TNCS Chinese Immersion Summer Camp 2017!

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp-2017Over 2 weeks in July, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities.

Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp last year. She employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate.

This year, Jewel was joined by assistants Monica Li and Maggie Tao and 15-year-old volunteer Dylan Wang. Each week had a unique focus.

During week 1, campers “去中国旅游 Visit China,” in which a group of friends sign up for a trip to China. Students first decided the city that they want to travel to and then researched basic information about the city: the price of tickets, the weather, the transportation, the hotel, and the attractions in the city. Their learning objectives, which were differentiated based on the student’s current skill level) included:

  • Purchasing tickets
  • Making a hotel reservation
  • Developing itineraries
  • Conversing with taxi drivers
  • Creating a passport

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp-2017For week 2, campers paired up and studied Chinese endangered animals. Each pair selected an animal to research, such as both of Chinese and English names, current population, where they live, what they eat, and why they became endangered, and used their findings to make a poster as a culminating project.

They also made papier-mâché masks of their selected animals as well as animals of their choice (or bowls of wontons in a couple of cases) with air-dry clay.

Side activities included lots of cultural activities—origami, singing, dancing, cooking, and eating . . lots of eating including during a Chinese tea and snack session.

Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day to work off all of that delicious Chinese food they made and consumed!

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers gobbled up take-out Chinese with gusto!

If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp 2017 to thank. If you notice a simultaneous craving for green onion pancakes, well, thank Jewel for that, too (and see slide show below for how to make your own—they’re delicious)!

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TNCS Chinese Summer Camp: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Happy Campers!

Over 2 weeks in July, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of physical health. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are learning something new in a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around a theme, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to that theme.

Jewel developed this year’s camp and its theme based on her experience teaching Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed these six evidence-based best practices for replication in language programs:

  • Implementing a Standards-Based and Thematically Organized Curriculum
  • Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
  • Using the Target Language and Providing Comprehensible Input for Instruction
  • Integrating Culture, Content, and Language in a World Language Classroom
  • Adapting and Using Age-Appropriate Authentic Materials
  • Conducting Performance-Based Assessment

Students are truly immersed in the language, but the point is that, through the proven six-pronged approach, they develop the confidence to communicate—to start talking . . . and reading and writing, too!

Jewel also employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate.

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp

Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

For Week 1, Xie Laoshi, Li Laoshi, and TNCS interns Ariel and Mary (who had just joined the staff), started by introducing the concept of a sick panda named Lulu. Within this beginning scenario, opportunities to speak to one another and to the teachers abounded. Why is poor Lulu not feeling well? Isn’t Lulu cute? What do pandas eat? Students at both novice and intermediate levels quickly acquired the words they needed to discuss this compelling situation—who doesn’t love pandas?

Camp wasn’t all vocabulary by any means, however. Attendees learned by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet—and made arts and crafts, cooked and ate dumplings by the dozens, and sang Chinese songs. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day. The week culminated with the performance of a short play. Each student was part of a four-person troupe, and each troupe acted out one of two level-appropriate vignettes involving either a short sing-song message or a scripted visit to the doctor. And that was just Week 1!

 

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Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

In Week 2, students extrapolated what they learned about health from Lulu the panda to apply it themselves. The first half of the week brought more arts and crafts, interacting in the target language, and having lots and lots of fun. Jewel was extremely pleased with her students’ progress after just a week. “I am very happy with how the students are talking,” she said, “and they are very happy, too. They told me they don’t want it to end!” She says that she wanted to make sure they remember camp fondly and so planned both a field trip and an end-of-camp party for Week 2.

On Wednesday, campers set out for Rockville, MD to visit the Washington Cathay Future Center, “an educational enrichment center [whose] aim is to cultivate students’ artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential” all against the backdrop of Chinese culture. There, they painted kites using traditional materials and techniques (and were given the gear they needed to get it aloft to take home), ate authentic Chinese food, watched traditional dance, and participated in some t’ai chi. They had a fantastic time, needless to say, even before they received take-home gifts of tapestry necklaces depicting one of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac.

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered. Campers gobbled up homemade barbecued pork and red bean paste steamed buns (fashioned into porcupines! So cute!); vegetarian and chicken mini dumplings; crispy shrimp snacks and snack cakes from China; and fresh, local watermelon. This cultural feast did not end with food, however. Students also performed “Xiong Mao Mimi,” a song about saving pandas by making sure bamboo is plentiful. Finally, they watched Kung Fu Panda 3—in Chinese!

