Empowering Language Learners with Technology

No matter where you teach in the world, the opportunity to work in an immersion or bilingual setting is an extremely unique and rewarding experience. Dora Deboer and I met through the #IMMOOC, an Online Book Study and decided to work in collaboration to write this blog post to share our unique experiences.

Dora is a Bilingual Intervention Specialist at a Title I school in a suburb of North Texas and her school district follows an early exit bilingual program. This means Dora’s students receive initial instruction in Spanish (her students’ first language) then transition into English language instruction as soon as they are ready. I am the Director of Educational Technology and Innovation at Calgary French & International School in Canada. My school follows an immersion educational model to teach French as a second language. This means the students at my school receive their instruction in French from preschool to grade 12.

As we prepared for the #IMMOOC blogging buddy challenge, we learned that we both share the same love for our job! And although our work settings might seemed very different at first, we both encounter some of the same challenges.

One of the biggest challenges working in any bilingual/trilingual setting, is to keep students engaged and excited to learn a new language. Keeping students motivated to learn a language that is not spoken at home or spoken in the community can leave students often feeling frustrated. In addition, some students like Dora’s spanish speaking students can be passive learners and reluctant to participate in language production activities. In my French Immersion setting, students are excited to learn a new language when they are younger, however when they reach upper elementary, they become more reluctant to converse and communicate with their peers in French.

But this “challenge” is also one of the of the reasons we love our jobs so much because it forces us to find new and creative ways to engage students in the learning of a new language. We need to look at our instruction differently in order to design opportunities where our students are motivated to learn a language.

Thanks to having access to various technology tools, there are many ways they can be used to support second language instruction. At Calgary French & International, we use the iPads to create various types of videos, from digital storytelling, to interviews, to small videos clips on the ePortfolio, video is a great way to capture what students are capable of doing in their second language. Furthermore, using video allows the teacher to capture the learning and then share it with the child’s parents, who don’t always have the opportunity to see what their child is capable of doing in the other language. This also helps strengthening home-school connections because it creates a bird’s eye view into the classroom.

Another benefit of using videos is that it allows students to listen to themselves and provide opportunities to self-reflect, which empowers them to take ownership of their learning by setting personal goals. The reaction of watching students listen to themselves for the first time with their foreign language is priceless.


The Aurasma App allows students to get involved in critiquing each other’s language production and learning how to provide specific feedback. This App gives students the opportunity to become active participants in the learning process because the teachers is not longer the only one assessing students. Students learn to be critical listeners!

ChatterPix is another great tool to encourage oral language production. This provides an opportunity for students to practice the target language in a fun and creative way. Students love going around the classroom to take pictures of newly learned vocabulary and then recording themselves practicing their new words. This is perfect for reducing students’ speaking anxiety since it allows them to give voice to any object. Another favorite tool in grade 1 for learning new vocabulary is PicCollage. Below are some pictures the students created while learning the French terminology for different emotions.
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Technology tools like the ones described above can also help level the playing field in the classroom. This is especially the case when working with a language that learners are at different proficiency levels. These tools and many others like it can support and encourage students to develop their second language skills in engaging ways. Teachers can also benefit from incorporating technology into their teaching because it can help personalize instruction to address individual needs.

It is clear to us that technology has the power to transform the way we teach and learn; however, we understand that by just integrating technology in our lessons, we are not harnessing this power. We need to start with the learner and their individual needs, then we need to design lessons where students feel empowered and are active participants in their own learning.

“Je colorie mon français” with QR codes

I always love walking up and down the hallways of the school where I work. The wall displays are put together with care, with themes to really demonstrate what the students are learning in their classrooms. From artwork to poetry, lego, and pictures that capture students learning, there is always something new and exciting to see.

The other day while walking through the hallways in the school, this big poster of a rainbow paintbrush on the wall saying “Je colorie mon français” really caught my attention. So I stopped by one of the classes and spoke to one of the teachers to learn more about what the poster was for. She then explained to me that it was to help teach students French expressions and corrections. She explained that, after school that day, the grade 4 teachers were going to get together and make two videos for the students. One, that would teach them the expression of the week, and one to help correct common mistakes French Immersion students often make. Once the videos were finished, they would be published and a QR code would be created so students, parents, administration, and teachers could scan and watch their videos. This was the first week for this activity, so the grade 4 teachers created these first two videos to showcase an example to their students. Beginning next week, for the remainder of the school year, students will be working in groups to create, publish, and display their weekly French expression and correction.

In addition, to throw in a little bit of friendly competition and to integrate Math into this activity, when students use the weekly expression or correction in their day-to-day learning, they will receive points for their class. Classroom points will then be added on to a bar graph, teaching students how to use a bar graph – a learning outcome for grade 4 Math.

I was so excited to hear that the grade 4 teachers were embracing technology to get their students to learn French expressions and to help them correct common mistakes. I was also thrilled to hear that the grade 4 team was working together to create this project so all the grade 4 students would benefit from this activity.

The teacher said to me before I left the classroom that day, “you know us, were are never afraid to try something new!” These grade 4 teachers are really amazing and they definitely are not afraid to try something new. If you walk past their classrooms, you will notice flexible seating, gamification, and some really excited and engaged learners.

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