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Spanish dual language immersion from the viewpoint of a student

Gina Vander Zwaag is a 6th grade student in Spanish immersion at Zeeland Christian School. We were able to catch up Gina’s parents just before school year began, and learned a little about her experience growing up in the immersion program and her nerves as she headed into middle school. So it’s a special treat to welcome Gina to our blog, as she shares about her immersion experience, and how things are going in 6th grade.

Can you tell us what you like best about your Spanish immersion experience?

One of the things that I like about Spanish immersion are the teachers. I like the teachers because so many come from different places and they all have different stories. Another thing about Spanish immersion is knowing that I can speak a different language that some others can’t speak. Sometimes knowing Spanish comes in handy because if we go to a school to visit and some of the kids there speak Spanish I can talk to them.  It’s fun communicating with them in Spanish. Another reason why I like Spanish is to talk to my brother and sister without my parents knowing what we’re saying! We don’t really do that very much though.  Our parents do not know Spanish.  

Now that I’m in 6th grade, half of my day is in Spanish and the other half is in English. I do really like that because it gives me a chance to not only get good at Spanish but also at my English skills. Another thing I like about Spanish immersion are the amazing teachers that teach us. Both Spanish and English teachers are amazing in the way the teach us.  Sometime it’s a little hard to tell what the teacher is saying if they have an accent but usually I can tell what they’re saying.gina

What has been the most challenging part of Spanish immersion?

One thing that I don’t like about Spanish immersion is not mixing the English and Spanish classes at school. The reason I don’t like that is because some of my best friends are in English and I hardly even knew them before 6th grade. Another thing that isn’t so great about Spanish immersion has been to say my Bible verse in Spanish. But now that I’m in 6th grade it’s in English which I like better.  Spanish immersion is really good and I like being in it. My friends and I have a really good time in Spanish.

Tell us a little about learning to read in English—how did that come about?

When I was in third grade I sort of just started reading chapter books in English. I don’t know how it happened – I was just able to read in English. I hadn’t even had English classes before. I don’t know how that happened. One struggle I had was reading in Spanish because I wasn’t familiar with it. The words don’t just sound out like English but I learned after a while. To write in Spanish was hard too because I tried to write like I knew how to in English – sounding it out. I learned how to do that too but it took a while.  It was harder because my parents weren’t able to help me with my Spanish.  My mom learned the alphabet and blend sounds in Spanish when I did!

What advice or encouragement do you have for younger immersion students?

If someone asked me if they should send their kids to Spanish immersion I would say yes.  When I get older I think it will open up different opportunities for me that I might not have had without knowing a second language.  I’m glad my parents made that choice for me.  

When you think ahead about what being bilingual could mean for your future, what things come to mind?

When I think of my future and being bilingual I think that It could mean a lot. Like I could help people in Spanish. I think It would be fun to go to Mexico or some other Spanish speaking country and learn more of the language and the culture of Spanish.

Tell us about a time when you were able to use your Spanish outside of school. How did it make you feel? How do you think it made the other person feel?

So my mom mentors through our church at grand rapids public schools and most of the kids there actually speak Spanish. So when we went there to visit my Mom’s mentoring student her parents didn’t know English so It was a pretty cool feeling speaking to someone I don’t know and out of school.

What would you tell a group of parents who are thinking about this for their child? What would you say to parents who just aren’t sure if their kids could do it!?

I would tell them to put there Kids in Spanish because it’s fun knowing that you are learning another language and what you can do with your Spanish is cool to. Spanish is a fun language to learn and I think we need more Spanish speaking people in our community.


To read about the experiences of other immersion families at our partner schools, check out any of the posts in our #dliparent blogger series.

And be sure to join our community of informed immersion parents by signing up for our  informed parent guide.

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6 questions parents should ask before enrolling their child in a dual language immersion program

It’s March, the month (for many parents) of preschool and kindergarten registration.

And if your family is like ours, schools have begun their bombardment on social media, and flooded your mailbox with advertisements. We have two children in the preschool age group and this month alone we collected 5 mailings from different preschools. (One of which was on the other side of the state!)

Regardless of how many choices crowd your inbox or mailbox, it can be difficult to make a decision, especially if you’re considering a dual language immersion program for your child.

