Learning in Two Languages: Aprendiendo en Dos Idiomas

Sadie Herrera teaches in a 50-50 dual language classroom designed to transition students whose first language is Spanish to English-only classrooms. Sadie knows her second graders benefit from learning content and skills in two languages, but the pressure of keeping pace with the regular second grade curriculum makes Sadie feel rushed.

Sadie supports her ELLs in Spanish and English. (coming soon)

Sadie serves as a dual language role model.

Scene Photo

Sadie uses a K-W-L strategy with Spanish text.

Sadie believes bilingualism should be a goal for all students. In addition to her Hispanic students, she’d love to have children whose native language (L1) is English learning Spanish in her class. A one-way language immersion is a great program, but implementing a dual immersion program? That is Sadie’s fondest wish. Native speakers to model the language for their peers? “That’s not politically sellable,” her department chair, Margaret Speiser, had told her when she’d last brought this up. “Funding drives everything, Sadie, and expanding this pilot program to include English speakers would more than double current costs.” Sadie didn’t comment, and Margaret continued ticking off reasons why it wouldn’t be feasible to transition to a dual language immersion offering. “We’d need more classrooms, textbooks, trained bilingual teachers—and all that adds up.”

The district’s model of dual language includes instruction in Spanish and English on alternating days and they’ve provided plenty of materials to support the curriculum in both languages. The district goal is English proficiency within two years of entering the program and then transition into “regular” classes and support through pull-out ESOL classes. For some of her second graders, this means that next year they’ll be in English-only classrooms. She hates to think they won’t continue to progress in Spanish as well. But at least they have this year, and she’s resolved to make the most of it.

As usual, she’ll present content and concepts in Spanish today and follow-up tomorrow with lessons in English.

Sadie’s students need to master the same content as other second graders while learning English—that means every second has to count. This multidisciplinary unit addresses reading, social studies, and math standards. She’s set up centers around the room to include technology, art, and music as the vehicles for applying and reinforcing the concepts she wants them to learn.

She’s seen great improvement in most of her students’ use of CALP in their writing and in oral language, but they still have so far to go. She’s constantly working on vocabulary development and reading comprehension—knowing these are two big challenge areas for almost all of her students—and never forgetting that these children have to keep up with the content learning of their peers. She knows that coverage doesn’t equal learning, but sometimes she feels forced to move through the curriculum at what feels like a break-neck pace. At least her students will have some exposure to key concepts this way.