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EdTech for English Learners

Expanding access to meaningful learning for English learners through EdTech

U.S. Department of Education data show that English learners in grades K–12 in U.S. public schools in the 2015–16 school year numbered over five million students—about 10 percent of all enrolled students—and that roughly three-fourths of public school districts included students who are English learners. Many teachers, including those in small and rural districts, have one or more English learners in their classrooms—or soon will—and these teachers often use technology when instructing their English learners.

In other words, educators and technologists alike should be approaching EdTech with English learners’ unique needs in mind. To help them do that, the U.S. Department of Education has developed toolkits that clarify what you should know, what you should ask, and what you should consider doing when it comes to using or building EdTech to support English learners.

The toolkit for educators offers five guiding principles for educators to apply in exploring new ways of working with and supporting their English learners through technology, starting with recognizing their students’ unique needs and thinking through to the best technologies to help meet those needs.

The toolkit for EdTech developers provides guidance on the needs of English learners and their educators; supports to consider including with your product that may be especially useful for English learners; ways to communicate about products with districts and educators of English learners to facilitate adoption of your products; and the types of professional development and training activities that educators find most valuable.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education’s Policy and Program Studies Service conducted a study on how districts and teachers support English learners through technology. The study collected data during the 2016─17 school year through a nationally representative survey of districts that enrolled English learners, a teacher survey that included both mainstream teachers and English learner specialists, and case studies of six districts to provide more in-depth information about district and teacher practices. Findings cover how districts and teachers identified digital learning resources (DLRs), how teachers used DLRs, supports for and barriers to DLR use, and suggestions for improving the usefulness of DLRs in instruction of English learners.

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