Collaboration in a Bilingual School
Fourth-Grade Team Meeting
Formally the fourth-grade team meets once a week for about 70 minutes in our CCLP team meeting. So, our collaborative lesson planning meeting. And not only are the main teachers there, the Spanish and English side teachers, all four of us, but we also have specialists and administrators that join.
That dedicated time together is so important because we have that time to talk about what we're doing on both sides of the day and how we can support each other across content areas, across languages. And specifically as an English Language Arts teacher we have our curriculum that we follow. Spanish Language Arts has their curriculum too, but it gives us time to align it so that when we're doing a topic like questioning, the Spanish Language Arts teachers are also doing that.
So the students are kind of getting double dosed in that instruction. They're learning it in both languages and they're able to make those connections across the language.
Collaboration with the fourth-grade team
We are talking about what it is we are teaching, what's coming up, what do the students need to learn, how will we know if they've learned it, what do we do if they already know it, and what do we do if after we've taught it, they still don't really know it? So, we're using those student learning questions to guide our discussion. And a lot of times we start the meeting together. We have a topic in common and then we'll split and discuss on the English side and on the Spanish side, you know, how we can support in our language that we teach in. And then we'll come back together to share out and share ideas across content areas too.
At first it seems kind of daunting, like having to meet and plan together, but it's actually a really wonderful thing because you come away with so many great ideas that you might not have thought of on your own. To get that support from the specialist so you have a gifted teacher there, the special education teacher there, the ESOL/HILT teacher there. So, you're really coming in with this idea of this is how I think I can teach this. Help me differentiate for the needs of all of our different learners. So, you're really getting the support as a teacher that you need to do the best job you can do.
Benefits of collaboration
I think that the other benefit truly is that collaboration between the Spanish and the English sides because you really get a lot more out of planning with somebody than if you were kind of by yourself with your door shut.
And because of our schedule it's crazy. We pack a whole extra curriculum into the same amount of time that the regular elementary schools have. You really have to be very direct about how you plan and what you teach and how you use your time. And part of that is collaborating with your Spanish side partner, making sure that if I'm covering this, how can you support me? If you're covering this, what can I do? And I think it just makes for better teaching and better results for the kids.
How principals can support of collaboration
To support collaboration between the Spanish and English sides, I think the most important thing our principal does is she makes a schedule that makes it possible. So, we have a common planning time together each week that the specialists also attend. If we didn't have that, I don't know when it would happen. It would have to be outside of school hours, and when you get into that, I feel like it's harder to make happen. So, that's the most important thing.
She's also a model of the PLC process, the Professional Learning Community. And we took that on as a school, and it's something that she didn't just ask us to do; she's doing it with us. And so I think that's really important to have our administrator be a part of that process because it's not easy and she's not just asking us to do it, but she's going through that process of becoming a PLC. And I think if she weren't part of that, it wouldn't really happen.
Teamwork with a Spanish-language classroom teacher
Formally the fourth-grade team meets once a week, but informally we're meeting all the time, before school, after school, in the hallway.
Mr. Espejo and I have been teammates for so many years I don't know how many years we've been teammates. And so we have a good system where we talk about our students really on a daily basis. And if I have a concern about someone and I go to him about it, he's usually saying something like I was just going to come talk to you about that. So, I think between the two of us we really are able to track our student progress over time, and not only academic but social, emotional.
And so we work really well together in that respect. Communicating with parents we always do together. So, if I have a concern about a parent, he's going to be there with me talking with a parent or calling the parent. And same thing, even if it's a math concern that he has, I'm going to be right there with him because oftentimes the parents might have questions about other things and so we really want to be able to present a whole picture.
When I go to special education meetings, I always — if it's just me attending, then I always make sure I talk with Señor Espejo to make sure that I have a good picture of where the student is performing on his side of the day, math strengths, math weaknesses. Spanish Language Arts, the same thing, making sure that we always have the same information even if it's not about our subject area. And so I think that's what makes us a really good team.