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If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp to thank. If you notice a simultaneous inverse decrease in his or her consumption of pizza, fries, and cotton candy, you can give a similar shout out to Lulu the panda.

TNCS Hosts Education Conference for Teachers from China!

Last week, The New Century School hosted some very special guests: nine kindergarten and preschool educators from China (plus one of the teacher’s 5-year-old daughter, Kitty).  They came to the United States for some training sessions as part of a conference titled “Innovation in Education,” the brainchild of TNCS Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner in partnership with representative Alex Xu from Each Future Cultural Network, a company dedicated to fostering cultural exchanges between China and the United States. Although this was not the first time TNCS and EFCN have jointly hosted Chinese guests (see International Camp at TNCS), this session was unique in being devoted to teacher training for adults.  
Explaining how the conference came to be and its mission, Ms. Faux says:
We were approached by a group in China interested in learning more about U.S. education styles. TNCS partnered with Loyola and Johns Hopkins University to present talks and sessions on a variety of topics. Our mission was to expose Chinese teacher to progressive styles of learning, especially at the preschool and early elementary ages. Many progressive schools approach education based on a model of human development (Montessori). This encompasses two main principles: 1) Children engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments, and 2) preschool children have an innate path of psychological development. Children who are at liberty to choose and act freely within a prepared environment act spontaneously for optimal development. This is a critical time for children, which has a long-term impact on future learning and development. This is a very new concept to Chinese education and culture.
The group arrived on Sunday, April 24th and began attending conference seminars first thing the next morning. As Ms. Faux said above, the concepts presented were mostly unfamiliar to the group, but this did not lessen the appeal of listening to presentations and engaging in question-and-answer sessions afterward. Of the nine, three spoke English and were able to help Mr. Xu with the task of translating the presentations by speakers into Mandarin as well as the responses by the group into English to facilitate smooth communication. The itinerary was as follows.

Day 1

On Monday, the group stuck pretty close to home base, starting with a welcome tour of TNCS and an overview of the week’s workshops. After being treated to breakfast by Chef Emma Novashinski, they observed the primary and K/1st classrooms during the morning, then had lunch with the upper elementary students followed by gelato at Pitango in Fell’s Point. Back at headquarters, they enjoyed their first formal presentation by TNCS K/1st teacher Adriana Duprau on classroom management in a non-traditional classroom, where students enjoy considerably more freedom than in traditional classrooms.
This may well have been the most challenging concept of the week for them to embrace, given that there is little leeway in the typical Chinese classroom, and students are expected to conduct themselves according to a strict standard of behavior. In a classroom that averages 30 or more students, such behavioral expectations make sense—no one would be learning anything amidst the mayhem that would otherwise likely result. Instead, the model Chinese student pays attention to the instructor, sits still (in some cases even sitting on his or hands to avoid the temptation to fidget), and speaks only when called on (see TNCS Visits Schools in China).
 

A very thoughtful discussion followed the talk, with the group inquiring about TNCS’s approach to standardized test taking and arguing that every student needs high scores. In Chinese schools, excelling is a must.

Day 2

On Tuesday, the group traveled to Columbia to visit the Washington Montessori Institute of Loyola. Speaker Jennifer Shields, Director of Primary Training, presented the basics of the Montessori approach and how it not only accommodates how children develop but also optimizes that development. As part of the presentation, the group sang a “Good Morning” song, toured classrooms, and watched video footage of a primary classroom in glorious, productive action.

After the morning session, the group returned to TNCS for lunch, followed by a talk from Head of School Alicia Danyali on bilingual education. Once again, the subsequent Q&A focused on the differences between the organic approach to language acquisition that TNCS adopts with the Chinese way, which is often includes using tutors for extra practice.

Day 3

On Wednesday, escorted by JHU School of Education Assistant Dean for Community Schools Dr. Annette Anderson, the group first toured the relatively new Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, also known as Henderson-Hopkins, an early childhood center as well as K–8 school. According to their mission, this public school:

. . . will pursue the most contemporary, effective approaches to meeting the needs of students, their families, and the community. The school will take a holistic approach to developing the potential of each student, one that focuses on the behavioral, cognitive and physical health of the child. It will emphasize individualized learning, and family and community involvement supported by wrap-around services.

