Motivating Students to Learn Academic English

At Alliance Jack H. Skirball Middle School in Los Angeles, ELs are learning academic English and gaining confidence through Middlebury Interactive’s English Language Development (ELD) curriculum.

As the English Learner (EL) Intervention Coordinator at Alliance Jack H. Skirball Middle School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Crystal McQueen runs an ELD intervention pull-out program designed to narrow the gaps in English skills between her non-native English language students and their peers.

Every week, Ms. McQueen works with 88 students in sixth through eighth grades during her 90-minute pull-out period. The school’s goal is to help these students make real progress toward achieving fluency in academic English. The majority of Ms. McQueen’s students are Spanish-speaking and are long-term ELs—students who have immigrated to the U.S. in the last three years or so, or who have lived in Mexico or elsewhere abroad and the U.S. during their childhood. 

Ms. McQueen divides the period in half, using 45 minutes for independent work with technology, and the other 45 minutes for collaborative work between students. This year, she has been using Middlebury Interactive’s ELD curriculum for the technological component. Because her pull-out time is so limited, she’s found that it’s been “an amazing opportunity for supplemental strategies.” Middlebury Interactive’s ELD curriculum has been one of the school’s most successful implementations, according to Ms. McQueen. 

One of the primary areas in which Middlebury Interactive has helped Ms. McQueen’s students is by motivating them to learn academic English. Many of her students have been exposed to English for a number of years but not in a structured setting where they had support to acquire and master English. “Getting buy-in from some students can be difficult,” Ms. McQueen explained.

There are a number of ways in which Middlebury Interactive has helped engage Ms. McQueen’s students. The use of graphics and images, interactive features such as drag-and-drop and fill-in-the-blank and game-based activities, as well as music, make learning academic English much more exciting. The curriculum also helps students develop the four essential communication skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. 

When compared to other ELD programs in which students passively engage, Middlebury Interactive’s digital curriculum “has almost a kinesthetic element that really makes students feel like they’re getting involved and doing something. Middlebury Interactive is something brand new, and it’s really helped to keep students’ attention.”

Gaining Confidence through Speaking & Listening

Another way that Middlebury Interactive has helped motivate students is by giving them the chance to speak English in a controlled environment. Pronunciation is an aspect of acquiring English that can be intimidating for many students. 

Due to the fear of speaking incorrectly in a public setting, students often are hesitant to practice their speaking skills. Because Middlebury Interactive allows students to record their pronunciation directly into the program and receive feedback, Ms. McQueen has seen her students leave their comfort zones and, in turn, improve their speaking abilities. 

“Although their anxiety increases a little bit when they speak, they’re getting to do it in a safe environment where they can practice and work on the production of language,” Ms. McQueen explained. “Language use is very important.”

“Personalization is the key thing,” she went on to say. “Most students are so far behind in reading at grade level that it’s necessary to have something that can help address their individual needs. I really, really enjoy using Middlebury Interactive, and the students do too. If they have their choice, they’ll choose Middlebury Interactive, which says a lot about how it’s been created.”

Recently, as a final project, students wrote and performed poems in English about human rights in which they had to take the perspective of a Freedom Rider from the 1960s, a topic taken from a Middlebury Interactive lesson. Students created presentations in English using the presentation software Prezi and had the opportunity to speak in front of the class. 

“I had so many students come up to me after their presentations and say, ‘Miss, I feel so good!’ To get students to the point where they’re presenting, where they have great presence and articulation—that is what it’s all about,” says Ms. McQueen. “And Middlebury Interactive helped make that happen.”