Classroom Strategies for 4th-Grade Language Arts
Developing Questioning Skills
Questioning is a skill that it's not just about asking questions about what a student is reading, but it's being able to delve deeper into a text and ask the questions and answer the questions that are more than just surface questions. So, what color is the girl's hair? Red. There's only one right answer, but getting students to generate questions that demonstrate a deeper level of thinking. So, that's one part of questioning.
The other part of questioning is being able on an assessment to answer questions such as which paragraph answers this question or locating that answer within the text and proving that that is where you can find that piece of information. And so it's a pretty simple skill, but it takes practice and it takes direct instruction for students to be able to make that connection between I can answer this question and we talk about going back in the text to find support, but now it's asking me specifically where in the text it is.
And so practicing that skill of locating the information to answer the question and being able to prove that's why you have that.
So when you look at a text that's short and you ask a simple question about it, it's pretty easy to answer. As the texts get longer, then that's where the challenge comes in, especially with students who maybe aren't reading at grade level or students with other disabilities.
So we follow the accommodations for our special education students that are in their IEPs. And so for some students that might mean we read aloud the text to them. So, that's one accommodation. Other students we might chunk the text into smaller sections. So, read this section, take a break. Read this section, take a break. So that gives them time to digest kind of what they're reading.
For second language learners especially pre-teaching the vocabulary in a text so that they can when they're reading it, have an idea of what it is they're reading.
Gian Carlos is a student who came to us in the fall, I believe in October, from Colombia. And he came with a little bit of English but not a lot. And so when he's in my classroom, every day he does get pullout instruction from an ESOL/HILT teacher who works with him on language skills. And when he's in with me, he's part of that classroom environment.
And so I try and make modifications for him so that he can be understanding what we're talking about. And I try to differentiate for his level as well. So, for example, today in word study I had my word study groups all spread out throughout the room and I had to sort specifically for him, that is at his level. It's not necessarily at fourth-grade English level, but it's at his level. And so what I like to do is I try and sit with him and maybe explain the words to him, making sure he's understanding, because you can sort words based on how they're spelled, but if you don't know what they mean, that's not really going to add any value to you and it's not going to help you with your development of English language.
So, I sit with him and I think the easiest thing for him, he's a very oral person so he does like to discuss and give examples, but also I try and provide that pictorial support so that he can visualize kind of what we're talking about.
Another thing I do for him is he understands a lot. It's the producing of the language that's always the more challenging part, the speaking and the writing. And so for him I will often read a text aloud to him if we're doing an activity and then have him discuss whatever the, you know, activity that we're doing is. I'll have him orally tell me kind of what his response is and I'll write for him because he's a student who gets kind of stuck on, “I don't want to write because I might not spell it right.”
And I want to get past that because I want him to be able to participate in the activity. So, I'll read something aloud and then scribe for him.
Reading in English and Spanish
Each week in my class we have library checkout time. So, we come up and the students in fourth grade, they can check out five books. And so we tell them they have to get a mix of Spanish and English, like two English, three Spanish. In talking with parents, that's one of the challenges is finding the right books in Spanish because there's so many books in this country that are in English and there's a lot that are in Spanish, but it's getting that match to get the students interested in that book.
And one thing I've learned in talking with parents is that the Claremont library, it's actually better than the public library in terms of having so many different kinds of books. So, that's why we come up here every week to make sure students are taking home those texts. Also I try and pull books out and share with students like this is something I read when I was younger. Is anyone interested in this? Or who needs help finding a book? What are you interested in reading?
I know the library pretty well so I try and take them around and point things out. And if I come across a book that I'm familiar with in English and I see a Spanish copy of it, I also try and encourage students to check that out as well.
Using Audio Books
To support parents in their student's reading at home, one thing we often suggest is getting audio books. Getting an audio book for a book maybe even that the child has read or is familiar with in English and then getting the Spanish copy of the book in hard copy and also like on CD or a play away from the library.
