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avoiding the binder graveyard

As a teacher, I sat through a LOT of professional learning – some of it fantastic, and some of it not so much. Professional learning that gave me new tools renewed my enthusiasm for teaching, or directly challenged my thinking, and often left me with high hopes of transforming my teaching to impact student learning.

Then, I got back to my classroom.

Quickly, I found myself consumed with the current state of affairs…students, planning, team meetings…only to hastily place all of my newfound learning and renewed passion on the shelf in my closet with vows to return to it soon.

Hence, the binder graveyard was born.

Along with it laid the best intentions, plenty of passion, thousands of brilliant ideas and never enough time to bring them to life in my own classroom. It felt defeating.

Years later as a school principal, I vowed to keep that binder graveyard in mind. I selected professional learning opportunities for my team that would actually impact teaching and learning in simple, applicable, results-oriented and engaging ways.

This knowledge of how professional learning ties (or doesn’t) into instructional practice informs the way we develop, facilitate and refine professional learning at add.a.lingua.

So, as you begin planning for your team’s professional learning trajectory, here are some things to consider:

  1. backward design – What are your goals as a school or district? Not pie in the sky, pretty words-on-a-poster goals…but what are your student learning goals? Where do you need to enhance instructional practice to meet them? Initiative fatigue is real, so setting focused goals with direct ties to student learning should be the very first filter through which professional learning topics and trajectories are selected.
  2. long game – Exciting, new, fun, and trendy professional learning topics can quickly fill our calendars. But the questions to ask yourself are, “What will be the lasting impact? Will we be closer to meeting our goals (from point one above) as a result of this particular professional learning?” Meaningful change takes time. Consider an extended and strategic look at your overall goals and reflect on the realistic time it will take to see the fruits of your labor.
  3. data, data, data – What will you measure to understand the efficacy of the professional learning experience? To understand the impact, you must put into place a plan for AFTER the experience. Every minute of professional learning should directly impact and enhance our instructional practice to continue to develop our professional skills. This should have a measurable correlation to student learning. Whether it is measured formally or informally, there has to be a plan to assess the impact on who matters most: students.  
  4. applicable deliverables – What will your team walk away with at the end of this training? The WORST type of professional learning is when the participants leave without a shred of new information or strategies. All professional learning opportunities should be able to clearly explain the participant deliverables and what will be immediately applicable THE NEXT DAY. If no new learning can be put into practice immediately, its likelihood of working its way into lesson plans is low. This is not to say that teachers should walk back to their classrooms and change everything! This is to say those golden nuggets (strategies, lessons or tools) will help teachers internalize and understand their new knowledge, and set the stage for the long-term plan of professional learning.
  5. revisit and reflect – As a part of our professional learning series at add.a.lingua, we have designed intentional times for teachers to revisit the new information they’ve learned and reflect on its implementation within their classrooms. Consider how and when your teachers will continue to discuss and reflect on their professional learning. Can the dialogue be woven into your staff meetings? Or weekly grade level meetings? With your team, decide the best way to reflect upon the impact of the learning throughout the school year and then FOLLOW-UP! Don’t let it fizzle out to be replaced by the latest-and-greatest, or the next fire that has to be put out. This professional learning is your strategy for impacting long-term student achievement, so give it the time, space, attention and focus that it deserves!

No educators should be asked to sit through professional learning simply to comply. It’s our role as instructional leaders to keep the big picture in mind, to wrestle with the goals for our students, and make the decisions about how we support our teachers in order to help our students reach and exceed those goals. Doing so shifts the team from compliance to commitment…and keeps EVERYONE out of the binder graveyard.  

Want to learn about add.a.lingua’s engaging professional learning for immersion educators? Reach out using the form below.

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What is the add.a.lingua difference? A veteran immersion teacher shares her perspective

As director of instruction at add.a.lingua, I’ve always said that our resources, professional learning and on-the-spot care were just what I needed as a dual language immersion classroom teacher and instructional coach. It’s the absolute reason I decided to join the team.

If you were talk with any of our add.a.lingua partner program administrators or point people, they’d surely be able to share in detail how we work to support our partner programs for the long haul.

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Heather Grisales, coordinator of our partner program in Grand Haven, Michigan. Heather’s story resonates loudly for a variety of reasons, perhaps most notably because she has extensive time invested in immersion education long before meeting team add.a.lingua.

We believe you’ll find Heather’s story and perspective inspiring. Given her range of experiences in dual language immersion programs, she has great insights into the value of partnership with add.a.lingua.

What’s your background? What did your professional experience entail before arriving at Grand Haven Christian to serve as their point person in the immersion program?

Born and raised in Muskegon, Michigan, I began taking Spanish classes in middle and high school and this continued into college, where I planned to study elementary education.  My true passion and love for the language and culture took flight during a 6 month study abroad experience in Querétaro, México while in college. In 2002 I graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Elementary Education and Spanish.  In 2008, I earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership. Over the past 16 years through my profession, I was blessed to be able to travel, live, and study language and culture even further in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Colombia.


Syllabic instruction is where it’s at in Maestra Grisales’ K-1 Spanish immersion class.

Prior to working at Grand Haven Christian School as a K/1 early total one-way program teacher, I spent 15 years as a public school educator in an urban district in Michigan.  9 of those years I taught Kindergarten, 2nd and 4th grades in a 50/50 dual language immersion program. 6 of those years, I spent as an elementary school principal, 4 of which were in a 50/50 dual language program.  I am married to a native-born Colombian man, Carlos, and we have two daughters together. We are raising them in a Spanish language environment at home, while learning English on the side with family and friends.

In your previous immersion program, what were some things that you were looking for that seemed to be a struggle to find? Was there anything missing?

In my previous experience both in the role as a teacher and principal of an immersion program some of the greatest resources and supports that were missing were the lack of specific and quality professional development designed for immersion teachers, quality and relevant resources for teaching students in the program, a fully and purposefully aligned scope and sequence by grade for all aspects of literacy including grammar, word study, culture, vocabulary, writing, and reading materials.    

