Do U Lingo?

duolingo_300x200Let me first say that foreign languages are NOT my gift.  I took four years of French in high school, earned straight A’s but can barely remember how to say “Je m’appelle Rachel” (ok… I confess… I Googled that to make sure I spelled it right, so you get my point.)   My teacher just didn’t hold us accountable for our learning or have very high expectations, and it doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m thinking I might be fluent in French to this day, however, if I had the good fortune to be born in the digital age and could have used DuoLingo while she repeated her stories of trips to France.

DuoLingo is a “free service that helps you learn languages with your friends while simultaneously contributing to translate real-world content from the Web.” With it you can learn… for free…. French, Spanish, German, Italian or Portuguese.  Check out the explanation video:

Before I suggested it to our foreign language teachers, I gave it a try myself to learn about it’s features.  Amazing.  DuoLingo started me out with very simple vocabulary aided by visual and audible cues. I had to pay attention, though.  It wasn’t long before it asked me to type a word I had just learned with no help!  It challenged me even more when I had to record myself pronouncing the words I was learning.  There’s a gaming aspect to it too.  When you mess up (which I did), you lose hearts.  If you lose all of your hearts you have to start the lesson over.  It’s a powerful component.  It also incorporates social interaction by allowing you to friend other users.

At the end of the lesson you’ll see a chart of the strength of your learning for each word in you’ve worked on.  You’ll progress your way through a skill tree and more advanced learners can test out of the lower levels.  DuoLingo isn’t specifically designed for classrooms, but I think a teacher could easily “Friend” each of his/her students and use the skill progress to monitor learning.  I’ve only recently introduced this to our foreign language teachers, but when they’ve had a little more time using it in class I’ll ask one  of them to guest blog about it.

A little time spent on the concept of how your lessons help translate the web, and using DuoLingo could even be considered Project Based Learning in a sense.  Students are learning a language while also contributing to a global task of making webpages from all over the world readable in many languages.  That’s so cool.

Look out, world!  I may just manage to learn another language after all!

Achieve 3000

Taking the Plunge

 At Southwest Parke we are using a huge number of digital resources that are changing the way we do school.  It is incredible how much quality content is available that’s free for education.  However, there are a few areas that are worth some investment.  Achieve 3000 is a differentiated reading program we have purchased, focusing on comprehension of informational text.  After conducting an initial assessment, Achieve delivers news articles supplied by The Associated Press to each student at their unique reading level.   Students answer opinion polls, complete comprehension questions based on the article, and write responses to critical thinking questions.  In doing so, they see exponential growth in their reading comprehension skills, and teachers receive continuous data to guide their instruction.

You can discover a lot about exactly how the program works on their website, but I’ve put together a short video so you can hear directly from a couple of our students and see some of our actual results.  There is no doubt that adding more digital content and greater differentiation into our curriculum is benefiting student learning.

Why We Made The Investment

Although we have made lots of progress in recent years, our students were still not showing the growth and success we wanted them to have (you may be able to relate).   We know that differentiating learning produces results because it provides each student with exactly what they need.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand that concept, it just was so very difficult without the technology tools in place.  Our first experience was with ALEKS to provide differentiated learning in math.  We saw what a huge difference it made and sought something to provide the same benefits in reading comprehension, recognizing that there is no skill more fundamental to success.  A student who doesn’t understand the non-fiction text they read will struggle in all academic areas.  Achieve 3000 seemed to be the perfect solution at the perfect time, as we were also implementing 1:1 and digital curriculum initiatives.  We began using Achieve in grades 3-9.  When we saw such rapid results and realized that our freshmen needed more time to close the achievement gap, we expanded to provide Achieve for grades 10-12 as well.

The Early Harvest

As shown in the video, we have seen a very quick return on our investment with increased student Lexiles, but there have been other positive outcomes.  We’ve seen students come alive that had no interest in school or the quality of their work before.  The immediate feedback they receive, the fact that the content is on their personal level, and the motivating elements are appealing to both non-traditional and typical students.  Here’s a story that didn’t make the video…. I met with a junior who is using Achieve to help him pass the ECA test.  Although he is quite intelligent, he is a student who makes it known how much he loathes school, and his lack of success shows his attitude toward education.  I asked him how he felt about Achieve, expecting the same sort of answer I had always heard from him.  Instead, he paused and quietly said, “I don’t hate it.”  If you know students like this, that’s saying a lot.  We have students who would never complete homework assignments that are now getting on and completing several Achieve articles per week from home.  The high achievers are benefiting as well because the program puts no limits on how much they can advance.

Keys to Success

Teachers – As with any resource, you get out of this program what you put into it.  Although powerful enough to produce some results even on “auto pilot”, the real success comes when teachers interweave their reading, writing and language arts instruction into their use of Achieve 3000 articles.  It is also a very effective means of providing complex informational text in science, social studies, health and other content areas.

Students –  Students have to learn to take some responsibility for their own learning.  This is one of the added benefits, teaching them to be more independent learners.  A student who skims the articles and clicks through questions isn’t going to grow.  The program does have some things built in to catch this sort of behavior, but a high level of accountability for quality of work goes a long way.  I think it also helps if the students learn exactly why their reading skills are so crucial to their success later in life and know some specific things to do (and what NOT to do) when they are using the program.  To that end I created a Student Guide to Achieve 3000, which has been presented in most classes.

Administration – Monitor data.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  Achieve provides an enormous amount of customizable reports that paint a good picture of progress or the lack thereof.  If students aren’t growing, drilling into the data often reveals the reason, which can then be corrected.  You won’t be successful with a weight loss program unless you monitor your food and exercise.  You won’t stay on budget unless you track your spending.  Students won’t grow to their fullest potential with any learning program unless you use data to guide instruction and implementation.

Ready to Transform Learning Through Differentiation!?! 

Watch the promo video below and visit Achieve’s website to learn more about how the program works and the research behind it.  Contact me if you have questions you’d like to ask a real school instead of a company or if you’d like to visit us to see it in action!  If you’d like to schedule a presentation, contact Diane Baldessari  (pssst…. she’ll probably bring snacks!).