The widely popular language learning aid Rosetta Stone seems to be making inroads in District 97. Teachers in the district’s Elementary World Language (FLES) program and district staff members were on hand to provide status updates on the program, which has been in use for about six months, at a May 12 board meeting.

Helen Wei, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the program’s implementation was going “so far, so good,” before noting that her son, a fourth-grader at Whittier, approved of the software.

“He said he loved it,” Wei said. “I’ve been noticing him say a lot of Spanish phrases and sentences recently…I know that Rosetta Stone has given him the opportunity to practice by himself privately.”

In September 2014, the D97 board approved a three-year contract with Rosetta Stone. Currently, the district holds a total of 2,999 individual licenses for the software. About 2,022 students in grades third through fifth use the program as an app on their district-issued iPads to bone up on their Spanish or French. The learning aid is also available to 336 staff members, who are using it to “learn or enhance skills in the language of their choice,” according to a board report.

The software, according to district officials, is meant to complement classroom-based foreign language instruction, with students expected to work with Rosetta Stone during club activities, lunch, Spanish class time and learning activities. They’re also required to spend between 30 and 50 minutes per week in the program.

Dawn Fogle Deaton, a Whittier Spanish teacher and FLES team leader, said that teachers encourage students to “be in the language” and immerse themselves in the software interactive lesson.

This is how the Economist describes the software:

“Rosetta Stone does not use your native language. It uses only pictures and words in the target language. First, the learner gets a few nouns: a man, a woman, a car, a bicycle. You hear the word, see the word written and see the picture at the same time. Soon you start practicing them: you see the picture of the bicycle and have to click on one of four words, only one of which is zìxíngch%u0113, bicycle. Or you’ll see and hear zìxíngch%u0113, and have to pick which of four pictures has a bicycle in it.”

“It really complements what we do in a way that is foundational,” said Deaton. “Things that we sort of teach in the ear to them, they are getting in a concrete way. Then it’s the pronunciation — over and over. They don’t get to talk that much in class, so if they’re getting a thirty-minute lesson on Rosetta Stone by themselves, they’re probably spending some of it, at least, talking.”

A May D97 board report notes that the program “focuses on the primary skills of reading, listening, speaking and pronunciation. Through its voice recognition capability, it can ‘hear’ a student speaking in the language and assess accuracy […] Students have shown much engagement around the Rosetta Stone program and are able to quickly understand how to use the program.”

Ana Nieto, a D97 traveling FLES instructor, said the program also allows teachers to track students’ engagement with the program. She said, although students are allowed to move through the program at their own paces, they’re still evaluated for efficiency, accuracy and commitment.

“I’m looking for how much [time] they’re spending in the program,” she said, adding that a key differentiator between Rosetta Stone and other language programs is that it doesn’t translate for students.

While the board was generally supportive of the software, some members expressed concerns that the digital program wouldn’t be as easily available for students without home internet access.

“Are we finding good ways other than making children stay in for recess or are [the students] creatively finding solutions?” said board member Rupa Datta.

“In my case, both,” said Deaton. “I have very few students who don’t have internet access [and] those who don’t figure something out,” she said, adding that there haven’t been “big issues” regarding internet access.

Nieto said in order to preempt problems with individual students logging into the program due to lack of internet access, she’s encouraged schools to create Rosetta Stone clubs. She said teachers also allow students to use the programs during moments in class when they have a choice of activities to pursue, among other solutions.

District staff members are currently assessing the need for more licenses for incoming third graders and compiling data on Rosetta Stone’s effectiveness. Students who are in fifth grade may be able to carry their licenses into the next school year without the district adding more licenses.

Holmes PTO makes $60K donation

The District 97 Board of Education, at a meeting last month, voted unanimously to approve the acceptance of a $60,000 donation from the Holmes Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) "to enhance and expand the use of our courtyard space as an extension of learning that is consistently utilized to inspire and further develop teaching, concepts, objectives and outcomes explored through core curriculum," according to a PTO memo.

Specific improvements of the space include adding a weather station, plantings, noise barrier protection, a weather station and designated circular seating. The PTO plans to coordinate all bids for the construction process through the D97 business office. 

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