Radha Sandy Sukul

radha.sukul@ontariotechu.net
Ontario Tech University

Abstract

Establishing an inclusive learning environment can be a demanding and constant task because student needs are always changing. Online learning tools are important for differentiating and establishing an inclusive classroom for English language learners because it allows them to access valuable resources and complete schoolwork more efficiently. Students can learn new vocabulary by reading articles, newsletters, and other literary material online. Online learning tools also offer more opportunities to make accommodations and modifications. This paper will explore some of the literature that exist about differentiating instruction in the classroom. Also, the TPACK model which suggests that teachers should acquire the necessary knowledge to integrate technology in the classroom is discussed. An educator’s obligation to accommodate English language learners in an inclusive learning environment is examined, and online learning tools geared towards English language learners such as websites, podcasts, and games that educators can use to differentiate the classroom are explored.

Keywords

Differentiation, English Language Learners, Game, Inclusion, Online Tools, Podcast, TPACK, Website

Introduction

Differentiated instruction is the process of tailoring lessons to meet each student’s individual interests, needs, and strengths. Teaching this way gives students choice and flexibility in how they learn, and helps teachers personalize learning. This method also requires instructional clarity and clearly defined goals for learning, better enabling students to meet those goals (Weselby, 2021). English language learners understand varying levels of oral and written English, therefore, even if they can understand English to a certain degree, they may not necessarily be proficient when asked to read. Differentiated classrooms provide diverse avenues to acquire content, to process and make sense of ideas, and to develop lessons and activities so that each student can learn effectively (Tomlinson, 2001, p.1). Ontario schools have some of the most multilingual student populations in the world. English language learners arrive in Ontario as newcomers from other countries; they may have experience of highly sophisticated educational systems, or they may have come from regions where access to formal schooling was limited (p. 33).

An inclusive classroom is a general education classroom where students with and without learning differences learn together. Inclusive classrooms are welcoming and support the diverse academic, social, emotional, and communication needs of all students (Reading Rockets, n.d.). It is significant to acknowledge that inclusion is not necessarily the same as integration. Students do not want to be noticed for their disabilities, rather, they want to be treated like every other student in the classroom. Educators may be prone to modify lessons and separate students according to their learning abilities. But educators need to reflect on their pedagogy and find activities that integrate all students in the same activities while still meeting their individual learning needs. Online learning tools can be a great avenue for allowing students to collaborate on a mutual level, complete projects, all while using the same digital tools.

English language learners are students in provincially funded English language schools whose first language is a language other than English or is a variety of English that is significantly different from the variety used for instruction in Ontario’s schools, and who may require focussed educational supports to assist them in attaining proficiency in English. These students may be Canadian born or recently arrived from other countries. They come from diverse backgrounds and school experiences and have a wide variety of strengths and needs (Ministry of Eduction, n.d., p.5). Many factors can impact English language learners when integrating technology into the classroom environment. The process requires the educator to get to know their students to meet their needs, though, this may not be practical with increased classes sizes, educators risk sabotaging their students’ chances of reaching their academic goals if they resort to putting them all into the same learning scenario. Students have different learning styles because they have individual needs based on their understanding of the world around them and their ability to convey those experiences.

Background Information

Differentiated instruction should aim to meet the needs of all students regardless of their learning ability. Differentiation can happen with these classroom elements: content, process, product, affect, and learning environment. Instruction can be tailored based on three student characteristics – readiness, interest, understanding, and skills as it relates to the subject matter (Van Garderen & Whittaker, 2006, p. 12-13). The authors emphasize that it is important to consider what the student enjoys learning about, thinks about and what they like to do. A student’s model of learning should be framed based on their learning style, intelligence preference, gender, and culture.

An English-language learner’s lack of English proficiency does not mean that they cannot learn the same content as their native English-speaking peers. However, we cannot expect them to learn the same content in the same way. There should be some differentiation in the instructional strategies and in the materials used (Ferlazzo, 2018). As educators have grappled with this issue, it has become clear that educational equality can only be achieved if English Language learners have an opportunity to learn the same thorough academic content as native English speakers. The best way to achieve that goal is through differentiated instruction that considers English language learners English language proficiency, as well as the many other factors that can impact learning (Ford, n.d.; Fairbairn & Jones-Vo, 2010).

Whether teaching school remotely or in person, online learning tools can be used to support English language learners. Research shows that English language learners’ learning is enhanced by interactive visual aids and access to lessons that teachers can use to create these learning experiences. Teachers can incorporate audio, images, or videos to differentiate their lessons. These resources can support English language learners with fun, engaging tools that help them review and build vocabulary and literacy skills. In the classroom, English language learners can benefit from online learning at a station that the teacher sets up as part of a lesson (Schwartz, 2020).

TPACK Model

The framework addresses and supports teachers in using technology devices in educational settings and emphasizes using different technological tools. The framework encourages educators to consider their audience when deciding on digital learning tools and highlights giving students a voice in how they like to learn (Tomte et al., 2015). Educators have an obligation to establish an inclusive learning environment for all students. Teacher attitude can make all the difference in a classroom; if the teacher is committed to building inclusion and believes that all students can succeed, then students have a better chance of achieving their academic goals.

