Bilingual Education

Bilingual Education
Colette Backus, Robin Charlton, Rita Pokhis, Erinn Ray, and Mary Terry

Welcome, Bienvenido (Spanish), Welkom (South African), Merhaba (Middle Eastern), Dobro dosli (Bosnian), Irashaimasu (Japanese), Yin dee torn la (Laosian), Добро Пожаловать (Russian), Hos geldiniz (Turkish), and Soo dhawoow (Ethiopian).

What is Bilingual Education?
As individuals, we are all unique in our own ways regarding our customs, values, and native languages. However, we share similarities in our need to communicate and learn from one another in order to better understand the world we live in.

We invite you to step into the world of bilingual education. Bilingual education is the teaching of non-English speaking children. Typically, bilingual education programs fall under the English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or dual language programs. Within the United States, Spanish is a common dual language program. According to Reyes’ study (2007), interchanging Spanish and English in a bilingual classroom can help students build oral fluency and literacy skills in two languages. However, due to the diverse student population in the United States, several different languages are spoken in our classrooms. In order to attempt to meet the needs of all students, ESOL programs are more prevalent in our schools than dual language programs.

Another type of program that has been found to be quite effective with English Language Learners is the alternate immersion program. In a three year study, Winsler et al. (1999) validated the effectiveness of alternate immersion programs (as cited in Stewart, 2004). Alternate immersion programs are those in which half of the day is spent instructing children solely in their first language and the remainder of the day is dedicated to instruction in their second language (Stewart, 2004). The researchers determined that preschoolers who enrolled in an alternate immersion program “developed superior English language skills” and simultaneously did not compromise their first language (Stewart, 2004, p. 33). Willig (1985) verified these findings through extensive research of 23 studies related to bilingual education and its effects (as cited in Stewart, 2004). Alternate immersion programs are effective for young children because the programs not only esteem both the children’s first language (L1) and second language (L2), they also provide children with ample opportunities to use both languages on a daily basis. In this way, children’s home language is not diminished and children are able to “transfer the knowledge and skills gained in L1 to L2” (Stewart, 2004, p. 34).

In the 1960’s, the United States was described as a “Melting Pot” due to the diversity of cultures (Crawford, 1999, p. 19). Individuals migrated to the States in search of a better way of life. Unfortunately, some were unable to preserve their own heritage and language in the new country. During these times, our forefathers did not have an official language policy, yet it was common knowledge for all citizens to speak and learn standard English. The goal was to allow immigrants to migrate into the country while simultaneously restricting and limiting their usage of their native language (Crawford, 1999). At times, individuals were deported if they did not acquire the English language within a designated time period (Crawford, 1999). Many different cultures decided to advocate for a bilingual education setting where children could maintain their native tongue while learning the English language (Crawford, 1999). The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 provided federal funding for school districts to encourage approaches that incorporated native language instruction (Crawford, 1999). Crawford has been an advocate for English Language Learners since 1985. Please visit his site to learn more information regarding the history and policies of Bilingual education.

Literacy Research Findings
“Children bring skills and abilities from their first language, which must be seen as assets not setbacks” (Lenters, 2004). According to Lenters, one-fifth of American children speak a language other than English. Educators need to be equipped to teach these children literacy skills in order for the children to be successful. Several factors that educators must consider in order to provide appropriate literacy instruction for bilingual students are: children's ages, literacy backgrounds, prior schooling, and unique needs.

Researchers have discovered over the past twenty years similar practices that serve as effective instruction for English Language Learners (ELLs). From the early findings of Krashen (1988) to the most recent research of Echevarria's et al. (2006) comprehensible input, activating and building background knowledge have been part of successful ELL instruction. Most recently, however, research has taken into account the need to go deeper into the child’s home life and shift the primary focus from comprehensible input to providing opportunities for students to demonstrate output through the use of authentic, meaningful activities (Swain, 2005). In fact, Swain’s (2005) research suggests that input alone is not sufficient enough for learning a second language.

Research has also stressed the importance of balancing explicit instruction in the areas of phonemic awareness and word recognition with rich instruction that fosters ELLs’ output in the way of oral development (Gutierrez, 2001; Lesaux & Siegel, 2003). For example, Lundberg et al. (1988) developed a program that places nursery rhymes and rhyming games at the core of its curriculum for preschoolers (as cited in Stewart, 2004). These activities provide children with meaningful learning experiences with language and literacy (Stewart, 2004). Rhyming exposes children to language and leads to segmenting sentences and words, clapping syllables, and phoneme identification (Stewart, 2004). Additionally, when educators create their own rhymes and stories based on their students’ culture, they are exhibiting culturally responsive practices (Stewart, 2004). Thus, it is important to acknowledge and utilize students’ valuable cultural and linguistic resources (Gutierrez, 2001; Lesaux & Siegel, 2003).