The creation of an early childhood center is key to assuring early success for students and their families and will help each student reach his or her full potential. By placing an emphasis on physical and social development as well as academic achievement, Henderson-Hopkins is fully committed to making sure that all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and that they will be fully prepared to enter their high school of choice and eventually college.

After lunch at nearby Atwater’s, the group headed to the JHU campus School of Education building, where Assistant Professor Dr. Carolyn Parker gave a presentation on STEM Education. Her talk centered on JHU’s National Science Foundation STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) grant. “The SABES grant is a 7.4 million dollar award that leverages the skills and resources of the schools, community, and businesses in three high-minority, low-resource Baltimore city neighborhoods. The goal is to integrate science into a child’s world as opposed to bringing a student into the world of scientists.”

After this full day, the group was ready for some rest but not before one of them made the very incisive point that China seems to invest its educational resources in the top achievers, whereas the United States seems to be focusing on raising up the underperformers.

Day 4

Thursday started with a very special treat—handmade smoothies courtesy of Chef Emma followed by the first-ever TNCS talent show! Students from all levels performed songs in Mandarin, and the upper elementary also sang in Spanish for good measure. The Chinese group was enthralled, and TNCS faculty nearly burst with pride.

From there, the group attended a talk on Mindfulness in Education by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish at Johns Hopkins University Medical Campus. See TNCS Teachers Get Mindful! for a similar discussion. Much of this talk involved regulating emotions and how children respond to stressors, which is an also area of expertise of one of the group members, Hui Huang, who goes by “Rowena” in the States.

Lastly that day, the group toured the Baltimore School for the Arts under the guidance of TWIGS (afterschool program) Director and Musical Theatre Instructor Becky Mossing. Here the group saw choir, orchestra, dance, sculpture, and theatre students engaged in their respective arts and also got a peek inside the rigorous academic classrooms.

Day 5

Friday began with a tour of the Washington International School and a presentation on WSI’s international program that challenges students in preschool through 12th grade “to become responsible and effective world citizens.” This was followed by a talk by presenter Alice Zhang on teacher training at the Center for Chinese Language Teacher Development and Training at the University of Maryland College Park.

The final activity was a farewell party back at TNCS, where the group received certification for having completed the training and relaxed with some refreshments. They also provided verbal and written feedback about their experience to help shape future conferences. Said one of the attendees, Xiang Xueying, who goes by “Gloria” in the states, “I really enjoyed my stay here very much.” Gloria was especially impressed with the Western habit of reading to young children nightly before bed and wants to encourage Chinese parents to adopt this practice.

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All in all, according to TNCS Lead Mandarin Instructor Wei Li, they were all quite satisfied with the training program. From their reports, she gleaned the following:

They found the arrangements of this training reasonable and colorful. They have visited different levels and different kinds of school here, from pre-primary to university, from private to public school. Also, they were exposed to different areas of education, like language, math, art, psychology, etc. Several things impressed them a lot. First, they appreciated the warm and thoughtful hospitality from TNCS. Second, they enjoyed the advanced Montessori teaching theory and the “practical life” Montessori classroom environment. Last but not least, they were impressed with TNCS students’ multilingual ability, especially their Chinese proficiency.

Mr. Xu also felt that the program was a success and that it was well organized. His one suggestion for future such programs is to tailor the round of talks more to the given audience’s specific background, such as preschool-oriented topics for this last group. It’s a good suggestion because, as Ms. Faux has confirmed, another conference is in the works and may be becoming an ongoing TNCS endeavor!

Multilingual Media for Kids: Explore Beyond Dora; Bid Kai-Lan Farewell!

This week’s Immersed post comes to you from David Broiles, a TNCS parent and enthusiastic supporter of language-learning. Mr. Broiles has devised a method to ensure that his children are continuing to be exposed to Spanish and Mandarin Chinese outside of school in fun, natural ways and very  generously offered to share his system with the The New Century School community at large.

Although U.S. television programming has made some inroads into acknowledging the existence of other languages, these shows offer only scant tidbits—a mini-vocabulary lesson at best. Watching a show in Spanish, however, is akin to immersion, the proven effective method for learning a language.

