Curious to know about how Stamford American International School’s one-bilingual-teacher approach works? Hear it from the school’s bilingual teacher herself!
When it comes to Bilingual Programs, Stamford American International School (SAIS) stands out from the rest by using an innovative one-bilingual-teacher approach for its English-Mandarin bilingual classes. This means that students will be learning both English and Mandarin from a single teacher who is not only fluent in both languages but has extensive experience teaching in a bilingual environment.
We spoke to Miss Christy Xiang Huntington – a bilingual teacher from SAIS – to find out how this approach works and what a day in a bilingual classroom is like…
Hi Miss Christy! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
This is my fifth year teaching at SAIS as a bilingual homeroom teacher. In my current position, I teach Language Arts, Maths, and Unit of Inquiry (UOI) to Elementary School students. As a bilingual teacher with over a decade of teaching experience in international schools, I’ve dedicated my career to helping students of all levels master the skills and concepts they need to become global citizens.
My entire family is in the education industry – my dad is a retired microbiology professor. I still remember it vividly when I was little; I used to sneak into the lecture hall where my dad was teaching, barely sticking my head out from behind the desk. While pursuing my education at the University of Leicester and Nanyang Technological University, I was exposed to many great works in English as well as in Mandarin. I grew fond of the beauty of both languages. I guess that education runs in my family, and bilingualism is where my passion lies.
What sort of curriculum do students in SAIS’ Bilingual Program follow?
In the Bilingual Program, both Early Years (EY) and Elementary School (ES) divisions follow the guidelines of the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL). The lessons in Grades 1-5 use the AERO (America Education Reaches Out) standards, and are delivered using the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) framework.
Whilst bilingual students learn the same content as students in mainstream classes, 50% of Maths and UOI lessons are delivered in Mandarin. The program involves daily language rotation in Pre-K through Grade 1 and weekly rotation in Grade 2 through Grade 5, although translanguaging is regularly encouraged. During a Mandarin day – Maths, UOI lessons, morning meeting, transition, snack, lunch time, Read-Aloud, and Closing Circle are all conducted in Mandarin.
So what does a day in a bilingual class look like?
To begin the day, I briefly introduce the class schedule and what to expect. It’s also the time for students to share about their hobbies and life, discuss and set goals for the day.
During the Maths and UOI lessons in Mandarin, I conduct a seven to ten-minute mini-lesson introducing the learning goal, relevant knowledge, and skills students need to complete their tasks. When students work individually, in pairs or in groups, I walk around and offer guidance in Mandarin. This is a natural opportunity for immersion, and everyone starts to communicate in Mandarin or translanguage.
In bilingual classes, translanguaging is regularly encouraged. We don’t expect or require students to speak the second language right away. They are initially allowed to speak English to express and communicate their thoughts and learning. The teacher will encourage and restate what students say to reinforce the connection between both languages and create more opportunities for students to smoothly move on to the next stage of language acquisition.
During Mandarin lessons, the Mandarin teacher focuses on language acquisition, including an additional component of Mandarin vocabulary needed in the UOI learning.
Readers Workshop and Writers Workshop are conducted in English. Students need to be well-developed in their first language for their cognitive system to function at its best. In fact, a strong foundation in the first language is important for second language acquisition as it allows the connections between two languages and concepts and for strategy-transfer to happen. Specialist lessons are also conducted in English by respective specialist teachers, with our Bilingual teaching assistant (TA) helping to support and direct students in Mandarin.
During transitions, snack, and lunch time, the TA and I will communicate with students as much as possible to practice their conversational Mandarin, with conversation topics such as “do you need to drink water or fill up your water bottle, do you need to take a bathroom break, what kind of food are you having today, what’s your favourite food” etc.
During Read-Alouds, I will carefully select Mandarin books related to the day’s learning contents or personal-social-emotional development. I have also published my own bilingual book series to support bilingual learning.
Finally, during the Closing Circle, students enjoy playing some Mandarin games to revise the learned vocabulary or reflect on their learning. They always walk out of the classroom with a big smile, knowing that they’ve done an awesome job for that day!