And that way the students can follow along. They can be — they can listen to the story, but they also already have that basic understanding of what the story has.
Everybody is a language learner
I love Claremont Immersion and the fact that the students here are bilingual. Everyone's learning in two languages, and I think that the way that comes out in my classroom, I'm not bilingual. I've learned a lot of Spanish since coming to Claremont as a teacher. This is my eighth year. And I think that the benefit for the students is that everyone is learning something new in a new language.
And so it's not just an ESL kid coming to an English school and not knowing the language and kind of struggling, but you have students coming from English-only homes. On the Spanish side of the day, that's a really big challenge for them. So, I like to highlight the fact that we're all language learners. We're all learning two languages, even me, and I try my Spanish out with them and I practice with them and, you know, and then they get the chance to model for me too.
It evens everything out for all students here because we're all learning a new language.
Creating a Welcoming Environment in the School
Welcoming newcomer students
I think what sticks out in my mind about special experiences with students, the students who come to me from a different country at some point in the year, whether it's the beginning of the year, middle of the year, or even end of the year, getting them to feel welcome and comfortable, especially in my classroom where we don't speak Spanish because I'm on the English side, I think that for me as a teacher what I take away is just that awareness of how hard that is.
In college I was a French major and I got the opportunity to go to France and study there for a summer, and I remember just how scary that can be when you go to a new country. And so I try and take my personal experiences and put them in practice here and really try and make students feel welcome. So, whatever I can do to make them feel comfortable is really important to me and I think it really helps them.
And I think the takeaway from that is even after they leave my classroom or they leave Claremont, they come back and I see how much their English has really grown, and I know that I was a part of that at the beginning. And that's just really powerful to influence a child's life like that.
Encouraging parents' participation
In the front office Miss Hatie [ph.] works with Spanish-speaking families to get them more involved here, and she has a lot of programs going on, one of which is the Almuerzo en español so lunch is in Spanish, getting those parents in to be part of that to be practicing Spanish with students.
Last week or two weeks ago we had the Read Across America program where the parent volunteers came in to read in Spanish. So, we're trying to encourage all parents to participate but also making sure that we have opportunities for Spanish-speaking families as well to come in and participate. There's Tuesday volunteers. So, the Spanish-speaking parents come in and get to help out in whatever ways teachers need it.
We also have the PTA that encourages participation. They have room parents and there's no lack of ways to get involved. And I think that one thing Claremont does well is to get all different types of families in the door.
Visitors in Claremont
Claremont loves visitors. We often have people coming from around the country or from around the world to visit to see kind of what our program looks like. And I think it's a testament to how many people come into our school how comfortable our students are having strangers in their classrooms to watch them because anytime someone comes in, we just say we have people visiting from this place today so you might see someone in your classroom, and we just kind of continue with our day and they're not fazed by it at all.
I think the students here love to show off their language skills. And so being able to do that and being on camera maybe is a really big treat for them.
Starting at Claremont
When I was graduating from college and looking at different counties to work in, I knew I wanted to work in Arlington. It really appealed to me. So, I went through the list of schools, of elementary schools, and I made a list. And I looked at them and I looked at the populations they have and the kind of programs they have because each school's a little bit different.
And I crossed out Claremont from the list because I didn't know I could work at a bilingual school if I wasn't bilingual. And my resume got in the system and I got a call from the assistant principal at the time. And she said, “Do you want to come in and interview? We have a position here.” And I said, “I would love to come in and interview.” I needed a job.
But I said, “I don't speak Spanish.” And she said, “That's okay. Come here and you'll learn.” And I really have. So, I think bilingual education is —appealed to me because I knew I, you know, having studied French, I love languages. And so I wanted to be in a place where I would be exposed to a new language. And coming here has really allowed me to do that.
Now I'm able to sit through parent/teacher conferences and meetings that occur in English and Spanish and I'm able to participate, maybe not participate in speaking in Spanish, but I'm understanding a lot of what's going on.