Meadow Woods' ESOL Students Leap Into Learning
When phoning or visiting Meadow Woods Elem-entary School in Orlando, Fla., the first thing one hears is the school's motto: "A safe harbor where all children can learn." This is no idle catch phrase. Committed to providing the best learning environment possible, all of the school's teachers, administrators and support staff work hard to integrate appropriate new techniques and technologies.
The culture of this school supports the goal of instilling a love of learning in its students. "Yes, it's noisy and it might seem chaotic, but that just means there is a lot of learning happening here," says Jacci Hoskins, curriculum resource teacher. "You can see the evidence of that everywhere on campus." At first, Meadow Woods looks like an ordinary group of portable classrooms. Looking closer, one also finds a well-stocked library media center in which every wall is covered by a sea-themed mural, drawn and painted by students and staff. This is an active place, where children and adults alike immerse themselves in the process of learning.
In fall 2000, Hoskins was put in charge of implementing into the curriculum three LeapFrog School-House Literacy Centers purchased with Title I funds. One of the centers is used exclusively for ESOL students, another is shared among the kindergarten teachers, and a third is used for the first and second grades. In addition, the kindergarten and first-grade teachers each send two LeapPad units home with students for the night. Because almost half (49 percent) of Meadow Woods' 1,300 students are Spanish speakers, The Literacy Center's ability to address their needs is vital. "It's one thing to teach children to read and write when they hear English all the time at home," says Hoskins, "however, it's quite a different task when the home is bilingual."
The LeapDesks and LeapPad platforms supply these students with additional guided practice, featuring headphones, for example, that enable them to hear individual phonemes. Sounds for the letters "a" and "e" are the most difficult for non-English speakers to distinguish. The LeapFrog School-House materials allow multiple repetitions so students can hear these sounds pronounced correctly as often as they need. Hoskins has also been able to extend the reach of the materials to the adult ESOL students to whom she teaches at night on the Meadow Woods campus with the same results. "Adults find the unique technology of the LeapPad platform appealing, and seem to love it as much as the younger ESOL students," says Hoskins.
Following half a day of in-service training, the faculty and staff were eager to get started after seeing the demonstrations of how to integrate elements of The Literacy Center into regular class work. Many of the teachers already structured class time around the use of various activity centers, through which students would rotate throughout the day. As The Literacy Center meshed well into this setting, teachers could immediately add its unique tools to their classroom's mix of learning centers. Several of the K-2 teachers integrated exercises, utilizing LeapMat and LeapPad units, into classroom activities. Often, small groups would use a device together. In all cases, teachers told Hoskins that the students stayed engaged with the materials.
At every step, The Literacy Center's guidance and interactive devices helped "fill in a love to learn in fun ways," says Hoskins. Almost everything a student d'es elicits some sort of feedback - visual, auditory or both. This reinforces the learning message and mimics the video games with which kids are familiar. Modern kids are accustomed to a very rapid pace, Hoskins points out, which electronic learning tools like the LeapDesk and the LeapPad platform can handle with ease.
After using the materials throughout the school year, teachers pointed to the printable assessment reports as the most valuable component of the system. Hard-copy specifics for an entire class or an individual student can easily be created on demand, enabling better planning for teachers, more productive meetings with administrators, as well as enhanced communication with parents. "Those reports have meant a lot to our parents," says Hoskins. "They like seeing details of their child's progress."
After analyzing the results for the first year, Meadow Woods plans to train its teachers to use the LeapDesk assessments for gauging readiness for kindergarten and first grade. Initially these reports will be used informally within the school as indicators of how well the school is correlating to the state's formal assessments. Everyone involved with The Literacy Centers at this Florida school site seems pleased with their first year's results and look forward to greater results in the future. "The devices provide rote experiences by themselves, freeing teachers for more personal contact," says Hoskins. "Ultimately, it is that one-on-one interaction that benefits the kids most."
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.