Just a few months ago, non-English speaking students at Oxnard's Charles Blackstock School learned English the usual way--from flash cards and pictures their teachers cut from magazines.
Now they put on earphones and learn the language on computers that flash vivid color pictures, say the English word, use it in conversation and record the students' voices.
The middle school is the first in Ventura County to use the software program for students enrolled in English as a second language classes. Although the computers have been in use since December, the school held an open house Tuesday to give educators and others, including a representative from the Mexican Consulate, a glimpse of the program.
"I have over 70 kids enjoying ESL a lot more than they did three months ago with flash cards," said Patrick Newton, ESL teacher at Blackstock school.
The ESL students make up 10% of the school's population of about 800 students. Spanish is the primary language for most of the school's ESL students, but some speak Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino and Arabic. Overall, the school is 86% minorities.
Computers are hardly new to Blackstock. Nearly all the classrooms use them as an integral part of teaching, no matter what the subject. The school is part of a model program called Technology in Education that builds computer technology into the curriculum.
Newton said the ESL students had little difficulty learning how to use the computers. Students more proficient in English are paired with those who speak no English.
The program was developed by Davidson & Associates in Torrance and it is also used in Oxnard's adult education program, as well as in several other Southern California schools.
The program connects the students with pictures and words associated with about 70 different subject areas. This list includes money, the supermarket, the doctor's office, school, the playground, the car, sports and even zoo animals. The students can write sentences that appear on the screen, and they can replay pronunciations as often as they like.
Each day the students spend two periods, about 45 minutes each, in the ESL classroom. Newton said there is no data yet to determine whether students learn English faster on computers.
They like it better, though, he said, and it holds their interest.
"Kids get in here and they come alive," he said.