Says Mr. Broiles:

The most current scientific articles on language development have said that children’s brains are wired to learn languages prior to hitting puberty, so to be effective, we really want to emphasize languages now. Since my wife and I are not fluent in either Spanish or Mandarin, we are trying to increase our kid’s daily exposure with the resources we have available outside of TNCS. This includes alternating Spanish & Mandarin Netflix days, using books from Scholastic’s Club Leo (Spanish) and ordering comics from TaoBao (Chinese site similar to Amazon or eBay),  using YouTube Spanish and Mandarin children’s playlists during rides in the car, having fun Android and IOS apps installed on their tablets that focus on game play and don’t feel like homework, and even attending the Baltimore Chinese School on Sundays to increase exposure.

“How clever!” you are probably thinking to yourself. Or even, “But, I’ve tried that and was not successful in obtaining the materials.” Well, Mr. Broiles has you covered. He compiled all you need to know in an instructional youtube video (as well as provided the written steps farther below).

Bonus! He also created a youtube video of his adorable kids using the materials!

Instructions for Netflix Profile and Language:

  1. Go to the full Netflix site on a desktop/laptop.
  2. Add/create a Profile for Spanish; “All Maturity Levels” must be selected (i.e., do not click “Kids”).
  3. Click on Browse, choose “Subtitles & Captions,” and then select “Spanish.”
  4. Add desired shows to “My List” by clicking on the “+” sign located in the bottom right corner.
  5. Once you are done adding shows, click on the profile icon, then “Edit/manage profile,” and change language to Español. Now, whenever you launch that profile and start a show that has been added to “Listo,” it will start automatically in Spanish on all of your devices/TVs.
  6. You can also create a profile for Chinese/Mandarin and add the following shows to  “My List”: Netflix LEGO Bionicle, Netflix Puffin Rock, Netflix Lego Friends, and Netflix Popples. (Theses are currently the only shows Mr. Broiles could find in Mandarin.)

Note: You can also enable subtitles, if desired, by clicking on the screen while the show is playing or by pressing the down arrow on your remote.

Pro Tip: You can use the Google Translate app with your Phone.

Folks, this is a goldmine. So many parents long to enhance their children’s language acquisition and language fluency and/or bemoan the hours spent in front of a screen to seemingly no cognitive benefit. This system addresses both issues brilliantly. Immersed sends a huge thank you to David Broiles for this truly wonderful system!

¡Gracias! Xiè xiè (谢谢)!

Startalk Is a Huge Success at TNCS!

On Day 4 of Startalk camp, campers wore their "Let the World Be Filled with Love" tee-shirts in honor of the site evaluation by Startalk administrators!

On Day 4 of Startalk camp, campers wore their “Let the World Be Filled with Love” tee-shirts in honor of the site evaluation by Startalk administrators!

Being awarded a Startalk grant was just The New Century School‘s first step in quite an arduous process to come in order to “Let the World Be Filled with Love” (TNCS’s very own Startalk camp theme). Months of planning came next, followed by the proof in the pudding—implementation. Well, by only Day 5 of Startalk summer camp at TNCS, it’s exceeding all expectations, and all of the hard work is paying off! On the heels of Day 4’s hugely successful on-site evaluation by Startalk administrators, TNCS got the green light to keep up the great work (“We passed with flying colors!” said Director of Admissions Robin Munro happily). All week, our three groups (Novice Low, grades 1–2; Novice High/Intermediate Low, grades 2–3; and Novice Low, grades 3–4) have been busy, busy, busy—listening and learning, cooking and eating, singing and drumming, and engaging in Chinese cultural activities like calligraphy and learning the abacus (see slideshow below). Their progress in those 5 short days is nothing short of astounding; the Startalk methods really work!

Startalk’s mission is to teach Americans modern world languages and currently offers programs in 10 of them, including Mandarin Chinese (yay!), Arabic, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed six evidence-based best practices that can be replicated in participating programs, with a dual focus on both the learner and the instructor. They include:

  • Implementing a Standards-Based and Thematically Organized Curriculum
  • Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
  • Using the Target Language and Providing Comprehensible Input for Instruction
  • Integrating Culture, Content, and Language in a World Language Classroom
  • Adapting and Using Age-Appropriate Authentic Materials
  • Conducting Performance-Based Assessment

Students are truly immersed in the language, but the point is that, through the proven six-pronged approach, they develop the confidence to communicate—to start talking.

