Students constantly interact with technology, and if they don’t find something engaging or stimulating, they’ll retreat to a more fun activity on their tablet, computer, or phone. Technology allows students different ways of interacting with class materials, provides opportunities for creativity in creating assignments and solutions, and allows mundane tasks to be presented in exciting ways.

Michael Sarris has taught ELL students in English and mathematics at Fairmont Private Schools for over three years. Previously, Mr. Sarris taught math to ELLs in the Santa Ana Unified School District, as well as at Laguna Beach High School. He believes that it’s critical to develop many different ways of interacting with texts and learning materials. While the basics are always important, students will find themselves developing all kinds of content during and after high school. Exposure to different methods through which they can critically interact with texts and online materials, is pertinent to the success of all students.

Research used to mean finding books in the library. Now, however, research includes analyzing many of different kinds of source materials, integrating pictures, video, and texts, and presenting the results in an engaging manner. In today’s culture, students must be flexible, adaptable, and unafraid of taking risks with new technology and methods of research.

Just as technology can be a great tool, it can also be a crutch. Students at lower levels can sometimes rely too heavily on classroom technology, using it for translation or other assistance. At the same time, if the task is too difficult, students can raise their affective filters and attempt to escape into their devices, preferring off-task comforts instead of digging into course assignments. When teaching the four essential language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, the hardest skill to engage students in is reading when texts are too academic. While students recognize the importance of reading, it is sometimes difficult for them to engage with seemingly unappealing texts.

In Mr. Sarris’ classroom, he uses the following teaching strategies in order to encourage students to productively engage in class using technology:

Student Choice – Students can use whatever software they want, so long as they satisfy project parameters and have something tangible to turn in.

Engagement with Accountability – Seek out tools that make the learning process fun while still providing the means to assess what students have or haven’t done, such as Memrise (where Sarris track student scores) or word game applications with the capability to track student progress.

Keep Things Special – There are a lot of great activities, but the worst thing a teacher can do is make them boring through overuse. Sometimes favorite games need to be relegated to every other unit.

Below are Mr. Sarris’ favorite blended learning activities:

PowerPoint Team Games – Used primarily as a reviewing tool for tests, students team-up to play games using PowerPoint. The core educational content of the question and answer remains the same, however students work together to win the game and review the material.

Collaborative Writing with Google Docs – Google Docs and wikis allow a group of students to edit one document at the same time, fostering teamwork, attentiveness, and revision skills.

Karaoke Projects – A multimedia project, students choose a song related to the essential question of the unit. They must research the singer and song, writing and presenting the information to the  class using presentation software such as Keynote, Google Sheets, or PowerPoint. Finally, the students must sing their song and write about other students’ songs.

“Uncut” Movies –  A group of students are assigned paragraphs from an article they haven’t read. They summarize their respective paragraphs on video by acting, using props and drawings, and conveying the meaning without regurgitation. This exercise causes students to think critically about the big ideas in their paragraph and how to represent them visually. The students submit their film clips, where they are spliced together into one movie.

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