“Comprehension is at the heart of reading, be it first or second language. This must be a reminder to educators to give attention to this important area for the beginning of second language reading instruction” (Lenters, 2004, p. 334). Vocabulary is an essential part of learning a language and being able to comprehend a story. Droop and Verhoeven (2003) believe readers need to be familiar with 95% of the vocabulary in order to fully develop meaning of the text (as cited in Lenters, 2004). Droop and Verhoeven found that extensive vocabulary training is crucial for efficient second language reading comprehension: deep understanding of vocabulary must be fostered on the semantic level through multiple exposures to words in a variety of genres, subject areas, and contexts. There are several ways to help bilingual children develop vocabulary. One way is having meaningful conservations.

Collaborative conversations, meaningful discussions about text, semantic webbing, and repeated opportunities to engage in “robust vocabulary instruction” are all part of a well-balanced program for ELLs (Nagy, 1988). In addition, according to the research of Carlo et al. (2004), it is not the amount of words that students learn that is of utmost importance for ELLs’ success in their second language and reading comprehension. The strategy that is taught is the most important aspect of the program. Carlo et al.'s (2004) study concluded that fifth grade ELL students in mixed ELL-English Only (EO) classrooms experienced a higher rate of reading comprehension compared to the control group when “the meanings of academically useful words were taught together with strategies using information from context, from morphology, from knowledge about multiple meanings, and from cognates to infer word meaning” (p. 189).

Next, Graves et al. (2004) performed an observational study of first grade classroom teachers (as cited in Klinger & Edwards, 2006). The researchers found that teachers who were experienced and knowledgeable in the area of literacy and teaching ELLs had higher rates of success in the area of effective instruction for their ELL student population compared to teachers who did not hold these credentials (2006). Gersten and Jimenez (1994) confirm this fact from their qualitative research and state, “With some refinement and restructuring, experienced reading teachers can enter classrooms of ESL students with a core of relevant professional knowledge” (p. 445). Instructional practices that explicitly disclose what is going on in the mind of the teacher through metalinguistic and metacognitive strategies are part of a reading teacher’s repertoire. Gersten and Jimenez (1994) state, “These approaches are widely advocated in the reading field and, if properly implemented, they seem to have great potential for ESL students” (p. 446).

Another pertinent part of effective ELL instruction is Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT). Teachers demonstrate CRT by respecting and valuing their students’ culture and language and view diversity as an asset, not a deficit (Meyer, 2000; Echevarria, Powers, & Short, 2006). Educators who exhibit CRT familiarize themselves with the language, values, and culture within their students’ community (Meyer, 2000; Klinger & Edwards, 2006). As a result, they utilize this knowledge to make home to school connections for students within the curriculum and the classroom environment (Meyer, 2000; Klinger & Edwards, 2006). For example, through the use of CRT, teachers are able to create meaningful connections during classroom discussion and lesson delivery. Therefore, teachers enhance students’ language development through collaborative conversations and engaging activities that interest the students. Encouraging students to share orally both in English and in their native language, accepting students’ responses, and taking their ideas seriously, while simultaneously scaffolding instruction, are all pertinent aspects of CRT (Echevarria et al., 2006; Meyer, 2000; Gersten & Jimenez, 1994). To meet students’ language developmental needs, teachers should display word walls with cognates in the students’ primary language and create a diverse environment that reflects the students culture (Echevarria et al., 2006; Meyer, 2000; Gersten & Jimenez, 1994).

Regarding CRT, early childhood educators have the opportunity to discover insights about their students’ values and beliefs as revealed through their sociodramatic play (Riojas-Cortez, 2001). Riojas-Cortez (2001) defines sociodramatic play as “a mediation tool that children use for learning and is also a vehicle that can assist teachers to learn about their students” (p. 35). During a study of twelve Mexican-American preschool children, Riojas-Cortez discovered that young children’s ethnic identity is shaped by cultural factors (2001). Sociodramatic play is integral in early childhood programs because through play, children demonstrate “the cultural behaviors transmitted by their families and use them as resources to enhance their play” (Riojas-Cortez, 2001, p. 36). Through teacher observation of students and interviews with parents, teachers increase their understanding of family’s culture, beliefs, and values (Riojas-Cortez, 2001). With this knowledge, an early childhood educator can construct curriculum that is culturally responsive and meaningful to both students and their parents (Riojas-Cortez, 2001).

