Research shows that high quality instruction is the most important part of student success. At ICAGeorgia, we define “high quality” as a set of foundational skills called “Back To The Basics.” Back To The Basics is the idea that teachers will inevitably improve student outcomes once they are able to draft standard based learning objectives and opportunities, interpret and lead data talks, draft high quality assessments, organize and facilitate flexible groups, leverage technology and most of all—have a growth mindset. We believe that teachers who have these qualities will be able to design curriculum and deliver instruction that will meet individual students’ needs.
These include heterogeneous groupings; pattern language; predictable books; TPR (Total Physical Response) and storytelling; print-rich environments; paired reading strategies; bilingual anchor charts; preview/review; and a choice of literature that is translated in both languages as often as possible. In creating a daily lesson plan, each teacher lists several learning objectives, as well as differentiated in-class activities and homework. These teaching strategies are introduced in the teacher orientation and will continue throughout the school year bi-weekly during “professional development Fridays.”
We carefully implement the above strategies for promoting academic achievement through our Dual Language Immersion program using many years of research. Thus, students’ metalinguistic awareness and higher-order thinking skills, such as metacognition, are better developed across languages as students “use what they know in one language as a resource for acquiring and refining their proficiency in the partner language” (Kennedy, Two-Way SIOP: Strategies for Promoting Academic Achievement in Two Languages, 2014).
Heterogeneous grouping is used daily in our school. In monolingual schools, some students excel in all subject areas and feel no need to seek out help. However, Dual Language schools have students with diverse talents. When a student is learning core subjects in two languages, even the high-achieving students will need help from native speakers when learning in their second language. At a young age, our students discover that the world is diverse and that accepting and giving help is essential. By experiencing both “helping” and “being helped” in daily school life, every child learns humility and to respect others who are different from them.
Our teachers effectively and reflectively apply differentiated instruction in many forms. Upon pre-assessment of each student, teachers create weekly lesson plans with differentiated class activities, homework, and assessment using resource books on differentiated instruction and assessment strategies (Chapman & King, 2005; Forsten, Grant, Hollas, 2003; Tilton, 2005).
In order to further enhance cooperative learning and differentiation, our teacher training includes carefully planned strategies on how to use IT equipment effectively. For example, differentiated level slides, cards, and writing prompts will be used with document cameras so as not to shortchange the needs of advanced students. In our first few years, we will create a schedule to share tablets effectively until we are able to procure one for every student. Two students from linguistically diverse backgrounds will be paired together and will share one tablet for cooperative learning. Most classrooms have a document camera and a projector that not only teachers, but also students themselves, actively use for peer editing each other’s essays or research presentations.
Hands-on inquiry based learning and a student-centered environment are conducive to lifetime learning. Open-mindedness will be emphasized. (See Lesson plans in Appendix 1: Chapter III, Section 14)
ICAGeorgia uses research projects as an integrated way of teaching three fundamental skills: Writing, Research, and Presentation. Of course, research is inherent to all research projects, but we heavily emphasize writing by having the teacher provide individualized writing coaching. All research projects end with a presentation, followed by peer evaluation aimed at improving these presentation skills. This RWP approach takes place in all grades, using age-appropriate materials.
Another feature of our school is that we have 190 school days each year. Top-scoring countries in PISA such as Finland, Japan, and Canada all have 190 or more school days each year, which suggests that a longer school year leads to better academic achievement. We believe the summer vacation is too long in the traditional American school calendar, as do many advocates for a year-round calendar. However, there are pros and cons with the year-round model. Thus, our calendar has been created to fill in the gaps between the traditional calendar and the year-round calendar. To make things as easy as possible for local families, in principle we align our school calendar with the neighboring county school calendars, but we add additional days. This is less disruptive compared to the year-round calendar model. For example, when neighboring schools take one whole week off, we keep students on Monday and Tuesday. Families can then still take a vacation from Wednesday to Sunday without sacrificing too much valuable time in the classroom. By shortening the length of breaks and adding ten extra school days, we are able to reach our goal of 190 days.