Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

ESL at home on iPod


Of the Keizertimes

In a classroom, elementary students learning English as a second language have access to a variety of support systems that range from teachers and counselors to volunteers and fellow students.

However, to make the strides required by state standards, those same students need to practice at home where spoken and written English may be a challenge for parents and guardians.

Five years ago, Kennedy Elementary School counselor Erin Bernardi and a contingent of teachers and parents at the school set out to find a way to fill the gap. They started small with a dozen iPod Shuffles.

Parents and teachers read aloud and recorded a set of non-fiction books. They loaded the new audio files onto the Shuffles and sent both the iPods and the books home with students.

“The students were directed to listen to each book three times and then they would bring them back and get a new set. At the end of the six week cycle, we were excited to see assessment results,” Bernardi said. 

The following year, a group of first grade students continued the experiment using iPod Touch devices.

They also read the books into the iPod and listened to themselves to improve their fluency.

The results were better than anyone could have hoped. The majority of students would finish the six-week regimen having improved their reading and speaking skills four to six levels according to the standard reading level assessments. Several were reading better in their native language, as well.

“In six to eight weeks, they had made huge gains,” Bernardi said. “All over Kennedy you will find students using the iPads and iPod touches recording audio and videos of themselves reading once they feel they have mastered the content.”

The school uses the technique at all grade levels with 90 iPads, 75 iPod touches and 20 iPod Shuffles.

In addition to devices sent home, students have access to the technology in school listening centers and teachers can use them for one-on-one interventions with struggling students.

Since instituting the program, only one device, an iPod Shuffle, hasn’t been returned.

As the original test group has aged (they are now in fifth grade), Bernardi and her colleagues have begun including the students themselves in the creation of the English language material.

“We now have a tech team of 12 students who are selected based on their academic performance and behavior. Those students now record their reading directly into the computer using Garage Band and younger students are now listening to their peers while they learn,” Bernardi said.

The students have added to the repertoire by composing music to accompany their readings.

The library of books students have available to them as a result of the experiment tops 70 titles and growing.

Bernardi attributes the success to a variety of factors.

“First, there’s the excitement over getting to use the technology. Many of our families have demonstrated a great interest in how even their cell phones can be used to support student learning,” Bernardi said. “Another big factor is the repetition, because the students are reading along and hearing the words inside and outside of school, they are getting more exposure to the language and increasing their vocabulary. A side effect is we’ve raised the bar insofar as accountability and expectations.”