Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bilteracy--what's your experience?

We recently began what will be a yearlong professional development ("we" being the ESL and dual language teachers in our county) about the aspect of teaching biliteracy, reading and writing in two languages within US classrooms. Although not an entirely new concept, our presenters and the authors of the book  Teaching for Biliteracy, Karen Beeman and Cheryl Urow formalize the idea of purposefully bringing two languages together in what is known as The Bridge--the formal comparison and contrast of languages.  (Fascinating stuff, personally!) 

They promote the idea of learning something well, with an outcome of only needing to learn something "once", no matter which language--and for me, that idea really gave me pause for reflection. 45 minutes of teaching a concept in Spanish should transfer as readily to English as if I'd spent 90. In turn, this flips scheduling a bit on its head since 45 min of Spanish + 45 min of English are as effective as 90 minutes of each!! What would you do with that extra 90 minutes?

I'd never considered my own instruction and my students' learning through that lens:  was/ am I teaching a concept solidly enough that they will NOT have to relearn it in their own language? If not, how can I change that to optimize their cross-linguistic strategies and transfer abilities? 


Academic oracy--students' ability to express themselves and their understanding of a variety of concepts, well. It is this, that is the essence of their successful biliteracy. As for success, it rarely comes without a struggle of some sort, but as Beeman quotes: "There are no mistakes, only approximations." And this, in the world of learning among languages, reminds us that each of their approximations has a reason behind it. Use those "mistakes" to inform your instruction and look upon your students with an "asset" (here's what they can do--how can I use that to leverage their learning) mentality rather than a "deficit" one. (they can't do this...)

Use content to generate bridges -- create anchor charts that are unit-based, laden with meta-linguistic elements, speech events with differing underlying cultural norms, etc. Make sure the students are GENERATING language as frequently as possible, and create codes (whether with colors, visual markers, specific spaces in the room) to simplify their mental gymnastics between languages.

Speaking of mental gymnastics, explicitly promote their cognitive flexibility--as bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural learners, our students are pretty darn amazing. We want them to listen, read, write, and speak at grade level, in both languages, ideally. How often do we promote their native language(s) in our classrooms? Perhaps some of you would love to debate the question: Why should we promote their native language in our classroom if they are in the United States? (I'd love to hear your comments below!)  Think, too, of how often your students are immersed in English. That percentage of time immersed in English (or not) has a tremendous impact on academics--so what are we doing to minimize that gap?

There are several strategies when teaching language, and the Language Experience Approach is one opportunity to approach reading, writing, listening, and speaking naturally. Oracy (speaking and listening), once again, the oft-neglected portion of our classes, is the cornerstone of literacy.
Oracy leads to literacy! 
Get students to generate language, teacher friends, and let us know your successes down below. Always wear your formative assessment cap, too--observe and listen--then mine that Big Data to inform your next steps.

Talk to us and please let us know how you honor what your biliterate/ bicultural/ bilingual students know? I'd love to hear from you.

(All #sketchnotes #edusketches were done by me, Wendi Pillars, so they are my photos.)

1 comment:

  1. As for me, the pages are overloaded with words. Don't you think so? It's hardly possible to concentrate on the one thing among all. There is an article about attention (at Essays 4 me).

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