First Trimester Progress Report

I’m pretty clueless on what to expect with the Spanish language acquisition progress in an immersion school. Learning a second language takes time. But how do you grade a student on language when they just started exposure to it? Because it’s not fair to grade a student an “F” because they’re not proficient or worse – don’t know how to read, write, or speak, our school tracks progress for continuous improvement.

So this is a trimester progress report. I like this. I thought it would be fun to report to you our (his) progress. This is another reason why I started this blog. No where could I find a typical experience of immersion school – from the emotional adjustment to educational progress.

There are a few categories related to Spanish including, “lectura nivel” (reading level), “expresión escrita” (written expression), and “expresión oral” (verbal expression).  I’ll keep the summary limited to Spanish language arts.

READING

Our little English reader is apparently a fairly good beginning Spanish reader. Who knew?! Can you feel my heart swelling with pride while you read this? Apparently he can demonstrate understanding of some of the text he is reading, he can present supporting details of what he has read, and he can read aloud and, though making some mistakes, can be understood.

His English reading comprehension scores were pretty strong, and as I’ve mentioned before, this skill translates to Spanish (or any other language). They are building their vocabulary mostly by what they are hearing, speaking, and reading during the day. The kids digest this like they do their native language. The more his comprehension increases in either language, it increases for all.

WRITING

The kids are learning basic writing structures, including sentences. At 11 weeks into school, he can write some sentences, mostly understandable. He is using vocabulary that is almost always accurate. And he’s got an emerging use of basic language structure.  For students that have this concept down in their native language (letters make words, words make sentences), I’d think this is fairly typical. Our boy can put sentences together in English, I can imagine it makes sense to him that the same concepts ring true for Spanish.

SPEAKING

It’s good for me to read this part of his progress report. Every student progresses differently, particularly in verbal proficiency. I am fairly introverted by nature, and somewhat of a perfectionist. I hate making mistakes! Second language acquisition is going to be hard for me because of this. I see similar qualities in my son. He’s got to step out of his comfort zone and make mistakes. Ha!

He’s rarely expressing clear ideas in Spanish. He will engage and volunteer to try (a good sign), but shows with some difficulty his ideas. And sometimes he’ll speak in Spanish without being reminded that he should be.

What I liked about my conversation with his teacher was the optimism of his attitude. She said he does volunteer when the class is asked a question, and he participates. He repeats verbally. He wants to and is eager to learn. The shock value has worn off, and school in Spanish is normal to him.

How long will it take him to speak more comfortably? Many months and longer. We understood this going into the program it could be months or a year or longer. We have seen and continue to see progress, particularly with singing, in his willingness to use Spanish verbally. As his peers begin to speak more Spanish in class, he will follow suit.

So there it is – our trimester progress report. Some reading, some writing, very little speaking. I’m excited, intrigued, and mostly proud of him and his great attitude and hard work. Excelente, Devlin!

What about math and English?

The thing about  immersion school – our kids have to learn English too. And of course, there is also math, science, social studies, art, PE.  It’s just that most everything is instructed in Spanish, except English of course.

English language arts is a core component of his education. Reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are taught daily. Comprehension is measured frequently. All the kids are leveled by skill and different books are distributed based on reading ability.  It’s a great program, taught by a great teacher. English reading, writing, and spelling are critical. Immersion schools understand this, but also have the added goal of mastery in both languages. I could write a whole post on the misconceptions of immersion schools and language instruction.  I will save that for another day.

The amazing thing to me is that reading comprehension, a skill that develops with practice, crosses both languages. So as our boy’s reading comprehension increases for English, it increases for his Spanish reading also. More on this in another post, based on report card results I received today. It’s time for a trimester update on progress on this blog.

What about math? How do the kids learn math?

As an engineer, I think that math is one of those subjects critical for our kids. And I don’t mean for them to be able to guess or manipulate numbers to get an answer. I mean, I think it’s critical for them to understand what is going on, what they are doing, and why. As a whole, the US public education system is falling down on the job when it comes to math education for our children. Our kids test scores don’t stack up against other developed nations. We don’t have the science and engineering students we used to. Instead, our kids get to college and just don’t understand even the basics of algebra or fractions.

Our school has adopted an amazing math program. And there is no surprise it wasn’t developed in the US. It establishes the fundamental understanding of what math is, and they build a deep foundation from the beginning. To grasp an understanding of what really what they are doing, the kids start with manipulating objects. They physically handle things like beans, flat discs, and colored blocks when looking at a problem. Then they get a visual illustration. After that, they see and begin doing computations. Finally, they do story problems. Yup, our first graders do story problems. Because LIFE is a series of story problems, right?

I remember being stressed about story problems as a kid. Everyone hated them! Our kids don’t know they are supposed to dislike story problems because they do them every day, starting at age six.

“Billy has 3 apples, Sally has 4 apples. How many apples do they have together?”

And think about this:  3 + 4 + __ = 9

This isn’t hard if you have blocks or beans to move around, right? Take a group of 9 beans and create a group of 3 and a group of 4. What do you have left? TWO! But look at it this way: 3 + 4 + x = 9. Solve for  x.

That’s ALGEBRA! But in this math program, this math starts in first grade. Except they don’t use ‘x.’

Last week I helped him do something like this: 3 + 4 = __ + 2

Admittedly, it’s on the fringe of his grasp. But it’s easy to do with Legos as a visual. Math (and maybe everything else) is more fun with Legos!

So that, my friends, is the answer to the questions about math and English. And I couldn’t be happier.

Q&A with SpanglishBaby

I submitted a question not long ago to our friends at SpanglishBaby about supporting our new Spanish readers when parents (like me!) do not speak or read Spanish at home (yet). They were generous enough to post my question and their suggestions!

You can find our Q&A here: http://www.spanglishbaby.com/2010/11/ask-an-expert-how-can-monolingual-parents-help-their-bilingual-child-to-learn-to-read-in-spanish/

It started with a party

Who knew that kids can actually learn something during their Halloween parties?

Our little monster came home knowing all the Spanish equivalents for MOUSE (ratón), PUMPKIN (calabaza), and SPIDER (araña) on Friday. These were prizes for the Halloween party at school.

Today we decorated skulls at home to kick off Day of the Dead. It was the first thing he told me this morning when he woke for school, “Mom, today is Day of the Dead.” It’s going to be a great week. The promise of this little project was the only thing to get him out of his funk because I made him leave school on time today. Friday, school let out at 2:30 and we finally left at 6:00 and he was still disappointed. Seriously!

In honor of All Saints Day, here’s our first skull: