Using Livemocha Active Spanish in a High School Classroom
Dominique Chargois, Arabia Mountain High School, Lithonia, GA
Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, GA is committed to providing its students learning experiences that extend beyond classroom walls. Since opening in 2009, the magnet school has embraced the mission of “engaging students in active learning…while preparing students for involved citizenship in a changing world.” This mission is reflected throughout the school—in students’ sustainability efforts in their LEED certified building, in the science department’s trips to the adjacent nature preserve, and in interactions with native Spanish speakers on Livemocha in Dominique Chargois’s Spanish III classes.
As the 2010 school year kicked off, Chargois asked the vice chair of the PTSA’s Academic and Education Committee (also a parent of one of her students) to contact Livemocha to procure licenses for Active Spanish for each of her 140 students. Since then, Chargois has used Livemocha Active Spanish as a supplemental learning tool in all of her Spanish III sections.
Chargois and the Arabia Mountain High School administration hoped that Livemocha Active Spanish would help students in three ways:
1. Engage students and inspire them to learn
Chargois wanted Active Spanish to be a Spanish language experience that her students would truly enjoy. “I wanted the students to be a lot more involved with what they’re doing as opposed to sitting in the classroom listening to me speak all the time,” she explained.
2. Improve basic Spanish skills by providing opportunities for students to learn at their own pace
Chargois averages over 25 students per class, which makes it hard for her to address the wide range of needs that students of varying skill levels posses. She hoped that Active Spanish would give students the opportunity to work and excel at their own pace—creating an exciting forum for self-paced learning. Since Active Spanish ranges from beginner to intermediate levels, Chargois anticipated that it would help some students improve their basic skills while others pushed their learning into more advanced territory.
3. Expand students’ horizons
It is important to Assistant Principal Tim Wells that his students experience the world beyond their Atlanta community. “Our goal is really for students to use all aspects of a language,” he said. “I want students to have a connection outside of the demographic within the school…to notice that there are more things than just in their specific area and that we are an international community.”
Chargois assigns her students a certain amount of Active Spanish to complete each week, but does not dictate the lessons to complete. For example, she may ask her students to complete one Active Spanish unit, but allows them to choose which unit they would like to spend time with. The class is expected to take full advantage of Active Spanish’s assets—lesson content, videos, submissions to native speakers and Livemocha experts, chat and more—and move through the units and levels built into the course. Chargois encourages students to come to her with questions, but considers Active Spanish a self-study forum.
Active Spanish work is often divided between the classroom and home, with one or two days of class time per week devoted to working on Active Spanish in the computer lab. Chargois explained, “They have assignments they must complete throughout the week. I give them time to complete some activities in class, but in order to make sure they’re using the site on their own, I give them homework assignments as well.”
Chargois adds a reciprocal element to her students’ Active Spanish work as well by requiring them to help others in the Livemocha community. “They’re required to review submissions of native speakers’ work in English,” she said. “That way they’re giving back to the native speakers who are helping them learn the language they’re learning.” Students must review at least six English submissions per week. This often facilitates additional interaction with people in the Livemocha community.
Livemocha Active Spanish has brought significant changes to Chargois’s Spanish classes, most notably the students’ enthusiasm for the program and for Spanish in general. “They love it. I think because it’s a bit like social networking, which the kids love, it’s more engaging to them,” Chargois said. “They get very upset on days when they’re not allowed to work on Livemocha in the lab. I have to hear about it all the time if I don’t let them work on their Livemocha at least once a week!”
Wells added that he can see the way Active Spanish energizes the students. “I can see their assignments are completed with more frequency, the quality of their work is better, I can see them speaking the language,” he said. “Before, I would sometimes see students working out of the textbook, but now I can see students actually speaking to each other in the language.”
Chargois’s students echo this sentiment. One student said, “Active Spanish has made me realize that Spanish can be a lot more fun than just learning from the book.” Another added, “It feels really normal to learn this way. I like that you can actually make friends while learning Spanish, and I think the Role Play really helps you. It allows you to figure out how to speak to another person.”
The students have also made noticeable strides in their Spanish skills, showing a marked improvement in both pronunciation and rate of speech. Chargois has been pleased with the progress, particularly among students whose skills were initially not as strong. She said, “Normally in the classroom I have to slow down my speech to cater to those students whose vocabulary is very weak, but since using Active Spanish, the kids’ rate of speech has increased so it’s a bit more of a natural pace, like when they’re speaking English.” One student added, “I’ve learned a lot of words I didn’t know before—now I know them and I can use them in conversation…I’m learning Spanish easier now.”
Chargois was initially hesitant about allowing her students to interact with an online community, but discovered that both the setup of the Active Courses and the structure of the Livemocha community is conducive to safe, productive experiences. She said, “I thought that I would have a problem with the course being online because I thought I’d have to monitor it a lot, but because Active Spanish guides the activities and exercises, it eliminates the need for me to have to evaluate what the students are doing.” Chargois also found that Mochapoints—Livemocha’s community reputation system—empowered her students with enough knowledge to choose good study buddies. “Mochapoints allow the kids to know whether the people who are online are completing the exercises or if they’re just there to chat,” she explained.
After only a few weeks, Chargois’s students had made meaningful connections with language learners from all over the world. One student said, “I love interacting with [native Spanish speakers]. I love meeting people, so when I talk to them and meet them, it’s really fun to get to know them and about their country.” Another student cited working with English learners on Livemocha as her favorite part because, “I see how we’re having the same problems and I help them out with things I’ve already been through.”
Wells has also enjoyed watching the effects of the students’ interaction with members of the Livemocha community. “I see our students talking about their friends that they’re making in all of these other countries and having that connection outside of the demographic within the school,” he said. “I wanted the students to notice that we are an international community and now they’re making those connections on their own and they’re enjoying it.”
Wells plans to expand the use of Livemocha Active Courses to more of Arabia Mountain’s world languages classes. Eventually, he hopes the Dekalb County School System will sponsor the courses for all county schools, eliminating the need for individual PTSA grants for each class. Later this year, he will introduce Livemocha to the county leadership and ask them to consider integrating Active Courses into county curriculum. “I can see us using this in all of our languages,” he said. “I would definitely like to have more schools use this program.”
For now, Chargois is happy that her students are enjoying the process of learning Spanish. “My favorite part is that my students love it,” she said. “That’s what’s most important to me—that my students are enjoying using Spanish.”