What first struck you as an experienced teacher/leader about the way add.a.lingua partnership and resources come together to support high quality immersion programming?


Maestra Grisales works with her Spanish immersion students on a high frequency word noticing activity.

As a seasoned teacher, I quickly realized that add.a.lingua has all of the resources I need to do my job well.  All of the bases are covered, so to speak. The add.a.lingua team thought about every single aspect of literacy and what immersion students need to succeed.  The plethora of resources are endless and I didn’t even have the time in the week to fully use all of them as I desired. I also loved that at any point in time if I needed someone to talk to and get wisdom and ideas, I could set up an office hour and actually speak with someone who knows exactly or can relate to what I am experiencing.  

What student results stood out to you as a result of add.a.lingua supports?

The most significant student results I saw was the students’ willingness to speak in Spanish so quickly within the first 6 weeks of school at the Kindergarten level.  This is thanks to the intentional LIOPT (Language of Instruction Only Policy and Timeline) and the amazing activities such as circumlocution and training videos to help you along the way.  Students were also successfully reading with high levels of comprehension and accuracy by mid to end of the first year in the program thanks to the guided reading supports and resources add.a.lingua provides.  

Anything else you wish to share?


Circumlocution is an EARLY skill our partner programs develop.

I have been in immersion education my entire career and have never felt the support that I am given through add.a.lingua.  add.a.lingua is EXACTLY what all immersion programs need! The careful thought and planning that go into the add.a.lingua Spanish frameworks by grade level is priceless as it lays everything out for you. The hefty work in the pre-planning is all done for you!

Equally important to know, it is not scripted curriculum, but rather a smorgasbord of wonderful tools that gives teachers the freedom to use their own experiences and creativity as they plan their week of teaching.  add.a.lingua provides teachers with the tools they need so that they can focus on the true goal: to create bilingual, multicultural, high-achieving, creative thinkers for our world!

Heather pretty much summed it up for us, folks.

We join programs on the journey.

And we stick together through resources, professional learning and ongoing, on-call, human-to-human support.

Every. Step. Of the way.

THAT’S the add.a.lingua difference!

If you’d like to learn more about how add.a.lingua works with new and existing immersion programs, just fill out the form below.


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stay in the target language with circumlocution: mindset, method & awesome madness

“My immersion students don’t have the vocabulary yet to be able to stay in the target language.”

“When I’m in guided reading, my immersion students come to ask me how to say words.”

“My kids stay in Spanish when I’m around them, but sneak back into English when I’m away.”

As a dual language immersion classroom teacher, have you ever thought or said any of these things? And, when you DO think these things…do you ever find yourself wondering (or even doubting) what students are able to do in the immersion language?

If you have, it’s important that you know you’re not alone. At add.a.lingua, we work day-in and day-out with teachers and leaders to build and maintain a relentless commitment to boosting immersion language skills, but setbacks happen.


There’s no silver bullet for these challenges. There’s no resource to buy as a “quick fix”. But there are mindsets, methods and awesome madness that help inch us closer to the desired effects for student learning and the language acquisition process. Why? BECAUSE. WE. KNOW. THEY. CAN. DO. IT.

Mindset: It all starts with your beliefs.

Before setting forth with anything new when trying to help students stay in the target language, it’s always critical to ask questions like these:

  • Do I truly believe that staying in the immersion language is important? Or, do I just consider it a nice bonus if they do?
  • How effective am I with creating an age-appropriate sense of urgency to learn and use the language?
  • Does my program at large support me in this work?

When we teach students how to circumlocute, we teach them to artfully talk around words they don’t know by using descriptions and words that they do know.

Whatever your program model type or immersion language, it’s IMPERATIVE that your team is on the same page with expectations
surrounding language output and the timeline for it. Consistency in beliefs about student language production and adherence to the language of instruction are critical for setting students expectations.

add.a.lingua partner programs utilize our very specific timeline for language output for even the earliest grades, and we regularly see the positive impact that the separation of languages is having on the quality of the language output in both English and Spanish in both one-way AND two-way programs. It works because…what you focus on grows. And, with that mindset, there’s no limit to what kids and teachers can do!

Method: It’s followed up with strategy.

High standards and expectations without support always seem cruel. But, if you’ve got a mindset that is bent on helping kids produce the immersion language, you’re ready to explore strategies to make it happen. Enter: circumlocution.

When we teach students how to circumlocute, we teach them to artfully talk around words they don’t know by using descriptions and words that they do know. That seemingly simple practice ultimately leads them to the unknown word’s name and…yup…a boost in vocabulary!

add.a.lingua partner teachers have access to our circumlocution lessons each year, and they reiterate them at critical junctures (like returns from holiday breaks). But, even if you’re not an add.a.lingua partner, consider the following circumlocution strategies to ensure that your students are developing their linguistic chops:

Getting started

  • known items — Take 10 random items that students know the names of in the immersion language and put them in a box. Tell the class you’re about to take one item from the box, but that they’re not allowed to shout out its name. Instead, the students must describe it based on its attributes, what it does/doesn’t do, etc. Chart the description. Ask a student volunteer to grab something from the box and keep it hidden! Tell her to describe it out loud to the class with extensive detail. Have the class guess the item! After each round, reiterate that the strategy they’re using is called circumlocution, and that it helps them discover ways of describing stuff they don’t yet know how to name.

Continuing the learning

  • unknown words — Before placing new academic vocabulary up on your word wall, build a “web of support around it”. Cover up the new word in the center of a word web. As you talk about the word, describe it in detail while writing the descriptions along the web. Once you’ve circumlocuted, name the new academic word.