We’re here to give parents a leg up.

Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask of the dual language immersion programs as you consider options for your child. While open houses are a great first step, we’d encourage you to ask for a program tour, which will give you deeper insights into the program and school culture and afford you the opportunity to ask these questions: two dual language immersion models explained

1. What immersion model do you follow?

(specifically: how many instructional minutes are allocated for each language at the
elementary level? the secondary level?) The visual at right explains the research based models our organization supports.

2. How do teachers in the immersion program and the traditional program interact?

What does the school due to encourage students to interact across these programs? Schools can encourage teacher teaming across languages by pairing new immersion teachers with a seasoned English program mentor teachers. Students from different strands can be integrated during specials and school events to encourage friendships across languages.

3. What should I expect regarding the teacher’s proficiency in a second language? What can I expect regarding my child’s proficiency in a second language?

High quality teaching begins with high levels of teacher language proficiency. Programs should be aiming to help students to meet grade level expectations regardless of the language of instruction. Check out our language proficiency demystified resource (part of the informed parent guide) for more information on student language proficiency.

4. How do school leaders raise the status of the minority language in their school?

A school’s culture educates every bit as much as its curriculum. Evidence of cross-pollination between programs can include: FLES programs, school signage, musical programs, communication, and commitment to upholding the integrity of the immersion model.

5. How much immersion specific professional development do you offer?

Most teacher preparation programs are focused on educational pedagogy for a screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-10-12-59-amtraditional classroom, offering even multilingual teacher candidates very little immersion specific preparation. Thus, emerging teachers interested in the immersion setting need support, guidance and additional instruction in order to appropriately craft a learning environment unique to the dual language immersion student.

6. What is your approach to bi-literacy development?

This is a complex issue and the strategies advocated in the blog post linked above are indicators that a school makes bi-literacy an important part of its classroom instruction.

We wish you the best in your search for the best fit preschool or kindergarten for your family. If you have any questions regarding add.a.lingua dual language immersion programs, contact your add.a.lingua partner school’s immersion program director or send us a note at

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say ¡hola! to Grand Haven Christian School, our newest Spanish immersion partner program

The entire add.a.lingua team is pleased to welcome Grand Haven Christian School to our growing list of partner programs around the nation!

GHC is enrolling now for their inaugural Spanish immersion kindergarten class in fall of 2017. Interested families can get in touch with the school to learn more at 616.842.5420.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with Grand Haven Christian School, and are really excited that families in the tri-cities will have a quality dual language immersion option for their children,” shared add.a.lingua co-founder, Stacey Vanden Bosch. “When you look at how our nation and economy are changing, multilingual education makes sense on so many levels.”

“Grand Haven Christian’s leadership team has taken their time to evaluate this option thoroughly, and has really put their school and their future students on the path to success with dual language immersion education. It will be our pleasure to partner with them to serve the tri-cities area,” added Lilah Ambrosi, add.a.lingua co-founder.

“Grand Haven Christian is excited to offer this unique opportunity to our community. The immersion model being offered, with the support of add.a.lingua, will allow our students to effectively learn a second language while achieving academic results equal to their monolingual classmates. We look forward to seeing how our future graduates will use the gift of a second language to serve God through their lives and careers,” said James Onderlinde, principal of Grand Haven Christian School


To learn more about add.a.lingua’s partnership process and how we help build and support quality dual language immersion education programs around the nation, check out our partnership process explanation here. And if you’re interested in exploring dual language immersion education in your area, send us a note. We’d love to connect!

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make virtual instructional visits a part of your professional learning cycle

Do you believe in your teaching team’s capacity to grow? Do you want to help support their growth?

If your answer to those questions is yes (and why else would you be reading this blog?), we want to help you make virtual instructional support visits (VISVs) a foundational part of your professional learning cycle.

One of the most powerful things that a learning community can do to reflect on and refine their instructional practice is to watch themselves (and each other) in action. Virtual instructional support visits allow you to do just that.

“It was excellent! So nice to have your comments yet in such a positive way of helping us and guiding without intimidation…I can tell you are wanting us to succeed and making that time available is priceless for us! Thanks for all you do.”

