Dual Language SchoolsDual Language Programs: Visible & Valuable Multiliteracy By Margarita Calderón and Shawn Slakk

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In this series of articles over the next year, we will discuss how to implement, make visible, and, most importantly, show why multilingualism and multiliteracy are important from cradle to career. Let’s start with the why. Language delineates, supports, and guides culture. Our language shapes our individuality and how we interact with our culture and those around us. Students grow up in multicultural, multilingual communities all over the states. They communicate in formal (academic or business) and everyday Spanish, or the language of their family; formal and everyday English, and at times codeswitch when needed in both. Every aspect of their lives is enriched by being located in a multicultural, translanguaging culture.

But, how do they get there? In exceptional dual language programs, they learn both languages via authentic pieces written by authors from that culture, not just translations of stories, as well as current world issues in different text formats. When reading, writing and experiencing cultures as Purcell-Gates and colleagues (2007) report, the reality of life, politics, entertainment, and work, strengthens and validates their translanguage multilingualism.

Balancing Two Languages

Integrating authentic literacy in your dual language program by using vocabulary, discourse, reading, writing, and cooperative learning activities around informative texts from both languages works to balance the two languages. These activities are particularly effective when facilitating investigation style activities that culminate in a holistic project where students also learn to collaborate and use other social skills. (We describe many of these in our latest book from Velázquez Press. Click here.)

Collaboration: Teachers & Students

Successful dual language programs have teachers who collaborate and students who learn together. Neither teaching nor learning should be a solitary activity.

Teaching should be collaborative. In dual language programs, teaching and teachers must connect and plan together to ensure teacher and student success. Teachers learning communities (TLCs) are ideal venues to share ideas, successes, and materials to examine student progress and help solve problems as they arise. TLCs are fluid; they meet by grade levels, by language and by content areas.

Students also collaborate in their learning, since interaction helps develop language. However, the interaction has to be structured to make it effective. Structured interaction with peers serves to create bridges between languages, clarify doubts in the respective languages, create cultural and social bridges, while building socioemotional skills. Cooperative learning is the best vehicle for vocabulary learning, reading comprehension, developing formal writing, and retaining content knowledge. Students learning via cooperative learning establish positive relationships for negotiation, empathy, decision making, teamwork, and self-confidence. These are the skills that build the self confidence that they will need throughout school and careers.


Making learning visible, worthwhile, and connected to reality is paramount to learning languages and content. Showing the benefits of being multiliterate for purposes beyond home and school is the basis for success for all dual language programs.

Note: In the next article, we will show how integrating vocabulary instruction with real world texts and verbal and written communication starts the dual language program on the road to success.