Expecting it all the time

  • Students who develop great circumlocution skills don’t “sneak” in and out of their languages. Now…do NOT mistake me…it’s well known that students can pull from knowledge and understandings across their languages in order to make meaning. I’m simply reiterating that, when students are empowered to circumlocute, they are FAR LESS LIKELY to revert to the non-immersion language for support…because they have an accessible strategy in the immersion language!
  • Ensure that students are circumlocuting on a regular basis. This means that during the writers’ workshop, students aren’t standing up and asking, “¿Cómo se dice skateboard?” They’re not coming up to you to interrupt your guided reading groups either. Instead, when writing, they circumlocute on paper and circle it so that, when their conferring opportunity comes, they describe the word in the immersion language and you can share it with them in the immersion language without it becoming a translation exercise. Students can also circumlocute for one another to negotiate meaning. It’s a WIN, WIN for all!

Awesome madness: It’s celebrated to the max.

Having the skills to navigate language in the language of instruction is EMPOWERING for students. We emphatically support it because we see the results: in student efficacy and capacity, in student proficiency and performance, and in program quality overall.

From the kindergartner who forgets the name for rana who is suddenly able to say, ¿Cómo se llama el animal chiquito verde que brinca?, to the middle school student attempting to discuss world immigration patterns and uses circumlocution to do it in order to keep the flow of her argument going, it deserves to be celebrated!

Consider the following ways you might celebrate circumlocution in your classroom:

  • Rack up the points: Each time you hear a student use circumlocution, add a tally mark to the board. Once your class reaches its goal — what special language-based activity will they get to do? Just like we always use reading-based incentives with reading, it’s important to encourage some language-based incentives for language!
  • Circumlocution stickers: Encourage the usage of circumlocution by placing a sticker or sign (of course…a non-wall-harming one!) on the doorway of your classroom. Passers by will know it’s a strategy that you’re working on, and can stop in to celebrate it in the immersion language with you!

Boost the buddy time: Explain to your students that, once they reach the goal for quantity and quality of circumlocution, or for how many new words they’ve discovered through the art of circumlocution, they’ll have more time with their buddies from the upper grades or lower grades of the immersion program! They’ll see that their efforts to stay in the immersion language are paying off, and that visiting with the the big kids (or the little kids) is such a gift for everyone involved!

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dual language immersion professional learning: finding a recipe that delivers

Each school has its own special recipe that makes it unique. The recipe includes ingredients like school cultural practices, beliefs about student capacity, curricular choices, the home context of the students, geographic location, etc.

When dual language immersion education is added to a school’s recipe, the ingredients and steps involved simply multiply.

And just like that recipe that looks so good on Pinterest but requires careful attention to quality of ingredients and ordering of steps–you have to pay attention to your immersion recipe if you want the results to be as good as promised.

dual language immersion professional learning: finding a recipe that delivers

One of the “must haves” in your immersion recipe is dual language immersion-specific professional learning.

If you were to survey all of the language immersion leaders across the nation, they would tell you that they wish they had more opportunities to experience immersion-focused learning. Too often, immersion teachers participate in English-geared professional learning and are expected to immersionize it on their own. While it’s sustainable for some things, knowledgeable immersion teachers emphatically report that it’s HARD to do.

Just like a recipe, immersion-specific pd done right has the capacity to make the end result oh-so-sweet when attention is paid to:

  1. how it’s planned
  2. the way it’s purposefully mixed
  3. who’s in the kitchen

Let’s explore the nitty gritty of these three concepts that will help you take your dual language immersion professional learning to the next level.


What are you planning on serving up for families at the end of the program once all is said and done? What outcomes should they expect for their children? What will the students know and be able to do as a result of their learning language and content through immersion? Any and all professional learning (immersion or not!) better start with the end in mind, just like your recipe.

Teaching in an immersion program is just as much science as it is art. When you’re baking, you don’t grab random spices and throw in inexact quantities. Similarly, high quality immersion programs avoid the “grab and sprinkle” approach to pd. They avoid fads in the field of immersion education. They stick to what’s research-based and grounded in results for kids.

While each school is working on its own unique recipe: It’s still. A. Recipe. Pick a plan aligned to desired outcomes. Map it out as part of a process and seek an organization that’s eager to meet your program goals without wavering on standards and immersion research.


If we were to look at different school districts’ plans for professional learning, we’d quickly notice that they’re varied, because the schools themselves are different! It’s of paramount importance to schools that, no matter what, they’re offering an equitable educational experience across their programs — regardless of whether they’re traditional English, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese immersion, or otherwise. That’s a GOOD thing.

What’s challenging, though, is that immersion teachers are most often expected to participate in district-level professional learning that may or may not blend well with the way things operate in the immersion language. While that part is often unavoidable, it is most certainly manageable when district initiatives are mixed well with immersion program characteristics and needs.

The best way to ensure that there’s a solid blend of professional learning is to collaborate across program strands. Identify which elements of the district’s initiative works well in immersion, and which elements might need to be adapted or modified because of the nuances associated with the target language or the program.

We had the privilege of linking arms with a school district this summer that was making a big push for further developed foundational skills in English. Their immersion teachers knew that Spanish foundational skills in some cases are taught differently, creating a  mismatch in the professional learning.

In fact, the district pd was actually prompting Spanish immersion teachers to teach Spanish literacy skills…the English way. (Think phonemic awareness for English versus syllabic awareness for Spanish.) Any immersion teacher will tell you that’s not a good mix and leads to unpredictable outcomes for kids!

It was a treat for our team to connect with the school’s leadership, learn about their district initiative, and pinpoint essential understandings and practices that would honor their district’s plan, while building understanding and instructional skills specific to the immersion language. Simply put, an investment in the how is just as important as the what when it comes to mixing initiatives together.


When planning professional learning with dual language immersion programs, our team recommends that schools get the right people into the room. It’s important that district leadership is present along with dual language immersion principals, lead teachers, and in some cases, curriculum directors. Doing so encourages everyone to come into alignment regarding the goals of the immersion program, and how pd will move everyone toward them. With the right people present, there are never too many cooks in the kitchen!

