Closing Math Achievement Gaps for English Language Learners: The Right Combination of Instructional Strategy and Technology Is Key to Engaging ELL Students

District Administration, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Closing Math Achievement Gaps for English Language Learners: The Right Combination of Instructional Strategy and Technology Is Key to Engaging ELL Students


A District Administration Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on February 17, 2015

Using effective strategies to personalize the math learning experience is key to reaching all levels of learners, especially Spanish-speaking English Language Learners who vary in their English language abilities, math proficiency and personal circumstances. In this web seminar, educators from an innovative school with an 85 percent Latino population in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, discussed the success they've had combining face-to-face instruction with online learning to drive math achievement for their ELL students.

Julieane Cook: We built our team at St. Martini around the idea that we love the kids. We believe every single one of them can learn. And in order to help them reach the goals that they need to, we have to be open to changing--and changing very quickly. We're in the third year of a turnaround, and are focusing on academics and deepening critical-thinking skills. We noticed that a lot of our students were below grade level, so we're making sure that we fill in those basic standards and skills, along with challenging them to rise to the next level.

Eighty-seven percent of our students are English language learners. A lot of them speak only Spanish in their homes. That population has influenced some of the decisions we are making, and has also helped us think about fostering family involvement. We've offered some English classes for parents so that they can be more involved in their child's learning and their success here at school.

Our goal for academics has been 1.4 years of growth in reading and math. We now have 51 percent of our students on grade level for reading. At the beginning of the year, we were at 34 percent. For math, we are up to 56 percent of our students on grade level, up from 28 percent in the fall. We are very excited about the growth that we've seen.

Another one of our goals is about retaining our families. There is a lot of transiency with students moving from one school to another, so one way that we've tried to invest in our families and in our students is to make sure that they are very happy and that they are pleased with the success they are seeing, so that they return for the next school year. Then we can continue taking them to the next level.

Tim Ustruck: A challenge for me is maintaining balance in the classroom. I don't want the kids to have too much technology, but I also want them to have enough. I'm trying to find the right mix. From using this technology, we build a lot of character traits. Kids learn accountability and problem-solving. I want them to solve the problems on their own, because when they are on the computer, I am usually doing reading with a small group. It's teaching them the 21st century skills that we all need to learn.

I use a rotational model that allows me to work with each group and then pair children doing well to others who are struggling with the same concept. My students are on the computer for about 30 to 60 minutes a day. I use an array of programs that help engage them, including DreamBox Learning--it mixes things up, captures their attention in a way that the traditional classroom doesn't always deliver. Also, students aren't forced to move on to new online lessons as they might if we were doing it as a class. They can do it at their own pace.

Using these programs has produced high-quality work, and has increased my students' focus. It has improved self-esteem because they are passing levels and are excited about that. They tell me every day what level they are at and how much more they need to get to the next level.

All of my 23 students are on different learning paths. Some have gaps that need to be filled when others are ready to move on. …

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