Startalk also employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what “Let the World Be Filled with Love” achieves, as these photos eloquently demonstrate.

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By Day 5, campers were well acquainted with their daily routines and expectations. They are growing more comfortable communicating in Mandarin by the minute. Novice-level campers went out on their first field trip to visit a Chinese immigrant family in their home. They will lunch together, do a craft, and talk.

Being able to converse about fruit is one of the end-goals of camp.

Being able to converse about fruit is one of the end-goals of camp.

Intermediate-level campers enjoyed a more typical Startalk camp day, with group activity followed by a language/writing lesson, cultural enrichment, and finally language review. The video below shows them during their morning group activity. The 3-week program will culminate with a performance, which will take the form of a Farmer’s Market, in which Startalkers will adopt roles as buyers and sellers and enact transactions, from identifying fruit to describing it to bargaining for it. Today’s morning group activity was practice for the Farmer’s Market, and, as you’ll see, the kids are well on their way. Note how Liang Laoshi speaks very clearly, repeats her phrases several times, and accompanies her instructions with explanatory gestures but never utters a syllable in English!

1. I can recognize different fruit words. 2. I can ask and answer about favorite foods. 3. I can understand the story Kong Rang Li.

1. I can recognize different fruit words. 2. I can ask and answer about favorite foods. 3. I can understand the story Kong Rang Li.

Part of why this method works so well is that it hinges on so-called “can-do statements.” Students know right from the start what they are expected to learn and then set up for success to get there. For the end-of-program performance, for example, Intermediate learners will say, “I can recognize different fruit words.”

Another ultimate goal, expressed as a can-do statement, is “I can understand the story of ‘Kong Rang Li’.” This traditional Chinese fable is about a little boy with five older brothers and one younger brother. When their father offers them pears, Kong Rang opts for the smallest one. When questioned by his father about his generosity, the boy replies that his older brothers are bigger and should therefore have the bigger pears, whereas he is older than his younger brother and should let him also have a bigger pear. The story demonstrates the core Chinese value of selflessness and also shows how to spread some love. It’s the linchpin of TNCS’s Startalk camp, bringing everything together—the ability to discuss fruit, the love theme, and interacting with the story via several different media including reading, writing, and pantomiming.

With only one week of Startalk under their belts so far, campers are already wonderfully enriched and enjoying every minute of their immersion in Chinese culture and language. By the end of Week 3, expect to witness some pretty incredible transformation!

Language Curriculum Specialist Joins TNCS

Lisa Warren, Language Curriculum Specialist

Lisa Warren, Language Curriculum Specialist

Piggybacking on a post (Multilingualism at TNCS: Optimizing Your Child’s Executive Function) from earlier this year, this discussion profiles Lisa Warren, on-staff language curriculum specialist at The New Century School. Ms. Warren came on board in October 2012 to organize and standardize the existing language education at the school. With a Master’s Degree in linguistics from Georgetown University that combined research into how kids acquire second language with curriculum design as well as previous experience teaching Spanish, French, and English, she is well qualified for this new role.

Her role, she says, is primarily to integrate language education throughout TNCS’s progressive, Montessori-inspired curriculum. The primary components of language education are already firmly in place—the teachers, the native speakers, the classes, and (in some cases) the immersion—but Ms. Warren has erected a framework on which these pieces can connect, be reproduced in successive classes annually as well as across the same level (i.e., all primary classes are focusing on the same lessons), and meet national standards. As she puts it, “There was a lot happening in language education around the school.”

She came to TNCS as the result of Head of School Alicia Cooper-Danyali’s active search for such a specialist. Mrs. Cooper-Danyali herself brings a wealth of language-immersion experience to her position and saw the need for the dedicated staff member who could connect all the language dots at TNCS in addition to crafting “plans that document the school’s long-term goals, which include a language curriculum both reproducible and adjustable.”

The Curriculum Map

Key to this exciting new TNCS initiative is a rubric called the curriculum map*. This level-specific document serves two purposes: 1) it provides a comprehensive overview of what is being taught in a given language (i.e., Spanish or Mandarin) and 2) it allows Ms. Warren to identify gaps and fill those in. Aspects of language education like culture and how well a particular class matches up with current themes guide her assessments. She is passionate about her work.

