Field trip introduces lawmakers to refugees learning English

 

Members of the House Education Committee spent Friday morning with a group of refugee students who are learning to speak English.

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Members of the House Education Committee tour a Garfield Elementary School classroom Friday in Boise. All photos by Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.

For their field trip, lawmakers visited Roberta Pfluger’s English As A New Language classroom at Boise’s Garfield Elementary School.

Inside, more than 20 students from around the world were using Imagine Learning software to improve their English and reading skills.

Working on HP Chromebook devices and wearing headphones, the students completed electronic lessons that incorporated games to help develop their vocabulary and reading skills.

Many lawmakers visit schools within their own legislative districts throughout the year, but Friday’s field trip was the first time in recent memory that a group of lawmakers took time during the session to visit a classroom.

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Rep. Julie VanOrden watched students demonstrate software that helps develop their vocabulary and reading skills.

Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, invited members of his committee.

“Obviously at the Legislature it’s all theoretical – we get great testimony and we get great feedback,” DeMordaunt said. “But it’s always good to take the opportunity to get in the classroom and find out what’s really going on.”

Pfluger and other Boise teachers told them Imagine Learning works well. During a year when Pfluger’s students didn’t have access to Imagine Learning, they advanced one level on their English Language Assessment tests. But when students used the software, English scores jumped by two levels in one year.

“I’ve seen students make an enormous amount of progress,” she said.

The students also seem to enjoy the program.

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Mohamed, a fifth-grader, says he enjoys learning new words with Imagine Learning.

Ali, a fifth-grader who speaks Arabic and Turkish and is learning English, said the games and tests are a fun way to learn.

Mohamed, another fifth-grader, liked the video-game style rewards he earned for successfully completing lessons.

And Salina, a fourth-grader whose native language is Nepali, said the software makes it fun to learn new words.

Lawmakers were also impressed.

“You didn’t see one student here that was daydreaming,” DeMordaunt said. “They were all focused on their little Chromebooks and there wasn’t a teacher standing over them saying, ‘You need to do this and you need to do that.’ This was all self-directed learning.”

Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, had heard of Imagine Learning before and visited company headquarters to learn more. But his prior experience didn’t keep him away from Friday’s field trip.

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Students use computing devices and headphones to work on their reading language lessons.

“I can see where this is so effective with regards to teaching these children how to speak English, how to speak well and enunciate,” McDonald said. “They are engaged and I think it’s probably because of the way they put this program together that it generates interest in these children.”

Rep. Hy Kloc, a Boise Democrat, was glad lawmakers visited the classroom.

“What’s really important is that too often we don’t actually experience something, we have to interpret what the other person is talking about (during hearings),” he said.

Imagine Learning is a Utah-based company founded in 2004 that sells software worldwide. In Idaho, the company is represented by the lobbying firm Kestrel West.

The software starts students with a pre-test to determine learning levels. Then the software tailors a learning program, translates lessons and offers support in 15 languages, including Spanish, Arabic, French and Somali.

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Students in Roberta Pfluger’s Garfield Elementary classroom.

“It provides me with a report telling me what the students are weak in and recommends lesson to meet those needs,” Pfluger said. Imagine Learning creates the lesson plans she uses, so she doesn’t have to devote extra time to creating her own.

While Pfluger is a fan, she doesn’t have the resources to buy software licenses for all her students.

“When I look outside and it’s cold, I know all my students need a warm coat,” she said. “It’s the same with Imagine Learning software licenses. All my students need a license, so it’s like trying to decide equitably who gets a warm coat and who doesn’t.”