Last year, I was hired to teach at a new Dual Language school. I was not sure what I was getting myself into. After a year and a half, I finally understand what it means to teach in a Dual Language classroom. So here are some secrets about being a teacher in a new Dual Language school.
Your Teaching Practice Will Change
Before teaching in a Dual Language classroom, I used to spend most of my time teaching in small groups. Now, I do a lot more whole group instruction than I have ever done in the past. I use a lot more visuals, and gestures, and lots of TPR (Total Physical Response) I use sentence frames and controlled vocabulary on every single lesson, then facilitate the bridging experience (though I am still learning how to master this practice). All this requires additional planning, prepping, and PD. Lots of PD!
They Know More Than You Think
Students in Dual Language programs develop their receptive language and understand a lot more than you may think. I noticed that many of my SLLs (Spanish Language Learners) are able to understand simple instructions and simple questions. However, many of my SLLs cannot keep up with a long conversation or very complex questions… YET!
Simple questions can still be HOT (Higher Order Thinking) when given a structure. In my classroom, students can answer in English and then ask a classmate how to say it in Spanish. I intentionally pair my students by language ability. This way, they can support each other, with either their language development or content understanding.
On the first day of school, I realized that most of my students struggled communicating and reading in Spanish. I was shocked because that was true even with some students from Spanish-speaking-families.
Later that day, I was reminded that being born into a Spanish-speaking-family, doesn’t mean the child will speak Spanish. It’s all about exposure to the language (Full disclosure: My son is an emergent bilingual with a very thick American accent).
Keep It Real
Dual Language research shows that it takes time for students to learn and master 2 languages. You will see growth, a different kind of growth. At the beginning of this year, most of my students could not read most syllables or remember the alphabet. By the end of the 2nd quarter, half of my class could read 2-syllable words. Now at the end of the 3rd quarter, my students are writing more independently, in Spanish. Their writing is simple but they are constructing sentences on their own. They can “translanguage” from English to Spanish, and vice versa.
Earlier this year, I made the mistake of comparing my current students to students in the past years. I now see that my students are learning. They are learning the same as any other kid across the district. The only difference is that they have a larger linguistic repertoire to pull from. Their brains are processing content and 2 different language structures. Their receptive language is developing faster than their expressive language. We know what research says about that.
Teaching in this Dual Language program has been a valuable experience. Throughout this year, I have enjoyed helping new comers have equal access to the curriculum as any other student in the district. I love helping my students learn more about other cultures, their curiosity and courage. I am glad that my district is making the playing field a little more equitable.