By involving the right people in the planning process, you can:

  • enhance district-level understanding of dual language immersion education
  • help district leaders see the importance of maintaining the linguistic integrity of the immersion language and English
  • increase immersion teachers’ investment in the process and implementation of the learning

How add.a.lingua adds to your dual language immersion recipe

When our team facilitates professional learning experiences, each workshop is crafted to address your program’s specific needs and is grounded in the add.a.lingua quality quadrants and success indicators for dual language immersion programs. The process begins with planning conversations, and following the workshop we host reflection conversations so that teams can feel confident moving forward toward their goals.

What veteran immersion teachers are saying about add.a.lingua professional learning

From Michigan to Minnesota and Illinois to Idaho, the feedback that we received all summer long continues to tell us that immersion teachers are hungry and ready for out-of-the box, hands-on, dynamic professional learning catered to their contexts:

“You ladies brought a breath of fresh air to our school. I believe you were able to open the eyes of some of our staff members who have been resistant in the past, and I hope we will all be starting out on a positive footing for this year! I hope we will be able to do some follow up with you all throughout the school year.”

“I have attended many years of professional development opportunities. My favorites so far, and by favorites, I mean the ones that have meant the most to my practice have been: Learning and the Brain (awesome) and now add.a.lingua!! Thank you for making it meaningful and personal to our school at this time with this staff. We look forward to working with you in the future!”

“Most useful, interactive and engaging PD I’ve had in my time teaching. Thank you for not talking to us and making us walk through activities as if we were children.”

If you’d like to learn more about add.a.lingua’s professional learning experiences or schedule a time to talk with our instructional specialists about the challenges you’re facing, reach out using the form below and we’ll b in touch.

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Boost student language output: implement and maximize the turn-and-talk strategy

Immersion educators who are committed to dual language development are constantly thinking about ways to boost student language output. One of the foundational strategies we teach our add.a.lingua partner teachers is “turn-and-talk.” It’s a simple strategy to help get students producing more in the immersion language, and it can be used in any immersion classroom.

how to implement and maximize the turn-and-talk strategy

Imagine it’s math class, and the teacher shows a bar graph titled “Nuestras Actividades Preferidas.” She directs students to look at the table quietly, asking them, “¿Qué observas y qué te preguntas?” After a few moments, she invites them to share with a partner, saying, “Ahora, dobla y habla con tu compañero acerca de qué observas y qué te preguntas de la gráfica de barras.”

Students turn to face their partners, and they begin to share their noticings and wonderings about the table. One partnership references an anchor chart that shows the components of graphs. “Observo que hay un título y dos ejes.” “Sí, estoy de acuerdo. También observo que cada eje tiene un rótulo.”

Another partnership is asking questions: “¿Cuántas personas contestaron la pregunta?” “Yo me pregunto, ¿por qué tantas personas prefieren los deportes y no el arte?

As the conversation lulls, the teacher calls for attention:

Excelente, chicos. Escuché a Madison y Desiree usar solamente el español durante su conversación. ¡Muy bien, chicas! Así aumentan sus habilidades lingüísticas. También vi a Damien y Connor usar la pared de matemáticas para ayudarles usar el vocabulario que aprendimos ayer. ¡Fantástico!”

After praising their use of Spanish and classroom resources, she asks students to share what their partner said. Questions and observations are shared, all of which the teacher responds to by asking for linguistic clarification and then paraphrasing. After a few minutes of class discussion, she transitions into her teaching point about making comparisons using a graph.

This teacher is demonstrating her commitment to dual language development by intentionally planning for student talk. Research suggests that it is foundational to language learning that students are producing language verbally and in writing. This is referred to as the “language output hypothesis.” Even at the earliest grades of immersion education, it is critical that students are pushed and supported to speak and write in the immersion language.

“Even at the earliest grades of immersion education, it is critical that students are pushed and supported to speak and write in the immersion language.”

You may be quite familiar with the strategy this teacher is using, called the “turn-and-talk” strategy. When we talk about high-impact, easy-to-implement strategies that promote dual language development, this one tops the list.

Turn-and-talk can be used across contexts, grade levels, and program models. It’s a strategy that the most effective immersion teachers use constantly as they are teaching. Why? Turn-and-talk keeps students engaged in the lesson, provides time for students to process what they are learning, and boosts their language output, which is important for language development.

The turn-and-talk strategy is extremely easy to implement. To use this strategy to its maximum potential, keep the following six considerations in mind.

1. Teach students the behaviors you’re looking for during turn-and-talk.

This is true for any grade level, from preschool to twelfth grade. Students need to be explicitly taught the turn-and-talk routine. They need the opportunity to practice it and get feedback. They’ll likely need reminders throughout the year of what the best turn-and-talkers do. Some behaviors you might consider teaching are:

  • establish eye contact
  • take turns sharing ideas
  • listen thoughtfully
  • use a quiet partner voice

It’s also helpful to include visual cues. Many teachers make an anchor chart with the behaviors listed. Some also take pictures of their own students exhibiting the desired behaviors during turn-and-talk, and they add those pictures to the chart.

2. Make your Spanish-Only (or Mandarin-Only) language expectations clear.

Be sure to also talk about why it’s important to only use the immersion language during turn-and-talk. If you teach in an add.a.lingua partner program, remind students of the immersion language-only timeline lesson. During this lesson, the class generated reasons why staying in the immersion language is so important to them.

As you start to use the turn-and-talk strategy, keep in mind the saying, “You get what you focus on.” If there are a few students speaking in English, consider how you might praise the efforts of students who spoke only in the immersion language: “¡Me encanta como __ y __ están conversando en español!” You might also consider teaching students ways to respond when a peer starts talking in English. For instance, “¿Lo puedes decir en español, por favor?” or “¿Puedes intentar la estrategia de circunloquio para describirlo?”

3. Ask an interesting question that requires students to think and reason.

Students will be most actively engaged in dialoguing about questions that are thought-provoking and elicit higher order thinking. Open-ended prompts such as “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” invite all students to contribute to the conversation. Other questions that promote extended responses include:

  • How are __ and __ similar? How are they different?
  • What if…?
  • What caused…?
  • What might the effects be of…?
  • What do you predict might happen next?
  • Which one is more efficient? Why?
  • What evidence supports…?
  • How would you do ___ differently?