Here’s how add.a.lingua facilitates VISVs with our partner programs and workshop clients:

  1. An administrator asks a teacher to film a 15-20 minute lesson.
  2. The teacher, administrator, and an add.a.lingua instructional coach all watch the lesson independently.
  3. The teacher, administrator, and add.a.lingua’s instructional coach come together for an hour to dialogue about what they all observed–from how the lesson targets for content and language came alive, student engagement, students’ immersion language production, etc.
  4. Goals are developed by the teacher based on what was observed in the video (what we call third point evidence) and the subsequent dialogue.

VISV blog photo-2.pngSome of our partners elect to conduct their VISV with just the teacher and an administrator. Others invite the grade level team or the entire teaching staff to observe the recorded lesson and to join in the dialogue.

Does that larger group interaction sound dicey?

Remember that the VISV isn’t about finding fault or identifying errors. It’s about growth–taking next steps to improve the craftsmanship of teaching.

“Sometimes an outside source reiterating what we’ve been trying to accomplish is what is needed to propel the change. Thank you.”

While the participation of a larger group requires thoughtful facilitation, the transparency of the process can have a significant impact on school culture by communicating (again) that the school’s leadership believes in their team’s capacity to grow, and is eager to provide them with time and space for intentional dialogue.

“It’s refreshing for the teachers to hear a voice other than mine or their own talking about immersion practices, especially someone that they respect and consider an expert.”

As you think about professional learning for your team this summer and fall, make the VISV a priority. There are few better ways to demonstrate and encourage the adoption of a growth mindset on your team.

In addition to an menu of workshops, we have openings for VISVs during the summer and fall months now. So if you’d like to work with an add.a.lingua instructional expert to schedule a VISV for your team, drop us a note.

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teacher feature: Christa Holland-Anderson


Christa Holland-Anderson is a 6th grade Spanish immersion teacher at Holland Language Academy. In this teacher feature, add.a.lingua’s Stephanie Irizarry asks Maestra Holland-Anderson to describe her journey to Holland Language Academy, the strategies she uses to grow her proficiency in the Spanish language, and how she works to motivate her students and encourage correct use of the Spanish language.

Maestra Holland-Anderson has some great instructional ideas for dual language IMG_0144.jpgimmersion teachers. We won’t give all her ideas away in this post (listen to the podcast!), but here area  few ideas worth trying:

make mornings meaningful with questions

Start the day with a pair of questions and then have the students bring you the answer. Some of her favorite questions include:

  • “Today I’m going to learn ______.”
  • “I want my teacher to know______.”
  • “My goal for today is_____.”
keep building your language proficiency

Maestra Holland-Anderson’s go-to podcast to help build her language proficiency, and (when appropriate) share with her students: Radio Ambulante.

if you want to be an immersion teacher someday…
  1. get into immersion classrooms, see what model resonates with your values and beliefs
  2. develop your Spanish language proficiency to work/function and flourish in an immersion setting
  3. work to make sure students understand the impact of knowing two languages because their teacher understands the impact as well

Thanks for listening, and feel free to leave us a comment below and let us know what stood out to you most in this conversation.

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how we can actually achieve educational equity for English learners

What is the role, if any, of an ELL student’s home language in the classroom?

That was the question posed by Education Week’s Larry Ferlazzo to educational leaders Rosa Isiah, Tan Huynh, Karen Nemeth and Sarah Thomas, and there’s much to gain from their thoughtful responses.

Multilingualism: asset or obstacle?

Rosa Isiah is right on in observing:

“The linguistic and cultural diversity offered by our English learners has not been valued as an asset or a resource by many in the educational communities.”

When we step back and consider our increasingly multilingual nation, and the
interconnectedness of our global economy, it should be of great concern to parents, educators, and policy makers that our default educational approach works against the development of  bilingualism and biliteracy in children whose home language isn’t English.

Dr. Isiah continues:

“Linguistically diverse students often have no choice but to adapt to an English-only culture and assimilate to the dominant language, English, as quickly as possible. In the process of attempting to immerse our students, educators create a subtractive schooling experience for students where their culture and language is seen as a challenge to overcome. This type of experience hurts the overall confidence and academic success of English learners, students who are trying to accommodate their ideas, feelings, and position in school. In life.”

