Bilingual class speaks high-tech

A Rialto teacher's pupils who are trying to learn English help other students and themselves by creating computer and multimedia projects.

RIALTO—Only a year ago, recent Filipino immigrant Joseph Manalang struggled to master English.

So some were surprised when the Rialto fifth-grader created an interactive mathematics computer program in English, Spanish and Tagalog. The program is so advanced it will be used by his entire school.

But his teacher Alex Swayne said that is the norm in his J. P. Kelley School bilingual classroom, where students still trying to learn English create computer programs to help their peers. Swayne said in today’s information age it is not enough to dabble in word processing and maybe surf the Internet.

His fourth- and fifth-graders, who do not always feel as smart as native English speakers, can be the school’s leaders as they work with multimedia technology.

“Movies, newsletters, graphics, animation, voice recording, computer-generated speech,” Swayne said. “You name it. Their imagination is their only limit. “

Manalang, who was considered a good student in
the Philippines, said it was a blow to his ego entering a California classroom where he often misunderstood basic instructions his teachers gave.

“The teacher would say ‘write on the blackboard’ and I would get out a piece of paper,” he said. “It was kind of embarrassing.

It makes you feel not as smart. “

So Manalang was excited to use his computer and math skills to create a program that teaches the multiples of nine. With both hand-drawn and computer graphics it provides immediate feedback to students’ answers and gives instructions through computer-generated speech.

Mexican immigrant Leticia Perez, 9, who struggles with her grammar, recently produced a program that teaches pronouns.

“Helping other students helped me learn,” she said.

Some students created a 3-D cartoon. And most of Swayne’s class contributed stories, essays and games to a schoolwide newsletter they produced on the computer.

Swayne said through these multimedia writing projects, their attitude toward English is changing.

Many of the students agree. Fourth-grader Karina Miranda said writing used to be a chore.

“Sometimes I would turn things in with lots of mistakes,” she said.

But Miranda is motivated to proofread computer-animated stories she knows other children will see.

“I used to think I wasn’t very good at writing,” Miranda said “Some words I didn’t understand. But I guess it’s just that you have to spend a lot of time on it. “

Swayne said these projects, which he started last year, bring out his students’ strengths. Whatever they are good at – math, science, art – they can incorporate into the activity. And they are required to work on their writing the entire time.

Manalang said he stayed after school most days for two months to complete his project, which he has entered in an electronic magazine contest.

“If I can create programs to teach people multiples of nine, I can do 10, 11, 12 . . . and maybe in other languages,” he said.

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