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Using Technology to Support Content Literacy in a Bilingual 4th grade Classroom . Dr. Rita Moore, Willamette University Neil Cantrall, 4 th grade teacher, Swegle Elementary Jessica Lieuallen, Student Teacher, Willamette University. ORATE Conference Focus Question.

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using technology to support content literacy in a bilingual 4th grade classroom

Using Technology to Support Content Literacy in a Bilingual 4th grade Classroom

Dr. Rita Moore, Willamette University

Neil Cantrall, 4th grade teacher,

Swegle Elementary

Jessica Lieuallen, Student Teacher,

Willamette University

orate conference focus question
ORATE Conference Focus Question

How do we model effective instructional practices grounded in current research and policy in our teacher education programs?

the technology
The Technology

18 Apple iPads (tablets), ear buds, and applications were purchased with a grant funded through Willamette University

These are on loan to Swegle Elementary School to use in Neil’s classroom until Fall 2012.

the setting
The Setting
  • Swegle Elementary School, Salem, OR
  • Principal: Corina Valencia-Chavez

Swegle is located in NE Salem. It enrolls approximately 600 K-6 students. The school is 99% free and reduced lunch and completely bilingual.

introduction of the ipads project
Introduction of the iPads Project

The iPads project began in Fall 2011 as a collaborative effort between Neil, his practicum student, Jessica, and Rita, a university professor to explore the use of IPads to support reading and writing development of 30 fourth graders in a a bilingual classroom.

We started by introducing applications to the entire class but decided to focus primarily on five case studies this fall expanding the project into the spring of 2012.


The research into technology and multi-modal literacy access by elementary students, particularly those from economically struggling schools is not well explored (Dutro and Collins, 2011).

Further, studies of digital literacies appear to be focused on adolescents indicating a need to include a wider age range as well as a more inclusive study of children, schools and communities (Moje, 2009).

choosing the applications neil
Choosing the Applications (Neil)

Story Builder

Sentence Builder

Question Builder

*Factor Samurai

Criteria for selection

-Where they can be accessed

-What made these successful

-What others might be useful

neil s interest in the project
Neil’s Interest in the Project

A teacher’s perspective: Neil Cantrall

  • Little technology available at the school besides

the document camera and LCD

  • Resources limited
  • Time was limited
  • Most kids don’t have computers at home.

“My challenge is to take their Spanish skills, maintain and grow them, and use them for increasing English proficiency. The technology can help with this cross pollination.”

jessica s interest in the project
Jessica’s Interest in the Project
  • The ability to use technology is critical to student success in later years.
  • I want to be a risk taker as a teacher, especially if it leads to greater student achievement
  • I believe the ELL population can greatly benefit from guided interaction with technology.
  • Some of the applications we are using really contribute to the areas they need to work on in both languages such as descriptive and figurative language.
our research questions
Our Research Questions

Fall 2011

  • In what ways will the use of iPads as instructional tools support the literacy development of a focus group of five 4th grade bilingual children? (strategic readers)

Spring 2012

  • In what ways will the use of the iPads improve literacy development in a whole-class bilingual setting?
project participants
Project Participants
  • 30 fourth grade children from diverse backgrounds in a high need, 99% bilingual school.
  • Five “strategic readers” who work with Neil and Rita after school using the tablets to further literacy skills.
participant characteristics
Participant Characteristics
  • Most of the children (subjects) are Latino/Latina
  • The teachers (Neil and Rita) and preservice teacher (Jessica) are Caucasian.
  • Neil, a Willamette MAT alum, is bilingual and teaches part of the literacy block in Spanish.
  • Both Rita and Jessica have a working knowledge of Spanish.
project procedures
Project Procedures
  • Institutional Review Board approval from Willamette.
  • Research Review Board approval from Salem-Keizer.
  • Introduction of the project to participants.
  • Selection of applications and upload
  • Training of the students in use of the technology.
  • Classroom observation and data collection schedules of the investigators established
  • Data continues to be collected through field notes, assessments of student performance on lessons taught by the teachers, Google doc entries from the teachers and preservice teacher, the children’s writing samples and pre and post project surveys, evaluations and five student case study interviews.
  • We continue to analyze the data through constant comparative qualitative methods associated with action research. We look at the data continuously over time and compare data sources against each other.
google docs jessica
Google Docs (Jessica)


“Good thing we started working on getting the iPads synced because we had some technical difficulties.  We need to focus on buying apps and finding iBooks that will be great for this class.  Students were very excited and took great care of the iPads during use. Students seemed very savvy with iPads.  Students asked questions when needed, and it was simple to get the problems solved.  Problems included: keyboarding splitting into two (problem was not a problem but actually a feature).  Students look forward to using more of the iPads.”


“Neil and I have come up with a plan that uses the apps we have bought.  The week of Nov. 28th will be an intensive iPad week.”  

field notes rita
Field notes (Rita)

Late November: The kids are still very excited about “iPading” and appear to be much more risk taking than when we began in October.

They are much more facile with the applications. The instruction is more organized now that the technology training is taking hold.

We decided to call October-November our “training and experimental” time and choose 5-6 strategic readers to focus on in December through at least February.

student writing samples jessica
Student Writing Samples (Jessica)

We wanted to look closely at writing samples and evaluate them “generously” (Spence, 2010). This gave us a sense of the children’s literacy abilities.

