Part I: Leading a dual-language school
Claremont Dual-Language Model
Claremont is a fantastic school. Our students spend half their time in Spanish and half their time in English. They have a Spanish classroom teacher where they learn Spanish language arts and math in Spanish and they have an English language arts teacher where they learn English language arts and social studies. They also have science in Spanish and then they have specials. So, our students are able to be immersed in the language from kindergarten all the way up through fifth grade.
We are all language learners
I think what’s wonderful about Claremont and the dual language school is that we understand that we are all language learners. And so when we are teaching content in a particular language, I think we always approach it to understanding what is the content or what are the skills that we need to be able to do, our students need to be able to do, but also what are the specific language structures and supports, whether it’s key vocabulary or persuasive language or a certain kind of question that they’re going to need to be able to master to be able to show that they know that content.
So, by having both an English Language Arts block and a Spanish Language Arts block, we are really supporting our students in learning literacy skills, and they’re developing those skills in two languages. So, we are both teaching the content of literacy as well as developing the language that they would need to show that they have that content.
How students learn from each other in a dual-language school
We know that our students learn the most from each other, and the power of a dual language program is we have students who have a rich background in Spanish and are here sharing that ability with our students who have a rich background in the English Language Arts. And as they work together to solve problems, they begin to share those language abilities.
So, you’ll see in our classrooms students who may be working around a lack of a vocabulary word and a student can whisper and give them that word so that they have it. I think that’s what makes it real and meaningful for the students too when they have to be able to describe in a language that they may not be as strong with and they have a friend or a classmate who can be right there and give them an assist. It makes it very real why it’s important to speak two languages.
The importance of being bilingual
I think it’s so critical that we are able to communicate in two different languages and just by the very process of learning two different languages we build many other skills, including how to be creative when we don’t have the words that we need to express ourselves. We have to be critical thinkers about how we try to communicate the essential even sometimes if we don’t have all the sentence frames or structures.
And I think it opens up a whole new understanding of how the world works. When you’re able to speak and communicate in another language, you have access to a whole another perspective, a whole nother way of thinking and approaching life.
How being bilingual prepares students for the future
I think one of the things that we talk about when we talk about Claremont Immersion being a dual language school is thinking about the future for our students, and we know that we don’t know what jobs they’re going to have, that the world is changing, that we’re becoming such more of a global society. And so we may not know exactly what jobs that they’re going to need, but we know exactly what skills they’re going to need.
And they are going to need to be able to communicate. They’re going to need to be able to be creative. And they’re going to have to be able to collaborate with others. And explicitly a dual-language school is addressing all of those and saying we know our students are going to have to be able to communicate in two languages.
When you are learning in a second language and when you have two languages, you really do have to learn how to navigate the world in a different way and you have to build different communication skills. So, it comes down to very simply in the kindergarten classroom if you are learning Spanish, then you are figuring out how to get the crayon passed, how to move through the day at a very basic level.
If you’re in fifth grade and you are learning English and you had a Spanish background, then you have learned how to have that content built up and you’re writing a persuasive essay in the fifth grade in English Language Arts because you’ve had the opportunity to build on your native language skills and transfer them to English. I think that we see it as something that will be essential for all of our students to have two languages, and we’re giving that gift to them.
The pride students feel in being bilingual
Our students are rightfully so very proud of learning two languages. I think that we have many experiences of parents who may not speak English or may not speak Spanish come to us and tell us that they were amazed at what their kids were able to do when put in the situation where they had to use their other language. But our children, our students really take pride in being bilingual. Our fifth graders wrote persuasive essays of whether this should be a two language school or whether it should be a monolingual school and definitively argued for it to continue to be a dual language school.
Integrating the arts into bilingual programs
So, we have an [unint.] project at Claremont. In addition to being a dual language school, we have a commitment to integrating arts throughout our children’s experiences. And I think this very much builds on the cultural aspect of learning in two languages. So, this week we have Louis Gouret, who is an Afro-Cuban drummer who is coming and drumming with all of our first-grade students.
We had Andre Saugero who is a musician who came and sang and taught our students in kindergarten different songs from all over Latin America. We will have another artist who will come and work with our fifth‑grade students to build a mosaic, and they will be sharing their favorite memory of Claremont. And I can’t wait to see how their mosaic turns out.
having our students have the opportunity to experience working with real artists from the metropolitan D.C. area enriches their experiences here to realize that they’re going to use their language in real life applications. We know that because they already speak two languages, that they are building creativity in their brains. They are then putting that into action when they get to interact with the arts and interact with the artists who really pull out of them different products, different pieces of music, different pieces of art that really shows their creative spirit.