That sounds super fun! What sort of school facilities do you use during lessons?
SAIS offers iPads to students at a one-to-one ratio, and these iPads are loaded with numerous learning apps to enhance their learning experience. The use of technology is carefully considered, so apps and learning engagements are intentionally chosen and designed to add value to the students’ learning. Classes also have access to dedicated bilingual classroom libraries. During specialist lessons, students access our purpose-built facilities, such as fully-equipped music rooms, drama rooms, art rooms, gymnasiums, multilingual library, and swimming pools.
And do you interact with your students’ parents often?
As a homeroom teacher, I’m always communicating with parents through various channels like Seesaw Friday Blog, Seesaw Family Announcement, emails, and learning posts from the students. I believe in the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”, so the collaboration between family and school is essential in a student’s bilingual learning. I keep parents updated about academic performance and personal social-emotional development, specifically on how we can work together for the student’s benefit.
The question I’m asked most frequently is how parents can assist in their children’s bilingual learning, especially if they themselves are not bilingual. There are many impressive bilingual learners from my previous and current class who don’t have a bilingual background. What matters the most is the sustainable learning habits and appropriate approaches towards learning. Bilingual teachers also provide learning resources, including Joy Readers, Quizlet, and Seesaw.
Do you see yourself as a bilingual role model to your students?
Definitely! Bilingual teachers not only demonstrate bilingualism as role models but also inspire and motivate students to become truly bilingual, bicultural and biliterate. The SAIS one-bilingual-teacher model has provided me with the opportunity to establish trusting relationships with students. Bilingual learners need to feel a deep sense of belonging to take risks and make mistakes. Positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn.
As a bilingual learner myself, I can understand the journey better. I’m able to view the learning experience through a bilingual learner’s lens in order to provide the support my students need. I share my learning experience with students to build up their confidence and make them feel valued. I introduce my learning strategies and tips so my students can have a smoother journey. I monitor students’ learning progress closely and remove learning barriers, if any.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a bilingual teacher in SAIS?
As an Elementary School bilingual educator, I think the greatest reward is in the trusting relationship I have developed with my students. It’s heart-warming to hear students say they love the learning experience, and they enjoy Mandarin as a language. Oh, and receiving cards with messages like “I am grateful to have you as my bilingual teacher. Thank you for helping me learn Mandarin and English”. The students almost made me cry this year by surprising me with a gigantic birthday card on my birthday!
Besides that, the support and feedback from their parents has motivated me greatly as well. Comments such as “I have never seen my son develop so much in one year. He has just blossomed!” and “We truly appreciate your attentiveness to detail in guiding our daughter’s learning and development journey!” are incredible to receive.
In a bilingual class, students with different cultural backgrounds also learn social skills that are needed to work with others. I feel extremely happy when I see students being able to apply what they learn into practice. I have witnessed students use Mandarin to solve problems in groups and comfort their peers in Mandarin. One parent shared that her son started a conversation in Mandarin with a Chinese person at a bus stop (with his parents around, of course). They felt so proud that their son is bilingual! I’ve also heard of stories that bilingual students are able to reach out to a wider range of audiences in their PYP Exhibition by speaking both English and Mandarin. Facilitating the character growth and linguistic development of bilingual students at SAIS has always reaffirmed my passion!
That’s such an amazing experience, Miss Christy! Lastly, perhaps you can tell us – in your own words – why parents should choose SAIS’ Bilingual Program?
SAIS’ Bilingual Program employs a one-bilingual-teacher model, which offers students the opportunity to develop two sets of linguistic codes simultaneously. It allows seamless translanguaging between two languages which is essential in constructing understanding. As bilingual learning is not just about the simple mastery of two separate languages, this seamless process strongly supports the holistic development of students’ bilingualism skill sets, academic achievement, and sociocultural competence.
SAIS’ Bilingual Program also provides a conducive environment where students have a trusting relationship with their teachers and are confident to take risks in their learning. Bilingual teachers facilitate student-led inquiry and teach responsively to support the needs of all bilingual students.
Thank you for sharing with us, Miss Christy!
This post is in partnership with Stamford American International School.