Selecting appropriate reading material is a crucial part of the literacy development of ELLs. Materials need to be authentic so that the students are able to comprehend and make connections to the text. Another way to introduce reading materials is through read-alouds, shared readings, and partner reading. It is also important that the text the ELLs are exposed to reflects natural speech. Opportunities to read and re-read help the students make enormous gains in their literacy progress.

Like all learners, adolescents respond to activities that help activate their prior knowledge on topics that are engaging for them. Education Alliance at Brown University (1975) researched the topics of motivation, engagement, and activating students’ background knowledge by building on familiar concepts (as cited in Meltzer & Hamann, 2001). After reviewing the literature, the researchers found that effective literacy instruction for English Language Learners consisted of activating background knowledge and making text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections. Making connections to text provides a personal purpose for reading. Research has shown that activating students background knowledge, using strategies that scaffold unfamiliar information, and responding to students’ input are effective ways to engage English language learners with content-related texts (Meltzer & Hamann, 2001). In addition, when instruction provides opportunities for students to make connections to text while soliciting students' responses to text, the interests and learning needs of the students are met (Meltzer & Hamann, 2001).

Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2000) developed an effective planning tool for the instruction of ELL students (as cited in Echevarria et al., 2006). The tool is called the SIOP Model, which stands for Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (Echevarria et al., 2006). The SIOP includes all of the pieces of effective instruction: preparation, building background knowledge, comprehensible input, effective strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery, review, language objectives and assessment (Echevarria et al., 2006). This tool can be used by teachers during lesson planning and delivery for English Language Learners. Echevarria et al. (2006) later performed a seven year research project to identify the effectiveness of the SIOP model. The reasoning for developing and testing this model was simple. Up until the SIOP model was used, there was no other systematic model of planning instruction and delivery for ELLs. The lack of consistency for ELL students' in regards to the instruction they have received, has had a negative impact on their academic success. In conclusion, Echevarria's et al. (2006) seven year study found that the writing level of students improved compared to the control group whom did not receive systematic instruction using the SIOP model.

Secondary Bilingual Education
Due to the growing number of adolescent and adult ELLs in American schools, education has become a critical issue for these individuals. Young (2005) researches the reasons why adolescent ELLs increasingly turn to adult education. The researcher identifies a great number of these students as individuals with interrupted formal schooling who had difficulties graduating within the time frame traditionally allocated for high school study. Young points out developmental differences and variances in educational experiences between adolescents and adults. The researcher analyzes educational, societal, and personal factors that contribute to adolescent ELLs' inability or unwillingness to pursue study in a traditional secondary school. It is interesting that although research proves that adolescent ELLs can benefit from adult mentoring, it also suggests that teachers should differentiate adolescents’ learning goals from those of adults in their classroom. According to Taraeweather's research article, teachers need to select materials and instructional strategies that meet both groups' real life needs and goals (as cited in Young, 2005).

In the field of neuroscience, Wilson and Horch (2002) explore two areas of current interest for middle and secondary level educators. The two areas include: brain maturation during the adolescent years and how gender differences affect adolescents' learning. Neuropsychologists agree that the way to hold attention in young adolescents is through sensorimotor experiences. “Music, smell, touch and emotions can focus students on learning” (Wilson & Horch, 2002). As a result of their research, Wilson and Horch present a list of recommended classroom activities that are most compatible for fostering attention and memory. Some types of sensorimotor stimulation may not be as effective with females as it is with males. Wilson and Horch (2002) state as "the adolescent brain is still developing, sensorimotor stimulation creates stronger synaptic connections and stress during learning, which may aid males and inhibit females. Educators can use these findings to create powerful, varied instruction in a safe, stimulating and exciting classroom" (p. 58).

