many this is a second or a volunteer job,” she says. “They may not be aware of the apps available on students’ mobile devices, and they may not have time to research them.”

That’s where the Ed School students came in, researching what’s available for free online, including podcasts and apps, geared toward all levels — beginner to advanced learner. In some cases, the Ed School students customized the resources for a specific class or teacher’s need. The result is that ELL teachers were given well-researched, readily available resources to use to better reach students, Larson says. The ELL students, in turn, were then able to learn on the go.

“They could practice on the bus, as they waited for their children, as they waited in line at the grocery store, or at home after they completed their assigned work,” she says.

The material also allowed learning to be less abstract and more relevant, says one of Larson’s students, Ivan Valdovinos, Ed.M.’16, who remembers both of his parents taking ell classes when he was growing up.

For example, Valdovinos created a module on parts of the body using an online learning tool called Quizlet, which allows users to make digital flashcards.

“I decided to create this module because when we visited the Framingham school,” he says, “students told us that they decided to enroll [in the class] to learn material that would be useful in their daily lives.”

Here are some of the tools you’ll find on the ESL Mobile website:

  • Customized online learning games (called Kahoots) to be used in class.
  • Access to more than 30 self-quiz tools through Quizlet to improve memorization.
  • Resources like YouTube videos to help students work on correct pronunciation.
  • Podcasts to help with listening skills and comprehension.

Illustration by Laurent Cilluffo