“Being able to talk about something in a lot of different ways is very important for cognitive development,” she says, drawing on her impressive research background. Indeed, the benefits of learning another language have been touched on in earlier blog posts, but Ms. Warren adds to the growing list. Wider cultural understanding, the ability to communicate with multiple populations, and keener analytic skills are among her special foci in what advantages speaking more than one language affords. Multilinguals have an “expanded view,” she says, “which makes them more creative and better problem-solvers.” She cites a study in which a cohort of bilingual kids and another of monolingual kids were asked to list alternative uses for a plastic water bottle. The monolinguals averaged only a couple; the bilinguals’ list stretched to 10 or more. This ingenuity translated to better Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores in a related study. It’s a known, but unfortunate fact that kids from lower socioeconomic groups tend to fare worse on standardized tests. Speaking more than one language abolishes this demographic disadvantage—bilinguals, no matter what their socioeconomic stratum, score higher in both math and verbal sections as well as overall. Click here for a comprehensive, annotated bibliography on this critical research.

Perhaps the best part of the curriculum map is that it allows teachers to target their teaching to students in the same class according to their individual levels. This means that students can enter TNCS at any age and have their learning needs met. This “differentiated instruction” is also rounded out by groupwork, such that, for example, elementary students are currently working on sustainable environment projects (sponsored by Clean Currents) for the Science Fair, part of which they are required to do in Spanish. Because they are working as a group, all levels support and help each other with the result that they learn the scientific method in two languages!

In the Classroom

Ms. Warren’s work is not all behind the scenes. She likes to spend time in the classroom, getting to know the kids and working with the teachers to have a very clear sense of the application of her work. She provides a library of resources for teachers to draw from, for example, that includes books, puppets, costumes, flashcards, music, and more. She also offers professional development. For the latter, she might model certain behaviors to show a teacher how to maintain a focus on language while redirecting a disruptive student. Or, she might serve as her own “lab rat” in language class: if she is able to follow an activity in Mandarin, which she doesn’t currently speak, she knows it’s an appropriate activity for the students. If she gets lost, she helps the teacher reshape the activity to the students’ level.

Part of this is ensuring that activities/lessons meet The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL)’s  “5 Cs”: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities, each of which is subdivided into series of standards. (Click here to read the standards.) It’s reassuring to know that TNCS students are organically acquiring other languages via their interactions with native speakers around the school, but that there is also a sound pedagogic infrastructure supporting that process. Again, though, this kind of balance is what TNCS is all about.

Spanish gym class

Senora Casado plays a game with primary students during gym class. “Encouraging the children to speak and communicate in Spanish is the goal in our weekly gym lessons,” she says.

To play, students must understand and respond to commands given solely in Spanish. They learn lots of action verbs this way!

Students play Rolling the Ball (“Rueda la bola”), in which they roll the ball to a friend while reciting a Spanish chant. To play, students must also understand and respond to commands given solely in Spanish. They learn lots of action verbs this way!

At Home

A final piece that Ms. Warren is locking into place is with parents. Regardless of whether parents are themselves multilingual or not, TNCS is exploring ways to encourage and support language acquisition at home. You can learn along with your kid(s), or you can print and post the Word of the Week around the house. Ms. Warren can usually be found in attendance at TNCS Info Nights, and she is even considering holding an Info Night dedicated to language strategies parents can use at home.

Welcome to TNCS, Lisa Warren!

Have an anecdote, question, or comment to share? Your participation in this important discussion is welcome!

*Note: Mrs. Cooper-Danyali plans to implement curriculum maps for all other disciplines as well.

Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School

Since its inception in 2007 (back then known as Patterson Park Montessori) as a preschool for kids ages 2–5 years, The New Century School has “grown up” right along with its student body. Adding a grade level each year to accommodate the earliest students and expand its scholastic reach, TNCS currently offers classes through 3rd grade. The 2013–2014 year will add 4th grade, and so on annually through grade 8. Watching this growth unfolding and the school really come into its own has been an exciting process for staff, students, and parents.

But what is elementary in a Montessori setting? Many find those concepts incompatible. In elementary school, after all, students are expected to achieve standardized goals, which, at its worst, can result in lecture after boring lecture masquerading as education. In the Montessori model, however, the classroom has much more relaxed parameters that allow room for voluntary exploration at an individual pace but that some say might not always be quite so academically rigorous. Let’s take a closer look at how TNCS has harmoniously merged these seemingly antithetical approaches to create an environment where real learning happens . . . and where kids want to be. They have choice, variety, and a say in their own education. Most importantly, they learn how to think.

