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Seven Essential Components for Successful Dual Language Programs

Editor's NoteAngela Palmieri, a sixth-grade Spanish dual language immersion teacher in Glendale, California, shares her thoughts on the key factors of a successful dual language program. 

By guest blogger Angela Palmieri

Districts throughout the United States are starting dual language immersion programs at rapid rates. When these programs are started quickly, without a solid foundation or in-depth planning, problems arise that hinder the academic and language development of the students, as well as the overall implementation of the immersion programs. There are seven essential components of a dual language program that districts can follow to ensure the success of these programs. 

#1: Clear Dual Language Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles 

Before a district starts a dual language program, there must be a great deal of time spent planning the framework, mission and vision statements, and guiding principles that the schools will follow; the stronger and better thought out the vision is, the more successful the dual language programs will be. Without this solid foundation based on dual language research, programs will eventually encounter problems. These problems can be prevented by ensuring that there is at least a one-year district preparation period. 

Before starting an immersion program, the district must gather a group of leaders who have dual language knowledge in order to fully plan the course for the district. This group of leaders should be comprised of principals, teachers, district leaders, parents, and community stakeholders. Districts often hire dual language consultants to guide the district in establishing the framework, especially in cities where dual language immersion is still new and where leaders and experts in the dual language field are less accessible.  

Example of a district's dual language immersion mission and vision:

Vision
The (name of school district) Dual Language Immersion Program is a rigorous academic program that develops high linguistic and academic proficiency in both Spanish and English while fostering global competence and global citizenship.

Mission
The mission of the (name of school district) Spanish Dual Language Immersion Program is for all students to reach high levels of academic achievement, develop biliteracy and bilingualism, and cultivate global competence in order to succeed in a multicultural society and global economy.

Program Goals:

    • to equip students with the skills that will enable them to communicate bilingually and biculturally;
    • to develop communication skills that allow students to compete effectively in a global community;
    • to develop listening, speaking, reading, writing, and global competence skills in two languages;
    • to develop proficiency in all academic content areas in the two languages;
    • to use technology and other non-print sources to gather information; and
    • to increase awareness of students' own culture and appreciation of the culture(s) of others.

#2: School and District Leaders Knowledgeable in Dual Language Immersion 

The role of school and district administrators in immersion programs is crucial. The district must ensure that each program site has a dedicated staff person to lead and take responsibility for the program. Ideally, this leader would be the principal, but if this is not possible, the district should place a teacher specialist or assistant principal at the school site with the dual language immersion knowledge and experience required to successfully lead an immersion program. To effectively lead and direct dual language programs they need the following essential experience and knowledge: dual language pedagogy and curricula, first-hand experience teaching in a dual language classroom setting, and participation in continuous professional development.

#3: Adequate Target Language and English Language Curricula 

Immersion teachers should be given everything they need to teach all content areas in both languages: complete and updated curricula in English and the target language, authentic literature in both languages, visual and instructional materials in both languages, as well as anything that the school and district deem necessary to teach both languages using the best methods possible, such as ongoing professional development and instructional technology. In order to ensure continuity between grade levels, schools should create processes that encourage teacher collaboration and sharing of instructional practices. A strict adherence to the separation of the two languages (English and the target language) should be followed diligently and unwaveringly. 

#4: Professionally Developed, Collaborative Dual Language Teacher Teams 

It is imperative that dual language teachers belong to a team of like-minded people who understand the struggles of being a bilingual educator. Because dual language teachers have unique needs that need to be addressed, dual language teachers and administrators at each school site should meet with one another often and methodically to plan and ensure that all parts of the immersion program are running successfully. 

In many dual language programs, there are two teachers per grade level in grades PreK-3, but in grades 4 to 6, there is often only one teacher per grade level. In an ideal situation, each teacher would be a member of a grade level team to plan and share the workload. Dual language teacher teams should collaborate at least once a month in order to create curricula, common assessments, and writing rubrics; norm writing in both languages; plan cultural events and experiences; and grade and analyze oral language assessments in both languages. 

#5: Target Language Population Involvement

Teaching in any language other than English in the United States, a country that traditionally has held on to a strong English-only philosophy in the schools, is an act of social justice and courage by all stakeholders, so it is important that native speakers of the target language participate fully in the immersion program. The ideal population in a language immersion program is 50% target language speakers and 50% English speakers. This model allows students of different fluency levels to learn from each other. 

School dual language leaders and district administrators must understand the target culture so that they can ensure the community's needs are understood and taken into consideration when recruiting speakers of the target language and to hear and validate parents' concerns. Districts should make every attempt to engage and educate parents in order to obtain buy-in for the program and reach the 50/50 population percentage. 

#6: Parent Education 

Parents who have children in immersion programs require extra guidance. Dual language programs should have at least three parent meetings a year to train and educate parents on how they can best help their children as they progress through the grades. These meetings should be driven by parent needs, which can be ascertained through surveys or interviews. Many parents remove their children from dual programs as they enter the upper grades because of the many fears they may have about their children's future academic performance. Giving parents of students in dual language programs the platform to learn how to support their child's academic and language growth and to discuss the long-term value of being bilingual reduces attrition of dual language students in the upper grades. 

#7: Embedded Cultural Pedagogy: Developing Global Citizens 

seven immersion.pngLanguage and culture are inextricably connected. Learning a language gives the learner a "key" to the culture of the people who speak that language. Language should be taught through a cultural lens because this allows students to view the world openly and to gain an understanding of other cultures at a deeper level. When language and culture are taught concurrently, students in dual language immersion programs are able to develop a stronger bilingual identity. Often students are taught academic content in two languages, which leaves little time to teach cultural practices. However, what often sparks a love of learning a language is a connection with the corresponding cultures. If dual language programs fail to connect students to the culture, students, even as they progress in their language learning, eventually disengage. Therefore, parents, teachers, and school districts must integrate cultural practices in every aspect of a dual language program. 

Dual language immersion programs offer students a way to become global citizens starting at a young age and to be able to view their education from a cultural and multilingual lens. Students who graduate from these programs are able to communicate in multiple languages and understand others from multiple perspectives, which will allow them to address injustices, racial inequalities, poverty, and environmental concerns at a global level. 

Connect with Angela and Heather on Twitter.

Quote image created on Pablo.

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