Personalized Instruction Supports Every Student in Learning a Second Language

At Oak Hill Academy in Lincroft, New Jersey, Middlebury Interactive Languages is helping middle school students who were previously struggling in a traditional classroom setting thrive in their world language studies.

Oak Hill Academy is a PreK-8 private school of approximately 380 students in a suburban neighborhood, where world language instruction is an integral part of their studies. In second through fifth grades, students use Middlebury Interactive’s digital curriculum exclusively with teacher support and guidance to study both Spanish and French. Students study each language for half of the school year, and then switch to the other language, giving them a strong foundation in both world languages when they enter middle school.

When students enter sixth grade, they transition to in-person instruction in a traditional classroom setting. Historically, once sixth grade students begin in-person instruction, they discontinue their use of Middlebury Interactive, but a new model is showing that for some students digital instruction can help overcome learning challenges.

The Challenge, and How Middlebury Interactive Helped Overcome It

Although the world language model at Oak Hill Academy works well for the majority of middle school students, there were some students who struggled to succeed in the traditional class setting.

Last year, under the guidance of Oak Hill Academy’s world language teachers and Headmaster Joe Pacelli, the school decided to experiment with taking the sixth graders who were struggling to succeed in the traditional class setting and allow them to use Middlebury Interactive as an alternative.

Fiftteen sixth graders took part in the experiment last year. They used Middlebury Interactive exclusively for their world language instruction with their progress closely supervised by their middle school instructors.

How Successful Was the Experiment?

The online language instruction in the 2014-2015 school year was so successful that the program has become a regular part of Oak Hill Academy’s middle school world language offerings. This year, 20 students are taking part, and Headmaster Pacelli says he anticipates participation growing again next year.

Headmaster Pacelli says that the change for those students who participated the first year was so immediate that he and the instructors involved knew that they had found a solution to help all students succeed in learning a second language.

“The impact on morale has been huge,” Headmaster Pacelli said. “Students who weren’t successful before are now very successful. To find a way to take students who were struggling and give them opportunities that allow them to excel, that has been really great to see.”

Why Were Students So Successful?

Headmaster Pacelli says that he believes Middlebury Interactive’s digital courses allow for more personalized support than is possible in the traditional class setting, where the group is often compelled to move forward even though some students may need more time on a specific concept or skill set. By using a digital curriculum, students can spend as much time as they need on a given task. They can accelerate through material they have already mastered and slow down and focus on concepts that are more difficult for them.

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. 

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. The curriculum includes features such as recordings of actual interactions between native speakers in different countries, to bring cultural authenticity to the classroom.

Changing Culture

The success students at Oak Hill Academy have had learning at their own pace with digital solution has opened a more general dialogue at the school about different types of learners. 

“Some students need more personalized support, and it’s good to know that we can now provide that for them,” says Headmaster Pacelli. “Given the positive benefits we’ve already seen, we expect this program to grow.”

Parents are happy to see their kids successful where before they were struggling, and students are thrilled to be moving forward with their learning.