How do we pursue the acceleration of equity when schools return to the classroom?
With the impending return to school through in-person learning after over 18 months of distance and hybrid learning, school leaders and teachers have been inundated with recommendations about how to approach this re-engagement. Articles about “mitigating learning loss” or “retention of students” abound in the media. Yet, strategies that align with remediation practices are not likely to support learners. Dual Language programs function within the same school systems and are not exempt from this type of thinking. In this article, we propose a framework to undergird the work of dual language programs that seek centering equity in their work toward bilingualism and biliteracy.
One of the biggest barriers in the education of bi/multilingual learners has been that the lenses of remediation, mitigation, and retention come from deficit perspectives. They look to “fill in students’ academic holes” rather than use their assets to enrich our classrooms. Instead of simply searching for the acceleration of learning as we return to our physical classrooms, we call educators to pursue the “acceleration of equity.” While acceleration strategies entail filling academic gaps more quickly, the acceleration of equity requires us, as educators, to authentically engage and partner with students, families and community partners around teaching and learning through an assets-based lens. To this end, we would like to offer a set of considerations to support dual language staff in their acceleration of equity:
- Socio-emotional development and community development. Social-emotional development should be achieved along with academic development. Collaborative approaches to learning result in students sharing their different strengths and supporting peer learning while also accelerating socio-emotional development (Toth & Sousa, 2019). Collaborative approaches to learning provide opportunities for bi/multilingual students to leverage their cultural and linguistic assets in authentic intellectual activities that enrich their own and their peers’ learning. Collaborative approaches strengthen the sense of a community of learners within bilingual classrooms. This translates into equitable outcomes in teaching and learning in dual language classrooms.
- First and second language development. When evaluating dual language programs, equity is most visible in how we support our bi/multilingual students’ language development. While we still serve many students who have recently arrived to the US, a majority of our bi/multilingual students are borned and raised in the US (Zong & Batalova, 2015). This means most of our students might not have a first or second language. Understanding the process of language development of students informs equitable practices. Further, providing equitable time and space to develop students full linguistic repertoire also results in educational equity in and beyond our classrooms and schools.
- Grade level standards. To ensure that each bi/multilingual learner reaches their learning potential, they must have access to grade-appropriate academic content. However, many of us become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of content we need to cover. According to Meg Bowen (2020), it is more important than ever, that we make informed, conscious decisions about the appropriate time and attention devoted to particular standards. To this end, creating criteria to evaluate and identify critical standards in dual language programs is critical. Understanding the big picture and how standards connect across grade levels and across content areas is important to ensure future learning. This may result in the elimination of or reduction on the focus of some standards to allow for deeper and more intense focus on others. Deeper learning in dual language classrooms enhances equity in the education of bi/multilingual children.
- Formative assessment. To ensure that each bi/multilingual learner reaches their learning goals, we need to walk alongside them throughout the teaching and learning path. Formative assessment is exactly that, and it brings us back to the origins of the word assessment, assedere, to sit beside. Formative assessment requires the careful observation of student behavior to evaluate whether they have acquired the knowledge, skills and practices we set for them. This evaluation then turns into action, by providing us, the educators, with the opportunity for feedback to the students and also informing our next steps for teaching. Using formative assessment to inform our planning and our feedback is a way to ensure equity in the teaching and learning of all of our students.
- Parents as partners. Parents, family and community members are another asset that enriches our dual language programs. Inviting them to partner in the education of bi/multilingual learners sends the message that they are welcome, that they have invaluable knowledge and skills to contribute and that those knowledge and skills are legitimate in the eyes of school. Partnering with families and communities brings equity in voice and in ways of knowing the world around us. It also extends the equity work within your program beyond your classroom walls.
As you work toward acceleration this new school year, remember that accelerating learning does not necessarily mean equity in schools, but centering equity and accelerating our work toward it does have a big impact on the learning in our school. ¡Buena suerte and good luck for the 2021-2022 school year!
Bowen, M. (2020). What you don’t know about academic interventions may be hurting your students: 7 instructional strategies for accelerating student learning. Learning Sciences International.
Toth, M. D. & Sousa, D. A. (2019). The Power of Student Teams. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences International.
Zong, J. & Batalova, J. 2015. The Limited English Proficient Population in the United States. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/limited-english-proficient-population-united-states#Age,%20Race,%20and%20Ethnicity