As school leaders ponder the implications of new technologies for their classrooms, one dedicated New Jersey educator has turned theory into practice, using the iPod to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

During an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) webinar titled “iPods as Teaching Tools for Language Learners,” Grace Poli, media specialist at Jose Marti Middle School in Union City, N.J., and an Apple distinguished educator, discussed how the iPod is transforming learning in her school.

At Jose Marti, 90 percent of the student population does not speak English at home, many of the students are new to the United States, and 54 percent are either special-needs students or limited English-proficient students.

“Jose Marti is in an urban district, and I received my masters in urban education,” said Poli. “But more than just that, I am very passionate about what I do, because it hits me on a personal level. My brothers and sisters were all from Ecuador and had a very hard time adjusting in the U.S. because they were never taught English. I decided I wanted to help students to achieve through language.”

Poli said she started using iPods–which she calls a “global must-have”–as they became more and more prevalent in students’ lives.

According to Poli, the iPod is more than just a cool gadget, because it helps transform a classroom by:

– Stimulating and engaging students in the learning process.

– Enhancing instruction by making it personal.

– Increasing achievement and motivation. (According to Poli, in her first year of using the iPod, 50 percent of her students went from an ESL program to an all-English program–a switch that usually takes between three to six years.)

– Differentiating instruction for diverse learners. (Poli explained that this is important for her students, because some have been in the ESL program for three months–and some for three years.)

– Accommodating multiple learning styles; and

· Providing anytime, anywhere learning.

“The iPod can help do all of these things, especially because it enables me to teach all parts of language learning,” said Poli.

In Poli’s classrooms, the students’ favorite activity is listening to English music.

In one scenario, students are told to listen to a specific song. Poli uses songs for grammar exercises, and she chooses songs that have repeated phrases and patterns. She listens to songs for specific types of adjectives and verbs, and she also chooses songs that have appropriate subjects that her students can discuss after the exercise.

Grammar activities can include filling in the blanks for grammatical patterns, word banks, matching, organizing lyrics in strips, theme-related activities, open-ended questions, spelling and rearranging letters, and figurative language activities.

All activities are tailored for each student’s different skill level.

For example, Poli’s advanced-to-intermediate students did a sequencing exercise to a song by Daniel Powter called “Bad Day.” Poli printed the lyrics line by line and then cut each line into strips. Students were told to listen to the song and put the strips in sequential order. Poli said students used listening, sequencing, and oral reading skills.

In another activity, Poli’s advanced-to-intermediate students had to watch a John Mayer music video called “Say.” Here, Poli made a worksheet in which some of the words in the lyrics were scrambled. Students had to rearrange the letters and write in the correct spelling of the words. Intermediate students also were required to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up the meaning of each rearranged word, and advanced students had to write responses to open-ended questions about the video they just watched.

Finally, Poli gave an example in which intermediate students learned about progressive forms of verbs. Students had to listen to the song “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega, where most of the lyrics include progressive-verb constructions, such as “I am sitting.” Poli made a worksheet with fill-in-the-blanks, and students had to fill in the blanks with the progressive verbs.

“Listening to music really helps them learn, but it’s important to note that during assessments, students do not have their iPods,” Poli said. “During assessments, which measure their grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, they are talking with me and taking tests–no iPod is there.”

Poli also listed a number of resources that educators can use if they plan to use the iPod for ELL classes.