Last week I wrote about five critical components that characterize effective bilingual programs. If you are a parent of a child in a bilingual program or are anticipating having your child in a bilingual program in the future, the following questions can help you determine the extent to which your child’s bilingual program has all of the critical components for success or whether further development is needed. If you haven’t read the initial post about the critical components, you might want to consider reading it before you read this post. Here are five critical components that I outlined and some questions that you can ask yourself or site personnel:
#1 Effective bilingual programs have administrators and site instructional personnel who are knowledgeable and supportive of the goals and design of the bilingual program.
It is sometimes difficult for parents to determine the extent to which an administrator of a bilingual program fully supports the goals of the program. Some administrators will act as if they support the program on the surface level by telling you and others that they support and believe in the program, but they may not really support bilingual education. It’s important that you also look at other indicators to determine whether or not your program has an administrator who is passionate about the program. Ask yourself, the administrator, teachers, and other parents the following questions:
- Has the administrator attended any training or read any books specifically about bilingual education? If so, ask which trainings and which books.
- Has the administrator sent teachers to training specifically about the bilingual program? Which trainings?
- Are there office staff who are bilingual and can speak to the parents in the languages of the program? If not, why?
- Does the administrator take the time to listen to your concerns and your frequently asked questions? Is the administrator able to answer the questions in a knowledgeable way?
- Is the administrator able to fully explain the program design to you, as well as the first and second language expectations for each grade level?
- Does the site have parent meetings about the bilingual program?
- Have you ever heard that teachers are told to “teach more English”? Does the administrator emphasize English more than the other language of the program (i.e., Spanish, French, etc)?
#2 Effective bilingual programs have highly qualified bilingual teachers.
Highly qualified teachers are essential for program success. Many bilingual teachers choose to be bilingual educators and are passionate about teaching two languages, yet there are sometimes other bilingual teachers who were placed in a bilingual program because they speak the language of instruction and may not necessarily be advocates for the program. Ask yourself, the administrator, teachers, and other parents the following questions:
- Have the teachers ever attended an orientation session about the goals and program design?
- Do teachers have high levels of proficiency in both languages? If not, what are teachers doing to increase their language proficiency? What are site and/or school district-level administrators planning on doing to increase teachers’ proficiency in both languages?
- Is the teacher faithfully implementing the program design? Does the teacher teach the designated number of minutes that are taught in each language?
- Do teachers have sufficient resources in both languages? If not, what will the school administration do to ensure that teachers have enough materials in both languages?
- Do teachers have the appropriate authorization to teach in a bilingual program? Do they specifically have a “bilingual teaching authorization”? If not, what are they specifically doing to work towards having a bilingual teaching certificate?
- Can teachers clearly articulate to you the first and second language expectations? Does the teacher specifically inform you of the reading, writing, listening and speaking skills that are expected at each grade level in BOTH languages?
- If a teacher tells you that your child is struggling in his/her second language, which specific strategies is the teacher using to make the second language comprehensible to your child?
- Has the teacher urged you to take your child out of the program without having a formal meeting to brainstorm strategies that will help your child?
Do not ever hesitate to ask the teacher or the site administrator the questions delineated above. Highly qualified teachers will have no problem with answering any of your questions.
#3 Effective bilingual programs have a clearly articulated program design that is faithfully implemented at each grade level.
- Are you aware of the bilingual program design? Do you know how which percentage of time is taught in each language during the day? Do you know which subjects are taught in each of the languages per grade level?
- Have you attended a parent orientation that clearly outlines the instructional program design?
- Have you been specifically informed of the first and second language requirements that will be expected of students at each grade level? Is there a formal, written document that outlines the second and first language expectations at each grade level?
- Does your child’s report card take into consideration the first and second language goals of the program?
#4 Effective bilingual programs provide multiple opportunities for parent involvement, education and support with an emphasis on topics pertinent to the bilingual program.
- Were you ever given an orientation about the program prior to entering the program? Before your child was placed in the program, were you fully informed of the goals, program model design, research-base, and grade level expectations about the program?
- Does the program have monthly or at least quarterly parent meetings specifically about the bilingual program?
- Have you had the opportunity to learn about the following topics through parent meetings: the stages and process of learning a second language, activities and resources that parents can use to promote language development, how to help your child with homework if you don’t understand the other language, etc?
- Is there a bilingual parent advisory committee that has been formed with parents who have children in the bilingual program? Is the meeting conducted in a bilingual manner, or are translation services provided?
- Is there a key person at the site who is able to answer many of your frequently asked questions?
- Do you feel that your questions, concerns and suggestions are addressed by the administrator or teachers?
#5 Effective bilingual programs utilize separation of languages and monolingual lesson delivery, to the best extent possible.
- Has someone told you that teachers will try to separate the languages, and will only speak one language during each instructional block?
- Have you ever visited the classroom and noticed that teachers are not adhering to the language of instruction and are mixing languages?
- What has happened to you when you want to speak to teachers in front of your child? Does a system exist where the teacher can step aside and speak to you in the language that you understand, or does the teacher stay in the language of instruction and you are unable to understand? If this has happened and it is frustrating to you, have you talked to the teacher about your frustrations?
Asking yourself all of the following questions will help you determine the extent to which your child’s bilingual program has the five critical components for program success. In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss what steps you can take as a parent if you determine that one or more of the critical components is not present in your bilingual program. A Spanish translation of this post will be uploaded as soon as possible!
About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs. As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.
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