National Writing Project

Grant Puts iPads in Hands of English Language Learners

Date: January 26, 2012

Summary: North Dallas High School is undergoing a $6 million grant-funded restructuring. At the heart of the work is North Star of Texas Writing Project teacher Janelle Quintans Bence, whose English learners will be using iPads to support their literacy development.


Janelle Quintans Bence, a teacher-consultant with the North Star of Texas Writing Project, helped write a successful Texas Title I Priority Schools (TTIPS) restructuring grant for her North Dallas High School. Now, part of that three-year, $6 million grant will be used to put iPads in the hands of her English language learners to support their literacy instruction.

The iPads, with their applications and easy-to-use functionality, Bence said, would act as an invaluable language learning tool for the students she works with on a daily basis. As Language Proficiency Assessment Committee Chair, Bence is also responsible for tracking the progress of 400 or so students to make sure they receive additional supports when needed. She's excited to see how the three class sets of iPads purchased under the TTIPS grant will be used by this wide range of learners.

"Even just being able to use the Internet so quickly to find whatever word and have a mobile experience, like `here's this word,' `here's this concept,' that's going to help them remember the language much quicker," Bence said.

Bence credits the "digital heroes" that she follows on Twitter, many of them fellow National Writing Project teachers, as mentors in helping her develop her own digital literacy knowledge—knowledge which has helped her as she has worked with colleagues as part of a Digital Literacy Team. The TTIPS grant calls for the development of students' digital skills and the Digital Literacy team is charged with determing how best to egnage in "meaningful tech implementation."


The overall goal of the grant is to aide in the improvement of student academic performance. There are, according to Bence, seven critical success factors named, including increasing teacher capacity, improving school climate, and broadening leadership.

The grant seeks to improve academic writing across the curriculum generally, and improve academic writing for the school's English learners specifically. To help implement the grant, North Dallas High School has turned to the North Star of Texas Writing Project. Capitalizing on the writing project's long work in the area of culturally-mediated instruction and reflective practice, the grant has led to the creation of an advanced institute, led by North Star, in which seven North Dallas teachers are conducting action research related to improving academic writing for their English learners. Additionally, North Star is acting as the university partner in the grant.

"They are guiding us to use strategies and put practices into place that will meet our grant goals," Bence explains about North Star's overall role in the process.

"It's a big responsibility to turn the school around," Bence said. "It's kind of a scary thing—because clearly we have to do it—but it's also exciting, something that should come along with transformation."

Bence credits her school's principal, Dinnah Escanilla, for having the vision and foresight to lead a group of the school's teachers in considering restructuring and then writing the grant.

Looking Ahead

Bence will be transitioning into the role of "master teacher" as part of the grant. In year one, her teaching load will decrease as she spends more of her time assisting other teachers in English Language Arts. Then, in future years, she will shift her focus to teachers across content areas to increase their capacity to reflect upon and improve instruction in order to meet the needs of students.

While the school is still at the beginning stages of the transformation process and has many more months to go, Bence said she and the rest of her colleagues look forward to seeing the effects of their efforts and helping their students succeed.

"We're all very excited," Bence said. "We came in from summer vacation feeling like we've been on the starting line for a very long time, and it's now gaining momentum that we've got to continue throughout."

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