Episode Five: Elementary Language Immersion

  • You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?


    Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview.





    Lisa Miller- Welcome to "Airplane Arms: Navigating Back to School." I'm Lisa Miller with the Anchorage School District. Today, we're going to talk about immersion programs for elementary level and I'm joined with Brendon Locke, who is our Director of World Languages and Immersion Programs and Lori Rucksdashel, who is the principal at Scenic Park Elementary where there's a Chinese immersion program. Welcome, thanks so much for both of you being here and your time today. So we're going to be starting the school year at the high risk level, which means a hundred percent in online, so for immersion students, that's kind of a unique situation because that in person enrichment and learning is really how they pick up on the language. So Brandon, if you can kind of just walk us through how will this work in the high risk level and what will a typical day look like for an elementary student?


    Brandon Locke Sure, so as you mentioned, it's not ideal, but we are in the situation that we're in and our teachers have been working diligently over the summer to prepare materials to be putting online in a typical face-to-face elementary immersion model. In ASD, we follow a 50-50 model, so half of the day's in English with an English partner teacher teaching the ELA and math and the second half of the day is in the what we call target language or the immersion language. So for instance, Chinese. And so similarly in this high-risk model, the teachers will still see two groups of students or students would see both teachers separately, not simultaneously, and Chinese specifically, we'll be still working on those, the Chinese literacy, the language arts, as well as the science and the social studies. And I know that they are scheduling Zoom meetings and we're gonna be real careful about how to not overlap the Zoom meetings with both teachers at the same time. And the students at the upper levels, I would say after grade two or three already have a solid level of proficiency that the teachers are actually able to do a lot of work with them. It's the kindergarten and the first grade that's a little bit challenging. And I would say that that's challenging for any kindergarten or first grader, regardless of the language.


    Lisa Miller- Yeah and Lori, can you go through that specifically or elaborate on, you were saying off camera, the kindergarten and first grade level is kind of the biggest area of concern, I guess.


    Lori Rucksdashel- Yeah, for sure. Well, I think I want to reiterate that just like we would during the year, we want to offer 50% of the instruction in English and then 50% in the target language, so Chinese for us, and for our kindergarten and first graders, we know that online is not ideal, but we're going to do everything we can to differentiate that instruction. We want to give them multiple modalities. We're going to use a lot of visuals and a lot of emoting while we're online. And they would have online access through Zoom. They would have small group engagement. We at Scenic Park are going to offer some conversational Zooms so kids can cross-conversate, both and do receptive and expressive and we're going to try to really accommodate that at the younger ages, they really do need that exposure in multiple modalities to pick up the language.


    Lisa Miller- So that would be that additional, you were saying, the community chats where that's not so much like a graded subject, but more of a community space to practice the language.


    Lori Rucksdashel- Correct. Yep.


    Brandon Locke - I just want to reiterate too though, that a lot of parents are expressing concern at the kindergarten and first grade level, especially kindergarten and fundamentally immersion is designed to recreate that first language acquisition process through a second language, but at a little bit later in life, like age five and so if you think about it from a parent perspective with small children, those children have had access to hearing English long before they start making utterances and so really we try to recreate that at the kindergarten level as well, where the teachers are doing a lot of input to the students and the students are not expected and, quite frankly, don't have the proficiency to be able to fully respond in the target language.


    Lori Rucksdashel- Right, so we do a lot of videos and music and songs and we will give them opportunity to engage in a variety of activities.


    Lisa Miller - It sounds like a lot of fun.


    Lori Rucksdashel - It is.


    Lisa Miller - And then Lori, you mentioned that I saw that you were doing weekly coffee chats with parents to answer questions and are there some common themes that are coming out of those coffee chats?


    Lori Rucksdashel - Yeah, I think that at Scenic Park, we're doing weekly Zooms for our community and for immersion specific and I think that a lot of questions are we're committed to staying involved with immersion. We're just differentiating what's ASD in school blended. ASD virtual, we've really reiterated that to stay connected to Scenic Park and the immersion program it's one or the other and our families are really committed and wanting to continue and so we're just talking through those logistic.


    Lisa Miller - Thank you for that. Brandon, can you talk a little bit about the difference between ASD in school when we're at the high-risk level versus the virtual program for immersion and how that might look different?


