Happy Birthday, Immersed!

Dear Readers, this is a proud day, marking the end of Year 1 of The New Century School‘s blog. That’s right, 52 posts later, here we are (this is #53). To celebrate, let’s take a look back at what your favorite posts have been—after all, we’re here for you.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts

  1. Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education  (224 views so far)
  2. Achieving Balance in Education at TNCS  (215 views so far)
  3. Sustainable School Lunch: Garden Tuck Shop Program Part I  (199 views so far)
  4. Elementary Science Fair!   (175 views so far)
  5. Top 10 Reasons to Attend Montessori Kindergarten  (171 views so far)
  6. Inside the Montessori Classroom  (156 views so far)
  7. Exercising That Mind–Body Connection  (146 views so far)
  8. Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School  (130 views so far)
  9. A TNCS Original  (128 views so far)
  10. Language, Math, and Science—Montessori Style!  (125 views so far)

Because a little analysis is just irresistible, let’s draw some conclusions. It’s pretty clear that Montessori and Elementary are the  commonest themes on this list, which is entirely appropriate. TNCS is achieving something entirely unique in education in meshing a progressive, rigorous curriculum with the gentleness and humanity of the Montessori approach. TNCS students learn the standard academics but also get a firm grounding in foreign language and an abundance of the arts, movement, and technology. Perhaps most important and often overlooked in conventional schools is the attention to social relationships and building mutually respectful interactions with peers and with the administration.

So thank you, readers, for your following and your support. What would you like to read more about in future?

Charmed by TNCS’s Year of the Snake Performance

February 10th, 2013 marked the beginning of The Year of the Snake (蛇 Shé) in the Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.  Although in Chinese lore the snake year is commonly considered less propitious than its predecessor (Year of the Dragon), The New Century School rang in the new year in high style. The meteor strikes, nightmare cruises, and olympic athlete scandals that the lunar year commenced with notwithstanding, TNCS honored the snake with weeklong festivities (such as making and eating dumplings, or 饺 jiǎo), culminating with a special performance at Port Discovery on Saturday, February 16th.

This was TNCS’s second annual Port Discovery performance in honor of Chinese New Year, and the primary and elementary students just loved it! The Chinese teachers spent weeks teaching them the songs and poems that made up the program. Chen Laoshi (a.k.a. Charlotte) and Xue Laoshi (a.k.a Cici, or 薛雪) presided over the actual performance, keeping their little red-and-gold-garbed snakes, mice, roosters, dragons, etc. on task. Xue Laoshi  says, “I am so proud of all the students. They all did a good job.”

The performance comprised two songs and a poem. Xue Laoshi explains that the first song was the Happy New Year song, sung by the primary students. Next, the primary and elementary students together sang the Chinese Zodiac Song and acted out the characters they were describing. Lastly, the elementary students recited a famous Chinese poem about a snowy landscape. Because the poem is quite long, they read in unison from placards printed with both English phonetic and Chinese characters. The students are clearly making remarkable progress—not only can they speak Mandarin beautifully, but they can also read and write it!

Xue Laoshi isn’t prepared to stop there, however. She says, “For the Year of Snake, I plan to help the students make even more progress. Maybe they will even tell you a story in Chinese not just read it!”

Sounds like this Year of the Snake might not be so bad after all!

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.

Hello World!

The New Century School (TNCS) is aptly named. It provides a learning environment that is in sync with the times–this is a new century after all, not to mention a new and changing world. To be responsible, conscientious, engaged members of that world, our children will benefit from a fresh approach to education. TNCS is about participating in a community, and community happens at both the micro and the macro levels. Students of TNCS learn appropriate interaction with one another in the classroom and throughout the school as well as how to navigate broader social contexts through immersion in other languages such as Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. The one-language model of education just won’t cut it in today’s global community.

picture of the front of the school

Welcome to TNCS!

So, welcome, friends and families, to the inaugural edition of TNCS blog! We are thrilled to be officially up and running with what we hope becomes a forum to share language immersion and Montessori education–related news and research as well as to promote dialogue among readers.

This blog’s mission is to explore what it means to be a Montessori-inspired language immersion school, what it means for the children to be attending such a progressive school, and what it means for the parents of those children. TNCS brings a distinctive flavor to language immersion and Montessori education in many ways, and we’ll explore those unique offerings, too!

The 2012–2013 school year brings many exciting new things to TNCS. Stay tuned to learn all about these fantastic new features!