Just to set the stage, I'm a grade 4/5 teacher in an economically depressed area of a mid-sized Canadian city (pop. less than 1,000,000). I'm lucky enough to work for an administrator who understands the value of manageable class size; I have only 20 students. However, our students face many obstacles such as high migrancy, poor nutrition, low income, unstable home situations, low literacy rates in the community, gang activity, lack of recreational opportunities...and the list goes on. Most of my students are at least one year below grade level; one of my grade fives and three of my grade fours are currently working at a late grade one level. And in spite of all that (or maybe because of it) I absolutely love my job. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
"So," you wonder idly to yourself, "what does any of that have to do with Duolingo?" Well, I'm glad you asked! This year (for the first time) I have to teach my own basic core French. A little over three weeks ago, I introduced my students to Duolingo for the first time, hoping that all would go smoothly (while preparing myself for a complete disaster). I have two autistic students, one very hard of hearing, three who lash out with violence at the least frustration and one with the attention span of a gnat. Not generally a recipe for success. When we use Duolingo, though, everyone is fully engaged and learning in spite of themselves. They absolutely love it!
But about those unanticipated benefits...there are two I'd like to share with you. The first is about grammar and spelling. Twice already I have noticed students who, when editing their daily writing, have fixed grammar or spelling errors (in English) "because I remember it from Duolingo." Well...YAY!!! I kind of expected that my students would improve their French through Duolingo - but who knew they'd also improve their English?!
The second thing I'd like to share is about a student who left our class the day after I first introduced Duolingo. She's moved back up North and while I hope she'll get back into school soon, we still haven't received a request for her records. What I do know, though, is that she's been active on Duolingo almost every day since she left. Portable learning at its best - and a learning sequence that doesn't get hijacked every time a child is uprooted and moved...and a child who now has (in a small way) the tools she needs to take ownership of her own learning.
So here's a big "Thank you!" to all the folks at Duolingo! In the words of one of my most problematic students "Duolingo is AWESOME!!" (And yes, the all upper case was his idea. He wrote this in his journal when I asked my students to write about their favourite thing at school.) :-)
Wonderful post! I teach in a middle school that faces many of the challenges you listed. I've seen the little improvements in English, too! We also have a newcomer from Mexico. She is on my roster for Spanish, but she spends the class time in the library working on Duolingo's English for Spanish speakers.