First, it’s important to point out that for primary through elementary age groups, TNCS isn’t classically Montessori. Rather, they take the best of Montessori, such as fostering self-discipline and encouraging intellectual curiosity, and couple it with a profoundly progressive approach to education that includes a focus on foreign language acquisition, to forge something completely new. This unique blend grew out of a desire to provide the optimal learning environment. Alicia Cooper-Danyali, Head of School, says, “Our Lower Elementary program (grades 1–3)  focuses on the strength of meeting individual needs of mixed-age abilities, development of both Spanish and Mandarin, and true community building.”

Above all, learning should be an active process in which students are engaging with intriguing material, not a passive one in which they absorb factoids. TNCS is not education by osmosis; it’s a fruitful collaboration between student and teacher and among students themselves.

Here are some ways TNCS seeks to achieve this goal:

  • Small class size: The benefits to kids of individualized, differentiated instruction are innumerable. Kids are as different from one another as snowflakes, and their methods of learning are just as varied. Small class sizes allow teachers to customize each child’s education for the best, most effective fit.

    kids are hard at work together and independently, fully engaged in their reading, writing, and core math and science skills

    The smoothly functioning TNCS elementary classroom is a marvel of productive learning.

  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students in Lower Elementary use SuccessMaker and other state-of-the-art educational software daily to hone math and reading skills. They not only love this work, but the software programs are carefully aligned with national education standards, so the students are getting the foundational knowledge that secondary schools will require. Upper Elementary students will additionally learn basic computer programming.

    strengthening his core on a balance ball while honing his core curriculum skills

    Strengthening his core curriculum skills on the computer while strengthening his core on a balance ball!

  • Inquiry- and skill-based curriculum: A solid foundation in the core subjects allows teachers to develop science and global studies lessons based on student questions and interests. Being interested from the outset ensures students’ close attention and deepens their learning.
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Grouping students of various ages allows children to work at their skill level, not just their grade level. If they need more time with a particular concept, they get it. Likewise, when something clicks right away, they don’t need to wait for the rest of the class to catch up to them before moving ahead to the next wondrous topic of exploration. Mixing ages also continues the Montessori tradition of mentor–mentee relationships, which are mutually beneficial for social, intellectual, and emotional development.
  • Spanish and Mandarin classes: Where else are students given daily lessons in both of these languages critical to global citizenship? They learn conversation, reading, and writing at a time when their brains are elastic enough to achieve real fluency with relative ease.

    TNCS elementary student's Chinese workbook shows great progress

    Chinese characters practice–Hello Kitty and friends signal a job well done!

  • Music, art, and physical education classes: On staggered days, students get weekly or twice weekly instruction in these areas so important for encouraging creativity, self-expression, and overall physical and mental health. In an atmosphere of looming federal budget cuts—some of which will surely impact education—U.S. public schools may find that they lack the funds to keep the humanities in their curricula, sadly.
  • Field trips: The on-site greenhouse established by Master Gardener Emma Novashinksi affords plenty of opportunity for scientific investigation of all stripes. Lower Fell’s Point, TNCS’s “extended campus” additionally provides community involvement opportunities to broaden students’ social and environmental awareness.

    greenhouse visit is a chance to get hands dirty and explore caterpillar life

    In hot pursuit of a particularly interesting caterpillar!

  • Emphasis on values: Students at TNCS learn to treat themselves and others with respect. By the time they have reached the elementary level, this really shows. Peace, compassion, and kindness pervade the smoothly functioning elementary classroom.

Still have questions? Comments? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section—we value your participation in this discourse! By the way, are any of your TNCS elementary kids among the original students from 2007? Let us know!

Also, did you know? TNCS is hosting an Elementary Information Night on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from 6:00–7:30 p.m. for current and prospective families. This will be the ideal opportunity to familiarize yourself with TNCS’s elementary programs, to ask questions, and to hear other families’ experiences.

TNCS cofounder Roberta Faux will offer a brief keynote talk, and free childcare is available. Click the above link to find out more and to RSVP. You don’t want to miss it!