Far too often, the result of our race to help English learners acquire grade-level English the-home-language-of-our
proficiency means treating their home language as an obstacle. (See the heartbreaking story of
Jocelyn Moran for example.) As Dr. Isiah points out above (emphasis ours), we do this to the detriment of the student, and the results are disastrous. ELL students have the lowest graduation rates of all at-risk student groups.

When we consider that it’s only in school that knowing two languages is a “problem” and not an advantage, it becomes obvious that we simply must do better on behalf of our English learner students.

terms-such-as-limiteddddAs each of the four responses Larry Ferlazzo received make clear, this begins with adopting an additive, rather than a subtractive, approach to the home language of multilingual students. The authors provide several positive ways to honor the home language and culture of English learners that move beyond what Tan Huynh calls the “sporadic cultural celebrations.” To be sure, for the general education teacher, these are all important considerations and worthy of adoption.

Equity for English learners: the 800lb gorilla in the room

The article does leave unaddressed the major question of how to actually achieve educational equity for English learners. As Lilah Ambrosi and Ken Williams wrote in Getting Smart:

“The growing population of ELL students represents a systemic challenge: How will we provide effective programming for nascent bilinguals which does not strip them of this advantage, but builds upon it?”

The answer to that question means taking a hard look at our existing English monolingual pipeline, and reimagining how we go about helping students acquire multiple languages. Ambrosi and Williams continue:Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 12.27.17 PM.png

“Ensuring equity for our nation’s nascent bilinguals means adopting an additive approach to language acquisition. Research shows that the most effective way to help nascent bilinguals develop their language proficiency in English is by first strengthening literacy in their home language. This additive approach typifies quality language immersion programs. However, not all immersion models are created equally…

“The 90-10 two-way immersion model has been proven to be the most effective method for developing literacy in two languages for both native Spanish and native English students.”

The simple fact is that most English learners are going to be educated in English only classrooms for the foreseeable future. We fully believe that teachers (and specialists) are going to do their very best for these students within the existing system, and we applaud their efforts.

But the near term realities of our existing system(s) shouldn’t distract us from the long term goal of working toward equitable educational offerings for every student. Contrast Jocelyn Moran’s story linked above with that of the Alvarado-Ibarra family at our partner school, Holland Language Academy. We want and need more of these kinds of transformational stories.

We’ll let Ambrosi and Williams wrap this with a mic drop:

“Equity in action for our nation’s ELL students means ensuring they reach the same bar expected of all students. By making multilingualism our aim and taking the necessary steps to bring programs into alignment with research on language acquisition, we can provide students and families with the equitable education they deserve.”

If you’d like to learn more about how add.a.lingua helps build and support equitable dual language immersion programs around the nation–get in touch using the form below. And feel free to leave a note in the comment section. We’d love to hear from you!

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we’re the center of the world

contributed by: Meghan VanLente

Recently, my 6th grade social studies class and I were exploring the time period of the European Renaissance and the changes in thinking from Medieval times. One of the boys stood up and spun around saying, “We’re the center of the world!” And someone else replied, “No, actually, the sun is!” We all laughed at that misconception, but also agreed that, though the people in the Renaissance realized the earth revolved around the sun, they didn’t really change in their thinking that much – because every new land they found, the explorers claimed it for Europe and proceeded to take slaves and riches from the native people. The students (who are the 6th grade Spanish immersion students at our school) were really quick to point out the continual assumption that power meant acting like a toddler who thinks she is the center of the world.

I think as parents, we do treat our kids as the center of the world at times (and who wouldn’t when they’re so cute all dressed up?). Kids come into the world rearranging our schedule and our focus – and when they become school age, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can best provide the next level of support. As I had the conversation with my class about the Renaissance and people realizing that they weren’t the center of the world, it made me wonder if I needed that sort of a moment about my own kids.

Looking back to when my oldest son was beginning preschool, I chose Spanish immersion because I wanted the best for my kids – to give them something that has huge benefits in terms of brain development, language development, and cross cultural experiences. These are all of things that I value, highly, for my children. The idea that there would be challenge along the way seemed worth the long-term benefits that my boys would gain through the experience. But in light of my recent discussion, I found myself asking the question – why? Why did I want my child to have this unique education? For what purpose?

