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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.

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As the school year winds down, add.a.lingua teachers gear up for professional learning

As the school year lets out, teachers often let go of the daily schedule. Although it means living day to day without the typical bell-to-bell routine, don’t think for a minute that teachers “let up” in the summer.

Let me take a common myth and bust it up on behalf of all teachers:






Sure, we current and former teachers see how you might think we do. But, if you were to survey the teachers you know, you’d quickly learn that their summers are filled with a wide variety of education related activities that help them grow as leaders of learning so they can come back in the fall and rock it out for kids!

In my summers as a classroom teacher, I taught six week summer migrant programs all day everyday. When I wasn’t teaching, I was taking advantage of any free time I had to participate on my school district’s committee work, taking graduate level education classes, attending conferences, or tutoring students who needed an extra boost in the summer. Teachers have a hard time turning “off” their teacher brains in the summer. It’s logical. After all, we’re in the business of helping humans learn and grow, and that takes year round time and intensity.

Now, at add.a.lingua, my role lives year round. In the months of May through August, our instruction team amps up supports because add.a.lingua partner program teachers make a major dual language immersion learning push in the summer. That’s right. add.a.lingua teachers work HARD during the summer months with their teams of colleagues. They do it so that their programs are collectively equipped with sound, research-based practices and strategies that yield real results (linguistic, academic, and cultural understanding) throughout the school year.

What does it mean when a teachers say that they’ve been trained by add.a.lingua?

In teachers’ first three years in one of our partner schools, they experience roughly 20+ hours of add.a.lingua immersion specific professional learning. The crazy part? That’s not a total number. It’s literally 20+ hours per year! By the fourth and fifth years of partnership, the time spent in professional learning drops to between 5-10 hours per year because everyone uses what they’ve learned and experienced to build long-lasting, dual language immersion-specific collaborative structures in their own schools. We’re all about training, cheering on and building up resident experts in each and every single program we serve. It’s the Gradual Release in action with coaching every step of the way!

What’s so special about add.a.lingua training? Do existing immersion programs ever reach out to add.a.lingua?

On occasion, we receive phone calls from programs who have experienced a lot of teacher turnover. They share that although they’re a veteran program, they have many new teachers that haven’t had formal training in dual language immersion. Each new teacher brings with her a robust knowledge base to be celebrated! But, if there’s no plan for common professional learning experiences to calibrate values, beliefs, program alignment and instructional practices that yield top results for students, ripples begin to form. Results become a wild card. Though it’s no fault of the teachers, it’s definitely a challenge that existing programs often face, and add.a.lingua can help.

With our partner programs, any “new” teachers automatically come into our first year of training and follow the trajectory. Teachers navigate and calibrate values, beliefs and understandings in a way that helps integrate them into each unique school’s language immersion culture. This ensures common learning experiences across the program as it shifts and morphs over time. We’re now even seeing teachers seek out our partner programs for employment because they know that time, space, and dedication is placed on their professional learning! It’s amazing to experience, and a great way to honor teachers as the professionals they are.

So, what do add.a.lingua partner program teachers and point people say about their learning?

I often speak with teachers who have come from other language immersion contexts. They’ll talk about how they had never before received so much practitioner-based training on fidelity to their immersion model, development of the immersion language intentionally (not by chance!), balancing language and content instruction by integrating them, and monitoring progress in both the target language and English. add.a.lingua is thrilled to partner with so many teachers, point people and administrators as they roll up their sleeves this summer.

Another thing that always comes up is add.a.lingua’s accessibility. While our summer training is primarily online, we structure it to be collaborative, and we offer multiple touch points for in-person and online face-to-face contact to deepen our relationships throughout the school year. Check out what one point person of an add.a.lingua partner program is planning on doing to make the summer of 2018 an awesome one for add.a.lingua professional learning!

A funny thing happened the moment add.a.lingua announced that instead of heading to West Michigan for the educator summit, we would be completing our training virtually. Our budget said, “YAY!” and our teachers said, “NOOO!” Even in a world where it can feel like someone from across the globe is in the same room (Thanks, FaceTime!), we Californians knew we would miss the personal connection and literal face-time of the add.a.lingua staff and our partner schools/educators. Our trip to Michigan the previous year was filled with fantastic training, connecting with other teachers and schools mixed with a bit of restful, verdant vacation and team-bonding. It was great! Our virtual training this last summer was good—we met in a classroom in early July and tackled three of our four learning modules over the course of the week. We took breaks together and paused to have some reflection time. But our time wasn’t the same at all.

This year, as the point person at Redlands Christian School, I set out to create a summer training that mixes a little bit of both experiences. We won’t be flying to Michigan since it’s not in the budget, but we will be heading 45 minutes away to a cabin in the mountains where we will do a bulk of our add.a.lingua training. We will go through our add.a.lessonly courses (there’s wifi!), do some individual and collaborative planning for the school year, work on some curriculum development, plus take plenty of time to do some team-building and relaxation.

