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Schools embrace iPods in ESOL lessons

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

At most Beaufort County public schools, iPods and other portable music players are banned from classrooms and hallways.
But at Hilton Head Island Middle School and others with high numbers of students with limited English skills, teachers use the devices to help students learn to read.
Five county schools will use iPods in their English for Speakers of Other Languages classes this year to tailor instruction to students with different levels of English proficiency.
In case you don't know, the iPod Touch sells for $229, so it's a significant offer. And the Touch is basically an iPhone without the phone.
But the Touch is not just about fun. With the latest iPod version, you can e-mail classmates and professors, download hundreds of educational apps and thousands of podcasts, lectures and videos from iTunes U. And in between classes, you can use it to play games, watch videos and surf the Web.
Millions of stimulus dollars are flowing into area school districts, and students who are returning to school this month will see some of those dollars at work.
Reduced state allocations forced districts to trim budgets and cut jobs as budgets were crafted in the spring. Horry County cut about 169 positions and sliced about $12 million from its budget. Georgetown County trimmed more than $6.5 million from its budget and laid off about five workers.
But officials in Horry and Georgetown county districts said the federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is freeing up formerly restricted pots of money to fund student programs.
Hilton Head Island Middle School bought a set of 30 iPods last year, and Bluffton High, H.E. McCracken Middle in Bluffton, Red Cedar Elementary in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts elementary school will receive sets this year.
The school district paid about $200 for each iPod Touch using federal money earmarked for ESOL students, said Sarah Owen, the districts ESOL coordinator. The district's contract with Apple Computer Inc., iPod manufacturer, includes training for teachers and a device that can charge and sync about 20 iPods to one computer at the same time.
Retail prices for iPod Touches are $200 to $400, depending on the model.
"It's a popular form of technology, so students are excited about them," said Nancy Davis, an ESOL teacher at Hilton Head Middle. "The kids are really into them, even though they know they're for educational purposes, and they're not going to be listening to their favorite songs."
Davis said her students use the iPods about twice a week. About one-fourth of the students at the school have been identified as limited-English proficient, she said.
Students listen to stories as part of a fluency program designed to develop vocabulary, improve pronunciation and emphasize important words and concepts taught in core subjects. Students also use the iPods' video playback for grammar and reading exercises.
Later this year, Davis plans to help her students record themselves with the iPods' cameras so they can analyze their own speech and the speech of their peers.
Students at Hilton Head Middle said they typically read a story before using the iPod and mark words they don't recognize. They then re-read the story while listening to an audio version.
"If you don't understand the story, you can listen to it," seventh-grader Alex Sanchez said. "When I read, if I then hear the story, it sometimes makes more sense.
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