If it’s for my child to have the BEST, the most chance for success, the opportunity to become the center of the world – is that a good reason? I know, I know – you’ll begin protesting that of course we want the best for our kids. And I do too. But what I really want is to teach my children that their primary goal is to lay down their lives for others, to sacrifice for others, to love sincerely and fully, to recognize completely that they AREN’T the center of the world, but a part of a greater system to which they can contribute. I know that spending time every day with teachers who have culturally different perspectives, and who grew up in different places, and think about the world differently, and whose comfort language is different than theirs, will ultimately help my kids be more thoughtful, more open, more loving.

Hopefully someday – and I see it already happening with my sixth grade students – my children will use their voice – in two languages – to speak up for those who need refuge, who need care, who need laying down our own needs and rights for, because we have a great calling to serve, and to love, and to bring hope in a hurting world. Immersion education is another opportunity to help my kids become productive citizens not just of the USA, but also of a spiritual kingdom that looks at the world for what we can give, not just what we can get, for what we can share, not just what we can protect.

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FonoCultura: what parents and kids are saying

FonoCultura is an early Spanish reader series that uses author Olga Díaz’s personal stories to bring together authentic language and cultural elements for the benefit of
student learning. Like add.a.lingua, Olga recognizes that language and culture are inextricably linked, and that developing learners ready to engage new perspectives, ideas, and cultures means helping students make this connection. It’s why we’re so excited to partner with Olga to bring the FonoCultura series to educators and families across the nation.

[Check out our interview with Olga here.]

Whether you’re a kindergarten classroom teacher in a Spanish immersion program, a world language teacher working with students exploring foundational skills in reading, or an immersion parent who wants to provide additional texts for your beginning readers in Spanish, these books can make a difference in the lives of early readers.

Take it from a mom

We recently caught up with a mom from NorthPointe Christian School who was eager to share how Fonocultura has impacted her son.

As a parent, it was wonderful watching my child develop his reading skills through the Fonocultura books. He formed a connection with the family of characters and was always eager to get to the next book.

It was less of a challenge to remind him to read each night because he actually wanted to show me his book. The book series offers exposure to culture, practice with language skills, and comprehension questions to gauge understanding.

His reading experience with the Fonocultura books resulted in an enjoyment of reading that will hopefully last a lifetime. We look forward to the continuation of the series!

If you’re interested in viewing samples of books in the FonoCultura series or licensing them for your classroom, start by joining add.a.lingua’s community of immersion educators at Joining our community will provide you with access to license the texts and a host of other resources for your classroom and program.

For those interested, here are a few more details on the FonoCultura series:

FonoCultura, is the first series in the LectoCultura collection and is comprised of thirty texts arranged into three early stage reading levels, A-C.

Each level of ten books provides educators with an engaging narrative through which they are able to capture the interest of students during guided reading instruction by providing them with an authentic context for noticing, becoming aware of and practicing key word features (introduced in add.a.lingua kindergarten instructional frameworks). Written to encourage decoding at the syllabic rather than phonemic level, FonoCultura introduces young readers to a Colombian ranching family and sets the stage for future storylines in subsequent series.

Your license allows you to access:

black and white readers that can be printed, folded and stapled for use during in-class guided reading group instruction or at home individual student practice.

digital color and audio files of each text narrated by a native speaker for use in listening centers or in read-to-self instructional time

teacher’s guide (including syllable and picture cards with and syllable dividers for each text)

If you have any questions about the series, please don’t hesitate to reach out using the form below.

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teacher feature: Silvia Núñez

There are few things we enjoy more than highlighting the amazing work being done by teachers in add.a.lingua partner schools around the country. In this, the 13th episode of our podcast, we’re returning to our teacher feature series to profile 2nd grade Spanish immersion teacher, Silvia Núñez, from Zeeland Christian School.

Join add.a.lingua’s Stephanie Irizarry and Maestra Núñez as they dive into Silvia’s journey to become a Spanish immersion teacher in the U.S. and talk about some of the daily joys and challenges that come along with teaching in a dual language immersion context. Let us know what you think in the comments section at bottom. Enjoy!

