iPods help ESL students achieve success

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.

For educators looking for songs that relate only to their subject area, The Green Book of Songs and Subjects allows users to find songs by theme and/or topic. An annual subscription is $19.95, and if educators type in the code “grace” into the coupon box, they will receive a $10 discount.

Educators also can receive free music for iPods or iPhones during Apple’s free music Tuesdays.

For grammar, history, geography, and math songs, educators should visit Audio Memory, she said.

But songs aren’t the only resources on iPods that can help students. According to Poli, audio books are a great way to help ESL students improve their listening and comprehension skills, vocabulary, and word pronunciation.

Audio books also can help model reading fluency for students who struggle, she said. They allow students to follow along with written text to reinforce written language skills, and they enable students to listen and learn at their own pace.

“I had one student in my class who had to go to the hospital when we were reading A Wrinkle in Time in class,” Poli said. “What was I supposed to do? Tell him to forget about reading it? That wasn’t going to happen, because he can’t be denied learning. Maybe I was supposed to stop class and go back just for him? That was not going to happen, because I have to keep up with my curriculum. By having an audio book, he could read and listen along, without missing anything.”

Poli said educators can purchase audio books either from the iTunes store or by going to AudioBook Builder, and for $10 AudioBook Builder will import all tracks into a single audio book track.

Another tool that can work with iPods is a voice recorder called the Belkin Tune Talk, which is built specifically for iPods and attaches to the base. Poli believes this is beneficial for ESL students because they can record themselves working on oral language skills and practice their pronunciation of words.

Once recorded on the iPod, the audio “can be used anywhere,” said Poli.

A site that Poli likes to use when creating lessons using the voice recorder is http://iteslj.org/questions, which provides more than 2,000 conversational questions for ESL students on 33 different topics.

Poli said students also can import any recorded file and then create a podcast.

For educators, the voice recorder can be helpful when recording directions for students, reading a test for students, archiving thematic lesson plans, recording questions and analysis on student progress during student and teacher conferences, recording study guides, and dictating oral exams.

One example where students used the voice recorder was during a field trip to the Museo del Barrio in New York City. Before the voice recorder and iPods, Poli said her students visited the Metropolitan Museum and had only pens and paper to answer questions on their experience–and they found it difficult to carry these materials around. However, at the Museo del Barrio, students took their portable iPods and created podcasts highlighting their visit.

“There are just so many resources that go beyond this: free educational applications, dictionaries, free downloadable educational video, downloadable podcasts from other teachers and students–it’s just amazing,” she said.

Poli ended the webinar with a warning to educators that, while the iPod seems like a great idea, it also takes maintenance, such as charging the battery and continually updating the software.

Because Poli has 40 iPods for her students, she uses a Bretford iPod cart, which stores and automatically charges and updates each iPod every day at the end of classes.

Thanks to Poli’s success during this trial period–success that includes improved student attendance and test scores–her district is planning to purchase an additional 300 iPods, and it plans to give an iPod Touch to each incoming freshman in the newly built high school, she said.


International Society for Technology in Education

Grace Poli

Grace Poli’s web site

iPod in education: The Potential of Language Acquisition

Apple Learning Interchange

More resources for the iPod

Foreign language instruction

Discovery Education video streaming

Teacher Tube

Visual Learning Company

IQuiz Maker

iRead (iPod and iPhone apps for education)

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Empowering Education Through Technology resource center. Integrating technology into the classroom can be a challenge without the right guidance. Go to: Empowering Education Through Technology

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