Two High School Students at Laptop Computer

Cypress Creek High School Case Study

When Cypress Creek High School couldn’t find a new French teacher by the start of the year, officials turned to a solution from Middlebury Interactive Languages.

When Florida’s Cypress Creek High School started classes last fall, there were about 150 students enrolled in French classes—but no instructor to teach them.

School officials had advertised for a new French teacher and had been interviewing candidates without success, and with the new school year upon them, they assigned a substitute teacher to cover these classes.

But the sub wasn’t a certified French instructor, and students were falling further behind with each school day.

Desperate for a solution, Cypress Creek officials contacted Shana Vital Horne, academic dean for Orange County Virtual School, the district’s provider of online instruction. Within a matter of days, “all the students had their user names and passwords” and were learning French using an online curriculum from Middlebury Interactive Languages, Vital Horne said.

The students were able to maintain their class schedule without interruption, meeting in the school’s computer lab for a blended-learning approach to instruction. The substitute teacher—with the support of a Middlebury Interactive-trained, state-certified online French teacher—became their on-site lab monitor, making sure students were on task and intervening if they needed help, while the students learned French via computer.

Honored in the “Readers’ Choice Awards” program from eSchool Media during the last two years, Middlebury Interactive’s online language curriculum uses principles of the language pedagogy and teaching methodology of Middlebury College’s renowned Language Schools. The courses were developed exclusively for K-12 students by Ph.D. level academics and linguistic experts. French is one of four languages supported from elementary through high school; the others are Spanish, 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, Middlebury Interactive Languages has recorded 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 academic officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages and director of the French School at Middlebury College’s famed Language Schools.

The use of authentic materials helps students learn not just the language, but also the culture. When watching videos of people greeting each other from different regions that speak the same language, “students can see the cultural differences between the two,” Germain-Rutherford explained. “It’s not just about the words and the structures.”

Another principle of the Middlebury Interactive Languages curriculum is that, to learn a new language, “students must interact and negotiate in a meaningful way,” Germain-Rutherford said. Toward that end, the curriculum includes task-based activities rooted in a real-life purpose, such as ordering in a restaurant.

To recreate this kind of interaction online, the curriculum embeds audio inputs within the dialog, and there are also opportunities for students to interact either asynchronously or in real time with a certified online instructor.

The Cypress Creek students were supported throughout the curriculum by a certified French instructor from Middlebury Interactive Languages who worked individually with them via computer, making sure they were on pace to complete the courses successfully within the school year.

Using the online French curriculum from Middlebury Interactive Languages, Cypress Creek students “were able to complete what they needed to complete during school,” Vital Horne said—and what could have been a potential crisis in not having a full-time certified French instructor at the school was averted. She added: “It’s a phenomenal curriculum.”