Good afternoon! Here I find myself with Maestra Silvia Núñez at Zeeland
Christian School. It [has] a Spanish immersion program, an early-total, one way
immersion program. Silvia is a second grade teacher here, and she’s going to talk with us a little bit about her experiences, not only here in the school but also about her life and what brought her here to [the United States], as well as what attracted her to Zeeland Christian. So, Silvia, thank you for being here with me this afternoon.

Silvia: Thank you, as well, for the invitation, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Of course! I would love to learn a little about your experience because, as a native [Spanish] speaker, you can be heard in your classroom using cultural expressions in dialogue with the students all of the time purely in Spanish. Can you share with us about life when you were very young, and where that love for Spanish and the culture come from?
Sure, of course I can. Thank you, again, for this opportunity to share my experience. I was born in Ecuador and lived there for 25 years until I finished my studies [at the university level] and my husband, Vicente, studied in the United States at that time. After marrying in Ecuador, I came to the United States as he wanted to finish his education here and began
working here. Really, that was the main reason I moved to the United States. Then it was all about being immersed in the culture of North America, and the source of a lot of happiness.

[With respect to] my experience in Ecuador in education, I studied at La Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil in the school of pedagogy and philosophy. When I finished, I began working in a Baptist school teaching in first grade. At first I was an aide for a few months in kindergarten, and then later, I had the opportunity to work in first grade when [the first grade teacher] moved to Europe. At that point, I took her place. That was a very positive experience in Ecuador without knowing that later on I would return to teaching
first grade in the United States and in Spanish!

Stephanie: How lovely, Maestra. Then, you have come to this country with a lot of pedagogical experience, no?

Silvia: By way of my studies, but in practice just a year and a half.

Stephanie: Okay, so the majority of your work as a teacher, the majority of your teaching experience has been in the United States.

Silvia: Yes, practically after arriving to the U.S., I had my family, my children, and I wasn’t working in the school system. When my children grew up and my youngest child, my
daughter, was in preschool, I returned to [teaching] here in the United States [because of] my daughter’s teacher! She invited me to help out in preschool, and afterward, they offered me a job and I began there once again in Delaware.

Stephanie: Wow! Okay, and that was in a Spanish program, too? Or was it an English program?

Silvia: Well, this wasn’t a Spanish program. It was a preschool program for low income families. [In that role] I worked part-time with the students, and part-time with the parents as an outreach person.

Stephanie: Phenomenal! So, it was like you were the link between the school and the home.

IMG_4120.JPGSilvia: Yes, it was another type of connection in Spanish because the Spanish-speaking families who lived in the state of Delaware couldn’t communicate with the school because of the language [barrier], so I was the link between the school and the parents

Stephanie: What an experience! So then, how did you find out about Zeeland Christian, which we know now to be a program that has students moving into the high school levels, right? It’s a program that is very developed [K-8]. How did you find this place? Or, how did this place find you?

Silvia: Well, after living for eight years in Delaware, we moved to Michigan due to my husband’s work. I began to do work as a volunteer at West Ottawa [Public Schools] with my children. So, I worked as a mom inside the school, but I wanted to involve myself more with my children at that time because they were new to the state. Then, after I felt that my children were a bit more established, I found a position at Vanderbilt Academy where I worked as a teacher’s aide in all of the grades from kinder through eighth grade helping students who spoke Spanish. I was the intermediary there, teaching the students in Spanish and English. That was my function. In the middle of that experience, I received a phone call from a friend who shared that Stacey VandenBosch [add.a.lingua co-founder, previously the Zeeland Christian Spanish Immersion program coordinator] was looking for a Spanish teacher and that she wanted to meet me. My friend was the connection through which I began learning about the program at Zeeland Christian. When I found out that the program was Spanish Immersion, I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy and excited because I feel like God cleared the path for me to arrive at this place

Stephanie: So, you’ve had a variety of experiences, not only as a teacher, but also as an aide in classrooms. You’ve seen a great variety of classroom cultures, you’ve seen a variety of cultures not only in Ecuador, but also here in the United States. What are some of the most notable differences, or most obvious differences that you’ve seen in the places you’ve worked?