Julie’s plan is an excellent example of how each school can put their own twist on everything from location, timing, and energy for the experience, all the while staying faithful to the pillars of add.a.lingua’s five year pd level learning roadmap. Kudos to Julie and her team. We can’t wait to virtually “pop in” on their training to wish them well, let them know we’re here for them, and that we can’t wait for the new school year to start so we can support them via our partner care email and add.a.lingua office hours!

To sum it all up…add.a.lingua partner programs have us on speed dial. No matter what. And that’s how we like it. Why go it alone when you don’t have to?!

Get in touch using the form below if you’re interested in learning more about add.a.lingua teacher and administrator certification or our workshop pd offerings.


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addressing the summer slide for immersion students: ideas for fostering a love of language outside of school

Those of you who’ve read my posts before know that I’m a die-hard add.a.lingua immersion program advocate. The students! Their teachers! The quality! The research behind it all! Trust me. It can’t get much more passionate.

But, if I’m being honest, I’d say there are solely two things in this life that rile me up and and make me even more devoted to high quality add.a.lingua dual language immersion education. Just two things that can evoke the deepest of sentiments. Just two things that somehow manage to occupy every single space in my heart. What might those be, you ask?

The first one’s Xavier. He’s 8.

The second one’s Iván. He’s 4.

And I’m their profusely proud mom.

See, in addition to being a full time director at add.a.lingua, I’m also a passionate immersion parent who wants to do all she can to support her kids’ learning over the summer months. Now that spring is here, many families find themselves in my same boat. We all want the best for our kids and for them to maintain as much language learning as possible, even when they’re away from their awesome teachers! So…how do we do it?

Let’s take a peek at the top questions I receive on the topic, and how to take a no-stress-express approach to encouraging increased immersion language status, having FUN with the language, and spending time at play when school’s out for the summer so everyone (parents and families included!) can feel confident walking back into their add.a.lingua program in the fall!

Question #1: I don’t speak Spanish! Does my kid need summer school?


Absolutely NOT. Unless your child’s teacher/administrator has come to you with concerns and advised summer school for other reasons based on district guidelines, you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to find summer school in the immersion language.

Instead, focus on making sure that the non-English language of the immersion program is held in high regard. Make sure your child’s positive outlook on their educational experience remains intact, even though they may not be in day-to-day contact with it.

Do this by:

  • reflecting on the year and on how much they’ve learned in the language
  • reviewing fun projects that they created in the language
  • listening to your child read stories or books they wrote in the immersion language

If options exist in your area for your child to participate in a summer camp, VBS, or enrichment program, by all means seize the opportunity. Time and intensity matter when it comes to language learning. But know that if your child doesn’t participate or if one is not accessible, you really don’t need to worry that your child will enter school “behind” in the fall.

Question #2: I hear a lot about the “summer slide” with academics. Is language a part of that, too?

Yeah. It’s true. Unless your child is in year-round schooling, the summer slide always has potential to become a reality. What’s important for us to remember, however, is that we don’t have to skill-n-drill our kids with isolated vocabulary flashcards or ask them to translate everything they hear into Spanish. Doing so would prompt a) a real snooze fest in the middle of the summer and b) encourage kids to start disliking the thought of learning another language! That’s everything we DON’T want to have happen!

Ultimately, all kids experience a bit of a “dip” in the summer months. The great news, though, is that in our partner programs the add.a.lingua language timeline and policy are in full-effect from the get go! Right at the start of the year. Yep. I said it. This means that your child’s teachers are trained to know what to do to ensure a linguistically rich environment that your child will grow quickly accustomed to…because it’s an expectation that we know they can handle! Our expectations look different based on the grade, and we’ve got evidence that it WORKS! Parents can relax with confidence knowing that add.a.lingua resources account for what happens in the summer, and our teacher training does, too.

Question #3: What opportunities are there for me to continue to foster a love for the immersion language when school’s out?

It only makes sense that, even with what’s been explained above, we still want to seek every opportunity to ensure that our children engage with the language as much as possible. Check out some of these recommendations to keep the summer light and FUN!

