Creating Curriculum Based on Developmental Strengths

Rationale: At Charleston Bilingual Academy, we take a holistic approach to learning through cultivating a love for God that overflows to our neighbors through bilingualism, biliteracy, cultural awareness, and mathematical/scientific thinking in a Christ-centered environment.  This philosophy of learning and our expectations are different to what your child may experience in a traditional school or preschool environment. This document serves to outline the research and rationale behind the educational decisions we make to serve your children with a 21st-century education and inspiring them to become World Changers.

“The preoperational brain is perfectly designed by God to learn oral language.”

As a child develops cognitively, they move from a preoperational thinker (≈2-7 years) to a concrete operational thinker (≈7-11 years). To oversimplify, the preoperational brain is perfectly designed by God to learn oral language with facility. Oral language (listening and speaking) comes first, preparing humans for a life of communicating and community as well as learning knowledge based on their oral language. The concrete brain is perfectly designed by God to learn literacy (reading and writing) based on the oral language foundation. By this stage, children have lost most of their capacity to easily acquire spoken language at the native level. However, the shift between stages is gradual (it does not happen overnight when you turn seven).

What are the educational implications of brain development in children in the areas of oral and literacy fluency? A “pure” preoperational thinker should focus primarily on language acquisition and a “pure” concrete thinker should focus primarily on literacy. In US traditional schools, we have prioritized literacy in both stages, incorporating curriculum that pushes four and five year olds to learn to read before entering 1st grade (reading at the Fountas and Pinnell level D).

In comparison to the US, many top-performing countries encourage bilingual preschool programs to develop oral fluency early on, while waiting until 7 years of age to begin formal schooling that focuses on literacy. As a result, many internationals learn to read a couple of years later, but by the age of 10 they read just as proficiently as students who started reading at age five. Students who learn to read when they are cognitively ready, enjoy reading more and are better at comprehending what they read (research). Additionally, these international children are often speaking and reading in multiple languages, and navigating multiple cultures as well.

Based on brain research and international best practice, Charleston Bilingual Academy’s preschool immerses students in spoken language and the love of reading.

The preschool develops prewriting and prereading skills, but at an enjoyable pace to protect their desire to learn (Refer to the Benchmark section for comparisons to public schools). When six-year-olds enter first grade, they are still preoperational thinkers, yet they are shifting towards the “concrete” stage. CBA strives to both maximize the final stage of language acquisition capacity while also increasing literacy instruction. CBA’s Spanish program (70% of the day) focuses on literacy and mathematics but at a slightly slower pace, as students continue to develop their oral fluency in the target language. The English program (30%) employs normal-paced focus on literacy (reading, writing, listening and speaking). As a student becomes proficient in one language, the ability to decode transfers to a large degree into the other language.

CBA increases literacy aligned with brain development. As we partner with parents in teaching literacy, we build the students’ desire to read through piquing their curiosity, enjoying the content and celebrating success, which naturally increases stamina. By 3rd grade, , CBA students are on par, and often ahead, of national norms in reading in English. It goes without mentioning, they are also reading in another language, for which our nation does not have norms. Additionally, research shows that bilinguals will be stronger critical thinkers. By the time students take the SAT in high school, bilinguals will score higher (research).

Curriculum: CBA provides a project-based curriculum where students learn  language arts as they work through science and social studies-based themes. Students are encouraged to ask questions and take ownership of their learning. For example, when we are studying the the civil rights movement, we wrap writing, reading,  biology, geography, economy, and art into this theme. We incorporate Singapore Math and EL Education Curriculum (EL) to help guide the process. Both Singapore Math (Eureka workbook) and EL are mapped to Common Core standards.

Singapore math strategies teaches students to think mathematically instead of just rote memorization. Watch this introduction to open your mind to Singapore math (scroll down to the “Introducing number bonds” video. You can also read an example here). Additionally, CBA is incorporating applied mathematics through robotics where children can experience the utility of math and programming with their own hands.

EL is based on teaching reading, writing, listening and speaking through fiction and non fiction text that wraps around science and social projects. For example, the first grade modules are Tools and Work; What is Up in the Sky: A Study of the Sun, Moon, and Stars; Growing as Researchers: Birds’ Amazing Bodies; Caring for Birds.

CBA also incorporates art, music, and physical education into the curriculum. This engaging curriculum endeavors to grow students desire to learn while leveraging their linguistic strengths. CBA’s small classes allow teachers to individualize learning as each child develops at her own pace. Foundationally, everything is taught out of a Biblical worldview where God is revealing Himself through Creation. Our Bible curriculum (Gospel Project) is a three-year program that takes students through the Bible, showing how everything points to Jesus, who wants us to know Him and have a relationship with Him which will then overflow into our love for others.

