More Light Bulb Moments: Technology and ESL Students

On the first day of class, some teachers go through their syllabus with their students. Others may do some activities to get to know who they will be teaching for the semester. In addition, others may actually get their students started on the course textbook. And some teachers, like me, get their students working on computers in the classroom. I like getting my students into computers from the beginning of the semester because I want them to know that this is an expectation in my class. I want them to know that I expect them to use the computer as a way to learn in my class. It is my way of utilizing classroom technology with my ESL students that I think is important. ESL students should be encouraged to earn how to use classroom technology. Classroom technology can help students in having more opportunities to demonstrate their learning to their teachers, and it can provide a strong foundation to build on for the academic and career paths.

When ESL students are taught to use computers in their classes, they have more ways to learn material. They are not limited by their teachers, classmates, or themselves when they get to use computers for their coursework. For example, teachers may place information on Blackboard to help students prepare for classes. There could be PowerPoint presentations, videos, or even links to websites that the teacher has posted to help students understand what will be discussed next class. Students can access this information at any time and any place. They could even review it after they have learned about the subject in class. Teachers may use discussion boards or journals to get students to elaborate on what they have been working on in class. Sometimes when I have students write on discussion boards, I find that I am able to get more participation from all of my students there than in my classroom, especially when it is regarding a topic that the students feel strongly about.

Giving ESL students the tools to use classroom technology not only prepares them for other classes in undergraduate and even graduate work, but it also helps them in their future careers. Having students do presentations that require electronic visual aids can help students become more comfortable with speaking to the public. Students have a variety of choices to select from many modes to deliver their presentations today. They can create a Prezi presentation, post a video to YouTube, or even give a slide show of their own photos on Flickr. Sometimes students even aid fellow classmates with putting together their presentations, especially when they have had the experience of doing them before. All of this provides multiple opportunities for ESL students to practice skills gained with classroom technology, and it will only help students gain the confidence they need for future courses and careers.

ESL students have much to learn in our classrooms, and some of these things include the English language, U.S. culture, and U.S. teaching styles. Learning through classroom technology can only be a great benefit for these students. If ESL students get the chance to study with the use of classroom technology, not only will it help them become more balanced learners, it will also prepare them for their future studies and work. Classroom technology help ESL students to grow and demonstrate hidden skills that are waiting to be discovered. Teachers may be surprised at what comes from their ESL students when they bring classroom technology into their courses. The future only looks bright from here when it comes to equipping our students with tools for technology that they can use in their studies at FCC.


Alleviating Conflict in ESL Classrooms With Learning Strategies

Most teachers have stories of ESL students who come to class unprepared, disorganized and always late with their assignments. These students often seem to be trying to catch up with the rest of the class, or they may seem to be struggling to understand what is going on in class. By directly teaching learning strategies from the beginning of class, teachers can help their students succeed in class, become independent learners, and have more self-confidence in their abilities.

Learning strategies are important for ESL students because of their learning backgrounds and teacher expectations in the classroom.

ESL students come from a variety of countries, which in turn, have a variety of educational systems. Students who come from Asian countries like Korea or Japan are used to having their teachers be authoritarian figures in the classroom. Rote memorization is essential for students to pass the multiple examinations that they face. Still there are African countries like Sierra Leone where students must memorize information taught in the class and be ready to write or speak on this information in examinations.

ESL students come to the U.S. classroom with these varying educational backgrounds. Many of them assume that they can use these skills that they have learned from their countries in the U.S. and be successful in school. Most of them experience culture shock once they see that their learning styles may not help them in U.S. academics.

However, in teaching them learning strategies, teachers can help students learn ways to be better handle their classes in the U.S. One thing teachers can do is do practice tests in the class with their students. This helps students get to see what sort of tests teachers may use before actually getting to take the real exam.

Teachers often have expectations of their students throughout the class. Teachers may expect that students take notes in class. There may be ESL students who come from countries where note-taking was not done. Teachers may believe that their students know how to take multiple-choice tests. Some ESL students may have never seen a multiple-choice test before they came to the U.S. Teachers may expect their students to know current event topics, U.S. culture, and U.S. history. There are ESL students who may be unfamiliar with all or some of these areas.

Teachers should be aware of their expectations of students and learn about the limits on ESL students. Through learning strategies, teachers can help alleviate this issue of expectations that may conflict with student knowledge.

One way to help students deal with class exercises that may involve U.S. history is to provide background information to the entire class. Teachers can do an introductory exercise where groups need to work on different areas that inform them about the U.S. history they need for the lesson.

Learning strategies are useful not only to ESL students, but also to teachers in teaching students how to function in the classroom and be successful in their studies. Teachers will spend less time going over difficult material if they equip their students with tools that will help them stand up to challenges in the classroom.

ESL students not only need to learn the material they are studying for a subject; they must also learn how to learn in the U.S. classroom. By having learning strategies, ESL students will be more capable learners in their classes, and they will be more prepared to take on the journey of academic study.

Maria Ammar is an assistant professor of ESL at Frederick Community College. She has an master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Florida International University. After completing her graduate degree, she taught English in Japan. She returned to the U.S. to teach ESL in Texas and Florida. She then traveled back overseas to work in the United Arab Emirates. She is now living in Frederick, Maryland, and she enjoys the diverse community of students that she works with at her college every semester.