Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dual Emersion?

I No, this is not a blog post on baptism or scuba diving. It is not about the childish prank of "dunking" in the backyard pool. It is a practice I recently experienced which, I think, is just a ludicrous and archaic as the above word images evoke. It is still happening in our schools at all levels, and I'm not talking about swimming class or water polo. I can see the surface reasons for it, but, submerged, it is an iceberg that is disceptive and has many hidden agendas and consequences for learning our first language, English.

This time I was at a Kindergarten, probably in the oldest building in the city. It was not an oversized room, just a standard classroom that had to house both A.M. and P.M. classes of 20 each. It had two teachers who were not there that day. One was designated the "bilingual" teacher (P.M group) and the other was probably also bilingual but had the "traditional" class in the morning. They didn't overlap in anyway. They came and went separately and the teachers were hardly expected to interact since they had different students. There were two Aides who were also bilingual (Hispanic). They were in charge of the "paperwork", homework packets, home-going announcements, paper correcting and clean-up. One Aide, the P.M. one, had to take over and actually "teach" the Spanish lesson for the day since that sub, even though she had a Hispanic sirname, didn't speak Spanish. All during the A.M. session she hid in the back of the room at the teacher's desk, reading a novel. She was uninvolved in the class dynamics. I was expected to do the same thing during the P.M. session.

Well, I couldn't. After I had my lunch, I couldn't help but listen in. Pretty soon I was sitting in the room in a soft, deep rocking chair, just "observing". Then I went to one of the three kidney-shaped helping tables where they are sent for their "centers" time. This was during the Spanish lesson teaching the the initial sound blend "ch" and all the Spanish words that the kids could think of that start with that sound. Finally, I raised my hand and verbally volunteered "chimichonga". The Aide had to explain it to the kids because most didn't know what one was having never gone to a traditional "Mexican Restaurant". At the end of the session, when they were all packed up with their backpack to be picked up and "signed out", I called out "Adios mi chaparitas!" The Aide smiled.

During the "Centers Time", the only time they were allowed off the "communal lecture carpet", (yep, that's right, Kindergarters and no "free play time") they were all supposed to do the same "seatwork" about Spanish decoding, circle, X-out, or cut out and paste various letters and pictures etc. The Math assignment was rather tricky for Kindergarteners. The other sub (a first-year teacher without a "hire" yet) and the Hispanic Aide couldn't figure it out, especially in the "Second Language" While the kids were out for an extended recess, I was able to figure it out and prepare the three tables for it. It involved, in Spanish, comparative measuring lengths of different colored swatches with segmented, plastic blocks and then graphing them on a "bar graph" with that same color. THIS IS NOT A BEGINNING MATH ASSIGNMENT YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS WHO ARE JUST STARTING TO FEEL CONFIDENT "COUNTING" FORWARDS, NOT BACKWARDS, IN ENGLISH, LET ALONE SPANISH. Few kids got it at my table and one or two were sent to me from the other tables by the Aide and the other Sub for further explanation EN ESPANOL. I had to ask for some key words but I finally got it done with a combination of English and Spanish and most seemed to understand and do it. Unfortunately, all our time was taken up with it and we had no time to "Sing" with the Spanish-speaking kids at the end. (a request from the other Sub after listening to me with the A.M. group) I have several songs in Spanish that I love to sing with kids.

What I also noticed was that the 90% Spanish-speaking Aide had to revert to speaking a rather forceful English whenever the kids were not getting it or not paying attention. It was like a "punishment" for not "listening or understanding" it seemed. They kids were directed and "talked at" for 95% of the time by one adult or another. I later learned that this Aide went to this old school as a kid herself twenty years ago. "Nothing has changed", she said. (nada se cambio?)

I guess the reasons are mainly economic. I'd say they are also the ease of running it that way. But is it REALLY DUAL EMERSION? I think not. The English speakers are not challenged or asked to speak or understand Spanish and the visa-versa. They are kept separate. Music and recitation (poetry) would be two ways to bring them together. In this way they would both "value" each other's language and customs. In this way the dominant language, English, could be emphasized and phased into with more respect and "romance". The suborinate language, Spanish coud be equally valued and sung about so they wouldn't forget it. Right now, poor kids, they are just more mixed up. Que Lastima! RRR

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