    Brandon Locke - Sure, so really the only difference at the high-risk level is that if the student or the parent chooses ASD virtual, then they are following the ASD virtual curriculum with ASD virtual teacher. If they choose to follow our traditional model of having the two teachers, the English partner teacher and the Chinese teacher, for example, then the only difference would be that they would be working with a Scenic Park teacher following the ASD curriculum, not the virtual curriculum, but it would be fully online. I don't necessarily want to say that one is better than the other, but at the high-risk model or the high-risk level, to me, it makes the most sense to just stay with the partner teacher model because those teachers are completely working together. They integrate their content and one of the key aspects of our programs, face to face or online, is that those partner teachers work together. Sometimes the immersion language prohibits learning abstract concepts to young children and so English partner teachers can either pre-teach or reteach once a subject or content area is taught in that target language.


    Lisa Miller - Thank you and, Lori, do you have anything to add to that?


    Lori Rucksdashel - No, I think that I've really been encouraging families that while we're in the high-risk model, if they're still unsure, is to really stay connected through ASD in school blended and that as we start knowing more about what's coming, then we can make those decisions. Like we've said multiple times, we don't want movement back and forth because it is different curriculum, but when we get to that decision point, once we start coming back to school, we can work with families on if they do need to move to the virtual program.


    Lisa Miller - And then I've seen and been hearing more from families and friends that are getting creative and starting their own little communities and cohorts. What have you seen come out of the immersion community?


    Brandon Locke - A lot of parents are concerned about the language, but again, immersion is not teaching a foreign language, like what we would traditionally think of in high school Spanish one class. The students are fully immersed in the content and they're getting that content through a second language. So, they're naturally picking it up along the way and teachers are really careful about what functions of the language are taught in order to actually access the content. So, there's nothing wrong with having small groups and having a tutor and having practice time and all of that kinda stuff, but the reality is you're not going to be able to recreate the science and the social studies content in that target language for a variety of students at multiple grade levels or ages.


    Lisa Miller - Yeah and then Lori--


    Lori Rucksdashel - Yeah, I was just going to say families are being very creative. As a single parent myself of an immersion student in the Anchorage School District, we're working through how could he possibly stay with one or two other students who are also doing the Spanish immersion? So, families are getting creative in what that looks like and that also leads to some conversations about how we can work around the schedule with them or that differentiation between the ASD in school blended or the virtual.


    Lisa Miller - And that kind of goes back to devices and things and making sure everyone has either you have a shared device or enough devices for the group.


    Lori Rucksdashel - Right and we just sent that information out and so we just want to reiterate too that the information came out through the school district and also the school specific with ways to request not only a device, but a My Fire internet connectivity if needed.


    Lisa Miller - Anything else that you wanted to add that we haven't talked about?


    Brandon Locke - One of the questions that I have had come up multiple times and it's sort of a moot point when we're in the high risk is why isn't there a fully virtual ASD virtual option for immersion and that goes back to the fact that our language teachers, our Russian teachers, Chinese, Japanese, they all teach the ASD adopted curriculum. They've translated those science materials, those social studies materials in those languages. There is no published pre-packaged thing to purchase to say here's immersion. And so really our teachers are, many of our teachers have been doing this for a long time. They're very skilled. They've got and have created wonderful materials along the way and so now really they are, and like I said earlier, they've spent a lot of the summer putting those materials online and are just now looking, I know, like for example, Dr. Bishop mentioned that the canvas shell is the new classroom. And so really they've been accessing that and putting those materials online. And I think that they've done a great job and are prepared for this upcoming year.


    Lori Rucksdashel - And then I just want to reiterate to our families that we know that you have committed time with your student in learning these languages. We have committed time in bringing these languages to the community and we're going to do everything we can to thrive as much as possible in this pandemic education and we're excited about kind of getting outside of the box and figuring out what are some new ways to keep our kids in their target language as much as possible.


    Lisa Miller - Well, Lori and Brandon, thank you so much for being here. I know you have full plates and we're looking forward to the start of a new school year, so thank you for being here.


    Lori Rucksdashel - Thank you.


    Brandon Locke - Thank you very much.


    Lisa Miller - And thank you for tuning in to another episode of "Airplane Arms." If you still have additional questions, feel free to submit that Google form. We'll continue to post that and also check back to the FAQ section on the ASD website. That's updated almost pretty much daily there's new content on there, so check that out and thanks for tuning in.

Last Modified on August 7, 2020