Honoring students’ cultures through success in both languages
We have a very clear mission here at Claremont Immersion, which is that all students will achieve academic success in two languages. And our expectation is that our students will continue to grow their abilities in both languages from kindergarten up through fifth grade. So, it comes from the very small things of our teachers ensure that they stay in their target language with our students, to highlighting accomplishments that our students do.
So, we have a Spanish-only newspaper called El papaguayo and we invite all of our students to participate that [ph.]. Our morning news is produced in Spanish on some days only and in English on other days. We have an almuerzo en español a certain Friday every month where we invite our students and families to come and speak only in Spanish during lunchtime.
By celebrating and honoring the fact that our students speak two languages, we really explicitly are honoring our students who have a cultural background of speaking Spanish at home and seeing that as an incredible gift that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. We have many families who would like to attend Claremont Immersion because they recognize that their children will have this gift of speaking two languages. And I think that reflects an understanding that our students in the future are really going to need at a minimum two languages, probably a third, but we know at least two languages.
A bilingual library
We have a valuable resource in our school library because we have a rich selection of both English and Spanish language books. And early on Claremont has made the decision that we would intermix the languages in the library. So, we don’t have an English section and a Spanish section. Rather we have if you come in and you’re interested in reading a certain author or you’re interested in a nonfiction topic, you go to find that topic, and you may find books that are in English or Spanish and you are able to select which language makes the most sense for you for the project that you’re doing.
And I think that really models the dual language experience that we want our students to be able to operate in both languages at all times.
My dream job
I think being principal of Claremont Immersion is my dream job because first of all I have the opportunity to work with students in two languages. I have the opportunity to interact with parents who are from all over the world. We have families here who are from Spanish speaking countries. We also have families here from non-Spanish and non-English speaking countries who are really looking to have three languages.
And I have the opportunity to work with a staff that is explicitly thinking about how we use language to further scales and content in our students. And we have a lot of fun.
What you need to start a dual-language program
If you’re interested in starting a dual language program, I would say go for it. It’s so powerful for your students to give them this opportunity. And we know when children start young, they’re going to learn that language and they are going to learn the content as well. I think we get concerned that they might miss out on content, but they will get the content and the language.
I think starting out it’s finding the right teachers who are committed to a dual language program and who will understand that we are all language learners and so you need to be able to teach the content and you need to be able to support the language. And once you understand that, then you just keep building the program.
Part II: Collaboration & Instruction
Making decisions that allow teachers to collaborate
We have some core values here at Claremont, and collaboration is really our first and most important value. By definition a dual language program shares students. So, our students have automatically two homeroom teachers, but we really see all of our students as ours. And whether you are a push-in specialist for reading or for English as a second language or a special education teacher, you really are working as part of a collaborative team to do what’s best for those students.
I think as a leader, it’s not just talking about collaboration. It’s actually making decisions that ensure that we have collaboration. So, we have worked with what’s under our control to set aside a specific time where our teachers are collaborating together. Once a week our grade level teams meet for 70 minutes, and this provides a very formal and specific process for them to collaborate and look at what do students need to learn, how will we know they’ve learned it, what do we do to differentiate for those that already knew it or for those that are struggling gaining it.
And I think by setting aside that time as being valuable and important means that collaboration happens formally, which then helps it happen informally. So then you see that our teachers are always meeting in the hallways, after school, between each other. I know they text after hours. And it just becomes a model of what we do. We move forward when we’ve all worked and thought about what we can do best for our students.
How our 4th-grade team brings out the best in students
We have a fantastic fourth-grade team. I think what is important about the collaborative model that Claremont has is that we really try to build on all the expertise that teachers bring in. So, on our fourth-grade team we have teachers with varying levels of years of experience or varying backgrounds. But by collaborating and working together, they really bring out what’s best for students.
So, I would like to eliminate the lottery that parents receive of, “Who my child — which teacher my child is going to have at school” and by building in collaboration and having a strong team, we’re guaranteeing that our students have fantastic learning experiences and that all of our teachers are sharing their expertise.
