Two years ago Phyllis Spadafora of North Hollywood High School was one of nine winners of Tamar’s Technology Pilot Grant Contest.
In her winning application, selected by a panel of three outside judges, Spadafora described how she would use technology (in this case iPads) to better teach her French classes. One of the stipulations of the grant—which was designed to encourage innovation and experimentation at the grassroots level--is that teachers would share what they learned. On Thursday, a Gazette reporter visited Madame Spadafora’s AP French class to check it out.
"It is fantastic for foreign languages," said Spadafora. "It is the best. The technology is revolutionary in terms of how we are looking at teaching."
Spadafora pointed out that students don’t even know life without a phone or a computer in their hands. You have to engage them, she said. You have to make it matter. Using the technology helps. She also said that for teachers using the iPad takes far more time and lesson-planning. Once she logs on to the computer to plan her lessons, she said, the possibilities are endless. Narrowing down the options takes discipline and practice.
On the iPad days Spadafora uses the iPad for the whole period—otherwise it is not worth the 10 or so minutes it takes at the beginning and end of class to get them all out of the closet, and to return them at the end of class.
Once the students are logged on to www.france24.com/fr/tv-en-direct-chaine-live they can pick a news story they want to listen to—electronic cigarettes, the latest on Julian Assange, a French protest. Instantly, each student clicks on a video of a story that interests them—straight from France. (Other days they will look at news from Somalia, Quebec, or other French-speaking territories or countries). Because each student is hooked into their own iPad with ear buds they can listen to the news report as many times as they like, stopping andrelistening if they do not understand. At the end there is a set of questions (in French) that tests their comprehension. More advanced students (like one student who is half French) can move ahead on individualized projects, and do more advanced work assigned by Spadafora.
Students love using the iPads in French class.
Marissa Andrade, an 11th grader, said anything with a screen just sticks better in her mind. Erika Van-Glahn, a 12th grader, said before the iPads it was hard to hear in class depending on where you sat in the classroom, and how far away you were from the speakers. She said last year during her final she could not hear the tape very well. She said listening to real French newscasts also introduces more sophisticated and complicated language than they would use in a normal classroom discussion, or read in their textbook. Talia Dutton, another senior, agreed the iPads make it easier to hear the language, and said she likes how easy is it is to research life, culture and history in French-speaking countries for school projects on the iPads. With the iPad, instantly they are there, immersed in another culture.
So far Spadafora’s French classes are the only classes at North Hollywood High School with iPads.
But as those at the cutting edge of their school community, students had interesting thoughts on LAUSD's 1:1 iPad roll-out.
All three girls said they thought the iPad was great for French class, but they did not know that they needed it for every class. “I don’t need it for Statistics,” said Dutton. “And I like to take notes by hand—it helps me to learn better.”
Students also said they would like not carrying around heavy textbooks, and they hoped having textbooks on the iPad would mean their textbooks were up to date. Two students said last year they had an AP History textbook so old that it only covered events up until 1993, even though they were responsible for events up until 2000 for the AP Exam.
Spadafora said kids are so advanced with technology that all you can really do is try to guide them to use the iPads responsibly, and then to let them go.
“If you are a control freak, it is not going to work,” she said.
Still, she said it is important that teachers control the class. When every kid has a tablet in their hands, if the teacher does not set rules and guidelines, a teacher could lose control of a class in 90 seconds, she said. She is constantly walking the aisles, checking the students work, and making sure they are on task.
In this class, they were.