Teaching for Biliteracy

Bridging Content and Language with ELLs

Spanish, Somali, Hmong, and Telugu are a few of the 48 languages spoken in the School District of Waukesha (SDW). At SDW, we’re proud to say that our student population brings many assets and global experiences to a suburb west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, our largest population of students is Spanish speaking.

This has proven to be an opportunity for bilingual education in SDW. The research from Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia P. Collier, 1997, 2010, shows that students who participate in high quality, dual language programming for five to seven years, where at least 50% of learning is in the partner language (in this case Spanish), outperform their peers academically.

  • Teaching for Biliteracy TextbookAt SDW, we have a two-way, 90/10 language immersion program. Students begin dual language programming receiving ninety percent of their instruction in Spanish in kindergarten and first grade, and gradually move into a 50/50 model by fourth and fifth grades, with half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English.
  • Our program is modeled after research from Karen Beeman and Cheryl Urow, in conjunction with Center for Teaching for Biliteracy, along with Kathy Escamilla’s work, and Thomas and Collier’s research.

The goal of the program is for our students to graduate from high school bilingual and biliterate, high achieving, and globally competent. These are referred to as the three pillars of bilingual education.

Three Pillars of Bilingual Education support the following practices:

  • Transfer academic content students have learned in one language to another
  • Engage in contrastive analysis between English and Spanish
  • Develop students’ academic language in both languages across the content areas
  • Develop metalinguistic awareness
  • Develop homegrown curriculum that reflects a global perspective

Co-teaching and Collaboration

In the Teaching Channel videos from Waukesha, you’ll see examples of practices that support the three pillars in action. We value co-teaching and collaboration at SDW and in the videos, Kris Carey and Jessica Hegg show great examples of how they support one another and their students. One element of that support is collaboration through the use of sharing formative assessment notes. Both Jessica and Kris take responsibility for keeping these conferring notes about what the students are sharing as they discuss topics with their peers, and as they conference with students. They use their notes to help assess where students are and decide, as a team, what the next steps should be.

This type of collaboration is a great example of how SDW supports the third pillar of bilingual education, global competency. In order to be successful in a global society, you must be able to work with others using cooperation and flexibility. Kris and Jessica’s co-teaching relationship is a great model for the students and an opportunity to see what this type of collaboration looks like.

The Bridge and Translanguaging

One practice we use to engage students in contrastive analysis and metalinguistic awareness is the “bridge.” With student support and collaboration, teachers create a “bridge” to show the similarities and differences between the two languages. The “bridge” focuses on the structures of language, which may include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and even possible pragmatics, and looks at the two languages with a side-by-side contrastive analysis.

Another way we support the “bridge” is by using blue and black ink. When the language of instruction is English, we use blue ink. When the language of instruction is in Spanish, we use black ink. The language of instruction is also always explicitly posted in classrooms. This practice supports translanguaging (utilizing languages as an integrated communication system). We encourage students to use their L1 (first or dominant language) to support language development in their L2 (second language).

Example of the "bridge"

Example of the “bridge”

Bilingual Pairs, Parallel Lines, and Sentence Frames and Starters

Oracy proceeds literacy. You’ll hear this phrase coming from teachers’ mouths as you walk around schools in SDW. A practice that develops a student’s academic language in both languages across content areas is building a student’s oracy. It’s been said that oracy proceeds literacy and that students must be able to say it before they can write it. We have a strong focus in SDW around building students’ oracy skills.

A few of the strategies that you’ll see in the videos that develop a student’s oracy intentionally are bilingual pairs, parallel lines, and the use of sentence stems and starters.

  • Bilingual pairs is an intentional strategy that pairs two students together, one student having a dominant Spanish L1, and one student having English as the dominant L1. This strategy supports each student in their language development of the L2.
  • Parallel lines is a great strategy to help all students be accountable and to be given an opportunity to share their thinking. This strategy focuses heavily on the language domains of listening and speaking. A great support for this strategy — or for any discussion — is the use of sentence frames and starters.

The School District of Waukesha is a special place to work and grow as an educator. We have many opportunities to learn and lead with a variety of programs to serve diverse learners. Our dual language program supports students to become bilingual and biliterate, high achieving, and globally competent. Programs like this will leave the world a much better place for generations to come.

We would love to hear your questions, thoughts, and experiences around dual language programs in the comments below!

Marisa Nathan has eighteen years of experience as an educator working in an array of different cultural and inner city settings. She is currently a consultant for Confianza, which is supporting Teaching Channel with the ELL Deep Dive, video library, and ELL Fab Five Squadsters. Marisa also serves as the English Language Development Coordinator in the School District of Waukesha, where she supports K-12 educators and develops curriculum for SDW. Marisa attended Hamline University and holds a Master of Arts in ESL.

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