We evaluated a set of samples at the beginning of the project to get a better understanding of student writing strengths and areas of development.

student writing oct jessica
Student Writing: Oct. (Jessica)


Strong student voice

Willingness to share information

Followed direction

Writing puts emphasis on family life


Grammar, punctuation and spelling in two


Descriptive and figurative language skills

Semantic structures

student writing samples dec rita
Student Writing Samples: Dec. (Rita)



Word choice

Length—they have more to say as writers

They write about what they know: family, pets, life, clean water, games, the

mall, food. Willing to share information



Organization (beginning, middle, end)

Sentence structure and syntax

Figurative and creative language


Experimenting with various kinds of punctuation


Figurative language

writing samples what i m thankful for
Writing Samples: What I’m Thankful For
  • “I would be out in the cold.” (without a home)
  • “I am healthy.”
  • “Life is good.”
  • “If I didn’t have life I wouldn’t exist.”
  • “I am thankful for something silly.”
  • “Without my refrigerator my food would go to waste.”
  • “My house protects me from windy storms.”
  • “They are tasty.” (different kinds of food.)

Focusing on five strategic readers that Neil and Jessica identified as children who might benefit the most from extra interaction with the technology.

These children in the spring, will serve as technology experts for whole class group activities with the tablets.

time with the after school focus group of strategic readers
Time with the After School Focus Group of Strategic Readers

Sentence Builder: Building sentences based on prompts and picture clues.

The students build the sentence and say it aloud.

“Does it make sense?”

Those who are proficient in English and Spanish move up the levels faster. One student jumped 8 levels in her DRA growth since Sept. in Spanish. Her English growth is also rapidly developing.

semantic and syntactic awareness
Semantic and Syntactic Awareness

Hearing the readers, it’s obvious that their interaction with the technology is building semantic and syntactic awareness rapidly.

Vocabulary building in both languages is enhanced: How do you say “mecánico” in English?

using story builder to motivate and learn
Using Story Builder to Motivate and Learn

Story Builder: Answer the prompts and create a story. The following are the results for the readers.

  • Verbal literacy reinforced in two languages
  • Builds a sense of story quickly
  • Use of humor
  • Use of voice
  • Use of details
  • Builds grammar and syntax
  • Share their stories: they are writers!
where did we see these results before
Where did we see these results before?
  • The student writing samples from late November showed gains in all of these areas.
  • Primarily: length and vocabulary; sense of story; humor and figurative language; organization; many more details.
story theatre in room 23
Story Theatre in Room 23

Story Builder (the application)


Sense of story

Oral presentation skills

Cooperative learning

Some of the children’s stories (Neil)

The children then wrote the stories they told thus reinforcing written and verbal language skills and strategies.

assessments of student performance neil
Assessments of student performance (Neil)

These applications provide stats on the number of sentences students correctly create, and how many attempts they made.  We gather the data on Monday, and then gather the same data on Friday and compare them.  

We focused on five selected students. These students are low level readers and are also struggling with English fluency.

We believe the integration of the iPads, with specific literacy-focused applications benefited these students and helped increase their English fluency and ability to correctly create sentences.

student interviews jessica
Student interviews (Jessica)
  • Video clips
  • Interview questions
was there a change neil
Was there a change? (Neil)

Was there a change? (Neil)

Findings from pre and post formal assessment data based on accuracy at first attempt:

jessica s experience
Jessica’s Experience

More than ever pre service teachers need to know the new forms that literacy is taking and the research-based literacy tools that will support best practices in teaching all students in all communities.

jessica s practicum whole class use of the tablets in the fall
Jessica’s Practicum (whole class use of the tablets in the fall)
  • What worked well: Small focus groups, Story Builder and Sentence Builder apps, the team effort and support from Neil and Rita was strong and much needed.
  • Challenges: Finding adequate time to train students on the iPads and being efficient when using them. Working as a whole class versus a small group.


what i learned about technology as a pre service teacher
What I learned about technology as a pre-service teacher
  • Preparation is key! Having the iPads synced, set up, charged and ready to go. It is my belief that dedicating a two week “training” that integrates the iPads into the daily routine would have influenced a more successful project.
  • Rewards of participating in this project include gaining insight on incorporating technology into a classroom that lacks resources and gaining the experience and knowledge of how to be a more effective educator when using technology.
the technology tws jessica rita
The Technology TWS (Jessica/Rita)

How we would modify the experience to

better introduce technology to the children:

1. Assess the technology skills of the students

2. Develop a 10 day unit on how to use the

technology: a model Teacher Work Sample

3. Establish a “Geek” squad of trained student “tech experts” to assist their peers

4. Introduce each application as a mini lesson

closing all
Closing (all)

The lack of time for training the children initially was an issue. Our solution is the Technology TWS or a block of classroom time dedicated to training using University resources when possible.

We want to get to the point where the tablets are a part of daily instruction…a tool not so much a curiosity.



Dutro, E. and Collins, K. (2011). A Journey through Nine Decades of NCTE-Published Research in Elementary Literacy. Research in the Teaching of English, 46(2)141-161.

Metiri Group, 2008. Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says. San Jose, CA: Cisco.

Moje, E. (2009). Standpoints: a call for new research on new and multi-literacies. Research in the Teaching of English, 43(348-362.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004, A Framework for 21st Century Learning. Tucson, AZ: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Smith, G. & Thorn, S. (2007). Differentiated instruction with technology in K-5 classrooms. Eugene, Oregon: ASCD.

Spence, L. (2010). Generous reading: Seeing students through their writing, Reading Teacher, (63)8, 634-641.

Story and Sentence Builder for iPad v1.6 Application created by Northwest Kinematics, 2010