Over the past couple of months I have had the opportunity to meet with many bilingual teachers throughout the state of California and have listened to the various experiences that they have had as bilingual educators. A reoccurring theme that often surfaces in our conversations about bilingual education is that many teachers feel that they are unfamiliar with the critical components that characterize effective bilingual education programs, and they often do not have school administrators or school district personnel who are able to build and sustain effective bilingual programs.
“In our school district we don’t have a bilingual coordinator and our school principal doesn’t really understand the Dual Immersion program. We are just hanging on by a thread and sometimes we are just winging it. We don’t really know what we need to do,” a fifth grade Dual Immersion teacher stated at a recent testing committee for the California standards-based test in Spanish.
Another teacher at the testing committee meeting stated, “I’m so jealous to hear about some of the bilingual teachers who work for schools that have a plan for their bilingual program. In my school, none of us know how much Spanish or English we should teach at each grade level and it’s very confusing.”
Such comments about the lack of support or understanding of the critical components that characterize effective bilingual education programs is alarming. It’s imperative that bilingual teachers, administrators, school staff, and parents of children enrolled in bilingual programs understand and implement the following essential components in order to build rigorous bilingual programs. The following components are non-negotiable when implementing bilingual programs, whether they are Dual Immersion, transitional bilingual education, or maintenance bilingual education programs:
#1 Effective bilingual programs have administrators and site instructional personnel who are knowledgeable and supportive of the goals and design of the bilingual program.
Site administrators of bilingual programs must be highly committed to the program. Administrators must be able to clearly explain the goals and design of the program to parents, teachers and other stakeholders. Effective administrators of bilingual programs ensure that bilingual teachers receive training and materials that support the goals of the bilingual program. Effective administrators of bilingual programs also ensure that there are sufficient instructional personnel to support the distinct needs of bilingual educators in the area of professional development and classroom coaching. Administrators provide frequent opportunities for bilingual teachers to meet as a vertical bilingual team to discuss issues related to the bilingual program. It’s highly recommended that administrators possess basic proficiency in the minority language (i.e., Spanish, French, German, etc), but not essential for program success.
#2 Effective bilingual programs have highly qualified bilingual teachers.
Highly qualified bilingual teachers are committed to and are able to clearly articulate the goals and program design of the bilingual program. Effective bilingual teachers hold an appropriate bilingual teaching authorization and are highly trained in dual language and second language acquisition pedagogy. Highly qualified bilingual educators possess high levels of conversational fluency and academic proficiency in both languages of the program. Effective bilingual teachers are highly skilled in the ability to collaborate with bilingual teachers at their particular grade level as well as other bilingual teachers in different grade levels within the bilingual program. In Dual Immersion programs, teachers must also have high levels of cross-cultural competence because they work with children and families of various linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
#3 Effective bilingual programs have a clearly articulated program model design that is faithfully implemented at each grade level.
Effective bilingual programs have a clearly defined program model design which delineates the percentage of time that each language is taught at each grade level. Effective bilingual programs provide instruction in the minority language (i.e., Spanish, French, German, etc) for a minimum of four to six years. Administrators, parents, teachers and students are well-informed about the program model design and are able to clearly articulate it throughout all grade levels. The program model design outlines which academic subjects are taught in each language at each grade level, as well as the curriculum and instructional materials that are to be used. Effective bilingual programs have clearly defined goals and expectations for both languages at each grade level, and teachers and parents are knowledgeable about the first and second language expectations.
#4 Effective bilingual programs provide multiple opportunities for parent involvement, education, and support with an emphasis on topics pertinent to the bilingual program.
Effective bilingual programs provide parents with an orientation about the goals, research-base and program design of the bilingual program prior to entering into the program. Parent meetings are conducted in parents’ primary language, or translation services are provided. Effective bilingual programs have an identified bilingual parent liaison who is knowledgeable about the bilingual program as well as bilingual office staff. Ongoing parent meetings are provided about issues related to the bilingual program such as literacy/biliteracy, frequently asked questions, homework help, second language acquisition, grade level expectations, and other related topics.
#5 Effective bilingual programs utilize separation of languages and monolingual lesson delivery, to the best extent possible.
Effective bilingual programs typically maintain separation of languages when the two languages are taught during separate time blocks according to each school’s specific program model design. Teachers provide instruction in one language during the designated language block and students are highly encouraged to adhere to the language of instruction. For example, in a program where eighty percent of the day is allocated to instruction in Spanish, the teacher and students will adhere to speaking, reading and writing exclusively in Spanish during the Spanish instructional block. The rationale behind such a practice is that students sometimes tend to use the language with which they are most comfortable if clear guidelines for language separation are not established. It is highly recommended that teachers adhere to the language of instruction, yet on certain occasions teachers may briefly utilize the other language when students are in need of primary language support or clarification.
Books Related to the Critical Components:
The following books contain information additional information about the critical components of effective bilingual programs. These books are applicable to Dual Immersion, transitional bilingual education, maintenance bilingual education, bilingual immersion, and other forms of bilingual education.