Supporting English Language Learners with Next-Gen Tools

While our country grows in diversity, schools serve a growing percentage of students with vastly different backgrounds and needs. English language learners (ELL) face many challenges in school and test results show they often fall behind their non-ELL peers.
They are far less likely to graduate in four years, at a rate of approximately 63% compared to a national average of 82%. The percentage of ELLs graduating high school within four years also trails others subgroups, including students with disabilities and those who come from low-income families.
With the 2015 passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal government has made teaching ELL a priority through stronger accountability provisions and the authorization of additional funding. Secretary of Education John King said, “Under ESSA, states have the opportunity to broaden the definition of educational excellence to ensure that it is well-rounded and incorporates biliteracy and multiliteracy.”
King also said, “States have the opportunity to invest in ensuring that all new teachers are ready to work in the diverse settings that characterize our schools, and to see the fact that a child speaks a language other than English at home as an asset rather than as a deficit.”
Although these numbers suggest ELLs do not perform as well as their non ELL counterparts, there is evidence to suggest that given the right types of supports, bilingual or multilingual students perform better academically over time. Studies show within four to five years bilingual students typically outperform their peers that are in peers that are in one language classrooms.
Reaching all of America’s students includes meeting the needs of diverse learners that possess a wide variety of skills, backgrounds, cultures and family supports. Supporting ELLs, and ultimately all students, involves multiple strategies, professional learning and environmental support. It also means providing next-gen and technological tools that can support language acquisition.
A new publication by Getting Smart addresses these fundamental issues and includes:

  • A landscape analysis of ELL programs, strategies, tools and applications.
  • Findings on what students need to acquire English and what teachers need in order to teach ELLs.
  • Specific recommendations for future tools based on findings.

A growing commitment to language fluency in multiple languages demands increased investment in language tools and content. In addition to addressing the gaps above, EdTech investors and developers, school and district leaders, policy makers, and educators should prioritize alignment of high-quality instructional materials with rigorous state standards and apply research-based recommendations to positively impact ELL achievement.
The publication also includes the 10 Elements of Next-Gen English Language Learning recommendations, such as:

  • Creating a strong school culture utilizing a strengths-based approach for all learners.
  • Considering bilingual, biliterate and dual language programs including bilingual pre-K and kindergarten.
  • Moving towards blended learning with high-quality and standards-aligned tools to support all learners.

For more, see:

“Supporting English Language Learners with Next-Gen Tools” is authored by Getting Smart, with contributions from Bonnie Lathram, Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark. To learn more, download the full paper and follow along on social media using the hashtag #SupportELL.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment


Great article. Communicating with ELL parents can also be a challenge, and use of technology can help with this too. The Bloomz App can help communicate with these parents thanks to its automatic translation feature that allows teachers to continue to send messages home in English, while parents receive it in their preferred language. Check it out!

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