Academic Achievement – The Forgotten Pillar of Dual Language Education

Art: “Kavalai” by Jeena Ann Kidambi

The three pillars of Dual Language Education are high academic achievement, bilingualism and biliteracy, and sociocultural competence. By nature of the program, our focus tends to rest upon bilingualism and biliteracy. We don’t always prioritize  sociocultural competence, often incorporating only surface-level, “multicultural” activities. And we often make excuses about high academic achievement.  

Dual Language students are learning in two languages – but this is not a reason for us to water down the curriculum for our students. Dual Language programs are in fact social justice programs that are in service of our linguistically minoritized students (those who have a home language other than English). These are the very students who suffer from an opportunity gap throughout their schooling because they, along with other students of color, most often receive watered-down, low rigor, over-scaffolded, repetitive coursework in their classrooms (Zammon 2015). We should not be replicating such inequities in our Dual Language programs.  

What does this mean for our instruction? First, in our Dual Language programs, we should be teaching all the grade-level standards using grade-level texts. We will have students at different proficiency levels in both languages, especially at the younger grade levels, but this should never stop us from expecting our students to grapple with grade-level standards and grade-level texts in both languages. Instead, we should provide differentiated, linguistic and/or content scaffolds that help provide each student access points so that our students can experience success while still engaging in productive struggle. In other words, we need to provide a Goldilocks-amount of support for each child so that each student can be successful with work that is slightly challenging for them after they put in sincere effort.  This productive struggle ensures that students can grow both academically and linguistically. Additionally, kids who are working above grade level in any language should be presented with material at more challenging levels so that their potential can also be maximized.

Furthermore, in order to ensure high academic achievement, we should have a clear content allocation plan that defines in what language each academic subject will be taught each year of the program. The adults in the classroom should be practicing separation of language except during intentional bridging. And bridging should be an intentional, metalinguistic space where teachers translanguage as students bridge their knowledge from one language to another and study the similarities and differences between languages. Bridging should not be used as an excuse to repeat past lessons in the other language as this will replicate the repetitiveness that students of color often experience. Finally, we need to teach Language Arts at grade-level in all grades in both languages every year (Beeman & Urow, 2013).

Finally, when our students are not progressing in both languages, we should not use Dual Language as an excuse.  This is the fastest way to lose our programs. Instead, we need to look at our Tier I instruction for areas to improve, and we need to consider what interventions we can provide. (There are always ways that each of us can improve!) And Remember that by 5th grade, we need to have closed the opportunity gap for most of our Emergent Bilingual students in our Two-Way Dual Language programs, and we need to have closed the opportunity gap by 7th grade in our One-Way Dual Language programs (Thomas & Collier, 2013).  And as students move into high school, we need to continue providing them challenging coursework so that they are in fact ahead of the curve.  

By focusing on high academic achievement in our Dual Language programs, we will be better serving our linguistically minoritized students and thus, bringing about greater racial equity… the ultimate goal of Dual Language programming. 

Aradhana Mudambi
Author: Aradhana Mudambi

Dr. Aradhana Mudambi is an accomplished, multilingual educator and social justice activist. She is the proud owner of Social Justice and Education. She is currently the Director of Multilingual Education at Framingham Public Schools, Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at Eastern Connecticut State University, and President of the Multistate Association for Bilingual Education. She has extensive experience writing grants for language acquisition programs. She is also an experienced advocate for Dual Language Education and World Languages, having been invited recently to speak at institutions such as Harvard University and the National Association of Bilingual Education. You can learn more about her and her work at www.socialjusticeandeducation.org.

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