Biliteracy and Dual Language for Minority Students

Teaching emergent bilingual learners is a multilayered, complex task. Nationwide districts that are serving an increasing emergent bilingual population, especially those who come from minority backgrounds, are implementing dual language programs to address students’ linguistic and cultural diversity. Their goals are to develop bilingualism, biliteracy, multiculturalism for all students and to help minority students to be academically successful. Districts implementing well- developed dual language programs provide three important types of equity for students:

  1. Linguistic equity
  2. Pedagogical equity
  3. Cultural Equity

Linguistic equity for minority students – Dual language programs provide the best context to educate this growing student population. In addition to insuring that the quality of instruction is high and adhering to the district program model, dual language programs equalize the schooling of minority students by:

  • Using the native language as a resource for teaching and learning.
  • Giving equal value to both languages used for instruction.
  • Including culturally relevant books
  • Insuring culturally responsive teaching by facilitating access to content in a language rich environment.
  • Engaging students in the curriculum through active learning.
  • Affording students the use of their complete linguistic repertoire

Pedagogical equity for minority students – In addition to linguistic equity, dual language programs also provide pedagogical equity by affording intentional and strategic opportunities for the development of biliteracy. A powerful pedagogical approach to educate minority students in dual language contexts is through standard-based interdisciplinary units of inquiry in which languages, literacy and content are strategically integrated. Teachers who implement this pedagogy facilitate language acquisition, literacy development, and content area understanding in two languages. By using heterogeneously structured language pairing and peer-mediated instruction, teachers allow for academic conversations that are important for cognitive as well as linguistic development.

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In order to ensure pedagogical equity through effective biliteracy instruction teachers should:

  1. Plan for biliteracy where languages are used to access and produce knowledge bidirectionally (Spanish to English and English to Spanish) and based on students’ competencies;
  2. Teach reading and writing in the dominant language and the target language with scaffolds;
  3. Provide spaces for oral language development where the two languages could be used to deepen understanding of content;
  4. Discuss similarities and differences between the linguistic features of the languages of instruction strategically;
  5. Provide opportunities for students to use language, learn about language and talk about language (Halliday, 1981; Mercuri & Musanti, 2018)

Cultural equity for minority students – Effective dual language teachers get to know families and communities to capitalize on their funds of knowledge. They identify valuable cultural practices that constitute students’ cultural identities and integrate them into the curriculum. This student- centered approach affords teachers the opportunity to understand that their students’ homes contain rich cultural, linguistic and cognitive resources that should be used in their classroom to provide culturally sensitive and meaningful lessons.

In conclusion, dual language bilingual programs address several issues in the education of minority emergent bilingual students. In well-implemented dual language programs, students have equal access to the knowledge that counts in schools and quality instructional interactions. Both of these produce quality education and promote greater equity. In order to provide equity in both languages, teachers must adjust their philosophy, their teaching strategies, and their view of emergent bilingual students from minority backgrounds to one of enrichment versus one of remediation and carefully evaluate how the curriculum best serves the needs of their students. By doing this, educators become advocates of their students and families and create the conditions under which children and parents become empowered.

Sandra Mercuri
Author: Sandra Mercuri

Dr. Mercuri is a nationally and internationally recognized educational consultant in the area of second language acquisition, dual language education, and curriculum integration for biliteracy development. She has over 28 years of experience in teaching in K-12 schools and at the university level in Argentina and the United States. After retiring as a professor from the University of Texas System, she continued to work on research on the development of academic language across the content areas, the use of translanguaging practices for language transfer, and the effect of long-term professional development on dual language, bilingual and ESL teachers’ instructional practices. Dr. Mercuri provides professional development for teachers and administrators as well as for parents. She presents at national and international conferences on issues of second language acquisition and bilingualism, dual language education, translanguaging pedagogy, and ESL strategies. Dr. Mercuri has published articles in the TESOL Quarterly, Talking Points, EJLTS, JMER, TESOL Connections, MEXTESOL, and the NABE journal as well as the Spanish professional journals The Colombian Journal of Bilingual Education: GIST and the Revista Educación y Pedagogía and more than twelve book chapters. Dr. Mercuri is the author of the book titled Supporting Literacy Through Science: The Challenge of Teaching...

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