Dual Language SchoolsFive Essential Practices to Set Your Year on Course for Success

08/2019
Author Photo: Shawn Slakk

By: Shawn Slakk

CEO and Founder of ABCDSS Consulting Consortium

Photo for: El Portafolio Bilingüe

The beginning of the year is always a great time to set the tone of the class and your relationship with your students and their family. Before they all arrive, learn a bit about them and share a bit about yourself.

Make the First Move and Introduce Yourself

For your class website, record a short intro video introducing yourself. Add a few things like what you like to do with spare time or whatever you are comfortable sharing. It doesn’t have to be long. Do it in as many languages as you can. If possible, have the video dubbed or translated into the languages that you don’t know but your students’ parents speak. Include your contact information like school phone number or your email. In lieu of that or better yet, in addition, call the family before the first day of school. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the parents’ language, they will get the idea that you are trying to connect and build a relationship with them; that you see that their son or daughter is important.

Get to Know Your Students Before They Arrive

Know who your students are before they arrive. Gathering information beyond the basics before they arrive makes them visible to you as an individual. If they are emergent bilinguals or part of a dual language program, double check their language development levels in the base domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening—in both languages. How long have they been in U.S. schools? What other languages might they speak? How many years of schooling do they have? How many different schools have they been in since they started school and where? What development level is Javier at for reading? Writing? Is it the same in English and Spanish? How long has Olga been in U.S. schools? Does she also communicate in another language beside the target languages at school? How often does Francisco change schools or go back to Ecuador? The rest of the information you can find out from the student when you talk with them the first few days of school, or when you talk with the parents or previous teachers.

Write it Down in One Central Location

Much of this information should be available in the student’s cumulative folder which you will be reviewing anyway. While reviewing those folders, take notes. When talking with the parents assure them that you are only wanting to learn about their child to help him or her be successful. It may take a while at times for the family to open up to you, but persistence and respect will yield good information. Along those lines, I remember that it took more than two years to get the whole story behind my student Vasili. Don’t give up.

To organize this info into one place when I taught, I always preferred a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are easy to edit and revise. Today’s software is even more functional now, and some have such great connectivity that you can even electronically collect evidence of growth and link it to the sheets. But I digress. Every time a new student arrived, I added them to my chart. Each quarter I reviewed where each student was in each of the domains.

Plan Groupings for Different Activities

After collecting this information, think about your classroom setup. Groups of four works well and facilitate partner work and other small groups for cooperative learning. In these teams of four make sure to consider ELD level and domain framework levels. When possible, group native speakers with the ELs. A good rule of thumb is one native speaker, one or two high level emergent bilingual, and one low level bilingual. When a Newcomer arrives, add the Newcomer to a quartet for support until they are ready to be on their own. Groups of six is too many and should be divided into trios. Depending upon the activity and the students’ needs, these groups are very adaptable. In dual language programs, groups will change based upon the target language and instruction. Use your data and information you are collecting in your chart to rearrange for each student’s strengths.

Plan for Revision and Review

In your calendar, make a date with yourself at least once every nine weeks to review what you know about each student. Don’t just pencil it in, put it in ink and don’t postpone. At these checkpoints, ask yourself as few questions. How far has Javi grown in reading? What else do I need to know about Olga? What success can I share with him or her and his or her family? What goals have they reached that I need to reset? When was the last time I checked in with Paco? Whose family haven’t I called home and introduced myself to? The year goes by so fast with curriculum, pacing guides, tests, and holidays before you know it, the year is gone and without firm commitment and reminder. Things go unreviewed.

Bonus and Most Important

Plan, create, and practice balance. Go home at a reasonable time. Leave work at work. Enjoy evenings and weekends with friends and family. Make sure to decompress and recharge each day even if it is only for 5 minutes. Your social emotional health is imperative to a great and successful year.