Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Middlebury Interactive Languages

As I have mentioned previously, while most of the family is studying Spanish, Melissa continues to desire to learn French. We have been blessed to have the opportunity to allow Melissa to study Middle School French 1 this semester with Middlebury Interactive Languages. 

What is Middlebury Interactive Languages?  This is an online assortment of interactive foreign language courses for grades K-12. There are advanced and AP level courses offered for high school. Middlebury College in Vermont has designed these courses to meet the growing need for virtual learning in schools and home schools. Courses are designed to give a multi-sensory approach to learning a language in a fun way. Instruction is based on an immersion method of learning the language, not only hearing it and speaking it, but also writing, grammar, and cultural experience as well.

What courses are currently offered? This chart shows the current online languages available for each grade level:

Now I would like to write specifically about the program we used: Middle School French 1.

Melissa has had some previous exposure to French vocabulary, but not any solid instruction in grammar and writing. She is in 8th grade, so I chose Middle School French 1 to be sure that it would cover anything she did not already know, and not leave her with gaps in her learning.

How many lessons does Middle School French 1 have?  There are 90 lessons total. If a student completes one lesson per day, four days a week, (the recommended pace for middle school) they will complete this entire course in one semester, and could then move on to Middle School French 2, giving them an entire year of French instruction.

How long is a lesson each day? The lessons took about fifteen to twenty minutes each day, depending on the type of activity that was involved. Some days, Melissa would repeat the listening and speaking activities so it took a little longer.

What makes this multi-sensory?  The lessons are exciting because they are just a little different everyday. Some of the many varied activities include listening to native speakers, answering questions, speaking words and sentences into a microphone and recording themself, fun interactive games, journal writing assignments, and short videos. I was very impressed with the wide variety of presentation in the lessons. The students are seeing, hearing, typing, and speaking throughout the lessons.

What is a lesson like? The middle school student is able to log in and work independently. The home page takes them to their next lesson. The lessons are set up in a "power point" slide show style, with a table of contents on the left side of the screen, and the ability to work through the slides in order, and go back to repeat and review slides as needed. When assignments, games, or quizzes are complete, the student can submit their work by clicking a small button at the top of the screen.

Here are some examples of a few of our favorite activities:

After learning conversational vocabulary, there is a 25 question test where the student listens to the questions in French, then records their answer through a microphone.

 After learning noun gender, the practice activity had Melissa choosing whether the nouns listed were masculine or feminine, and singular or plural.

One of Melissa's favorite activities was the vocabulary matching games set up throughout the lessons as review.

Other key elements to this program are the instruction in French culture, which includes short videos for the student to watch....

...And thorough instruction in grammar, writing, and sentence structure:

Teacher helps: While the student can easily move through the lessons and work independently, there is a wonderful grading report system that allows the parent (or teacher) to track their engagement and proficiency for each assignment given. Not only quiz and test grades are recorded, but all of their completed work can be viewed by the teacher or parent.

This is an example of the gradebook that shows all course work. The teacher or parent can see the grade, how many questions were answered correctly, the date it was completed, and they can also view the completed assignment.

There is also a report card grade given, which shows a lot of details for the course overall, including the percentage of the course that is completed:

How much does the program cost?  The Middle School French course currently costs $119 per semester if the student works independently, and $294 if the student works with a teacher. We worked independently, but my understanding is that if you sign up to work with a teacher, they will listen to the student's recorded language speaking and give them feedback on their speaking and on their other work. Also, to use the high school courses on an official transcript, the program recommends choosing the option to work with a teacher.

What does Melissa think of this program? Melissa has been using it almost daily since we started our review. She really enjoys using the program. She has had a few difficult moments with it, but we have worked through those and overcome them. She really enjoys the wide variety of activities, and her favorite activity so far has been translating an email from an imaginary French penpal.

The only glitch Melissa has mentioned with using the program is that often the native speakers talk too quickly for her to understand what they are saying, and she gets frustrated by that. Her suggestion would be to make a way for the student to adjust the speed of the speaker, so that they could hear it slower when they are first learning, and then quicker once they get the hang of it.

What does Mom think of this program?  I have been thoroughly pleased with the quality of this French instruction. I appreciate how grammar and sentence structure is incorporated into the lessons, giving the student a solid foundation on which to learn a foreign language. They are learning more than just conversational French. The cultural French instruction is interesting, and it has been great to hear Melissa excitedly sharing French facts with the family. (Last week we learned about the structure of schools in France).  I am impressed with how much she has retained using the program for only 15-20 minutes per day. This program has been easy to incorporate into our home school day, and it is effectively teaching French better than any other method we have used.  It is extremely user friendly, both to the student and the teacher. I am considering purchasing the second semester for Melissa to continue using, and am also considering trying out the elementary Spanish program for Kelly!

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