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ELL Students and the Digital Experience

Schools continue to move toward digital lessons and digital experiences for students. Most students are digital natives and are comfortable in this world. However, not all students have equal access. How does the digital revolution affect ELL students?

child girl young caucasian childhood daughter children computer 1057541Some ELL students are very comfortable with technology and how it works, while others are using it for the first time. Digital lessons, however, abound in the classroom. Across content areas, culminating activities in lessons often ask students to do more research on the Internet, use graphics in their reports, cite resources, and create digital slideshows. These types of activities are designed to help students acquire and adopt skills needed for 21st-century work. And a survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop shows that Hispanic-Latino families want their children to have these skills.

Access Starts with the Directions

However, there are several roadblocks for ELL students. Most educational websites and software tools provide directions only in English, which poses a barrier for ELL students. If they cannot follow the directions, ELL students may struggle to complete assignments and fall behind their peers. Situations such as this can easily lead to frustration and might make ELL students reluctant to use digital devices in the classroom. So how can we scaffold learning for ELL students in digital lessons?

Translating directions into Spanish would be a good first step. However, very few websites offer technology tools with instructions in Spanish. Another solution would be to have ELL students work collaboratively with native English-speaking students so the directions would not be as much of an obstacle. For example, native English speakers could model how to use the tools in slideshow software. ELL students could then focus on the process and content rather than on the directions.

Access to Computers

The Sesame Workshop survey also compared Hispanic-Latino households in which only Spanish is spoken, only English is spoken, and those in which both languages are spoken. The data showed that 43% of Spanish-only households have computers versus 98% of English-only households. This obviously impacts how ELL students react to digital lessons. However, 98% of both Spanish-only and English-only households have televisions. Thus, many Spanish-only families look to television to help teach their children and to help them succeed in school. This implies that using video in the classroom and in digital lessons may be more equitable for these ELL students.

The survey also found that some Hispanic-Latino families use media as a catalyst for learning by language. This chart from the survey report shows how families engage with their children through the use of various media.

ELL - English Language Learning Source:

Further, companies and organizations, such as Common Sense Media, are working to have recommended educational shows, apps, and websites available in Spanish to assist Hispanic-Latino families in making choices about which programs and materials would be most helpful to their children.

Digital lessons and experiences, developed with the ELL student in mind, offer opportunities to build students’ critical thinking skills, empower and prepare them for the 21st-century workforce, and allow them to use the digital universe as a learning tool.

Victory was founded on the belief that all children should have equal access to educational materials, and we’ve pioneered materials that include ELL scaffolding and support in all lessons, including digital experiences.

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