We, teachers, make mistakes (hiccups) all the time. Whether we misspell a word or we write the answer to a problem incorrectly, making mistakes is part of teaching. We have learn to reflect on those hiccups. Sometimes even students point out our mistakes in the middle of the lesson.
Here are some common hiccups we might do in our bilingual classrooms and how to avoid them.
Hiccup 1: Favoring one language
Sticking to the target language is THE hardest part of teaching in a bilingual classroom… specially if you are new to bilingual education.
I’ve been there. When I was teaching and my students, stared at me like deer in headlights. What did I do? I reverted back to speaking in English. Or when my students got off task, I addressed their behaviors in English.
I certainly felt like I was loosing control. I thought, that if I just quickly used English to explain myself again, then my students would understand me and we could carry on.
This is a HUGE hiccup because it falsely teaches students that the target language (Spanish) is not as important as the dominant language (English). Therefore they don’t see the need to pay attention to instruction in the target language.
Here is what you could do instead if you find yourself in this trap:
- Use visuals when giving directions. I use the visual direction cards and MVP chart. It tells students what movement, voice and participation I expect during a learning activity. Learn more about these on my blog post here.
- Also, utilize language domains cards. If students are getting of task, use the language domain cards to remind chatty students the expectation (writing, reading or listening). These are also amazing for labeling your independent stations.
- Model explicitly and use simple sentences (small bites). Have students repeat these back to you as needed.
- Use a language identifier such as beads, a hat, a scarf in the color that matches the language. Train your students to point out when you revert to the partner language so they can help you stay accountable.
Hiccup 2: Teaching A La Monolingual
Let’s be honest… most districts obviously DO NOT understand the intricacies of bilingual education. Districts and administrators want to track progress in ways that are make sense to them. They buy curriculums and assessments that often are translations of English programs into Spanish.
Even interventions programs are expected to perform in bilingual programs through a monolingual lens.
Occasionally teachers fall into this trap. When we are new to a bilingual program, and therefore have not been properly trained, or the resources are limited.
After teaching 8 years in a monolingual school, and then becoming a bilingual educator, this was one of the hardest adjustments for me. I wanted to teach in Spanish in the same fashion as I knew how to teach in English. I thought if I know how to teach in English, then I can teach in Spanish. All I needed to do was just use Spanish instead of English. Boy was I wrong!
Thankfully I learned better. So how can teachers fix or avoid this hiccup?
- Look at your standards to guide your instruction. If your state does not have standards for Spanish instruction, check out these from the San Diego County office of education.
- Learn about new research, methods and strategies that work for bilingual learners. Below I listed some of the most popular Bilingual Education Conferences, worth checking them out to get Professional Development in this area.
- Observe other teachers. If you do not have any other teacher in your school or district, YouTube has some great videos. Here is a playlist of some of my favorite ones.
Hiccup 3: Not understanding scaffolds
Another big hiccup, is the misunderstanding that scaffolds need to be limited so that students do not learn to rely on them.
However this couldn’t be farthest from the truth! We MUST encourage students to use these scaffolds not only for learning new information but also make transfer between languages.
There are 3 types of scaffolds and each type has its unique purpose to support students learn, process and utilize information for their learning. Click on each tab to learn more about each type of scaffold.
Sensory scaffolds give students the comprehensible input they need to process new and abstract information.