New software helps ENL students communicate

The program creates an avenue of communication for students learning the English language


Islip School District ENL staff led a demonstration of the program Microsoft Translator, a newly implemented software in ENL classrooms, at the district board of education meeting Tuesday night at Islip Middle School. The program creates an avenue of communication for students learning the English language. The program is currently being piloted in the district’s ENL classes only.

“Being able to communicate in the native language has become a difficult event throughout the day, especially when there is not an ENL teacher present in their classroom,” said Robert Going, one of the three ENL teachers presenting the software to the board.

The other two ENL teachers, Joelle Parent and Jorge Braadt, presented a role play in which Parent acted the role of a Spanish-speaking student using the technology to communicate with her teacher, who Braadt played.

With Parent speaking into a tablet with built-in Bluetooth microphone and Braadt utilizing a handheld Bluetooth device, the program translates and transcribes both languages into the format of a text conversation, which was displayed on the projector at the meeting for those in attendance to view. Audio of the translation is also spoken by the device after hearing the initial speaker.

Going explained that, considering the amount of interactions the average student has, making use of this software would significantly alter the experience over the course of a school day for a student learning English. The board and the audience both applauded at the close of the demonstration.

Middle school principal Timothy Martin scaffolded upon Going’s assertion that the implementation of Microsoft Translator is beneficial for communication in the schools, adding that the incorporation of various technologies for the use of staff and students is beneficial.

“We are trying to incorporate technology more and more into the classroom differently,” Martin said. “We notice that there are a variety of different applications that [are similar to Microsoft Translator], but we are trying to make it as seamless for the students. Students will have the opportunity to bring an iPad with them, and so can the teachers. Now, between classes, they have this opportunity.”

Martin explained that the demonstration is not exactly a replication of the interaction, as earpieces will be involved. The audio was only played through a speaker for the convenience of those watching the demonstration at the board meeting.

On the note of technological advancements, Timothy Brush, the district’s technology specialist, put forth that the district has invested considerably in technology in the last seven years. Using an application called Flipgrid this school year, students now have the capability of communicating with others in different classrooms, and even other schools within the district. Brush noted that the middle school and three elementary schools have been making use of the application for digital read-alouds and student responses through Flipgrid.

“We have seen a rapid growth in the development of technologies in our education,” Brush said. “It is becoming versed in our classrooms every single day. One of the most significant changes we have seen is the ability now to use these tools — an application that allows teachers to knock down walls and the students to reach others outside of their own classroom.”

After the presentations, Denise Nash, representing the Islip High School PTSA, raised concerns about connectivity and performance issues with the school district’s wireless internet. Considering the various tech applications either already incorporated, expanding or in the planning stages, internet access is typically vital for compatibility. 

“It shows we need WiFi in the buildings, and we need to increase access to it,” Nash said to the board. “I just feel like it is so difficult. My daughter is in high school. She is using our data plan, and she is asked to use it in class for things. As you are developing the budget, it would just be wonderful if you could increase the WiFi compatibility.”

District superintendent Ellen Semel addressed Nash’s concern and explained that there have been barriers to significant improvement, considering the building structure of most of the schools in the district.

“It took us a very long time to get our buildings WiFi-ready,” Semel said. “Because so many of our buildings are made out of cinder block, we had to put [devices] in every single room, which is different than other buildings that are constructed differently because you get some bleed from another room or through the ceiling. And we weren’t able to do any of that. It was very expensive getting all of the buildings WiFi-ready. We just finished that last spring. This past month, all staff now has WiFi. We just pulled that out, and that has been very successful and we are going to continue. We know that this is something that is a high priority.”


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