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Biliteracy and Bilingualism Are the Path to the Future

July 12, 2017

Despite current national political themes that seem to promote monoculturalism and monolingualism, bilingualism and biculturalism are the future.  Already, 27 of our states have seen the goodness in promoting a multilingual population and offer a seal of biliteracy to high school students who can show proficiency in English and another language.  This month, California's Proposition 58 goes into effect allowing schools start new bilingual and dual language programs.  No matter your political stripes, knowing more than one language gives you an advantage.  It is difficult to deny the benefits of multilingualism.  So teach on, brave language teachers, and know you are offering a gift to your students and their futures!



Top 20 Languages in US Schools

In case you missed it, the US Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition published a report in February 2017 of the top 20 languages spoken by English Learners in US schools.  Not surprising that Spanish is at the top of the list.  But there may be some other surprises.  Check out the chart from the report.  This report just goes to show the incredible linguistic resources that we have in the United States that need to be nurtured with strong bilingual programs.

Why bilingual education, now, more than ever?

Multilingual Students

Why must schools embrace bilingual education now, more than ever?  Between 1998 and 2002 three U.S. states passed laws limiting and prohibiting bilingual education for students.  This trend is now reversing as our globalizing world and the need for a multilingual population has become more apparent to all of us.  As Wright, Boun, & Garcia (2015) report in The Handbook of Bilingual and Multilingual Education, "..bilingual and multilingual education is alive and well and expanding.  Indeed, in a world with only 196 'nation states' but over 7,000 named spoken languages (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013), bilingual and multilingual education is essential.  As García (2009) has argued, in the 21st Century "bilingual education, in all its complexities and forms, seems to be the only way to educate as the world moves forward' (p.6)."  

Graduation Rates Lag for Language Learners: 61%...

A 61% graduation rate.  This is a call to action.  Once again, national data on school achievement by our nation's language learners lags.  We must think smarter, work harder, and care more about our students who come with another language, who could become bilingual in our schools and make our country and the world a more connected and enriching place but who are left behind, often lose their first language, and insufficiently learn English.  Study, work, and problem-solve with me on behalf of and with our language learners and their families.  Check out the latest high school completion data for language learners and other groups:

40th Anniversary of Lau v. Nichols Brings Reminder of Federally Mandated Obligations to Language Learners

On January 7th, 2015 the US Department of Education issued guidance on how to be sure schools are ensuring that English Learners are being the opportunity to meaningfully and equally participate in education.  There are a variety of documents and guidance memos to assist you, the educator in ensuring you are meeting all US federal laws that protect the civil rights of English Learners.  Please see the attached Fact Sheet and for more information and guidance, visit: Schools' Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents

San Diego Schools Fail English Learners: They Lack Coursework Needed to Apply for College

On October 28th, 2014, the San Diego Unified School Board was presented a report with the alarming news that about 40% of the class of 2016 will not have the required courses to apply as freshman to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems.  The requirements are referred to the "a-g" requirements - 15 high school credits of courses in different areas meant to give students "breadth and perspective" for college.  For example, requirement "a" is two years of specific history courses.  The most important finding of the audit identifies who is not on track - students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and English learners (see EL in chart above).  Findings from the report include:
Finding 1: SDUSD graduation requirements are not aligned with the a-g requirements
Finding 2: Significant gaps in a-g success appear by ethnicity
Finding 3: Significant gaps in access to a-g courses appear by ethnicity
Finding 4: Significant gaps exist in access to a-g courses for English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students
The gaps listed in the findings above may not only point to the failure of students to succeed in courses,  but in the failure of the schools to meet the needs of students and provide access to challenging coursework.  Although SDUSD has made some progress in its preparation of students to enter college, when only 9% of English learners are on track to apply to the UC or CSU system, we should be greatly troubled - enough so that we take action.  In the words of Gloria Ladson-Billings, we must not give students "permission to fail" but "demand that they succeed" because we have given them the tools and access that they need.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2002). I ain’t writin’ nuttin’: Permissions to fail and demands to succeed in urban classrooms. In L. Delpit & K. Dowdy (Eds.). The skin that we speak. New York: The New Press.

