Frontloading Chinese

October 09, 2019

Dear CAIS Community,

This is my third communication in a series about our new strategic vision. In the first, I discussed the evolution of CAIS’s mission, and in the second I attempted to connect the dots between CAIS core values and some of the wisdom of Confucius. I promised a follow-up on the core values piece, talking about how our school will embed the values into the daily life of the school. Before I do that, though, I’d like to talk about one of our school’s long term (i.e., five-year) goals:

Reimagining Immersion: CAIS students achieve Chinese proficiency levels that enable them to engage with confidence in interesting and meaningful classroom projects and in real-life situations, while simultaneously developing competencies that extend far beyond language learning.

Let’s unpack the first part of this goal: proficiency and engagement. Our experience at CAIS has taught us that in order for students to engage in interesting and meaningful work in another language, they must develop requisite levels of proficiency and experience feelings of success. Likewise, in order for them to sustain their motivation and achieve high levels of proficiency, the work they do must be interesting and meaningful to them. Our strategy, then, will be to leverage time, staffing, and impactful pedagogy to achieve greater student engagement and proficiency in Chinese.

How exactly do we leverage time, staffing, and impactful pedagogy? One way is to explore models for increasing the percentage of Chinese in our Pre-K program. We will begin this exploration now; our current thinking is that we would implement a new model in the fall of 2021, two years down the road.

This is an exciting evolution of our program, which has remained 50-50 Chinese-English since CAIS’s founding 38 years ago. At that time CAIS’s model was considered innovative, and many schools over the years have modeled their programs after ours. However, the field of Chinese immersion has changed greatly, and our 50-50 model is now an outlier, with nearly every other Chinese immersion program at or near full immersion in the early years. There are sound reasons for this evolution.

Research clearly shows that the best window for language learning is in early childhood, when children’s brains are malleable, affective filters are low, and language systems are still being developed. We want our students to be able to engage in deep and meaningful content as they move through our program, and the time to make the greatest impact on the level of proficiency that our students will ultimately achieve is at the very beginning.

No decision has been made yet about the percentage of Chinese and English in our future Pre-K program. As part of our planning process, we will be developing a “resource center” for research and writing on bilingualism, immersion, and language acquisition that will be available for the community. We will spend the current school year finding answers to our questions, and I look forward to sharing our progress with you.