4. Provide appropriate language scaffolds.

When students are producing language by speaking or writing, they often notice what researchers refer to as linguistic “holes.” These “holes” are words, phrases, or structures that students realize they are lacking because they are not able to express themselves precisely. It’s important to anticipate this and provide supports in the classroom to help students fill their own “holes.”

One way to do this is to post vocabulary on the walls of the classroom. Students should have access to add.a.lingua mentor text vocabulary cards, content area word walls, and language-rich anchor charts. You might also consider providing students with language stems and frames to model the types of responses you’d like students to use. If you teach in an add.a.lingua partner program, language stems and frames are particularly effective for setting students up to accurately apply the week’s enfoque lingüístico.

5. Vary how students share their thinking with the whole group.

Everyone appreciates spicing up a routine every now and then! Consider having students share what their partner said, rather than their own ideas. This elevates the importance of listening for understanding. You might also consider inviting students to share a lingering question, a realization, or a very impactful point. Keep in mind that when it comes to sharing with the whole group, it’s important to make sure that students are called on in an equitable manner. Some teachers do this by using strategies like name sticks and participation chips.

6. Make it a rule for yourself to only call on a student after all students have had the opportunity to discuss.

This is where the rubber hits the road, as they say. When teachers who are committed to language output ask a question, they consistently use a strategy like turn-and-talk. They value the time that every student has to process their thinking and produce the immersion language. Only after everyone has had the opportunity to talk do these teachers call on individual students.

As you look to increase students’ language output in the immersion language, consider ways you might incorporate more opportunities for turn-and-talk in your classroom. Remember, when students are speaking and writing in the immersion language, they are more deeply learning the language and the content!

What other strategies have you found effective in encouraging student language output? Leave us a comment below and let us know.


The concepts that I reference in the post about “research says” come from these articles/chapters:

Swain, M. (2000). The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue. Sociocultural theory and second language learning, 97, 114. Retrieved here.

Swain, M. (2008). The output hypothesis: Its history and its future. Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 40(1), 45-50.

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4 ways to address parental concerns about English language skills for immersion students

“But when will my child learn English? How will she learn English if she spends all day in Spanish? Should I be teaching my son to read in English at home?”

These questions come up all the time as we work alongside our partner schools to explain the ins and outs of add.a.lingua immersion education. To address these questions, we’re thrilled to be able to share with you a guest post from Rebecca Gomez, Spanish immersion point person at Pella Christian Grade School.

Rebecca offers 4 great ideas for helping ease parental concerns about their child’s English literacy development–even as they are acquiring literacy in Spanish. Plus, you’ll love Rebecca’s personal story about what her immersion student was able to accomplish (in English!) even before formal English instruction began. Read on, and let us know what questions you have and what suggestions you have for addressing these types of questions in the comments.

(And don’t miss Rebecca’s post about what it’s really like to launch and grow an add.a.lingua immersion program.) Enjoy!

One of the most common questions that I as point person hear from prospective immersion parents is, “How will my child learn the English skills (s)he needs if they spend all day learning in Spanish?”

I usually have four main points that I touch on as I reassure parents the English skills of students in Pella Christian’s early, total one-way Spanish Immersion program are, in fact, excellent.

1. First, I explain to them the transfer of knowledge theory.

Simply put, this is the idea that if a person learns a concept in one language, it will transfer to another language.  For example, if a child learns what the idea of gravity is in Spanish, that child doesn’t have to relearn the concept of gravity in English…that knowledge transfers between languages. (For more information: check out Jim Cummins’ linguistic interdependence theory 1978.

2. Second, I mention that research shows that studying in an immersion setting is not detrimental to a students’ first language abilities.

“…research is consistent in showing that [immersion] students generally achieve as well as, or better than, their peers in mainstream programs;…demonstrating levels of L1 [first language] proficiency and academic achievement that are at least as high as their peers in mainstream programs,” Lindholm-Leary & Genesee, 2014, p. 175).  I back up this research by pointing out that we have done a comparison between standardized test score of Pella Christian’s Spanish and English track students and there are no significant differences between the standardized test scores of either track.

3. Third, I discuss with parents that English is introduced to our students starting in third grade.

All of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students receive one content area of instruction in English and this subject taught in English not only includes the content of that subject but also includes differentiated English Spelling instruction, as well as, instruction in English grammar and mechanics embedded into the content area instruction so that it is more meaningful to students.

4. Finally, I mention the fact that because immersion students must become experts at discovering and describing their second language, their first language skills actually often become stronger.

They are used to noticing grammar and word patterns within Spanish and this practice often transfers to their first language once instruction in that language is introduced. Knowing how languages work (because of how they are taught in Spanish) makes their English language skills stronger!

I’m now excited to be able to add a personal anecdote to my talking points: this past school year one of Pella Christian’s 2nd grade immersion students won Iowa’s statewide writing contest in 2nd grade for writing a short story in English!


Kyara reading her winning short story.

Kyara has been in our immersion program since preschool and since she had just finished second grade, she had never received content instruction in English.  Kyara is also a student who speaks mostly Spanish at home because her parents, one of whom is a native-Spanish speaker, have made a conscience decision to speak Spanish at home as a family.

So how does a child like Kyara win a writing contest in English when she has never had instruction in English?!  Simply put…immersion education works! Quality immersion programs reach their goal of educating students who are truly bilingual and biliterate like Kyara.  And that’s just one of the reasons why I’m proud to be an immersion administrator and Kyara’s mother!


Kyara with Iowa’s other K-5th grade writing contest readers; there were two winners at each grade level, one for poetry and one for short stories (not all winners were able to attend).


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5 valores que pueden causar un buen impacto en la organización de su salón de clase

¡¿Está usted emocionado/a con la idea de organizar su salón de clase de inmersión?! Pues bien, ¡todavía no mueva los pupitres!

