The role of edtech in supporting English as an additional language students

Nicola Hickton, associate assistant head and director of standards for English at the Chiltern Learning Trust, and literacy lead Klaudia Jablonska, reflect on the role of edtech in supporting English as a Second Language students in the Trust

Throughout the pandemic, teachers have turned to edtech as part of their toolkit for learning. Many schools were already using at least some element of edtech but its use has only increased during the period of remote and hybrid learning. For the schools in our Trust, the benefits of technology in the classroom has been transformational and truly powered a reading culture throughout the community.

We’ve been using edtech in a number of different ways since as early as 2005. Many of our teachers originally saw the main benefits of edtech as purely an assessment tool. However, the benefits have been far wider, specifically to our English as a Second Language (ESL) students.   The use of edtech in our Trust has really helped us transform the reading journey pupils go on in school and given them the opportunity to review their own progress against their personalised targets. 

The challenges EAL students face

As a Trust we have an incredibly unique set of demographics across our schools, including a trust-wide average of 60% of pupils who have English as a Second Language (ESL). The school closures over the past year presented various challenges for all pupils, but for ESL students who often don’t have English-speaking parents at home, maintaining their English reading and comprehension skills has been even more of a task.

For example, some of the ESL students at one of our schools, Putteridge High, are newly arrived in the UK and their grasp of English is either minimal or non-existent. Many have missed out on basic reading in English development and for some who were at the very beginning of English development, they couldn’t even get on the reading scale or achieve any basic reading targets. However, using edtech means we can track their individual progress and create personalised plans for each student. Many have started to see real progress and are regularly achieving their reading targets.

…using edtech means we can track their individual progress and create personalised plans for each student

It’s also important to remember that some ESL students lack the basic elementary teaching of phonics, and by the time they’re in secondary school, we don’t have phonics teachers or the time to provide phonics-acquisition support. So this is another area where edtech offers great benefits in supporting classroom learning.

Specifically in this area, we’ve found Accelerated Reader has engaged our pupils with their reading progression. Pupils read a book and take an online quiz afterwards which gives them immediate feedback. The fact it’s a self-run programme has been essential for our ESL pupils. Many have come straight from their country of origin, into our schools and straight into the Accelerated Reader programme – that’s the main reason they’ve done so well. It’s taken a long time for some ESL students who’ve gone from failing every quiz and assessment, to achieve 10%, which was a big achievement. Because of this success, we have a group of ESL year 11s who will continue to use the programme for support during their exams.

Edtech provides a shared language

We’ve found that our use of edtech has helped give ESL students a shared language with other pupils and their teachers. The systems we use give students instant feedback and illustrate the progress steps they make throughout their reading journey.

Any student in Year 10 will be able to tell you where they are in terms of progress and using the technology gives them the motivation to work towards matching their reading age with their actual age. The books available in the library are labelled so pupils can match their ability levels with appropriate books. Students are also recommended books that are slightly more challenging, but they should be able to read without frustration to help propel them forwards with their reading development. This enables even the more vulnerable and less confident students to take control of their reading journey and share their progress.

As teachers, we would advise all schools to make the most of the edtech available to them, specifically to help support ESL students, or other vulnerable pupils…

It’s not just our schools’ experience that edtech can support better reading habits either; the recent What Kids Are Reading Report from Renaissance Learning, looked at the reading habits of over one million pupils during the pandemic and beyond. It found that during the past year many children across the nation decided to pick up a book for reading enjoyment in the past year and that often these books were more challenging and longer reads. We now have a role to play in building on this reading culture even further for ESL pupils and all students – edtech has a key role to play in supporting this process, alongside teachers.

As teachers, we would advise all schools to make the most of the edtech available to them, specifically to help support ESL students, or other vulnerable pupils to remain engaged in their learning as we navigate the pathway back to normality.

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