english language learners bilingual

There are over 4.6 million English Language Learners (ELLs) in United States’ schools, ranging from California to New York! This diverse population of students speaks Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and more. 

Teaching ELLs often requires teachers to think outside the box. These students are learning English and academic material at the same time, which is demanding! Imagine how stressful it might be to take a test that’s not written in your native language. Or imagine how hard it would be if you couldn’t answer the question your teacher asked because you don’t know the words. 

Fortunately, the challenges faced by English Language Learners can be accounted for with thoughtful preparation and a little creativity! A digital assessment tool like Edulastic can help you accommodate their learning needs. In this post, we’ll provide some tips and tricks for using digital assessments to help your English Language Learners succeed! 

Differentiated Instruction to Address Different ELL Needs

Because ELLs come from different backgrounds, levels of English proficiency, and cultures, it is helpful to differentiate learning in your lessons. Differentiated instruction is “flexibility in content, process, and product based on student strengths, needs, and learning styles.” 

Katie Breitholtz, an English Language Learning Specialist, uses Edulastic to differentiate instruction for her ELL students. “When I do literature circles, I can have 3 groups going with different assignments or assessments,” says Breitholtz. “Students can utilize the text-to-speech (TTS) (premium feature) to hear questions. TTS has been a game changer for some students because they need the audio to increase understanding.” 

english language learners classroom
Breitholtz’s class working on an Edulastic assessment.

Also, Breitholtz uses Edulastic’s different question types to create assessments. She says, “I can differentiate assessments by having certain question types like labeling an image, text drop down, matching, or questions with less text and more visual support to assess knowledge of the same concept for lower proficiency levels.” 

Differentiating assessments helps Breitholtz’s students show what they know.  “With such an array of question types, all proficiency levels can be assessed appropriately [to] demonstrate learning,” she says. With digital assessments, the challenge of differentiated instruction becomes simple. Edulastic enables teachers like Breitholtz to focus on teaching and support students’ learning with ease. 

Include Visualizations to Illustrate Concepts

Another way you can support your students is by providing visuals in your digital assessments. If an ELL student has trouble with a question’s wording, an image or a graphic can give them insight into what you are asking. Adding visuals is easy. You can drop an image into any tech-enhanced question on Edulastic. Simply upload the image into the question stem or answer option through the text editor. 

Graphs and other embedded tools in Edulastic can also help. For example, Nerissa Gerodias, a High School Math Teacher, says, “Visuals help my English learners understand the language of Math and I can use Desmos with that.” Edulastic provides basic, scientific, and graphic calculators from Desmos as a Premium feature. 

Carefully Select from a Variety of Question Types

english language learners vocabulary quiz
Katarina Garcia uses drag and drop for a vocabulary quiz with her ELL students.

In addition to the visuals, there are over 30 tech-enhanced questions types on Edulastic to choose from. This allows teachers to create a variety of assessments beyond multiple choice. These different questions help accurately assess ELLs while providing academic rigor. 

One question type Breitholtz loves to use is drag and drop. “There are so many ways to use it, plot diagram, sequencing sentences for a paragraph, or labeling pictures to name a few,” she says. “This question type offers EL accommodations without sacrificing comprehension. Students can show what they know without having to produce language before they are ready.” 

Educators can work from Edulastic’s wide range of question types to choose one that supports ELLs when they take digital assessments. These options help teachers prepare and ensure that their ELL students are assessed in a clear and focused manner. 

Scaffold Vocabulary With Digital Assessment

Vocabulary specific to an academic subject can also be a difficult obstacle for many ELLs. In fact, Geordias believes “language is one of the greatest barriers in learning.” 

How can an ELL student draw parabolas if they were never taught the words for “graph” or “axis” before? That’s why it is important to establish a strong foundation of vocabulary and support ELLs’ language acquisition. Without the words to understand a concept, ELLs can struggle to succeed.

“Vocabulary building is essential in learning mathematics, and memorizing weird words is not easy,” says Geordias. “Remembering a word without being able to correctly connect it to a mathematical idea is not helping ELLs gain deeper understanding of mathematics.” To ensure her students are prepared, Geordias provides a highlighted vocabulary list with visuals. This helps guide ELLs who are still learning new vocabulary related to academic content. 

Geordias also uses the Redirect Feature, which she believes helps her students learn vocabulary more effectively because it gives them a second chance to review. This feature “has a big impact” on her student’s “acquisition of math vocabulary.” She explains, “I noticed that students commit math ideas into long term memory because correcting misconceptions when a task is redirected to them allows them to transfer their understanding from ‘tentative’ to ‘permanent’.” 

By encouraging students to revisit challenging vocabulary, students are more likely to learn it than if they just speed through the assessment to finish early. This will set them up for success when the class moves forward and learns new material as students now have the foundational vocabulary for their lessons. 

Offer Project-Based Learning to Cater to Strengths of ELLs 

You’ve likely heard about project-based learning (PBL) before. Depending on how it’s structured, PBL provides students with the option to choose how they want to learn. It is suitable for a wide range of intelligence styles. Of course, this applies to ELL students too. With the right design, these projects can support ELLs’ education and help ELLs learn a new language more effectively.

If you are already using digital assessments on Edulastic for PBL, make student collaboration part of the assignment. Doing so ensures that ELL students get to practice using academic vocabulary with their group members. This helps them strengthen their language skills and their understanding of academic material, setting them up for future success in the classroom.

In the end, ELLs students might have specific educational needs, but they are just as excited to learn as other students! With these tips and tricks, you can be better equipped to help them prepare and succeed in the classroom. 

Learn more about using Edulastic with ELLs!