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Language meets technology at Beckman Elementary School

Beckman Elementary is pilot program for Rosetta Stone app meant to help English learners

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Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:29 am, Thu Jan 26, 2012.

Students learning English at Beckman Elementary School now have a high-tech option: working on lessons through the new Rosetta Stone iPad app.

Twenty-six students in second and third grade are the first in the nation to pilot the new app.

These children were selected because they are at the beginning or intermediate level as English language learners. At that point, progress tends to plateau. It will be a test of the app’s success to see if it can pull students over that hump, said principal Jon Price.

It’s a laboratory, in a sense. Some students were assigned an iPad with the app installed. Others are following a similar program by Rosetta Stone on a desktop computer.

At the end of each unit, the program assesses the students’ progress.

The devices have been in the hands of students since the last few days before winter break, so at this point there’s less than a month of progress to track. At the end of January, Price and the teachers will compare the reports to see which method works better.

Price predicts the results of the iPad pilot will be positive.

“It’s a safe environment. Students are free to take a chance and make mistakes,” said Price.

The idea came about because Rosetta Stone works on a complete language immersion model, and wanted to pair that style with the hands-on interactivity of the iPad.

With more than 3,000 licenses purchased by Lodi Unified School District for just under $400,000, officials were looking for varied ways to get kids working with the program. Lodi Unified spent $15,500 for a set of 30 iPads for Beckman. District officials hope to recover those costs through future donations.

“There’s a great deal of excitement that it’s available on a variety of platforms,” said Duane Sider, from the Rosetta Stone headquarters based in Virginia. “From our standpoint, this really represents a lot of innovation on the part of the schools.”

Each device is personalized to the student who uses it. The child’s name and login information is taped inside the iPad cover. The students are clustered in nearby classrooms. When the devices aren’t in the cart, they are stacked on the teacher’s desk or in the hands of students.

Students using the app work pretty independently. Sometimes, the teacher or a bilingual paraeducator might add on some followup activities, like a writing assignment.

With the iPads, four or five students cluster around a back table and pull a set of black headphones out of a small pouch. It takes just a moment to log in, open the app and begin the day’s lesson. All lessons last less than 30 minutes.

In one, four images appear on-screen. At the top, a sentence pops up. “He is wearing purple socks.” The student drags the sentence over to an image of a boy pulling on a pair of purple socks. A green checkmark is imposed over the image. The student repeats the action for all four pictures.

In another lesson, a short sentence appears over an image and the student must read it out aloud. If the iPad doesn’t register the sound, the student must speak louder and more clearly, forcing correct pronunciation.

Miriam Ishaq works on her iPad each day to refresh her vocabulary skills.

“My favorite part is it lets you say the words,” she said.

With headphones on, some students don’t realize how their voices carry. But teachers don’t mind. These students are often the quietest in class. To hear them speak out loud voluntarily is a treasure.

It hasn’t been a perfect transition.

“Glitches and technology go hand-in-hand,” said Maureen Diehl, who teaches third grade at Beckman Elementary School. But she’s got one or two students who act as her resident trouble-shooters. Overall, teachers are pleased.

“I’m a big fan. I wish all kids could use it,” she said.

Lodi Unified officials will meet with a team from Rosetta Stone in February to evaluate the program and students’ progress.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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