So, where you have a Señor Espejo who has been teaching for many years and has a tremendous amount of experience is able to collaborate with Señora Rojas who is relatively new in her teaching career and yet she brings many experiences from her own education and background that will enrich the students’ lives. And so then we’re really getting the best of both for our students regardless of whether you’re in Señor Espejo’s class or Señora Rojas’s class.
What can we do better?
I think we’re always in a process of continual improvement at Claremont, and I think that’s what makes us successful but also what keeps us up at night. So, at the end of every collaborative team meeting we always debrief and ask what went well and what could we do better. And I think that it’s rare that we don’t have something that we think about that we could do better.
And we do that same loop for professional development. At the end of every professional development session or a run-through we say what could we do better. And as a leader, I take that what we could do better is really my mission of what we need to do better. And there are always more things. I think we’re always working harder to make sure that our instruction is differentiated in the best way possible.
Differentiation is talked about easily. It is an incredibly challenging thing to do well. I think that we seek to use research-based instructional strategies using the SIOP strategies, understanding what those are. And implementing them in every lesson consistently across every classroom for every child, that’s challenging.
And so we continue to strive to be better at what we’re doing for our students. We work as a team to do that, but we also have — I think that we have really talented individuals who think hard about this and they push me as a leader for us to get better.
Helping students meet goals in the target language
So, at Claremont Immersion we chose writing as a way to measure our students’ growth in Spanish. And we really wanted to make sure that when we had students come in who were strong Spanish speakers, that we continue to increase their ability in Spanish.
And for those that were learning Spanish, that we moved them up and had the level of skills. So, we look at writing samples three times a year and score those collaboratively. So, I think you have to decide what the benchmarks are, what the targets are that you’re going to reach for those language skills in whatever target language you have and make sure that you are measuring those and checking on those and responding to what your students need so that they can reach those targets or goals.
Using an assessment loop to pre-teach, teach, and re-teach
We use a tight assessment loop to really show whether our students are learning the content that we need. So, the first thing that we explore and make sure that we all have a common understanding at a grade level is what do students really need to learn and how will we know that if they’ve learned it. So, in answering that question, we really look at what students’ work will look like either through a pre‑assessment or through a specific rubric of what it is that they need to master.
Once we’ve identified that, we pre-assess our students. They show us what they have learned or what they haven’t learned. Then we teach them and then we give a post-assessment. We analyze that to see if at the post-assessment if they haven’t learned it, then we go back and reteach. Because we do a collaborative co-teaching model, we’re able to have what might be a whole-group lesson but then small groups of students working, where we’re really able to differentiate instruction based on the assessment that we’ve given our students.
And we see that as just a constant loop that we are looking at what students are able to do, planning for that instruction, assessing again to see if they have mastered it, moving on to plan for that instruction, and we continue that loop together.
Part III: Parent Outreach
Different ways we welcome parents at our school
We know that it’s critical that we share with our families and they share with us what we value and what we’re bringing forward with their education. So, we do multiple ways to invite families to be involved here at school. And I think families then invite us back to tell us a little bit about their rich resources.
So, we have everything from curriculum sessions that we hold in two languages in the fall that talk about the different learnings that have to happen. We have community events that happen. Some community events we advertise specifically to be in Spanish and we have both Spanish speakers and speakers who generally speak English but are learning Spanish and like to be involved.
One of our favorite events is called Cafecito con la directora and it’s an event that we hold in Spanish and we invite any families who are interested around a specific topic, and it’s an informal event where families can come and really ask me questions or ask anyone who might be here at school. And we found that to be extremely effective for building the community here.
One of the questions that a parent brought up at a Cafecito con la directora was they weren’t sure how to be in touch with the teacher, and all of the other parents gave her 10 different ways that she could be in touch and reassured her that unlike her experience in her home country, in fact here it’s very easy to get in touch with a teacher. And I think that, building that community so that parents can answer each other’s questions is really critical.
Talking about the benefits of being bilingual with families
I think the fact that we have — that we are teaching in the target language, Spanish, allows our families who may not have grown up here in the United States and grew up in other countries to really come and interact with our teachers and talk about the content that their children need to learn in math and science in their home language. And I think that’s a very powerful way to connect them here to their school.