Cuando tenemos que adecuar un salón, lo mejor para dar el primer paso es reflexionar en cuanto a nuestras creencias y valores sobre cómo se enseña y aprende en un ambiente de inmersión.

Así es; los espacios que nosotros creamos comunican lo que valoramos. Más aún, un diseño que muestra nuestros valores, nos ayuda a implementarlos.

Veámoslo de la siguiente manera: una cafetería tiene suficientes sillas y mesas cómodas, mientras otra tiene una ventanilla de autoservicio y capacidad limitada de asientos. La primera, valora el hecho de proveer un espacio acogedor para que la gente se reúna mientras degusta una taza de café, mientras que la otra valora el hecho de ofrecer un servicio rápido y un buen café para llevar. Los diseños físicos de estas cafeterías comunican respectivamente lo que valoran de la experiencia de tomar café, y las ayudan a implementar sus perspectivas diferentes para el beneficio de los clientes.

Así como sucede con estas dos cafeterías, nuestros valores y creencias sobre la educación en las escuelas de inmersión definen las decisiones que tomamos en cuanto a la organización de nuestro salón de clase, y dicha organización, a su vez, influye en la manera como enseñamos.

Los siguientes son algunos valores y creencias que por estos días nos han estado rondando la cabeza a quienes hacemos parte del equipo de instrucción de add.a.lingua:

  1. Un salón en el que hay conversación es un salón donde el lenguaje se desarrolla.
  2. El cultivo de aprendices independientes (no dependientes) importa en gran manera.
  3. Los estudiantes esperan ser reconocidos y valorados.
  4. La promoción de la lengua diferente del inglés debe ser siempre una prioridad planeada.
  5. Los estudiantes son importantes y su aprendizaje es primordial.

¡SÍ, estamos totalmente de acuerdo!

Si ustedes están en sintonía con nosotros en cuanto a estos valores y creencias, continúen leyendo. Aquí les presentamos nuestras opiniones sobre como podrían disponer su salón de clase tanto para reflejar estos valores como para apoyarse en el momento de implementarlos en su enseñanza diaria.

1. Un salón en el que hay CONVERSACIÓN es un salón donde el lenguaje se desarrolla.

La manera como organizamos los pupitres y mesas les ilustra a nuestros estudiantes el tipo de interacción que ellos podrán experimentar en nuestro salón de clase. Cuando usamos las mesas o agrupamos pupitres individuales les estamos comunicando a nuestros estudiantes que ellos conversarán para aprender. El hacer sentar a los estudiantes en grupos también les da lugar a los maestros para el uso de técnicas y estrategias de aprendizaje colaborativo como la de “piensa, habla con tu pareja y comparte” o la de “date vuelta y habla con tu pareja”. Usted también puede considerar el ser flexible (dentro de lo razonable) con respecto a la asignación de asientos. Todos nos beneficiamos de escuchar perspectivas múltiples, por lo cual es valioso ofrecerles a los estudiantes diversos arreglos del salón a través del año escolar.

2. El cultivo de aprendices independientes (no dependientes) importa en gran manera.

Demos un breve paso atrás para comprender lo que queremos decir con esto. De acuerdo con Zaretta Hammond en su libro La enseñanza culturalmente receptiva y el cerebro (Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain) (2015), los aprendices independientes asumen la carga cognitiva de su aprendizaje. Ellos usan las estrategias y recursos disponibles en el salón en lugar de apoyarse en el maestro como el único portador de conocimiento.

Una de las maneras en la cuales la disposición de nuestro salón de clase comunica y le infunde vida al cultivo de aprendices independientes es el uso de sus paredes como recursos para nuestros estudiantes. Eso significa que las paredes del salón son lienzos preparados, listos para los recursos lingüísticos creados con y por los estudiantes. Ponga en consideración el lugar en el cual va a poner la pared de palabras, las paredes de áreas de contenido y los gráficos de apoyo sobre rutinas, estrategias y conceptos. Tenga en cuenta que también hay que enseñarles a los estudiantes cómo usar las paredes y los recursos mientras aprenden.

3. Los estudiantes esperan ser reconocidos y valorados.

Los estudiantes se sienten valorados cuando ven un tablero de anuncios dedicado a exhibir su trabajo; se sienten incluidos cuando ven portadas de libros que representan las diversas culturas, orígenes e intereses; se sienten valorados cuando encuentran una nota de bienvenida personalizada y un lápiz especial en su pupitre el primer día de clases. Estos detalles aparentemente insignificantes les dicen mucho a los niños sobre lo importantes y valorados que son.

4. La promoción de la lengua diferente del inglés debe ser siempre una prioridad planeada.

¿Es obvio que el español es la lengua de su salón? Primero, deles un vistazo a sus estantes de libros. ¿Hay solamente libros en español? Si usted necesita un estante para libros en inglés, ubíquelo en un lugar separado de los libros en español, y manténgalo cubierto, a menos que sea el tiempo de la clase en inglés. Segundo, considere de nuevo el tan preciado estado real de las paredes en su salón. Aunque es bueno que las deje despejadas para que puedan servir como recursos para sus estudiantes, hay pequeñas cosas que puede poner en ellas para mejorar la visibilidad del español:

Ponga un pequeño aviso en su puerta que les recuerde amigablemente a sus estudiantes, padres y colegas el hecho de que van a entrar a una zona de “solo español”. Cree el hábito de colgar o pegar en las paredes ilustraciones o expresiones figuradas o idiomáticas claves para el aprendizaje. Los maestros afiliados a los programas de add.a.lingua tienen acceso a un sinnúmero de estos materiales como parte del marco pedagógico de add.a.lingua. Muéstreles a sus estudiantes algunos objetos reales de su país de origen, o de otros países que haya visitado.

