Luis Oliveira arrived in the United States from Portugal on a Friday, not knowing a single word of English. He started school the next Wednesday. For months, he struggled to learn the language, but with the help of his teachers, he was able to transition into English and find his voice.
Now, he’s an instructor for English Language Learners (ELL) and director of Unified Arts at Middletown High School in Middletown, Rhode Island. “I know how English Language Learners are feeling and the difficulties they’re going through. My motivation for becoming a teacher was to help others the way my teachers helped me,” said Luis.
Middletown High School boasts a diverse student population. While the majority of his class are immigrants from Guatemala and Brazil, Luis also has students from Chile, Portugal, Jamaica, Ukraine, Oman, Georgia, China and Japan.
As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Luis uses technology to enhance the learning experience and give a voice to his ELL students through his project “Be the Author.” First, he assigns a book to his class like The Call of the Wild or The Outsiders. After reading the chapters, the students work on dialogue reflections and have discussions using the chat feature on OneNote. Then, it is time for the students to be the authors.
Through Flipgrid, Microsoft’s video discussion platform, the students record themselves as if they were face-to-face with literary legends, such as Jack London or S.E. Hinton, and tell them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they would have done differently if they were the authors, what the book would look like if they wrote it, and so on.
“The biggest thing about technology in education is that it gives students a voice early on. With Flipgrid, I can get students to speak early,” said Luis.
Flipgrid allows his students to practice their oral communication skills and teaches them to develop their opinions. The tool leads them to understand that, in today’s world, they need to be able to think, formulate opinions and speak out.
As an English Language Learner himself, Luis explained the process of learning a language: students first have a silent period, when they’re absorbing, listening and learning but not ready to speak out. Then, it could take three months before students begin to get comfortable enough to even start trying.
For some of his Guatemalan students, this could take over a year since they tend to be very shy and do not want to put themselves in front of their peers. With a program like Flipgrid, they’re able to take the app and go find a quiet space in the corner, another classroom, outside or even at home, where they feel comfortable to speak out.
Sometimes it’s in Spanish. Others it’s in Portuguese. Sometimes it’s even in Arabic or Chinese. But, to Luis, this is no big deal. “With Microsoft Translator, I can communicate with my students from day one,” he explained. “Before, I could only communicate with the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking students. Now, I can communicate with them early on, even if they speak Japanese or Arabic.”
One of his students is a young man from Guatemala, who is extremely shy. The student is in his second year, and he was struggling to communicate, even in his native Spanish.
The solution? Use Flipgrid to show him that he has a voice. Luis created a mixtape on the app with the student’s recordings from each month throughout the year and sat down with him to listen to his videos.
The student immediately noticed an improvement in his spoken English throughout the year, and Luis immediately noticed a change in the student’s self-confidence. “He’s speaking out more and putting himself out there. The fact that he could realize his growth throughout the year gave him confidence, and a big part of learning a new language is having the confidence to put yourself in front of others and speak out regardless of your level.”