By Sarah Elizabeth Gonzales, Spanish Lead Teacher, KIPP Austin
It is difficult to describe my first year of teaching and my first year at KIPP. Let’s just say it was an intense whirlwind. Now I am two months into my second year of teaching and feeling excited to have my own classroom, nervous about achieving results, and eager to know each of my students on a deeper level.
To stay energized after days of learning names, figuring out learning styles, and performing baseline assessments, I like to focus on the AMAZING successes my students and I experienced during my first year at KIPP Comunidad. It helps me keep the big picture in mind.
At the end of the year, my manager helped prepare me for success as I moved from being a co-teacher into my new role of Spanish Lead Teacher. Using the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching, we discussed what went well this year and what can be done better (or in KIPP speak “areas of growth”) next year. I revisit that review periodically to remind myself of what to focus on, but also to remind myself of all that we accomplished last year.
One of the measures we use to assess our student’s listening and speaking skills is called Language Assessment System (LAS) Links which rates students on a scale of 1 (no productive language or comprehension) to 5 (fluency of native speaker and advanced listening skills) with a 4 being rated as proficient. The annual LAS Links goal for our students is to grow at least one level in their second language.
Last year, the Cesar Chavez House (the name assigned to our team of 44 students and three teachers) was proud to declare that 100% of our students passed their goal. Looking at the numbers even more closely: 24 out of 25 of our students who were not proficient in Spanish at the beginning of the year grew two or more levels. We even had four English-speaking students who grew three levels (from level 1 to a 4) and one English-speaking student who grew four levels! She finished out the year being rated a level 5 which is considered to be equal to proficiency of a native speaker!
At the end of last year, I found myself overwhelmed with pride when I heard my students speak in their second language. I was actually most proud of my Spanish Language Learners (SLLs). While our English Language Learners are exposed to English on a regular basis outside of the school setting, our SLLs are not. It was (and continues to be) a focus for us to maximize a SLL’s exposure to Spanish both inside and outside of school. Helping them develop that new skill is incredibly rewarding.
There was an unmeasurable difference in our children from the beginning of the year to the end. The students’ growth goes beyond the changes in their ratings. It is not only in their ability to speak in their second language, but more so in their confidence and pride in their bilingualism. One of my students was once a timid child who twisted her fingers and responded meekly, “I’m confused…” whenever she was confronted with questions or directions in Spanish during the first few months of school. By June, she spoke in Spanish with a confidence that rivals that of her native speaking peers.
Another source of pride for me was Naomi. What do I say about Naomi? From the beginning of the year she was very verbal in English, her native language. Now my own words are failing as I try to describe the progress she has made in Spanish. Luckily, I have video! In this video Naomi is taking part of her LAS Links exam. If you understand Spanish, I suggest you watch the video before reading any further.
For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, in this video I ask her: “Explain to me why is it important for us to raise our hand when we want to speak in class?” Her answer, worthy of Bill Cosby’s ‘Kid’s Say the Darndest Things,’ is a beautifully constructed sentence that explains a lot. Although not 100% grammatically correct, it is 100% amazing: “If you do not raise your hand, and everyone is talking at the same time, Ms. Acosta’s head will hurt a lot!” So true, Naomi, so true.
I hope you enjoyed my little celebration. As we embrace the new challenges of this school year, remember to celebrate all those successes you had last year and stay motivated to work hard to achieve even more this year!
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