I think often parents are concerned that if they speak Spanish at home and their children are speaking Spanish here at school, that they won’t learn English. And we do a lot to explain to our parents how important it is that they develop their literacy skills in their home language and continue to talk and share stories and speak in their home language and that we’ll take care of the English and that what is wonderful is that their children will not be behind in math or in science because they’re going to receive that instruction in their home language, but that they will transfer that contact knowledge to English and begin to build their English skills and be able to transfer that back as they grow older and go through the program.
Answering parent questions about learning in two languages
We often have parents who are concerned, you know, “How will my child know both languages, won’t they get confused,” and really children, and we know this from research and we see it every day, they really don’t get confused. They have an English classroom with an English teacher and they work hard to do everything in English. They have a Spanish classroom and a Spanish classroom. They work hard to do everything in Spanish.
But they also use vocabulary back and forth, and one of my favorite stories that I love about here was in kindergarten in the fall I was walking down the hallway and I overheard a kindergartener say to the kindergartener in front of her, “If you don’t vamos, we aren’t going to go.” And I think that we get to hear that. Even though a parent might say well, that’s them mixing languages, they’re in fact using vocabulary for both, and I’m positive that student knew where to use Spanish and where to use English and was using their Spanish when they could.
Part IV: Using Formative Assessment with ELLs
Assessment: An integral part of instructional program
Assessment is an integral part of our instructional program here. We really have several different assessment cycles. Of course we have a quarterly benchmark assessment in English language arts and math across the grade levels. But we also see assessment tied closely to the instruction that we do in our classroom, and at the grade level.
So for every new unit or new concept we pre—assess our students, that helps us clarify exactly what our students need to learn, and what background knowledge they may already bring, so we can target our instruction to new learning.
It also allows us to identify students who may need some support, or some pre—teaching to be able to access the content that we're going to be teaching. We then teach, and then we post—assess to find out who has learned it, and it allows us to celebrate the student growth, that they have truly learned new things.
And if anyone still is struggling with a concept it allows us to really go back and give a chance to deepen our teaching, and re—teach, and have them a chance, again to post—assess, and show that they've learned that concept. So, assessment is so tightly tied to what we do with our instructional program that we couldn't do what we do without it.
Are students learning the language skills they need to succeed?
I think one of the important things here at school is that we all consider ourselves, and all of our students as language learners. So we come from a framework that we're all developing our language abilities, and building our academic vocabulary, and our ability to explain and understand and differentiate around concepts.
And so when we think, particularly of our English language learners we want to make sure that we are mindful of the language that they have, and where do we need to provide support so that they're able to express what they know. And so when we build our assessments, whether it's our pre-assessment that we're building, we want to make sure we've clarified what we really need them to show their learning, does it have to use the language component?
Can they show their learning in other ways, and the same for our post-assessment? I think it also allows us to think carefully about not just the content objectives, about what is the content that students need to learn, but what are the language components that they need to learn to demonstrate that they understand those concepts?
Are students learning the key academic vocabulary they need?
I think another way that we support English language learners is after the pre-assessment, when we're analyzing the data and looking to see what students need to learn, sometimes we are able to see that students who are learning English don't have the academic vocabulary that they might need as a pre-requisite for the skill that we're teaching.
So that is a way that our English as a second language teacher can work with those students to build that academic vocabulary before the general education teacher teaches that lesson, then they come to the lesson already with that specific vocabulary ready to be successful and learn the new concept.
Using common formative assessment with ELLs
I think what truly allows us to help support our English language learners is our use of consistent common formative assessments, so that we are really guaranteeing that every child, regardless of how much language, or English language you have is able to demonstrate that they have the skills, and content, and knowledge.
And when we build our common formative assessments, and then we see the results of students, we're allowed to sit around a team meeting that will include always our classroom teacher, our English as a second language teacher, our gifted resource teacher, our special education teacher, and we come together to see what kind of instruction, what support do those students need, and then who's going to actually deliver that instruction?
Because I think a lot of times it comes down to, "Who, when, and what?" to make that happen, and that allows us to make sure that all of our students, regardless of their language abilities are going to have access to that curriculum, and able to demonstrate their learning.
Bringing everyone’s expertise to the table
I think it's absolutely essential to have the different perspectives, and different educators sitting around a table really discussing what would be the next best instructional steps. I think one of the challenges that we have expert teachers, but if we aren't effectively able to collaborate and share, we can't bring our best to each of the students.
And I think we all have our own experiences in our background, and when we use a collaborative model, and we use a very structured collaborative model we really ensure that we're able to access everyone's expertise which brings out the best for the students.
