Background and Challenges

Ashcombe School is a specialist language college with a reputation for its innovative use of ICT in the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning. Ashcombe became a Leadership Partner School in 2009, positioning it as a source of advice and best practice examples to other schools. Helen Myers, assistant head and manager of the Language College, believes this success is down to the school’s innovative approach to teaching and learning languages with ICT to enhance and accelerate the process. Helen comments: “We continue to focus on how we can use ICT to make language learning attractive and efficient for students of all abilities. As a school, we have a high ICT literacy level, so were well placed to explore these options.”

While in other schools across the country, an ICT lesson for languages might be an occasional event, Ashcombe takes pride in the fact that this is a regular, time-tabled occurrence. The school was looking for accessible educational resources that would involve and engage as many learners as possible in conjunction with two specialist language computer rooms.

Solution and Benefits

Ashcombe School became closely involved in the development of online modern foreign language vocabulary learning application, Vocab Express. The application aims to make the foundations of learning another language – the vocabulary – more engaging and easier for students of all abilities. Helen comments: “Something that I would give Vocab Express a lot of credit for is its interest in our experiences. If something was not working or we needed something extra, I knew that the company would listen to what we were saying and respond to it, and this impressed me.”

One result of close work with MFL departments and careful consideration of their requirements is that Vocab Express is not just text based. Helen states: “With Vocab Express, when you see the word, you also hear the word and more often than not youcan see a picture, tapping into all channels of learning - auditory, visual and kinaesthetic. This is absolutely ideal I think for language learning.”

Ashcombe has since established Vocab Express for use with students throughout the school from Year 7 up to Sixth Form studying French, German, Spanish and Italian. Helen adds: “The application really comes into its own for our GCSE students, as the teacher can outline the comprehensive list of the words that will need to be known at the end of your course. As such, students can see the purpose for it, but also easily measure how they are progressing along their learning journey.”

Helen believes that the benefit of Vocab Express is its flexibility for use in class, as both starter and plenary activities. When in the ICT suite, students are often working at different levels, and Vocab Express allows them to work independently and progress at a pace that suits them.

The school has found that Vocab Express has a significant impact on the level of engagement and motivation in the students with the competitive points system. Helen explains: “What is unusual is the children can actually see their results on an ongoing basis. If you ask our students about their progress with languages, one of the first things they will tell you is their score on Vocab Express. The students enjoy using it to such an extent that I often find it difficult to actually get them off it!”

Future Plans

Since the successful introduction of Vocab Express throughout the school, Ashcombe and its staff plan to continue to develop and expand its use of the application with students of all abilities. The school is eager to begin using the latest additions to Vocab Express, Latin and Mandarin, anticipating them with great enthusiasm.

Case Study

Ashcombe School

Dorking, Surrey
May 2011