With support from Middlebury Interactive Languages, special-needs students are able to meet their school’s world language requirement through blending learning instruction.
Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, South Carolina, requires students to take three consecutive years of a world language before they graduate—and Upper Level Spanish instructor Brad Greer is using an online curriculum from Middlebury Interactive Languages in a blended learning model to ensure that special-needs students are able to meet this requirement and graduate on time.
The private, coeducational school serves students in prekindergarten through 12th grade and offers instruction in Spanish, German, Latin, French, and Mandarin Chinese. A few years ago, as some stakeholders sought to exempt students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and audio processing disorders from the school’s language requirement, the Spanish department came up with an innovative solution: It would offer blended learning courses that were more flexible and supportive of these students’ needs.
“Since our department felt strongly against [an exemption], we sought programs that were highly interactive and allowed the students to progress at their own pace,” Greer said.
With the help of Middlebury Interactive’s online curriculum, Greer teaches these students Spanish I over two years. The students then are mainstreamed into Spanish II in the third year. While they technically take only two levels of a language, they still are completing the three years of study required by the school.
“We have found this to be a great compromise,” Greer said.
Honored in the Readers’ Choice Awards program from eSchool Media for the last two years, Middlebury Interactive’s online language curriculum uses methodology from Middlebury College’s renowned Language Schools. The courses were developed exclusively for K-12 students by Ph.D.-level academics and linguistic experts. Spanish is one of four languages the company supports from elementary through high school; the others are French, German, and Chinese.
The curriculum is based on principles that research has shown to be effective in language instruction, such as the use of authentic materials and experiences. For instance, it uses video recordings of real interactions between native speakers in different countries to bring cultural authenticity to the classroom.
“We’ve built language learning activities using these videos, as well as authentic written resources such as newspapers,” said Aline Germain-Rutherford, chief learning officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages and Surdna Professor of Linguistics at Middlebury College.
Germain-Rutherford said the online courses allow for better personalization of learning and differentiation of instruction, both of which are important for special-needs students.
“Students can work at their own pace, they can repeat tasks and activities as many times as they need with immediate feedback from the computer, and teachers can differentiate between levels and types of activities when instructing classes with diverse individual needs,” she said.
At Christ Church Episcopal School, the ninth-grade special-needs students in Greer’s Spanish IA course all have iPads as part of a school-based initiative, so they complete their online coursework on the Middlebury Interactive app. The 10th graders in Greer’s Spanish IB course complete their work using school-issued laptops.
Although these classes meet every day, for three days a week the students are working independently on the Middlebury Interactive curriculum, while Greer is available to answer questions. On the other two days, Greer offers instruction to supplement the online curriculum.
“I practice the concepts that were taught on the Middlebury app with students in a spoken and written format,” Greer said. “I provide a different explanation and reinforcement of what they ideally will have learned from the program already.”
So far, the school’s approach is working well: The first four students Greer taught in Spanish IA two years ago are all taking Spanish II with their peers this year.
Greer said he appreciates the variety of evaluations that are built into the curriculum, including spoken, written, and auditory assessments. As for his students? They like its “interactive nature,” and being able to listen to explanations “multiple times and at their own pace.”