Teaching Academic Language to Language Learners: What does current research say?

Especially since the growing implementation of the Common Core State Standards, schools and teachers have become increasingly focused on how to teach 'academic language' to English Language Learners - this is in contrast to what many call 'playground English'.  In this post, I will summarize the important review of the existing research on teaching academic language recently published in The Review of Educational Research by DiCerbo, Anstrom, Baker, and Rivera (2014).


You might guess that researchers don't actually agree on what academic language is, although there seems to be consensus that current ways of looking at academic language need to capture the incredible complexity of academic language.  In fact, many of the studies published since 2000 are attempts to tease apart, define, build, and identify all of the different things that make up academic language.  It is clear that researchers seem to be trying to include the complexity of language into their definitions.  For example, Snow and Uccelli (2009) say we could break up uses of academic language into categories such as: interpersonal stance, information load, organization of information, lexical choices etc.


Researchers have also considered vocabulary - mostly as 3 levels or tiers, increasing in specificity and specialized use as you progress up the tiers.  Grammar in academic language is considered to be vastly complex and defined as making linguistic choices for different tasks as opposed to looking at sentence level grammar.  Researchers are identifying grammatical features in academic texts that are difficult for English Language Learners because they are hard to teach and cognitively demanding to learn.


Researchers have begun to drill down to the subject-specific structures and devices of academic language or discourse - the language used to convey or express meaning.  For example, how can teachers support English Language Learners when they are describing how to complete an experiment, or write up a science report?  Or in math, how might an English Learner approach the specialized grammar: "The triangle has sides, 8, 10 and x cm.  Solve for x."  Or, consider the academic English found in social studies and history that assumes students know the following compares and contrasts two groups: "This group is also matriarchal, however hunting and gathering was accomplished by the women and children."


More recent studies have focused on the academic language demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  For example, Sato, Lagunoff, & Worth (2011) identified the most common language functions in the English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics CCSS: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, explanation, and description (ELA); symbolization, representation, explanation, argumentation, description, and comparison/contrast (math).  All of this research serves to help teachers identify what they should teach English Learners when it comes to academic language.

DiCerbo et al. (2014) also review the work of researchers that see academic English as the intertwining of language and social interaction - that connote be separated.  Research in this area helps to identify different types of language used in classrooms that shows how social and academic language are used in concert to achieve goals.


Finally, DiCerbo et al. (2014) review the research on academic English instruction in the areas of: teaching vocabulary, teaching grammar, teaching classroom discourse (student interaction in academic English).  Research on vocabulary instruction supports a focus on Tier 2 words (general academic words like conclude, summarize, result etc.); studying words, their relationships, and multiple meanings; implementing quality vocabulary instruction but not to the detriment of spending time meaningfully using the words in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Research on grammar instruction for academic instruction is not sufficient to make conclusions about effective practice.  Some research suggests targeting the teaching grammatical forms in meaningful contexts.  In other words, pointing out a grammatical feature during a lesson on photosynthesis is superior to teaching a disjointed lesson on the grammatical feature.  Research on teaching students how to develop academic English through social interaction.  English Learners need practice with oral and written interaction.  Effective practices include asking follow-up questions, supporting instructional conversations, non evaluative listening, modeling responses for beginning and early-intermediate learners, challenging more advanced learners in extending utterances, many opportunities for small group and pair work.  Opportunities to write to peers and on academic subjects, not just opinion writing.  An ineffective strategy described is: "linguistic enabling" (p. 465) wherein the teacher does not support or challenge students in producing academic English and instead accepts a statement that is not academic English.  One study reviewed showed a shift in student's language to be more academic by: recasting student's language in more academic forms, explicitly talking about academic forms, , reminding students to use new language with one another, showing how the language supports communication of academic ideas.


The review finishes with several implications and suggested areas of new research to further our understanding of how to teach academic English to English Learners.  The review ends with the suggestion that teachers "think and act linguistically" (p. 468) or, in other words, all teachers are language teachers.

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Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.