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I was thrown. Could this be the foreign language classroom of the future?! Engagement, however, is not the only measure of an effective teaching environment.
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After a month, I began to witness another interesting difference. I included verbs conjugated in the present tense as part of a vocabulary game prior to formally introducing the concept. It is well known that conjugation is one of the most difficult concepts to teach. I did not give my students any special instructions; I just included the verbs and watched to see what happened—and I was blown away.
As the kids picked various words from their brown bags of vocabulary, they were effectively identifying not only what the verb meant, but who was doing the verb. For example, a student picked the verb bailo. My students were interpreting conjugated verbs well before I even introduced the idea in class. This was a breakthrough.
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Again, does this school even need me any longer?! Some days they were thrilled to work alone at their own pace, generally picking up one or two new vocabulary words during each session and absorbing pieces of grammar without realizing it. Other days, they preferred Facebook and a nap.
Regardless, the effects of Duolingo continued. The overall success of the new software was overwhelming. These students could do things far better than my students the year prior, but I still wondered: could they be performing this well without me?
Maybe they still needed me after all? Vocabulary only truly stuck after lengthy practice and application. Listening practice via Duolingo was also limited.
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Additional activities in class with native speakers really pushed the students past their comfort level into higher levels of proficiency. Their writing and reading abilities, though influenced by the constant contact on their computer screens, were developed with in-class graphic organizers, extensive practice with authentic articles and long sessions of revision and rewrites.
Again, I gave myself a little credit. My professional conclusion was this: after four months of weekly use of Duolingo, my students excelled much further than students of previous years. My work with the classes, however, was vital in allowing them to push past their Zone of Proximal Development and truly be able to apply the information they were encountering via Duolingo. Ultimately, the app served as the perfect supplementary tool.
It not only gave me the freedom of a quiet and engaged classroom once a week, but it gave my students much needed exposure to additional vocabulary and grammar structures in a different setting in an immediately rewarding environment. For now, this harmony can only enrich the present day foreign language classroom. Without the fear of being replaced, teachers should consider this effective resource as additional exposure to their target language and potentially the much-needed tool to capture the interest of even the most jaded teenager—a challenge we all know is real.
Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. Well done! Great idea utilizing an app to complement in-classroom teaching.
I think this is ultimately the way things are heading, especially considering how easily distracted kids and adults for that matter are by their mobile devices. I too have use Duolingo with students, albeit in very small numbers but have also noticed a deeper grasping of grammar, not just vocab acquisition. I find the frequent repetition in the app so essential to success, although some phrases used are a bit odd.
I think it sounds great to be able to have them engaged so fully by this activity. However, we were thinking of asking our students to put away their devices when they come to class because they are more connected to Social Media than anything else! Thank you for your response at your convenience. Thank you for the comments.
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