iPods are required in some bilingual programs

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Oct 9 12:45:04 UTC 2007

October 9, 2007
In Some Schools, iPods Are Required Listening


UNION CITY, N.J., Oct. 8 A ban on iPods is so strictly enforced at Jose
Marti Middle School that as many as three a week are confiscated from
students and returned only to their parents. But even as students have
been told to leave their iPods at home, the school here in Hudson County
has been handing out the portable digital players to help bilingual
students with limited English ability sharpen their vocabulary and grammar
by singing along to popular songs. Next month, the Union City district
will give out 300 iPods at its schools as part of a $130,000 experiment in
one of New Jerseys poorest urban school systems. The effort has spurred a
handful of other districts in the state, including the ones in Perth Amboy
and South Brunswick, to start their own iPod programs in the last year,
and the project has drawn the attention of educators from Westchester
County to Monrovia, Calif.

The spread of iPods into classrooms comes at a time when many school
districts across the country have outlawed the portable players from their
buildings along with cellphones and DVD players because they pose a
distraction, or worse, to students. In some cases, students have been
caught cheating on tests by loading answers, mathematical formulas and
notes onto their iPods. But some schools are rethinking the iPod bans as
they try to co-opt the devices for educational purposes. Last month, the
Perth Amboy district bought 40 iPods for students to use in bilingual
classes that are modeled after those in Union City. In South Brunswick, 20
iPods were used last spring in French and Spanish classes. And in North
Plainfield, N.J., the district has supplied iPods to science teachers to
illustrate chemistry concepts, and it is considering allowing students in
those classes to use iPods that they have brought from home.

Its an innovation, said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey
School Boards Association, which selected Union City educators to speak
about the iPod classes at the groups annual conference in Atlantic City
Oct. 24-26. Most people think of the iPod as just entertainment. At Jos
Mart, the silver iPods, with built-in video screens, cost about $250 each
and are passed out at the beginning of class along with headsets and
Spanish-to-English dictionaries. The iPods are collected at the end of
class, and school officials said that none have disappeared or been

In one recent class, eighth-grade students mouthed the words to the rock
song Hey There Delilah by the Plain White Ts as they played the tune on
the iPods over and over again. The braver ones sang out loud. It speaks to
me, said Stephanie Rojas, 13, who moved here last year from Puerto Rico
and now prefers to sing in English. I take a long time in the shower
because Im singing, and my brothers are like, Hurry up! Pedro Noguera, a
sociology professor at New York University who studies urban schools, said
that more districts were using new technologies like iPods to connect with
students. For instance, he said, teachers have designed video games around
history lessons and assigned students to re-enact novels and plays on

You know the No. 1 complaint about school is that its boring because the
traditional way its taught relies on passive learning, Mr. Noguera said.
Its not interactive enough. In many affluent communities, iPods have
evolved into an essential accessory for students. In 2004, Duke University
led the way by outfitting its entire freshman class with iPods that were
preloaded with orientation information and even the Duke fight song. While
Duke no longer gives away iPods, it maintains a pool of them that are lent
to students for classes.  Last spring, 93 of the 2,000 or so courses at
Duke required iPods.

The Brearley School, a private girls school on Manhattans Upper East Side,
has used iPods to supplement foreign-language textbooks and its music,
drama and English classes. Every Brearley student in seventh through ninth
grades is required to buy or rent an iPod. Here in Union City, the iPods
are a splurge for many of the immigrant families who live in this densely
packed urban center, once known for its embroidery factories. About 94
percent of the districts 11,000 students qualify for free or reduced

The Union City district, which has a $197 million annual budget, places a
priority on bilingual classes because more than one-quarter of its
students are learning basic English skills. District officials said the
stakes are high; 4 of the districts 12 schools have been identified as
needing improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law, largely
because not enough bilingual students have passed the state reading and
math tests. Grace Poli, a media specialist at Jos Mart, said that she
approached district officials about buying 23 iPods for an after-school
bilingual program in 2004 after being struck by students passion for them.
Spanish-speaking students seemed bored by their English-language
textbooks, she said, which they found outdated and irrelevant.

The program became so popular that it was added to the regular school
schedule the following year, and in 2006, Ms. Poli received 60 more iPods.
Last May, the district decided to buy 300 iPods to expand the program to
other schools this fall. Ms. Poli scoured the music charts for songs that
appealed to students, compiling an eclectic mix of tunes by Shania Twain,
Barry White, U2 and the Black Eyed Peas. She downloaded their songs to the
iPods and typed out the lyrics. Then she deleted all the nouns and in
turn, the verbs and adjectives forcing the students to fill in the missing
words and learn their meaning. In class, they sing or recite the completed
lyrics back to her.

A lot of our bilingual kids are very shy, and they feel like outsiders,
said Ms. Poli, whose parents immigrated from Ecuador. You have kids who
never said a word in English, and now theyre singing Black Eyed Peas. It
was a lot of work, but it was worth it. Ms. Poli has also downloaded audio
books, including the Harry Potter series, and added recording devices to
the iPods so that students can listen to their pronunciation as they read
poetry or talk with one another. While the iPods have been used mainly in
bilingual classes, the district plans to try them with students who have
learning disabilities and behavioral problems as part of the programs
expansion, which is set to begin next month. Last year, Ms. Poli helped an
alternative education class create podcasts of test-taking tips that were
shared with the entire school.

Ms. Poli said her Spanish-speaking students known around the school as Pod
People have been able to move out of bilingual classes after just a year
of using the digital devices, compared with an average of four to six
years for most bilingual students. Geri Perez, the principal at Jos Mart,
said parents have requested that their children be enrolled in the
iPod-equipped classes. Ms. Perez, who does not speak Spanish, said that
bilingual students who once shied away from talking to her have gained
self-confidence and now come up to her in the hallways. Dianelis Cano, 13,
who moved here from Cuba less than two years ago, said that she had
learned so much English that her mother, a saleswoman in a clothing store,
bought her an iPod over the summer as a reward for good grades. Dianelis
loads her own songs onto the iPod to practice English outside school,
though she also includes Spanish music.

Im going to check your iPod to make sure there is English music there, Ms.
Poli teased her. Im going to make home visits.



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