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.

Building trust within a team

I believe that one of the first things in building relationships and a culture of trust in your team is by being available for your team members. One of my teachers had a major breakthrough last week and shared with me that she experienced an “A-ha moment” by feeling supported. She knew that I was there to help her and I would continue to encourage her. Teachers will more likely be willing to take risks when they know that they can rely on their coach. I also believe that active listening is an important skill to develop trust. And not just listening, but caring. Taking the time to find out how your team members are doing, looking out for their health and best interest, and reminding them when it is time to take a break, are all important things to remember. Coaches also need to be open and honest, and available for discussions. They need to celebrate with their team when things go well and provide guidance when things don’t go as planned. Coaches also need to be able to provide constructive feedback and not be afraid to ask questions. Many of my teachers also say that they see me as their cheerleader, because no matter how big or small, I will always be on the sidelines to help see them through to the finish line.

What does your team say about you?

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My journey from CanadianTechEd to Alex Lianne Carter – Innovator & Coach

Six years ago when I was first introduced to Twitter and blogging, I was quite shy about having my name and picture all over the web. Only I knew, that if I wanted to break into the online world of Educational Technology, I needed to create a presence for myself online. So like any problem solver, I found a solution that would help me create an online presence without being “too out there”. I decided to create a brand CanadianTechEd and chose to create a cartoon avatar, as my image. At the time, I was living in Ottawa and feeling very patriotic, I created my brand with the goal of being known as THE Canadian technology educator. Being fully bilingual, I thought there would be quite a market for myself, as I would be able to reach out and support the instruction of technology education in schools across Canada, in both official languages.

Over time, the role of technology instruction has changed, and my career has brought me across Canada, around the world, and now back in Alberta. As I stop and reflect, I realize am no longer THE Canadian Technology Educator, but that I have become an international innovator, who is very passionate about the integration of Educational Technology in the classroom to support the innovation of student learning.

So today, I found it quite ironic when George Couros contacted me this afternoon to discuss my Twitter handle. I just so happened to be reflecting the other day on my brand and my website, and asking myself if @CanadianTechEd really reflects who I am today.

After six years of being CanadianTechEd, it is time to move forward and focus on who I am at this stage of my career.

Thank you to the #IMMOOC community who have played a huge role in this self-reflection over the past few weeks.

If you missed #IMMOOC Season 2, Episode 3 – Check it out! And keep your ears open around the 14-minute, 10-second mark, when George makes a special shout out to yours truly!