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Dual-Language Learning: Making Teacher and Principal Training a Priority

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There's a strong and growing demand for schools to provide instruction across grade levels and subjects that leads to students who are bilingual and biliterate. In the seventh, and final, installment on the growth in dual-language learning, a pair of state-level administrators advises schools stress the importance of training and supporting educators who are training students to read, write, and speak in two languages.

If you haven't already, read the previous installments of our reporting on dual-language learning. There's our explainer on dual-language learning, our chat about how to start planning for new dual-language programs, an interview with an expert talking about how all students benefit from dual-language learning, a look at how dual-language learning can boost linguistic and cultural diversity, an exploration of why should schools should focus on what students and their families need from dual-language programs, and a former principal's argument that dual-language education provides an opportunity to immerse a student in both language and culture.


Education Week has talked with several regional and national dual-language education experts, who offer insights into what it takes to launch dual-language programs and strengthen existing ones. If you haven't already, read our explainer on dual-language learning before you dive into our conversation with Gregory Fulkerson and Lynn Fulton-Archer, both of the Delaware Department of Education.

As part of a statewide initiative that began in 2011, Delaware has boosted resources and funding for dual-language education, with the goal of developing a multilingual workforce to lure international companies to their state in an increasingly global job market. The state now has more than 5,000 students in 41 schools enrolled in dual-language programs.

Fulkerson is the director of the language acquisition workgroup at the state education department. Fulton-Archer, a former Spanish teacher of the year in South Carolina, is an education specialist in dual-language immersion at the department.

Education Week edited the questions and answers for length and clarity:

Question: How does the state prepare prospective schools for a dual-language program?

Fulton-Archer: Once a district or school says they really are interested and they would like to participate, we have them create an application based on an action plan. We work with them to identify a trajectory for learners because we recognize that it's important for immersion to not be isolated just to an elementary program. So we ask them to identify a pathway for students from elementary to middle and high school. We have them start thinking about their student population and looking at what kind of a program may be best for them.

Once they are accepted into the state initiative, then we work with the administrators both at the school and district level in an onboarding process to share research with them, to have them identify a team within their building who can help prepare faculty members, can help answer questions. We connect them with other immersion programs in the state so they can learn from administrator to administrator, principal to principal, and really help them create a unique plan that will best support and serve their particular school and their program.

We do ask districts to look at their enrollment policies and practices to ensure that their immersion classroom population is no less diverse than their general school population.

Fulkerson: Everybody starts out excited about having immersion programs ... without figuring out all of the complexities involved with what it means to have an immersion program, and so a lot of times they try to fit immersion into a block or into an existing program that they have in their building, like a gifted and talented program. A little bit over time they start to understand that wait, you can't just put immersion in a box, it requires different systemic thinking. You just can't say 'We're just going to plop it in there and it's just going to fit in like any other type of program that we might want to put into an elementary school.'

Q: How does the state support administrators and teachers?

Fulton-Archer: We have placed a really high priority on professional learning and on ongoing professional learning, and so before a program ever opened, once we moved through kind of that year of preparation, we also then provide a principal institute in the early part of our summer for all of our principals that are in new programs so they really can have an immersive experience, to know what immersion education is.

Then we also do a teacher institute right before the school year starts to give our brand-new teachers some foundational information about immersion, help them understand the curriculum, effective instructional strategies, and really send them off into the school year for the launch of their program on a really sound footing.

Fulkerson: We prioritize the ongoing use of data to ensure that students are performing academically, not just waiting until the end of the year and looking at our state assessment. Looking at benchmark assessments in the areas that are taught in the immersion language, such as math and science for us. So just having a systemic approach to looking at data to ensure that our immersion students are doing as well in the content areas as students who are not in immersion [programs].

Photo credit: Kindergarten teacher Bianca Pierre speaks Haitian Creole to students enrolled in the Toussaint L'Ouverture Academy, a Haitian Creole dual-language program at Mattahunt Elementary school in Boston. --Gretchen Ertl for Education Week

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