Building Oral Language Through Tech Tools

student on computer

Today’s Contributor: Sara Springer
Sara Springer is a Kindergarten teacher at Cowan Elementary. She enjoys being the CIC for her campus and incorporating blended learning into her own classroom and adapting it to our littlest learners.

I was recently at a training where the topic of building English Learner’s oral language skills was being discussed, specifically in regard to the standardized TELPAS assessment. On this assessment, students are expected to speak into a microphone on a computer and talk for a specified amount of time on a given topic. This can feel unnatural and can make students nervous. It was suggested that it would be helpful if students were familiar and comfortable sharing their thoughts orally in a digital context, like Seesaw or Flipgrid, so that this assessment didn’t feel so overwhelming. After learning more about what aspects of this assessment look like I had many ideas come to mind that would help strengthen all of our students’ oral language and presentation skills, but especially those of our English Learners.

I use Seesaw in my classroom on a daily basis. Sometimes this looks like me sharing photos of our classroom’s “daily life” for parents to see, sometimes it is something that my students and I create together, and sometimes it is something they create and share more independently. A popular way many classrooms use Seesaw is that students use the video feature to film something that they create and speak about it so that their family and classmates can see it. Of all the ways to speak on a digital tool, this seems to be the most comfortable and familiar to students. They are familiar with YouTube style videos and are always eager to make their own. They love to see themselves in their videos and feel like they are a “YouTube star.” This is a great first step to get students comfortable speaking into a device. It is a low stakes opportunity to practice being loud enough for a mic to pick up, thinking through and planning what you are going to say, and speaking slowly enough for your listener to hear. Once students feel comfortable here, we can then push them to more challenging tasks with oral language and recording themselves.

As I was listening to the idea of using the recording feature on Seesaw and listening to what the format of this particular standardized test is, I immediately began thinking of the possibilities of the Activities feature in Seesaw. On this test, students are given a static image to speak about and they are not able to see themselves on the screen like you would in a typical video recording. By using the Activities feature in Seesaw we can more closely recreate the type of setting they will have during their assessment. We can make a slide in Powerpoint, export it as a PDF, and upload it as an activity. That activity can then be assigned to a whole class or specific students. Students can then record just the audio of their voice responding to the picture prompt. This is a great next step in helping them become more comfortable speaking into a device because it helps students to focus just on what they are saying and how they are saying it, and takes away the video portion which isn’t needed in this scenario.

I have used Seesaw in my class for several years and have seen the huge improvement in quality of recordings from the first time they use it to when they are comfortable and “pros” at it after using it for several months. Using Seesaw to build oral language is helpful for all students for so many different reasons, but this tool can be especially helpful for the language learners in our classrooms.

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