Krishna Borja Cruz

What has been your experience of dual language education in northern California?

I have been given the great opportunity to teach a Dual Immersion 4th/5th grade class. We follow the 90/10 model and at these grade levels, students learn in Spanish 60% of the time and in English 40% of the time. After just completing my teaching credential program, my experience at Thomas Edison has been an amazing one. I have had the privilege and opportunity to work with a group of students that represent a linguistically, culturally and a socioeconomically diverse population. Ensuring that this diversity most efficiently enhances the learning experience of all my students has been challenging but also the most rewarding task of all.

To see students connect their learning to their lives in meaningful ways is priceless. This happens when they are fully immersed in the academic context because they have access to the content in their native language. At the same time, it is also mesmerizing watching the other part of the class engaging with the language with support from their counterparts as authentic academic discourse unfolds in the classroom. I would argue this kind of learning environment is mostly a result of the dual language immersion model in place.

I feel fully committed to the DI program because I am able to identify the potential that exists within my students in both linguistic contexts as they become biliterate and multicultural.

I would also say that teaching through this model is very complex and requires a lot of commitment. Strategic planning, effective collaboration and detailed intentionality are essential elements for this model. Not everything has been as successful as one would want it to be. Yet, I feel fully committed to the DI program because I am able to identify the potential that exists within my students in both linguistic contexts as they become biliterate and multicultural.

What was your biggest influence in becoming an educator?

I struggled through my elementary education in Mexico as my mother migrated to California when I had just turned seven. I didn’t know how to read until about 5th or 6th grade. I repeated grades and went through a long period of learned helplessness. Yet, I was able to pivot from that stage in my life after arriving in California and learning from my ELD teachers who showed they cared so much about me as a student. Mr. Yang and Mrs. Valdez were so patient with all of us in the New Comers program. Mr. Yang, my 7th grade teacher, was the first teacher that said to me, “You are smart.” Those words worked on me like magic. I went into the mainstream classroom within my first two years in the public education system and went from 5s on my report card in Mexico to As in Sacramento. It all happened because a caring adult said the three magic words: “You are smart.” Once I was in college, I continued to be inspired by students I served in an after school program in a local school district and by the great professors I worked with at my community college and local public universities. All of these experiences helped guide my decision to become a DI educator.

Continue reading for more details of Krishna’s impact before arriving at Thomas Edison Language Institute.

How did you arrive at Thomas Edison Language Institute?

After completing my credential from UC Davis, I took part in five different mock interviews that were arranged by the credentialing program. Even when these were only practice interviews, the human resource specialists and district representatives from local districts offered me follow-up interviews and contracts to sign. All of the offers were attractive and appealing but I decided to take time to get to know schools, programs and districts a little more. By the end of that month, I had more than 10 offers to choose from and this was mostly because I would be receiving my BCLAD certification. I made my decision and declined all other offers after my interview and school tour at Thomas Edison Language Institute.

I very much appreciated the diversity and culture of the school. Thomas Edison is a Title I school with a student body of more than 800 and serves a broad community that ranges from preschool to 8th grade. The large number of refugee students makes the school very linguistically diverse, which enhances the development of the Spanish DI program.

Teacher of the Month - Krishna Borja Cruz

How do you create a classroom community around language and culture?

I don’t think I have quite figured out the ultimate way to create a classroom community around language and culture that is 100% effective, but I can argue that students’ backgrounds and home experiences are the most valuable resources. I have identified and utilized students’ backgrounds as assets to generate an environment that is culturally safe and allows for students to take risks and use one another as teachers that can scaffold their learning.

The first step I took to come to such a conclusion was realizing that students walk into the classroom with broad knowledge and experiences in both of their languages that have the potential to serve as contributions to everyone’s learning. An example of this would be doing word problems on area and perimeter and connecting these concepts to the construction work several of my students’ parents do for a living. When we got to area and perimeter this year, I used the examples of tiles for a room. One of my students asked, “¿Qué es azulejo?” To which another replied, “Son tiles para la construcción.” This kind of dialog brings many students into the conversation as they make connections among their language acquisition, their backgrounds and the content. To me, effective pedagogy in culturally diverse classrooms is about bridging these three elements to support students’ learning.