Benchmarks: CBA’s core competencies equip students with 21st-century skills to love God and serve others (refer to page 6). The measurable benchmarks below are in the areas of reading and writing, providing a range of growth for children that prioritizes individualization. A full list of our benchmarks that are mapped to Common Core standards can be found on our report card (refer to both tabs on this example). For the purposes of this document, just PreK-3rd grade are shown to highlight when CBA levels arrive at national norms , knowing many students will supersede these levels. In upper elementary, as students have robust vocabularies in both languages, learning opportunities are focused on deeper critical thinking, expression, and application.

Reading: (Fountas & Pinnell/ Lexile chart, descriptions)

Spanish

  • End of PreKindergarten- identify the alphabet
  • End of Kindergarten- read AA books with assistance
  • End of 1st grade- read in a range from A-D books and recognize high-frequency words
  • End of 2nd grade- read in a range of E-J books and recognize high-frequency words
  • End of 3rd grade -read in a range of K-T books

English

  • End of Kindergarten -read AA-A books (Public School- D)
  • End of 1st grade -read A-D books, and recognize all Dolch sight words and high-frequency words (Public School- J)
  • End of 2nd grade -read E-P books and recognize all Dolch sight and high-frequency words. (Public School- P)
  • End of 3rd grade -read K-T books (Public School- T)

Writing:

Spanish

  • End of Prekindergarten- with guidance, write upper and lower case letters
  • End of Kindergarten- write syllables and some simple words
  • End of 1st grade- write from 1-2 sentences up to one paragraph that has an introduction, connects two ideas, and has closure (This range will vary based on student’s oral fluency)
  • End of 2nd grade- write from one to two paragraphs that have an introduction, connects two or more ideas, and has closure. Students write in print and cursive.
  • End of 3rd grade- write from one to three paragraphs that have an introduction, connects three or more ideas, and brings closure

English

  • End of 1st grade -write one paragraph that has an introduction, connects two ideas, and has closure (Public School- same).
    Here is an example of beginning, emerging and proficient writing samples.)
  • End of 2nd grade -write two paragraph that have an introduction, connect two or more ideas, and bring closure (Public School- same)
  • End of 3rd grade -write three paragraph that have an introduction, connect three or more ideas, and bring closure (Public School- same)

Communication/ Data: Parents should expect the following communications:

  • Monthly emails informing parents of the instructional plan
  • Math Eureka workbook or online homework assignment a few days each week (parents can observe student work as well as guide their student with the homework)
  • Daily Raz-Kids performance in-class and home (provides data on reading fluency and comprehension)
  • Examples of work are sent home weekly (parents can see student’s work and teacher’s corrections)
  • 4x a year –Report cards that identify student progress according to the standards
    Based on a mastery model, CBA personalizes learning (instead of the traditional grading of letter/ number grades), so that parents will know specific areas of strengths and needs
  • 2-3x a year- MAP test results (short, adaptive test in reading and math that tracks individual progress, allowing us to measure student growth in both languages)
  • Parents can request a meeting with their teachers at any time (the school encourages a conference after the first semester)

Home/School Partnership:
In order to achieve our academic goals, CBA partners with parents. From preschool forward, it is CBA’s expectation that parents read for fun daily with their children. Starting in the second semester of first grade, teachers will weekly assign 5 Spanish and 5 English books through Raz kids for students to read and answer the quizzes. Also starting in the second semester of 1st grade, the Spanish teacher will assign a page of homework in the Singapore math workbook (or online practice) a few days each week. Students need parents to reinforce the homework at home in an enjoyable environment, allowing the student to do his/her best (i.e. students do the work, not the parents). Our goal is for a child to enjoy reading two stories, do a worksheet, and/or review sight/high-frequency words all the while protecting a play-filled afternoon.

Further Research

The language center of the brain has a window until 7-8 years of age to learn languages at the native level, and the younger the better… (Strozer, 1994)

Bilingual students demonstrate more engagement and concentration. Bilingualism improves the executive center of the brain, which impacts critical thinking, metacognitive, and metalinguistic skills (Thomas & Collier, 2005)

Bilinguals are likely to be better problem solvers (Lyster, 2007)

Bilingual speakers are more likely to learn additional languages (Cenoz & Valencia, 2004)

Bilingual students score higher on the SAT in Math and English (The College Board SAT, 2003)

Dual language classes increase Reading and Math achievement of all students (Wayne, Collier, V. & Collier, K, 2010)

Learning another language improves English structure and vocabulary (Curtain & Dalhberg, 2004)

Beyond bilingualism, students develop a deeper regard and interact with other cultures (Bamford & Mizokawa, 1991; Hamayan et al., 2000)

Infants who are exposed to two languages demonstrate cognitive advantages such as being more able to unlearn a task, resolve conflict cues, and have better theory of mind which leads to benefits such as more empathy and a later delay in dementia among the elderly (Wang, 2011)