Supports in Dual Language Education

Art: “Isolation” by Jeena Ann Kidambi

In my last article, we talked about the importance of academic achievement as one of the three pillars of Dual Language Education. It is important to ensure that all students are accessing grade level material with appropriate scaffolds and/or extension activities to ensure that all students are engaged in productive struggle. This is the only way that all students will continue developing their linguistic and academic skills and gain the results we expect in Dual Language Education . The objective is to close the opportunity gap for our Emergent Bilingual students by around 6th grade (this applies to Two-Way Dual Language programs, it is a little later in One-Way Dual Language programs).

However, often even when we offer grade-level material and provide appropriate scaffolds, we will have students struggle with the material. In fact, according to Thomas & Collier’s graph, we will have closed the opportunity gap for the average student by middle school.  This means that we will not have done so for all students. Furthermore, Dual Language Programs, by definition, should be welcoming newcomers who will need additional supports.

So how do we support our struggling students? First, we do not stop offering students strong Tier 1 instruction with grade-level content, appropriate scaffolds, vocabulary instruction, and high-level questioning. Students should still be engaged in productive struggle – a Goldilocks amount of challenge that is not so hard that students cannot achieve success, but not so easy that students are not challenged. When students are not making progress, we need to then determine which students are not making adequate progress. If this is the majority of the class, we need to reevaluate our Tier 1 instruction. (Remember that newcomers will not catch up in English overnight and may or may not come in with content area gaps, but they should be making appropriate progress in both languages and in the content areas. Furthermore, students who are advanced should also be making progress and not stagnating.) We should also make sure that we are carefully following the academic elements of Dual Language such as fidelity to our language model and separation of language.

If, however, only a fraction of students are not making appropriate progress, we need to develop structures for tiered supports. This means that we need to offer Tier 2 and Tier 3 support for our Dual Language students through an appropriate Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) structure. The time offered for this extra support should be outside of Tier 1 instruction. Furthermore, MTSS should be happening outside of language allocation. This means that decisions about which language to instruct in should be based on several factors. For example, if a student is on grade level in one language but not the other, the support should be in the language the student needs help in. If a student is having difficulties in a content area in both languages, we should provide the support in the language we believe the student will make the fastest and most progress in, helping students transfer their skills into the other language at a later time. And of course, if our students are still not making progress, we should be considering if they need special education services.

Finally, and most importantly, we should never use Dual Language as a reason why students are behind. That is the fastest way for us to lose our programs. Instead, we should be demonstrating what we know to be true… that all of our students are better off in our programs than in any other academic programs.

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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