So, when we have a teacher with a background as an English with a second language teacher she can really inform, or he can really inform to make sure that our instructional practices are best for those students as they're learning a language, and give us new ideas of how we can do the best for our students, and that really makes a difference.
Making the most of our professional learning community (PLC)
We use protocols from the professional learning community that help structure the way that we meet and really helps make sure that we're as efficient with our time as we can be. One fabulous tool that we have used is using a Google Docs, Google Documents which allow us to literally share lesson plans, and share plans of unit – units of our planning, share building common formative assessments.
And then teachers, all of our teachers can access their documents, and they can edit at the same time, and that really facilitates our conversation because it goes from just talking about something to actually walking away with a concrete common assessment, or a concrete exit ticket, or a specific lesson plan, a specific re-teaching, and the materials are all there, and all the teachers have the same materials, and they're able to walk away and do that, what's best for their students.
Looking at authentic student work
When we talk about what the students need to show us that they've learned it, or assessment, or data we want to make sure that everyone understand that that can look very differently, and really what we're looking at is student work.
So that can be something they've written, that can be in the form of responding to a question, but it also can be a project that they've done, it can be a presentation, it can be multiple different things, and I think the conversation that is enriched when we look at authentic student work together as teachers, we can really begin to see what are they showing that they already learn and understand, and where we can we deepen their understanding, or where can we stretch them a little bit with their knowledge.
And it's that conversation, look at authentic student work, that really allows us, I think to be the best teachers that we can be.
Showing student growth in informal ways
I think people talk about the stress of testing, and I really think that's when it's high stakes testing when that testing is a single data point, and it's going to determine the number of factors that may be out of the student, or the teacher, or the principal's control.
But when we're looking at testing or assessments to check for understanding, or check for learning I think that's really a low stress environment. And students as well as teachers are just using that to check their understanding. So it's not a performance as much as information to act upon. And I think our students take pride in showing when they understand that they're taking a pre-assessment, it's just to figure out what they already know, and then they look at their post-assessment to say look at all the new concepts that I've learned.
Then it's not about creating a high stress environment or high anxiety, it's about showing student growth, and they can be proud, and see concretely what they really have learned in that unit, and they can clearly speak to it, just to take it one step further, our students set goals for themselves, and they set specific goals about what they would like to get better at, what they would like to learn, and they identify the steps that they'll need to do to take those goals.
And I think using pre and post-assessments allows them to say, "I learned this because I like to read more, or I ask more questions, or I took advantage of the lunch bunch group with the teacher." And then they're the ones who are in charge of their learning, and they know exactly how they're doing, and they know what they need to do to get better.
Talking about assessment with parents
I think parents, of course are concerned, and want to make sure that their children are getting a high quality education, that they have proof that they are learning things, and assessment is one of those ways that they see when they look to say, "I want to see the results, I want to see the test results, I want to see how I can know for sure that my child is learning."
And I think we try to educate and inform our parents about all the different meanings of the word assessment, and how we use it in the classroom to inform our instruction, how we use it to teach children what they need to learn, and compare that differently to some of the mandated state and national tests that we're required to take, and the information that we get from those as well.
So, I think there's, testing or assessment is used, but it really covers a broad range of, of topics and ideas, and making sure that parents have all that information is important.
"Your children learned what they needed today."
We're a dual language school, and so specifically we are teaching in English and Spanish, and we really want to make sure we're reaching out to our parents in both languages as well, both of their home languages.
And so we do curriculum and information sessions in the fall, and we offer those in two languages, in English and Spanish, we also have what we call here Cafecito con la Directora, so just a coffee hour to come and ask questions, and we hold these open community events so parents really can access the school, and the educators, and to make sure that they have the information they need to be able to support their child's education.
And when our students are able to demonstrate, again and again through assessment that they do have the skills, and content, and knowledge is the way that I can guarantee and look at a parent and say, "Yes, your child has learned what they needed to learn here in school.”
On her school website, Jessica writes, "Dual language education is my passion and I am delighted to be the principal of Claremont Immersion School. I graduated cum laude from Columbia University with a B.A. in Latin American History and earned my M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from the University of Georgia. With my family, I lived and worked in dual language schools in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (3 years) and Cuzco, Peru (5 years). I live in Arlington with my husband, two daughters, and three pets."