5. Los estudiantes son importantes y su aprendizaje es primordial.

Imagínese un lugar en el cual pasen el tiempo personas importantes y sucedan cosas importantes. Lugares así suenan agradables, ¿no es cierto? Conservar la estética del salón de clase les da a los estudiantes el mensaje de que ellos son importantes y su aprendizaje es primordial. La apariencia agradable no se trata de cuan nuevo sea el edificio o cuan sofisticados sean los materiales. Realmente se trata de la presentación. Revise que los materiales estén bien organizados y etiquetados. Escoja colores apacibles y coordinados para decorar. Si es necesario, recorte el papel sobre el tablero de anuncios para que encaje en el espacio y los bordes estén en su lugar. Mantenga las superficies limpias y todo recogido del piso. ¿Capta la idea?

Ya sea que, por naturaleza, seamos personas de estilo descomplicado u organizado, el ambiente de clase que creemos para nuestros estudiantes les comunicará lo que valoramos y creemos sobre la enseñanza y el aprendizaje. Por lo tanto, antes de empezar a adecuar el salón, tómese un momento para reflexionar sobre: ¿Qué mensaje les quiero transmitir a mis estudiantes sobre lo que cuenta para mí este año? ¿Cómo podría diseñar mi salón para comunicarles bien ese mensaje?

¡Ahora puede empezar a acomodar los pupitres!

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5 values that can impact your classroom setup

5 values that can impact your classroom setup

Feeling excited to set up your immersion classroom?! Don’t start moving the desks yet!

When it comes to classroom setup, the best first step is to REFLECT on our values and beliefs about teaching and learning in an immersion setting.

You see, the spaces we create communicate what we value. Furthermore, values-informed design supports us in living out those values.

Think about it this way: One coffee shop has ample cozy chairs and tables, while another has a drive-through window and limited seating. The first values providing a comfortable place for people to gather over a cup of coffee, while the other values offering fast, good coffee-on-the-go. Their physical designs simultaneously communicate what they value about the coffee-drinking experience and help them to live out those different perspectives for the benefit of their customers.

Just like these two coffee shops, our values and beliefs about immersion education inform decisions we make about classroom setup, and our classroom setup influences the way we teach.

These are some values and beliefs that have been circling our minds lately here on the instruction team at add.a.lingua:

  1. A TALKING classroom is a language growing classroom.
  2. The cultivation of independent learners (not dependent ones) matters a great deal.
  3. Students want to feel known and cared for.
  4. The elevation of the non-English language must always be a planning priority.
  5. Students and their learning are important.

¡SÍ, estoy totalmente de acuerdo! If you’re tracking with us on these values and beliefs, keep on reading. Here are our thoughts on how you might set up your classroom to both reflect these values and support yourself in living them out through your daily teaching.

1. A TALKING classroom is a language growing classroom.

The way we arrange desks and tables illustrates to students what types of interaction they can expect to experience in our classroom. When we use tables or form groups with individual desks, we’re telling students that they’ll be talking to learn. Having students seated in groups also sets teachers up well to use collaborative learning techniques and strategies like think-pair-share and turn & talk. You might also consider being flexible (within reason) regarding assigning seats. We all benefit from hearing multiple perspectives, so it’s valuable to provide our students with diverse seating arrangements throughout the year.

2. The cultivation of independent learners (not dependent ones) matters a great deal.

Let’s take a brief step back to understand what we mean by this. According to Zaretta Hammond in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain (2015), independent learners bear the bulk of the cognitive load of their learning. They make use of strategies and resources around the room, instead of relying on the teacher as the sole proprietor of knowledge. One way our classroom setup communicates and breathes life into cultivating independent learners is to use the walls of our classroom as student resources. That means classroom walls are prepared canvases, ready for linguistic resources created with and by students. Consider where you’ll place your word wall, content area word walls, and anchor charts about routines, strategies, and concepts. Keep in mind, too, that students need to be taught how to use the walls as resources while they are learning.

3. Students want to feel known and cared for.

How might students feel valued when they see a bulletin board dedicated to showcasing their work? How might they feel included when they see book covers representing diverse cultures, backgrounds, and interests? How might they feel cared for when they see a personalized welcome note and special pencil at their spot on the first day? These seemingly little details speak volumes to children about how important and valued they are.

4. The elevation of the non-English language must always be a planning priority.

Is it obvious that Spanish is the language of your classroom? First, take a look at the bookshelves. Are all the books in Spanish only? If you need an English bookshelf, place it in a separate location from the Spanish books and keep it covered unless it is English time. Second, consider the precious real estate of those walls again. While you do want to leave them open to become student-resources, there are small things you can add to elevate Spanish visually:

  • Post a small sign on your door that is a friendly reminder to students, parents, and colleagues alike that they are entering a Zona de español.
  • Make it a habit to hang illustrated dichos or a clever Spanish pun/idiomatic expression. Teachers who serve students in add.a.lingua partner programs have access to an abundance of these as part of the add.a.lingua frameworks!
  • Display a couple examples of realia from your country of origin or other countries you’ve visited.

5. Students and their learning are important.

Picture a place where important things happen and important people spend time. Those places look nice, don’t they? Curating the aesthetic of our classrooms sends the message to students that they are important and their learning is important. A nice appearance isn’t about how new a building is or how fancy our materials are. It’s all about presentation. Check that materials are well-organized and labeled. Choose calming, coordinating colors to decorate. Trim the bulletin board paper to fit and ensure the border is in place. Keep surfaces wiped down and the floor picked up. You get the idea!

Whether we are naturally free-form or organized people, the classroom environment we create for our students communicates what we value and believe about teaching and learning. So before you start setting up your classroom, take a moment to reflect: What messages do I want to send my students about what’s important to me this year? How might I design my classroom to communicate that?

And then, start moving the desks.

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Sarah Vander Laan joins team add.a.lingua

As add.a.lingua continues to grow in partnerships across the nation, our small but mighty team grows too. The addition of longtime teacher colleague, add.a.lingua trainer, and friend, Sarah Vander Laan brings additional depth to our curricular development and instructional support services.

Sarah’s teaching career in Spanish immersion classrooms spans several grade levels, schools, and states, and we’re thrilled to welcome her to our team. We know our partners schools will appreciate Sarah’s attention to detail, learner’s spirit, and depth of experience. Please join us in welcoming Sarah, and read on as she shares a bit about her passion for our shared work.