Silvia: Really, the education that I received at the university is obviously a pedagogy that is nearly of the past. I call it the “old school”, and the most traditional. When I moved to the United States, I saw that much of the United States used that same type of style in the traditional sense in that the teacher taught, and the students listened for hours and hours. But, practically my group at Vanderbilt had the most time with the teacher and I spoke both languages with them. So, the students were enriched a lot, and so was I because they were children with two cultures, one from the United States and the other from their home in which they spoke Spanish. I very much enjoyed getting to know that group of students. In that sense, I feel as though I’ve passed from the 20th to the 21st century, right?

We now see that education has experienced a transition in the United States, lightly and IMG_4121.JPGslowly, but also timely in that we find ourselves in the 21st century wave of education. Education has had its transformations and I’ve had to re-educate myself in many areas, learn new pedagogy, and that’s brought me real happiness and satisfaction because I can now not only share my culture with my students, but I can do it in a new way. [It’s all about] changes in myself, the students, and the culture itself in the United States.

Stephanie: Sure, so it’s a total transformation in that the evolution of education continues as time passes. Thanks so much, Maestra, [for your reflections]. So now, here in your classroom, what calls your attention the most? You mentioned a bit about the importance of learning another language and about another culture, essentially being able to share what you’re learning pedagogically according to what you design and write for your lessons, but can you talk to us a little bit about the personal aspect as well? [Tell us about] that whole idea of sharing your native language and culture with this group of over twenty children [each day]?

Silvia: The experience has been fantastic! Being that I’ve been a part of the pilot group of early-total, one way immersion here at Zeeland Christian School, it was an opportunity to live the evolution of the program and learn together and share ideas in order to reach students in different ways…not only with the language, but with the culture, and with the curriculum that is also important. I’ve come to realize that I’ve been able to remember my own education of learning English and all of the shortcomings or errors that can happen based on how I learned in Ecuador. When I arrived here [in the United States] I didn’t understand hardly anything that was spoken to me [in English], but I understood a lot of grammar and understood when I read. That’s when I realized that that was the way language was taught in my country, and I didn’t want to do the same with my students here. The pedagogy is now so very alive and new that, for example, the student, I now know, needs to hear a word used around 70 times [in context] in order to make it a part of their vocabulary. So, just imagine how much we need to do and the resources we need to have in order to make sure that students can learn new vocabulary. And, that’s even with young students who have stupendous, fabulous memories! It’s [important to have them] immersed 100% in order for the program to be successful and for the students to really own and love the language. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn not only the language, but also the culture and develop their cognitive capabilities. So, it’s a real mix of so many different components so that students feel successful in their understanding of their new language.

Stephanie: Without a doubt. Just right there you mentioned the three goals, really, of these types of programs: the acquisition of the language, the academic/cognitive development, and the idea of cultural appreciation. You also mentioned a variety of resources that one needs to use, teacher resources — practices and techniques that we teachers use. You also use the add.a.lingua frameworks that are part of what you implement in the program. Can you describe how the implementation of this resource manifests itself in the classroom, and how it fosters and accentuates what you’ve already described as being important relative to culture and language?

Silvia: Absolutely. In fact, I think that [the add.a.lingua frameworks] are the backbone of the immersion program. You need to know the language framework very well, study it and make it your own so that you can share it with the students in order for them to make it their own. So much so, that the students are able to think about their language when they are studying other subjects like mathematics or Bible. In addition, it helps them make constant connections to the language objectives that we have each week. The add.a.lingua frameworks that we utilize in this program is the base; it’s what helps us connect everything, not only the new words that they use, but also grammar components, etc. That helps the student maintain thinking on the language focus at the same time they’re focusing on content goals.

Stephanie: Okay, [you see it as important] so that the student is aware [of language] not only during language arts, but also during other subjects of the day, math, science, in order for them to become more involved in the content, in their studies.

Silvia: Sure, sure. They can “speak mathematics” in Spanish. To be able to do that [successfully], they need to use specific language techniques. They’ve got to be able to ask questions and utilize academic vocabulary associated with mathematics in Spanish so that as they move forward, they’re growing in Spanish at the grammatical level. And, content area curriculum is included so the student can connect across those content areas of study. This, for me, is the foundation. In fact, for all of us as teachers, I feel that it’s such a help that we are able to work with this [add.a.lingua] framework from week to week.

