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Beaver Country Day School Case Study

Online language curriculum helps students at Beaver Country Day School learn at their own pace, fostering greater independence and a deeper understanding of world languages.

At Beaver Country Day School in Brookline, Mass., learning a world language is important—and the school is using an online curriculum from Middlebury Interactive Languages to enable students to progress at their own pace.

“A product like Middlebury Interactive helps us differentiate instruction,” said Jason Cummings, head of the school’s modern languages department.

A private, coeducational school serving students in grades 6-12, Beaver Country Day School offers French and Spanish beginning in middle school and adds Chinese instruction in the upper school. All students are required to take a world language class through the 11th grade.

Beaver Country Day School is using Middlebury Interactive Languages’ curriculum in its Spanish 1 and 2 and Chinese 1 courses. Teachers are using the online curriculum in different ways, Cummings said: Some are using it as their core instructional resource, while others are incorporating various parts of it into their teaching. Middlebury Interactive worked closely with the school’s faculty to create a customized program.

But in each of these scenarios, the online curriculum gives students the chance to extend their learning beyond the regular class period. That’s important, Cummings said, because it’s hard to master a new language in the amount of time allotted during the school day.

“It’s less about the things I’m able to do as a teacher, and more about what students are able to do on their own,” Cummings said of the curriculum.

Honored by the Readers’ Choice Awards program from eSchool Media during the last two years, Middlebury Interactive’s online language courses use the principles of language instruction practiced at Middlebury College’s renowned Language Schools. The courses were developed for K-12 students by Ph.D.-level academics and linguistic experts. Spanish and Chinese are two of the four languages the company supports from elementary through high school; the others are French and German.

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 has recorded actual 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 learning officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages and director of the French School at Middlebury College’s 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 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.

At Beaver Country Day School, every student has a laptop computer, so integrating the online curriculum into instruction has been fairly simple.

“As students get personalized feedback from the system, they can master the content at their own pace,” Cummings said. And while teachers have set clear learning targets for their classes, students can advance beyond these goals as they are ready to do so. This fosters greater independence among students, he said, allowing them to take charge of their own learning.

A graduate himself of Middlebury College’s famed Language Schools, Cummings appreciates the product’s approach to language instruction.

“A big part of becoming proficient is immersion, jumping into real communication as quickly as possible,” he said. “The digital curriculum follows that philosophy as well.”