What brings you to add.a.lingua? Tell us about your time spent learning languages and teaching. What pivotal experiences or moments brought you to team add.a.lingua?

The short answer: I love Spanish, I love people, and I love teaching! With diverse classroom experience under my belt, I am excited to support teachers with high quality immersion-specific resources and professional learning. We are all lifelong learners in this career, and I look forward to coming alongside my fellow educators as we elevate our instructional craft for the good of our students.

My love for the Spanish language started around the dinner table. While we were eating, my parents let my siblings and me use an easel and markers to teach each other what we were learning in our Spanish FLES program at school. I was hooked! By the time middle and high school came around, I was ALL IN for the challenge of the accelerated Spanish track. I went above and beyond to make my learning my own because I loved the language.

Starting in college, my love of the language grew to be rooted in personal relationships. I made meaningful relationships with classmates in Mexico, elementary students in Guatemala, Spanish-speaking attendees at church, adults in an ESL class, and parents and teachers at the schools where I have taught. These relationships give a deeper purpose to learning Spanish that goes beyond the head knowledge of the language itself.

My love for Spanish and for people led me to become a Spanish immersion teacher. I could go on and on about how much I have grown as a person and a professional from my diverse experiences teaching! I’ve taught in both private and public schools; students who are racially and linguistically diverse (and those who are not); every grade from PreK-5th (except 3rd!); and collaborated with teachers from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities, languages, races, and levels of experience.

These diverse teaching experiences have led me to value high quality curriculum, collaborative and reflective learning communities, and ongoing professional development. I believe we must be committed to this in order to effectively teach ALL students. I’m excited to join team add.a.lingua in their work to support immersion teachers!

You’re a teacher at heart. What will you miss most about the classroom as you embark on this new journey?

The kids! I love working with students. Every day is a new opportunity to connect with the amazing children in my classroom. They each have great potential, abilities, and strengths, and of course their own areas of needed growth, too. I get a lot of energy out of the productive struggle of teaching. I’ve learned to gather and analyze data individually and on a collaborative team. Reflective, collaborative conversations about what worked for students (and what didn’t) are so important. And of course, then comes the strategic thinking and planning for what instruction comes next. I love this reflective cycle because it puts into action my belief that ALL students can learn.

What do you most look forward to in your role as curriculum developer and instructional support specialist?

I especially look forward to the instructional support side of my role. I am a teacher at heart, so I am excited to come alongside my fellow teachers as they wear both the language and content instruction hats. I love that add.a.lingua doesn’t just hand teachers materials and say “¡Buena suerte!” We’re here with you, supporting you on your professional learning journey. I’m excited to be part of a team that’s all about equipping teachers and empowering students!

Your story highlights that you know a great deal about add.a.lingua from the teacher’s lens. What about our organization seemed enticing?

I’ve taught 4th grade Spanish Immersion in an add.a.lingua partner school and K-2nd Spanish immersion in a non-partner school. I loved my colleagues and students at the non-partner school, and I experienced significant professional growth there in areas like data analysis, collaborative planning, and culturally relevant teaching practices. However, I sorely missed having the immersion-specific resources and professional development that add.a.lingua provides. Immersion programs need research-based, immersion-specific curricular resources and professional learning and support. I’m very happy to be part of an organization that is dedicated to that work.

What piece of advice would you offer to new pd1 teachers as they join their add.a.lingua partner programs in the fall?

Rest and refresh! Trust that your school and add.a.lingua will work together to make sure you have the professional learning and resources you need to have a successful first year at your partner school.

When training time comes around, come with a mind open to new ways of thinking. Engage with fellow teachers, ask questions, and always remember: we are reflective, ever-learning teachers because we want the absolute best for our students!

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time to meet our newest partner in immersion, Royal Legacy Christian Academy

We’ve helped school communities across the nation launch quality immersion programs to operate alongside their existing English strands, but in the case of add.a.lingua’s newest immersion partner, Royal Legacy Christian Academy, we’re supporting a brand new school launch.

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Royal Legacy Christian Academy co-founders, Chassidi Martin (l) and Kendall Helmer (r).

Royal Legacy Christian Academy joins growing community of add.a.lingua partner schools

Royal Legacy Christian Academy, founded by longtime friends Chassidi Martin and Kendall Helmer, will be starting an early total one-way Spanish immersion program this fall, with an initial k – 1 split class offering. They’ll also have an English strand for older students.

After speaking with add.a.lingua co-founders and touring our other partner school in Iowa, Pella Christian Grade School, Kendall Helmer and Chassidi Martin agreed that the timing was right to partner with add.a.lingua to launch and grow their Spanish immersion program this fall:

“We have seen firsthand the excellent outcomes add.a.lingua has been able to help produce in other schools, and we can’t wait to see the amazing results in our own students at Royal Legacy Christian Academy, as we begin our first year as a new school with a Spanish immersion program. Having a high quality program that produces authentic and competent users of the language will open many doors for the future graduates of RLCA!”  – Kendall Helmer

“We love the mission and vision of Royal Legacy Christian Academy–how they’re really aiming to be serve their linguistically and socio-economically diverse community. It’s a joy to support them as they launch their initial add.a.lingua Spanish immersion class this fall, and we’re excited to partner with them as they grow in the years ahead.” – Stacey Vanden Bosch, add.a.lingua co-founder

“Helping a school community build an immersion program while they’re also building a school is a first for us, but we couldn’t be happier to partner with Royal Legacy Christian Academy in this effort. Their teaching team will have access to great resources, training, and support from add.a.lingua’s instructional specialists, and we have every confidence that this program will be a blessing to the families they serve and the Waterloo community.” – Lilah Ambrosi, add.a.lingua co-founder

Reach out to learn more about Royal Legacy Christian Academy here.

If you’d like to learn more about how add.a.lingua partners with schools to launch successful dual language immersion programs, reach out to us using the form below.