“The View from the Balcony”
In the book “Reframing Organizations”, the authors (Bolman and Deal) emphasize that the limited perspective from the floor level of what might be going on in a room can be immeasurably enhanced by doing the work of climbing up to get the view from the balcony, where it is easier to see what is really going on!
View from the Floor: “Impressive”
On Friday, March 2nd we had our annual “Bilingual Exposition”. If you were able to attend, you would have observed:
Pre-K – presenting to us about the season of winter, telling our visitors about the weather and the types of food we eat during Denver’s chilliest months
Kindergarten – teaching us all about the ocean and forest, and the types of animals and natural habitats you’ll find in both
1st grade – wearing their medical coats and presenting to us about the ‘five senses’, providing guests with visual and interactive guides (like presentation boards, having guests feel ice to understand the sense of touch, as well as giving us flowers to sniff to enjoy the sense of smell)
2nd grade - teaching us about the internal organs of the human body, incorporating interactive quizzes on iPads for visitors to participate in
3rd grade – performing stellar student productions of “How Glooksap Found Summer” (in full English) and “El Conejo y el Coyote” (in full Spanish)
4th grade – Putting on a science fair for parents and teachers, presenting to us the results of their experiments (have you ever grown sugar crystals at home? 4th grade students did that and much more!)
5th grade – teaching us about legendary historical figures in our ever-popular “Wax Museum”. Students dressed and acted like Eva Perón and Mahatma Gandhi (among many others!), all while giving us the option of hearing about them in a fully memorized summary of their lives and work in both English and Spanish
6th grade – presenting to us about a favorite book they read this year, with the option of hearing about it in either English or Spanish
7th grade – presenting to us about their “Genius Hour” project, in which they chose a topic they just wanted to learn more about. One group of students event went so far as to build their own homemade beverage dispenser!
View from the Balcony: “Breathtaking”
Impressive as these observations may have been, the “view from the balcony” of what was really going on in our “Bilingual Exposition” is breathtaking! At Escuela, being a dual-language school is much more than being able to say “one, two, three and uno, dos tres” in the same breath. With our nationally recognized and intentional “Dual Language Model” behind each exposition, you could have discerned burgeoning eloquent communicators, critical problem solvers and deep thinkers. Did you know that we intentionally matriculate half of our students who mainly speak Spanish in the home and half that speak English in the home? In the early years of school we focus on literacy in the students’ dominant language, then, transition all students to their “developing” language. At Escuela, we do not say, “I don’t speak Spanish”, or “I don’t speak English”; rather, we say “I am learning Spanish”, or “I am learning English”. This helps us maintain what we call our “Integrity-Based Language Program”. With intentional planning we assure that both languages are used as valuable intellectual tools. Students take ownership of protecting the value and the integrity of both languages – it is not that some of our students are learning the “correct” or “privileged” language – we are all learning a new language – we are all learning both languages.
Discernable “from the balcony”, let me describe a little bit more about the benefits of our dual-language program. In addition to the advantage of two languages for enhanced intellectual development, it is our experience that family ties and values are enhanced; through extension activities, the language and viewpoints of the parents are strongly valued and engaged. In addition, authentic texts in their original language preserve not only the integrity of the language, but also cultural perspectives and the values in families and the larger community. Our literacy program forms students who have the skills and confidence to influence the world around them through reading and writing in both languages. This means more than just getting the words right; we focus on critical thinking and strategies to draw out meaning from a variety of texts. Consistently engaging a wider range of reading, in both languages, students need to understand their own strategies to decode new sounds and words, monitor their own comprehension, and know what to do when they do not understand what they read. Since they are regularly presented with lots of different perspectives, they learn how to become critical thinkers, comparing what they see around them to the views of writers and characters, making judgements and learning how to use text to back up their ideas and opinions. Learning to lean on the strengths of their peers who may be stronger in their developing language builds a very natural collaborative community of learners. Another key element of our successful dual-language curriculum is the use of “essential questions”. At the end of each unit, students are asked to answer a reflective essential question, in both languages. In this way, the student makes connections between the readings and their own life, as well as that of their family and community. By this process, students take up their role as thinkers and “critical agents” in which they can analyze and assert their own stories, histories and perspectives.
The final element of our program that I will highlight is the sheer variety. It has been said that “variety is the spice of life”. We desire for our students such a broad panorama of literature, culture, and ideas that they will experience passion and joy when they read, write, and engage the increasingly multicultural world in which they live.
A brief word about excellence. To quote Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, “If there is no gardener, there is no garden.” Educational research consistently indicates “that, among school-related factors, teachers matter most”. It is our belief that excellence is achieved through teachers that believe change is possible, and that authentic teaching comes from the heart (see: “The Courage to Teach”, by Parker Palmer). Humility aside, through the compassion and zeal of our exceptional teachers, Escuela is here to demonstrate what is possible – that our students can achieve more than they ever thought possible! In our school, one of the most common words is “thinking”. “Are you thinking? Reading is thinking. Listening is thinking. What are you thinking about this?” Thinking is taking in knowledge, observations and ideas and making it your own; it is discussing, connecting, sequencing, analyzing, persuading, comparing and contrasting. Our excellent teachers ensure that these are daily activities in our Escuela community.
“From the balcony”, it is possible to discern a direct link between our dual-language program and the compassionate leaders that graduate from Escuela - compassionate leaders who will greatly influence the world for the greater good and for the greater glory of God!
Paul F. Dull