Stephanie:  Okay, and that’s so that there’s a real language focus not only from week to week but throughout the school year.

Silvia: All year. And from week to week there are connections to be made. That’s the good thing. [It’s good for] student development because week after week, they have the base then for what’s coming next. The student moves forward, growing in sequence while simultaneously expanding the vocabulary. The [add.a.lingua framework] is very, very important.

Stephanie: Thanks so much. Well, [as we wrap up], I would imagine that there are many teachers or future teachers who are hearing us right now online, and maybe they’re thinking, “Oh, what should I do? Which way do I go with respect to the field of education? I’m going to become a teacher, but what am I going to do? Will I use both of my languages, or not?” So, from your perspective, what would be your best recommendations surrounding those who might become teachers, especially in the context of immersion for their futures?

Silvia: One of my pieces of advice in this moment would be for native speakers, as well as those who are considering entering an immersion program would be to first, really take the time to immerse yourselves in Spanish speaking culture. It can be anywhere, but it’s important to have that contact to enrich one’s understanding of culture.  Second, take the time to grasp what it’s like to speak solely Spanish because that’s a foundational practice in the classroom — being aware and intentional so that the class is truly 100% in Spanish so that students can talk in Spanish, speak, connect with one another, and socialize in Spanish. As a teacher, if you are not a native speaker, that would be an important foundational piece. Additionally, for a native speaking teacher, they might have the culture, but I would propose that they continue to be learners and learn even more! In fact, I have had to do that as well! I’ve needed to learn more about  my country, my culture and traditions that we have in order to be able to share it with my students. That’s because we want for it to be solid, and not something fictitious. I do it with stories and photographs, and to add that dynamic and [level of] happiness in the classroom helps students explore the cultural information in a positive way. Finally, teachers should be always ready to learn because education continues evolving, and they should always be involved with a language [framework] because studying that and recognizing its importance is necessary in order to be able to manage it easily in the classroom.

Stephanie: Thanks so much, Maestra Núñez, truly. What you do here with your students is something magical, so thank you for sharing just a little bit of your time.

Silvia: Thank you very much for the opportunity!

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freedom and control

contributed by: Cara Wickstra

Freedom and Control. In parenting, I’m continuously trying to find the balance between freedom and control with my kids. There’s the obvious power struggles that rise and fall during different stages of growing up. But there’s also the day-to-day freedom and control dance that goes by a different name: “freedom” becomes privileges and responsibilities, while “control” translates as restrictions and consequences. I mention this struggle between freedom and control because I also feel it in regards to my children’s education, and specifically, the immersion program.

I’m an only child, so I think that categorizes me with the personality of an uber oldest child. While I like to think I’m a mellow version of an only child, I still feel that pull of anything less than 100% as failure. (I’m hoping someone can relate, otherwise I sound a little crazy.) When I feel like I’ve failed, even at cooking dinner, I take it to heart more so than I should. Jesus helps me overcome this unrealistic vision of myself, but it is still a battle. I cringed at the thought that my fear of failure would echo into the performance of my school-age kids.

And then came Mandarin immersion.

In Mandarin immersion, I don’t have the battle between freedom and control because there’s nothing I can control about my child’s achievement. I’ve already made the choice to do something well beyond what I’ve ever done. This is a step into the unknown as I relinquish my “control” of my child’s schoolwork into the hands of, surprisingly enough – my child. My sons and daughter linamadswill do their best without my edits to homework to make a story sound better. I will have the opportunity to see what they can construct all by themselves and that’s exciting to me.

At first, I was nervous about this freedom from control at school and in parenting.  But now I see it as a beautiful thing and I am so thankful.  I am able to be present in their lives, encourage them to do their best and listen to them read a language I cannot understand. Knowing that if they have a question, they can ask the teacher and learn how to ask for what you need, not just depend on Mom and Dad for answers.

Even though Mandarin immersion seemed intimidating at first, I now view it as a breath of fresh air. It is so exciting to dream of the possibilities that await these kids whose accent sounds like they’re from China, but they look like they’re from the Netherlands. I am so glad I didn’t let my fears or need for control turn me away from this incredible opportunity.