Learning advanced concept presents challenges to all learners. For those whose first language is not English, the challenges are even greater for the students and for those learning to teach them. Though mostly positive for ESL students, technology also makes some negative impacts on English language learners, particularly when the technology distracts from the core lessons.
Advantage: Adaptive Lessons
Like any other learner, ESL learners approach math and science material in their individual ways. Computer-based assignments enable a teacher to more easily assess the students' strengths and weaknesses in math and science and in the necessary English vocabulary for both. The teacher then uses this information to individualize lessons for ESL students.
Adding technology to the mix of an ESL science or math lesson can distract from the purpose of learning. If the technology used is overly complicated or requires its own explanation, an ESL student may require more instruction before the main lesson can be taught. Furthermore, advanced technologies that help the student access ESL resources -- such as a tablet or smartphone -- also present him with nonlearning distractions, such as social media applications or games.
Advantage: Online Dictionaries
An ESL student must develop vocabulary in conjunction with other English language practice. In the past, this required thick books and slow page-flipping. Online dictionaries and dictionary apps for smartphones, however, have both accelerated and expanded the vocabulary process. By accessing words online, a student can quickly find the word she needs from a much larger pool than most printed dictionaries. In addition, these dictionaries also provide rapid access to similar words, phrases and even conjugation tables. Students should be careful not to let these resources become a surrogate for their own confidence in their English abilities.
ESL students generally take classes outside of math and science that focus solely on developing their English. Online classrooms, webinars and video tools enable them to engage the bulk of the ESL material on their own terms. In addition to adapting to their schedules, online videos, lectures and other resources allow them to also study topics at their own pace, reviewing areas that were particularly troubling in a math or science lecture. Even in a classroom-based lesson, an online portion helps an ESL student better prepare for class, which increases overall success.