NewSchools Ignite Announces ELL Challenge Winners

November 16, 2016

ELL Challenge Winners

Today, we are proud to announce the 13 winners of the NewSchools Ignite English Language Learning Challenge:

We can’t wait to tell you about each of these companies … but first, let’s talk about how this challenge got started.

Last year, in several separate conversations with educators, the subject of tools for English Language Learners (ELLs) came up. We discussed it as a team, and wondered if it was a trend we should be paying closer attention to. So, we decided to conduct market research, and found that the need was even greater than we had imagined. As demographics are changing, many public school teachers are struggling to meet the needs of all their students. They urgently need high-quality ELL tools.

In the 2013-2014 school year, nearly five million U.S. students were considered English Language Learners – roughly 10 percent of the student population. Varying estimates predict ELL students could make up as much as 25 percent of the student population within the next 10 years. However, there are very few edtech tools to address the needs of this rapidly growing population. How will teachers have what they need to ensure that ELL students graduate prepared and inspired to achieve their most ambitious dreams?

We believe a new generation of ELL edtech tools can have a major impact. That’s why we’re excited to announce the new cohort of NewSchools Ignite entrepreneurs, who are creating edtech tools that leverage the incredible assets ELL students bring to the classroom, while seeking to support their language development and academic success. ELL Challenge winners are working to address the needs voiced by many educators across the country – from rural to urban environments, coast to coast. We look forward to supporting them through the ELL Challenge program, which is designed to help winners incorporate the latest ELL research and expertise into product design.

Our market research process – which included more than 50 published studies and interviews with educators, ELL experts, and students, among others – revealed four areas of critical need. We invited for-profit and nonprofit companies to consider the NewSchools Ignite ELL Challenge, if they were building products that meet one or more of these areas:

  • Making rigorous academic content accessible to students of all language levels
  • Addressing social and emotional aspects of language learning
  • Enabling language learning experiences that are more authentic and culturally relevant
  • Increasing opportunities for engagement with parents, families and communities

ELL Challenge winners tackle these critical areas of need in a variety of ways. Listenwise engages ELL students in current events via public radio content with modulated play speeds and critical thinking prompts. complements listening and critical thinking skills with writing and argumentation tools that are specifically designed to accommodate the diverse needs of ELL students.

Newsela and Readworks serve millions of students as reading comprehension platforms and are actively building out ELL features. Storyworld focuses on culturally relevant texts with the ability for users to both create their own content and toggle text back and forth from English to other languages within the reading platform. eSpark Learning and ThinkCERCA provide content for core subject areas like ELA and math while building instructional scaffolds that increase accessibility for ELL students.

Other winners focus on ELL student engagement with academic content. Nearpod serves as a tool for teachers to manage interactive student activities including ready-to-use lessons designed for ELL students. Flocabulary is building out features to make sure their focus on infusing hip-hop and academic content can empower ELL students through vocabulary acquisition and mastery.

Spotlight allows administrators to communicate with all parents by providing insights into their students’ academic performance, translating report cards and test scores into easy-to-understand videos which can be delivered in any language. As a teacher-facing tool, Speak Agent enables educators to build customized lessons with audiovisual supports for ELL students.

Finally, we’re excited to support tools inspired by founder’s personal experiences growing up as ELL students. Mawi Learning focuses on social-emotional learning with an emphasis on ELL students. TalkingPoints has developed a two-way parent/teacher communication platform, which automatically translates between English and any home language.

We hope you join us in congratulating this extraordinary cohort tackling such an important gap in the education technology space for millions of U.S. students.