The environment is another important factor to consider when working with ELLs. Brown (2007) explains why small groups are more effective for ELLs. “Small groups provide opportunities for students’ initiation, for face-to-face give and take, for practice in negotiation of meaning, for external conversational exchanges, and for students’ adoption of roles that would otherwise be impossible” (Brown, 2007, p. 225). Long and Porter (1985) observed an adult classroom of native Spanish speakers by analyzing quantity and quality of speech production during small group activities. The authors' findings support several claims in regard to utilizing small groups for students who are learning a second language. Long and Porter's findings include: small group activities give students increased language practice, increase opportunities for students to negotiate meaning, and provide time for accuracy of production and error correction compared to that of whole class, teacher-led activities. Long and Porter concluded that the combination of small group and pair work are especially beneficial for students who are acquiring a second language. In addition, Long and Porter found that talking, negotiation, and comprehensible input increased with the use of small group activities compared to that of whole class activities.

It is time for society, which largely affects the school system from the top down, to acknowledge the fact that intervention programs used for one group of students will not necessarily work for another. A large factor for improving the odds of success for ELL students lies in the hands of teachers. As educators we have a moral responsibility to be advocates for all students, including ELLs. We must be culturally responsive and have a sincere drive to value and respect our students and their contributions to our classrooms. Neglecting this moral responsibility will cause our students to continue to be falsely labeled or neglected by a system that does not work with their interests in mind.

As educators, we have the opportunity to change individuals’ ways of thinking about bilingualism and its significance in society today. As the world continues to change, the educational system must change simultaneously in order to meet the demands of society. One avenue in which educators are better preparing children for the future is through the inclusion and emphasis on immersing and instructing foreign languages to children of young ages. As residents in “a global society,” “we (Americans) have got to learn languages if we want to negotiate with other countries and get along” (East, 2008, para. 19). However, there is some opposition that must be combated in order to ensure that children are provided with appropriate educational experiences.

Souto-Manning (2006) demonstrates that individuals’ beliefs about bilingualism affect their interactions with others. During the course of six months, the researcher observed interactions between young children and their families in an urban playgroup. Souto-Manning highlights playgroup mothers’ original unwillingness to recognize the benefits of bilingualism. However, Tse’s (2001) research opposes this way of thinking (as cited in Souto-Manning, 2006). Tse revealed that “the areas of language acquisition and development…points to bilingualism and multilingualism as resources, rather than deficits” (as cited in Souto-Manning, 2006, p. 443). During the families’ involvement in the playgroup for three months, they witnessed their children's vocabulary and language development increase through social interactions with bilingual children. In conclusion, children’s “repertoire in a second or foreign language has the potential to stretch their vocabularies and understandings of multilingualism and multiculturalism” (Souto-Manning, 2006, p. 445). As educators, we must explain the “existence and value of languages other than English” to parents and students alike in order to challenge their “attitudes towards other languages” (Souto-Manning, 2006, p. 445).

Through our critique of the research, we have found that culturally and linguistically diverse students are more often instructed with curriculum that has been approved to meet the needs of the mainstream student culture (Klinger & Edwards, 2006). While the SIOP model is a very effective planning tool, adding one more piece in the area of culturally responsive teaching would remind teachers of the importance of incorporating CRT as part of their daily routine (Echevarria, Powers & Short, 2006). Making connections to the student’s home life is the responsibility of the teacher. If the child is misunderstanding the content, it is the teacher’s responsibility to discover effective instructional practices instead of blaming the child for his lack of language or ability (Aukerman, 2007). We whole-heartedly agree with this claim. We are hoping to see a drop in the percentage of ELL students who receive special education services when in fact, they do not have a learning disability (Klinger & Edwards, 2006). It is not surprising that in addition to receiving “special education services at a considerably higher rate…than monolingual children,” bilingual students drop out of high school at a rate of 40% (Stewart, 2004, p. 31). However, this issue can be decreased if teachers provide their students with developmentally appropriate curriculum that embraces and esteems the children’s culture and values (Stewart, 2004). We wholeheartedly support Stewart's claim.

In addition, through our research we have also found biliteracy to be an important aspect of culturally responsive teaching. We recommend supporting biliteracy as part of an esteeming curriculum for our English Language Learners. Whitmore and Crowell (2006) state, “Analysis indicated that the classroom where power was shared, where academic work was highly intellectual and authentic, and where bilingualism and biliteracy were valued as resources enabled the students to thrive” (p. 270). According to Dworin (2006) educators need to be aware of the benefits of biliteracy and be able to help their students access social and cultural materials. Children who are able to acquire biliteracy can have tremendous intellectual gains and can create meaningful relationships between two cultures.


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