  • Find a sitter who speaks both languages and ensure that she speaks solely your child’s second language during their time. Encourage them to play games and have fun using as much of the language as they can.
  • Tutor time? Nope. It doesn’t have to be what you think it is! Your child doesn’t have to be struggling in school to get the most out of this. Sometimes teachers or educational assistants tutor in the summer months. Even though my husband and I speak Spanish, we’ve taken advantage of this so our boys hear different accents and experience new cultures. Check around locally for options near your school.
  • Family movie night? Try it out in Spanish! Come on…You haven’t LIVED until you’ve had the opportunity to sing “Let it go!” as “¡Libre soy!”
  • Step into the community! Make contacts with people in your community who speak the language your child is learning. Head to local restaurants or shops where they can use their language skills authentically. Invite your child to read items off the menu or on the shelves and speak with the employees. What good is knowing the language if we don’t use it to connect with people, right?!
  • Preserve reading time in Spanish. I can’t reiterate this one enough. At our house, we have a set time each day to read in Spanish. It’s a critical way to encourage students to engage with the language independently and foster a love for reading. Need access to books? Check out places like Barnes & Noble, Scholastic en español, Santillana publishing, cuentosinteractivos, storyplace, and your local library for Spanish titles at a variety of levels!
  • Take suggestions from your children. We all know how much children love having choice! When I ask my kids, these are the top three things they suggest:
  1. Dance Party! These are on the regular at our house! Some silly favorites are Blippi en español, Pica Pica and any other songs under the umbrella of canciones infantiles!
  2. Technology fun! Some iPad apps and websites can be a great reinforcement.  Check out ones like ABC Spanish Reading Magic, Kandoobi Animales, Ebooks Spanish, Lee Paso a Paso, Razz Kids, or BrainPop in Spanish. Remember, though, no app or website can replace human interaction and not all apps are created equally. It’s not a realistic or appropriate expectation to over-prescribe an iPad just to “keep up on Spanish.” Follow your family’s typical boundaries for technology.
  3. Hit up some festivals.
    Where we live, we’re fortunate to have organizations like LAUP and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan that put on great festival experiences.  Be sure to check for celebrations in your area that honor the cultures of the language your child is learning.

In the end, learning a language is intended to help us connect across languages and cultures, and summer is a wonderful time to get out there and connect. Read. Meet people. PLAY. Enjoy your summer knowing that Xavier, Iván and I follow this same advice! If you’re interested in what we’re up to, follow me on Twitter @SNIrizarry, and we’ll be sure to provide updates! Cheers to a great summer!

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we’re helping immersion administrators collaborate – add.a.lingua un.conference reflections

We’re big fans of collaborative learning. In fact, we’ve designed our 5 year immersion teacher certification process around collaboration and reflective practice.

This spring we took another step forward in professional learning by creating space for administrators from add.a.lingua’s partner immersion programs to gather and collaborate on topics of interest and concern to them. These administrators set the leadership institute un.conference agenda, tackling topics like building school unity, effectively using student data, promoting immersion programs, and navigating immersion education at the secondary level.

We asked a few participants to share their reflections on the un.conference, and here’s what they had to say.

As I reflect on add.a.lingua’s first un.conference, I am struck by how rich an experience it was for me to engage with other administrators during the different sessions I attended.  I especially enjoyed the format of the un.conference because it created a great opportunity for networking and allowed many voices to be heard around the main topic of each session.

Processed with VSCO with c2 presetIn the Navigating Secondary session, I was encouraged to continue advocating for a quality immersion program at the high school level.  I firmly believe that working together with other add.a.lingua schools will allow us to implement with fidelity at the high school level thus providing students with the classes they need to continue growing their language skills while meeting high school academic standards and providing parents and students a return on their investment of many years of immersion education.

I’m excited to see what our collaboration in this journey towards high school implementation can mean for immersion education both at our individual schools and in the world of all things immersion.

– Rebecca Gómez serves as the Spanish Immersion Point Person at Pella Christian Grade School (PCGS), which currently offers an add.a.lingua early total one-way Spanish Immersion program for grades pre-k through 6. They have plans to add another grade every year through 12th grade.

– Julie Karnemaat serves as the Spanish immersion point person for Fremont Christian School which offers an add.a.lingua early total Spanish immersion program for grades K – 4.

– Tim McAboy serves as Head of School at Zeeland Christian School where he oversees add.a.lingua Spanish immersion and Mandarin Chinese immersion strands, in addition to the school’s English strand.


We are completing our third year of the Early Total One-Way program and are thrilled with all of the successes we are experiencing with our students.  Our partnership with add.a.lingua is most certainly key, and we are thankful for their support and guidance.

Vonda Morga.JPGBecause we are still a fairly new program, we rely on the leadership from the add.a.lingua team as well as the ongoing conversations that we have with other immersion partner school leaders.  The leadership institute provided a unique opportunity for us to encounter both. It is always encouraging to hear from the directors of the program, to gain their encouragement for our current path and to understand their vision for what lies ahead.  However, there is a lot to be said for working with those who are doing the day-to-day tasks that our teachers are doing and facing the same challenges and questions that we are facing.

As a leader, the un.conference format was just what I needed to feel encouraged, supported, and challenged.  It was guided enough to give specific information while still being flexible enough to have open-ended conversations.  I was able to leave each session with a feeling of accomplishment, but yet also a great task list of “marching orders” to take back to school.  The network of relationships built through the various add.a.lingua leadership institutes provides us with the tools that we need to continue to see our program grow and thrive.  We look forward to the years of partnership with add.a.lingua in our Dual Language Immersion program.

– Vonda Morga is privileged to serve as the Point Person at Oakland Christian School in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Want to learn more about add.a.lingua certification for administrators and immersion teachers? Reach out using the form below and we’ll be in touch.