Focus School: The American School of Kinshasa

TASOK WIDA Member School Profile 

Aerial photo of students in formation

Founded in 1961, The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) is a not-for-profit school located in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This central African country provides a rich linguistic context with over 200 spoken languages, French as an official language, and Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, and Chiluba as national languages. Our 349 students represent over 50 different nationalities, and our faculty and staff speak a wealth of 25 languages in addition to English. TASOK is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School, implementing the Diploma Programme (DP) and currently completing authorization for the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme. (MYP).  

Why did TASOK join the WIDA Consortium?

TASOK joined the WIDA Consortium in 2015 as the school was looking to expand its student support services to ensure equal access for all learners. This included increasing positions, developing guidelines and documentation, training and support for teachers, and the necessary resources. WIDA provides an international perspective, current research-based resources for assessment and instructional support for English Language Learners (ELLs), in line with the TASOK beliefs of excellence, integrity, and inclusivity. (Simon Gillespie, former TASOK Director)

How has WIDA supported learning and program growth at TASOK?

Recruiting WIDA trained EAL specialists was an important step in the adoption process of the WIDA framework. The newly reinforced Student Support Team (SST) fully embraced the Can Do Philosophy and restructured the EAL program to align with this approach. The first big change was implementing a push-in co-teaching model with the goal of scaffolding to facilitate access to the grade level curriculum for students at various levels of English language acquisition.

“Our MYP curriculum provides a more authentic context for language learning. For example, in the unit, Communities Under Threat, students learned how to use language to build empathy and advocate for others.” - Ingrid Chavez, Upper School EAL Specialist.

Another program change came in response to ELL students who self-advocated to be able to study French, a host country language, while they were still learning English. Traditionally, the approach had been to hold off on adding another language until students transitioned out of EAL.

“It was obvious that French speakers would gain from strengthening their mother tongue. However, as we reviewed the research on simultaneous language acquisition and metalinguistic awareness, we were able to build consensus and then create a schedule that allowed all learners the opportunity to study DRC’s official language. Now all PYP students discuss and make connections to the Units of Inquiry in both languages due to the collaboration among grade level teachers, French teachers, EAL specialist, and single subject teachers.” - Tikva Chofi Elementary EAL Specialist.

To lay the groundwork for a collaborative immersion model, professional development sessions empowered all teachers to embrace their role as language teachers, “experts'' in the individual English Language Development Standards of their content area. The WIDA Speaking and Writing rubrics gave teachers a deeper understanding of how language expression progressed. Teachers were introduced to how the Can Do Descriptors together with the Examples of Sensory, Graphic, and Interactive Supports, found in the WIDA English Language Development Standards and Resource Guide, International Edition, can be used as practical tools for planning differentiation and scaffolding.

Having access to the WIDA MODEL (Measure of Developing English Language) helped the school gain a better understanding of which multilingual learners needed additional support from an EAL specialist, as well as a measure of how their language skills were developing over time. By setting a benchmark WIDA MODEL score as a criteria for entry and exit into the EAL program, students in need of language support are less likely to slip under the radar.  The WIDA MODEL also contributed to a broader picture of multilingual students when the SST considered referrals to the RtI (Response to Intervention) process and helped Learning Support and EAL specialists to collaborate to identify and target both language and additional support needs when necessary.

This Spring, as TASOK moved to online learning to adapt to COVID-19, EAL support continued online as classroom teachers and EAL specialists continued co-teaching; leading book clubs, conferencing about writing, organizing individual and group sessions for conversation practice, scaffolding assignments, sharing resources, and maintaining strong relationships with students and families. Throughout this time, WIDA provided support and inspiration to teachers by regularly sharing resources and a Flipgrid for collaboration among international teachers serving ELLs.

As TASOK prepares for the final step in the PYP authorization process; the actual accreditation visit, we remain committed to continuously developing a programme of instruction that is inclusive of and responsive to our multilingual community of learners.

two children sorting letter cards at a table

"Language is intrinsic to learning. It underpins the capacity to think critically and creatively, to inquire and collaborate. Students join TASOK from a range of linguistic backgrounds and through inquiry, learn the language of our school and how to communicate their ideas and understandings using multiple modes of expression." - Paula Baxter TASOK PYP Principal

Submitted by: Tikva Chofi
Date: June 2020
Photos courtesy of The American School of Kinshasa