I have identified and utilized students backgrounds as assets to generate an environment that is culturally safe and allows for students to take risks and use one another as teachers that can scaffold their learning.

What are your favorite resources to create engaging and rigorous lessons in English and Spanish?

The resources I utilize to create lesson plans are the CCSS, the GLAD strategies I learned this year through my GLAD certification, Teachers-Pay-Teachers materials, authentic literature that is relevant to my students and their interests, assets and backgrounds.

What do you think makes your classroom stand out?

The individuality and recognized uniqueness of each one of my students is what makes our classroom so special. Each one of my students is an active contributor of our learning community.

How do you challenge student performance and creativity?

In order to challenge and engage students in creative work, I try to offer choice whenever possible. I offer higher-level thinking assignments that are meaningful and authentic. I also ensure that these are culturally responsive. Some examples of such assignments include:

  • Interviewing and responding to the interview of a relative (opinion/point of view writing)
  • With the help of a caring adult, writing a recipe of a favorite dish (informational writing)
  • Writing letters to another student from a partner school in Mexico City (informational writing)
  • Writing possible points of view from friends and relatives about a book of students’ choice (critical-thinking book analysis)

Continue reading for more details on how Krishna challenges her personal and professional growth.

How do you find opportunities to engage in professional development?

I try to give myself the time to read and invest in my growth as much as time allows it. I try to seek out help and resources from my colleagues as all of them always have something to offer and a good amount of experience under their belt. I am furthering my education as I am in the process of completing the M.A. in Education program from UC Davis. I have been privileged to have the support of my administrators and have attended or will shortly be attending an 8-day GLAD training, two CABE Dual Language Institutes and the 25th Annual Two-Way Immersion Conference by ATDLE.

Teacher of the Month - Krishna Borja Cruz

Which best practices in dual language education do you find most effective?

I find that the most effective practices in DL education are development and implementation of tasks and assignments that are meaningful, authentic and explicit of transferring learned skills form one language to another or one context to another. Students should have a real audience and purpose for the work they do. This allows for high commitment and high interest from students. These kinds of assignments offer value to the work they do and give validity to their acquisition and effort to learn a second language.

Real life application of students’ learning is optimal but realistically not always attainable. Yet, one should always ensure students clearly understand that everything they learn in one language or the other is meaningful, transferable to any other context and has a real-world application. That is why I believe creating authentic tasks for students and the explicit instruction of transferring learned skills to a different context and/or language are the top most effective practices in DL education.

What does it mean to be an advocate for dual language education?

Based on my experiences, being a DL education advocate means ensuring my practice and the program I work for follows the Guiding Principles of Dual Language Education. That is I, as a practitioner, ought to ensure my students have access to an education that serves them right as it incorporates strong knowledge of the Common Core State Standards, effective research-based pedagogy and actively promotes equity in both languages for all students and for the entire program. In my case, this means taking leadership roles in my school to promote the implementation of effective practices in our program. This also means I need to use and model strong academic English and Spanish and ensure students are academically challenged in both languages and all of their needs are being met.

How do you help your students understand the value of biliteracy?

This first year teaching, I invested a lot of my time and energy helping students understand the higher-level thinking and processing they are doing as 4th and 5th grade students, which helps them dominate two languages. We also explore the value and the responsibility they have as biliterate entities. I would often suggest to them that effective communicators model appropriate use of language by respecting it and using it with pride.

Teacher of the Month - Krishna Borja Cruz

What kind of impact do you see your students having on the world?

As a DL educator, I hope my students will continue their journeys as biliterate and bicultural citizens of the world that will always be able to utilize their skills and assets to make their communities and the world a better place for everyone. I hope that through their second language acquisition, students continue to develop empathy, which will allow them to become tolerant and companionate beings that are proactive about the injustices around the world. Lastly, I hope their biliteracy and multiculturalism turns into a legacy that allows for greater opportunities for them and for those around them.

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