Luckily, a colleague introduced me to a program of online courses using songs, video, and games to engage students in a rigorous curriculum of reading and math lessons. The style of these lessons was very different from software and online-line courses I had seen before, and from the worksheets and homework students were used to.
Instead of text and multiple-choice problems, students learned through song-videos in a variety of musical styles. Students then played interactive games, dragging and dropping to solve math problems and to sequence sounds, words and sentences. A spoken voice guided and helped students with remediation and encouragement throughout.
The style of the lessons matched what some students were used to in their home life of television, video games, and pop music. Each lesson is introduced with bright colors, characters of color, and music the kids love. Practices incorporate racecars and other engaging games. Homework time became “drill and thrill” as students excitedly pursued their progress in math and English. Students were comfortable in this world, excited by the computers and the stimulating presentation, and most importantly were no longer bored doing the rigorous learning and practice they needed.
This school year I observed Faith, a bright-eyed second grader from Yemen, watch quietly as her classmates did their work. She came to Manzanita speaking not one word of English. While her teacher engaged the students in group work, writing, and active learning, Faith started completing the musical reading lessons working on a computer, beginning with the alphabet, phonics, and word decoding and sight words.
For several months she did not speak a word to anyone, yet smiled and listened when spoken to. Her teacher told me that without the online lessons, she would be lost every day. Faith now loves the computer, and has found Arabic translations at an online encyclopedia site. She is a very happy, eager student and now speaks English with abandon. The style of the online multimedia lessons created a welcoming, step-by-step pathway to fluency for her.
The lessons we are using to reach these students are part of the Learning Upgrade program of online courses, which recently I commented to a Kindergarten teacher that her class is getting into some advanced levels on the reading program, but I did not witness any frustration. She responded that they are being exposed to new vocabulary in the lessons, and that is helping them make learning gains.
- Here’s how engaging lessons motivate English learners - June 10, 2014