The primary difference between the various methods of teaching language immersion is the amount of instruction in the target language. Denver Language School believes that total immersion – offering traditional learning activities only in a target language, making the language both the medium of instruction and the object of instruction – is the most successful for high student achievement. Denver Language School will teach the core curriculum in one of the target languages from kindergarten through second grade. DLS will offer target language instruction in Spanish or Mandarin; families will indicate their preference for a target language. Students will also receive instruction outside their core subject learning time in the English arts; specific attention will be paid to student progress on English language skills. From third grade onward, students will start to receive a portion of their instruction in English, gradually increasing the percentage of English instruction each year - though never more than 50 percent of the core instructional day will be in English.
The DLS instructional philosophy is based on the premise that a child’s brain has learning potential that can easily remain dormant without an additional challenge—such as learning a new language. By combining content learning with the acquisition of a new language, students can absorb knowledge and develop their learning capacity with more breadth and depth and in more qualitative ways. Language immersion public schools have existed for more than 30 years. Numerous studies have found that students in immersion programs generally perform better than their peers on standardized tests.
Adherence to an immersion setting means an absolute adherence to use of the target language. For this reason, DLS strives to have 28 to 30 students per classroom, allowing a teacher more time to encourage target language use and to monitor student’s output, checking for understanding. These early grade classes each also enjoy a teaching assistant who will be present for all of the target language arts instruction. English will enter classrooms for instruction beginning in third grade, and will be limited to preparation for the CSAP in mathematics and language arts. From third to eighth grade, classes can rise to thirty students but will likely be limited as students can only add the program if they are coming from another immersion program or if they are already fluent in the target language. Each class will have a general balance of gender and in each class at least half of the students will come from homes in which English is the primary language.
Overview of the Curriculum
Due to the scarcity of fully developed curricula across all subject matter for immersion programs, and even fewer options that address the academic standards for Colorado, the curriculum includes a blend of prepared curricula and self-created curricula. In Language Arts, students join communities of speakers, readers and writers of their target language through their classes and with students (pen pals) in their sister school. Students learn to speak in the target language before they learn literacy in the target language (i.e.: students will be able to pronounce a sight word and use it in a sentence or define the word before they learn to write the word or place the word on a word wall).
Beginning in kindergarten (at the early reading stage, and pre-reading stage for some students), the curriculum circulate on the “Five Big Ideas” necessary for early reading, (determined by the No Child Left Behind panel, 2000): phonemic awareness, alphabetic principles and phonetics, accuracy and fluency with connected text, vocabulary development and comprehension. Recent studies suggest that solidifying these skills in the early grades is not enough to guarantee well developed reading skills in later grades. Teachers need to continue to intentionally teach reading and teach students to read for different purposes (that you read a magazine differently than a physics text). Thus, language arts instruction will continue to dominate the instructional day into the later grades, with a steady introduction of English literacy to help students prepare for the CSAP.
In all other subjects, students use the target language as the medium for discussing the content. Students use their heightened awareness of language to support their learning community creation in each content area, creating communities of learners specific to the subject matter (communities of scientists use different vocabulary than communities of historians for example). Science centers on encouraging students to explore their world using the scientific method as a frame. Students will design experiments to answer a variety of guided questions about the world around them—exploring life forms, earth science, weather systems, energy forms, physical properties and changes in the climate of their neighborhood and the world. All students perform some level of experimentation through participation in the school community garden—from planting bulbs and making predictions about when they will bloom and how tall they will be in kindergarten to experimenting with organic means for controlling parasites.
In an exploration of civics, each target language will study social systems in their local world (the family, neighborhood, school and Denver) and in the global world, with a particular focus on the countries where the target language is spoken. To consider economics, students will make choices regarding scarce resources, ranging from making choices about what to plan in limited garden space to determining how to spend monies raised in a school fund raiser. For geography and history, students will move from studying the origin of foods commonly found in a supermarket today to when those foods initially traveled from their origin and the results of the contact between different societies. Students will debate (in the target language) which of the various forms of government is best for society and then consider whether some forms might be better for some societies than for other societies. They will be able to explain how the inequities in resources across continents, nations and classes came to be and discuss options for addressing, or not addressing, the inequities—all in the target language.
The focus of mathematics is a concentrated acquisition of a set of skills each year, beginning in second grade. Traditionally in the US, students cover information across all standards each year and then review, reinforce and introduce new information the following year. The Colorado Mathematics Standards offers six content standards for students to cover annually; the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics offers ten. However, the very Asian nations that traditionally top the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) cover one topic or standard per year, cover it in depth, and then do not return to the standard again. Instead the focus is on mastery of the skills needed to dominate the standard. The Denver Language School pursues this Asian approach to the teaching of mathematics. Beginning with numeracy in kindergarten and first grade, the focus for second grade is addition and subtraction, for third grade is multiplication and division, for fourth grade proportions and for fifth grade geometry. In middle school, students will begin algebraic functions and graphing geometrical figures (sixth grade), using algebraic functions for graphing a series, solving matrices, and solving complex word problems (seventh grade) and, in eighth grade, students will join the traditional algebra program usually found in a student’s first year in high school.
In immersion programs, students use oral language to drive literacy instruction and academic language development. In Spanish, students will begin reading using a more phonetic approach than is typically used for English, due to the phonetic structure of Spanish. In Mandarin, students will not write as much as their Spanish program peers for the first few years, given the different structure of Chinese characters (as words and not as an alphabet). Children will develop early literacy in the target language, though families will be encouraged and supported in reading with their children in the language they (the family) speaks best, at home. The teaching methods used in successful immersion classrooms include circumlocution (teaching students to describe a word they may know in English but not in the target language, using the vocabulary they do have in the target language, rather than to use English), teaching language through content (the focus, except for language arts, is on the subject matter and not the target language, the target language is merely the medium of instruction), getting children to use the target language for real conversations about content (immersion classes are noisy!), collaborative grouping and projects that allow students to speak and write together helping each other with new vocabulary, a blend of critical thinking and memorization (students will have to solve complex problems and consider solutions to tricky situations but they will also simply need to KNOW their times tables 1-20, sight words or characters, and squares from 1 to 20) and high expectations based in the knowledge that with great instruction and support all students in the school will flourish academically and become fully fluent in the target language.
DLS students will have three classes outside the core curriculum classrooms for 45 minutes each day: art twice a week, physical education/healthy living twice a week, and a program called Dramatic Adventures for one period a week that will reinforce the school culture by teaching emotional intelligence and problem solving
The full time art teacher, Robin Bozella, speaks both Spanish and Mandarin. She will use the target language for instruction. The other three periods of specials a week will be taught by English speakers but portions of the class will be in the target language; we anticipate having teaching assistants who speak the target language working with the instructors in PE/HL and DA. The specials teachers will also use flash cards and other written materials in the students’ target language.
The bottom line on instruction in the target language: 27.5 hours of the 30 hours of school day instruction a week will be in the target language.