Applications

The Ministry of Education (2007) suggests differentiated instruction is very beneficial for students but the most challenging part when planning instructions is that the expectations remain the same, but each student should be given the opportunity to learn in the style that best suits them to reach their academic goals. Online learning tools for English language learners enable teachers to create a learning environment that is conducive for all different levels of language learners. No two students are the same, and for this reason, it is often difficult to offer practice material that is effective for the classroom. The ability to digitally track English language learners’ progress, strengths, and weaknesses is a useful tool when planning lessons and activities for the classroom (Parker, 2022). Online learning tools geared toward English language learners such as websites, podcasts, and games can help educators to differentiate lessons and activities in the classroom which may lead to a more inclusive learning environment.

Language Learning Websites

Educators can integrate online tools in the classroom to support English language learners. These include websites with a selection of quizzes, tests, handouts, lesson plans and reference materials. Specifically, platforms such as “Using English and Dave’s ESL Café”, are interactive tools for students use to improve English slang, pronunciation, and phrases (Parker, 2022).

Listen to Podcasts

By listening to podcasts, students will be exposed to spoken language in English by native speakers. There are many podcasts available and geared towards different interests, ages, and language levels. Educators could arrange an area in the classroom with the necessary devices for listening to podcast relevant to activities and lessons being taught in the classroom. Incorporating podcasts into lessons can be a comprehensive way for English language learners to improve their listening and speaking skills. The podcast “Voice of America: Learning English” covers topics such as culture, lifestyle, and health, and programs include “Words and Their Stories” and “Let’s Learn English”, to engage students and make learning fun (Cox, 2022).

Play Online Games

Incorporating games into classroom lessons is becoming more popular among educators. Online games have made differentiation possible across a range of subjects; while playing games, English language students will have the opportunity to practice language skills as they read questions and write the correct answers. Online games such as “ESL games” (Themecountry, 2017) and platforms such as “Pogo” (Electronic Arts, 2022), help students to improve vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills (Cox, 2022).

Conclusion

The current state of education requires students to learn through technology more than ever. Students may not have access to technology or the internet, therefore, it can be difficult for educators to meet the needs of all students through differentiated instruction. Strategies used in the classroom should be comprised of a mixture of online learning tools and strategies, and educators shouldn’t be reliant on using just one tool to help students learn. It is important for educators to use online learning tools such as websites, podcasts, and games to engage students and make learning fun. The educator must continue to reflect on whether the online learning tools are meeting academic learning goals and make modifications when necessary. Establishing an inclusive learning environment for English language learners may encourage them to improve their language skills and give them confidence to attempt tasks they once thought unattainable.

References

Cox, T. (2022, March 15). English Language Learners Apps & Games: A Guide for Students, Parents, and Educators. Preply. https://preply.com/en/blog/esl-apps-and-games/

Electronic Arts (2022). Pogo: Play online games for free. [Website]. https://www.pogo.com/

Fairbain, S., & Jones-Vo, S. (2010). Differentiating instruction and Assessment for English language learners: A guide for K-12 teachers. Caslon.

Ferlazzo, L. (2018, December 9). Ways to Differentiate Instruction for ELLs. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-response-ways-to-differentiate-instruction-for-ells/2018/12

Ford, K. (n.d.). Differentiated Instruction for English Language Learners. Colorin Colorado. https://www.colorincolorado.org/article/differentiated-instruction-english-language-learners

Ministry of Education. (2007). The Ontario curriculum, grades 1-8: Science and technology. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca

Ministry of Education (n.d.). Supporting English Language Learners: A practical guide for Ontario Educators (Grades 1-8). http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/esleldprograms/guide.pdf

Parker, J. (2022, February 8). Five Innovative Ways to use Technology for English Language Learners. FluentU English Educator. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/technology-for-ell-students/

Reading Rockets. (n.d.). Inclusive classrooms: A Primer for Teachers. https://www.readingrockets.org/teaching/inclusive-classrooms

Schwartz, L. (2020, April 21). Websites and Teacher-Created Videos Make Content More Accessible for English Language Learners. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/helpful-online-resources-teaching-ells

Themecountry (2017). ESL Games. [Website]. https://eslgames.com/

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Pearson Education.

Tomte, Enochsson, A.-B., Buskqvist, U., & Karstein, A. (2015). Educating online student teachers to master professional digital competence: The TPACK-framework goes online. Computers and Education84(May), 26–35. https://www-sciencedirect-com

Van Garderen, D., & Whittaker, C. (2006). Planning Differentiated, Multicultural Instruction for Secondary Inclusive Classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children38(3), 12–21. https://journals.sagepub.com

Weselby, C. (2021, April 29). What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom. Resilient Educator. https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/

License

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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2022 by Radha Sandy Sukul is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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