ENVISION THIS: A learning center devoted to meeting the diverse needs of 114 elementary students coming from countries ranging from El Salvador to Afghanistan. The ESOL Center of McAuliffe Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia, is precisely this. Two ESOL Center teachers, Claudia Deferre and Jessie Roberts, work with approximately 80 Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in Grade 1 through 5, the majority of which come from low socioeconomic backgrounds (66% receive free/reduced lunch). The majority of McAuliffe’s LEP students perform below grade level in reading and about 12% of them are non-English speakers. With only one teacher for every 35 students, it had been increasingly difficult to individualize instruction and engage all students in educational activities that were customized to their exact needs.
Formative Assessment and Differentiated Instruction
The LeapTrack Assessment & Instruction System provided an easy-to-implement solution to that problem by enabling the ESOL teachers to systematically collect, record, and report assessment information in the core areas of reading, math, and language arts. Teachers monitor student progress relative to state content standards; customize instruction for each learner through the automated creation of individualized Learning Paths; offer engaging instruction via the LeapPad?/ Quantum Pad? technology and interactive skill cards; and prepare students to master skills measured on state tests.
Each of the following objectives were high priorities for the ESOL Center teachers:
? ongoing assessment,
? continuous monitoring,
? personalized and engaging instruction for each learner, and
? student facility with traditional testing practices
McAuliffe Elementary’s English Language Learners Needs are Met
These ESOL teachers understand the attributes of effective schools and classrooms for improving schooling for language-minority children (August and Hakuta, 1997). For example, August and Hakuta reviewed 33 studies of effective schools and found that English Language Learners do best in a customized learning environment with a balanced curriculum that incorporates both basic and higher-order skills; explicit skills instruction; opportunities for practice; systematic student assessment; and home and parent involvement, among other variables (page 171). As it turns out, these attributes of effective learning environments are also part of the LeapTrack System.
? Learning is customized: each child is issued her own Learning Path.
? Higher-order and basic skills appear on every interactive skill card.
? Explicit instruction is delivered as many times as needed through the LeapPad unit’s audio support.
? Students are free to work on a specific interactive card until they have mastered it.
? Assessments are given throughout the school year.
? The portability of the LeapPad? unit, with interactive skill cards and books, makes it easy to take home. The auditory directions and feedback help parents follow along.
High Engagement Increases Effectiveness
The ESOL Center teachers were also keenly aware of the experimental research on student engagement that has demonstrated an increase in student achieve-ment when engagement is high (Rosenshine and Stevens, 1984; Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000). That is, instruction is only a part of the achievement equation; students must be engaged during instruction.
The ESOL teachers felt that the Quantum Pad would monitor their students’ achievements, and that the continuous feedback would keep them engaged. They were right. Students enjoy their hour in the ESOL Center and look forward to every LeapTrack experience, says Mrs. Deferre.
Step Inside an ESOL, Third Grade Instructional Hour
In the climate of No Child Left Behind, educators such as Mrs. Deferre and Mrs. Roberts know that any new program must improve student achievement. Toward that end, Claudia Deferre began a systematic investigation of her thirdgraders in the core area of reading.
In Mrs. Deferre’s class, along with regular classroom instruction, new concepts are taught with the support of the LeapTrack System. Students learned quickly how to use the LeapPad units independently. The skill cards not only offer individualized instruction, but also target notions required by the Virginia Standard of Learning, says Mrs. Deferre. At times, students were divided into smaller groups. While a group was working with the LeapPad units, the other group worked with the teacher. This approach allowed her to differentiate instruction in two ways. Mrs. Deferre feels that as she implements this process more fully next year, her children will continue to grow at this steady pace.
Positive Student Results
The children in Mrs. Deferre’s room have used the LeapTrack system along with regular Language Arts instruction for six weeks. Preand post-tests reveal that the average child has increased individual reading skills by 15%, with a high of 35% improvement and a low of 6%. Based on this first month and a half of instruction, Ms. Deferre is highly optimistic. She believes that most of her LEP third graders are on track to grow measurably in their reading development and make the adequate yearly progress required by the state of Virginia. The bigger factor for Mrs. Deferre, however, is that the children are beginning to love reading and feel accomplished in doing so independently.
Program Helps School Meet NCLB Legislation by Involving Parents
Through grants, the ESOL teachers purchased the full LeapFrog School- House?Multi-Grade Interactive Library, which contains books ranging from simple ABC stories to Leveled Reading and high interest/ lower level books. As part of a parental involvement program at the school, children take home the LeapPad units and interactive books to share the learning experience with their families. For many of them, this is the first time the family has truly been able to learn together.
Abuzz with Success
McAuliffe Elementary is abuzz with the success of the LeapTrack system and the terrific work the ESOL Center teachers are doing. Ms. Deferre says, “Our students never perceive their LeapTrack activities as “work”; and they’re eager to take their LeapPad units home! It’s thrilling to know that my students’ parents and siblings are not only learning the structure of the English language in a risk-free environment, but their families are also picking up basic skills and a lot of new vocabulary words.”
Ruth Nathan, Ph.D. is a former elementary teacher and now serves as the LeapFrog School House Executive Educational Advisor.
August, D. & Hakuta, K. (Eds.). (1997). Improving schooling for language-minority children: A research agenda. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Guthrie, S.J., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation in reading. In M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P. David Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Volume III (pp. 403-422). Mahway, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Rosenshine, G., & Stevens, R. (1984). Classroom instruction in reading. In R Barr, M. Kamil, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (pp. 745-798). New York: Longman.