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July 2013 | Volume 55 | Number 7
Aligning Health and Education in Today's Economic Context
Liliana X. Aguas
As a dual-language immersion teacher, I constantly seek opportunities for my students to engage in rich language activities that promote academic and oral-language development. Dual-immersion programs are designed for native and nonnative English speaking students to become bilingual and biliterate individuals.
Although the implementation of dual-immersion programs varies from school to school, immersion programs' overarching goal is for students to achieve strong levels of academic proficiency across all content areas in both English and the target language. In comparison to other forms of bilingual education programs, students in dual-immersion programs are expected to maintain their first language while acquiring proficiency in a second language.
Some immersion programs use a 90:10 model that provides most instruction (80–90 percent) in the target language, (e.g., Spanish or Korean) in the early elementary grades. As students progress through grade levels, the amount of academic instruction in English increases to a 50/50 split between English and the target by 4th or 5th grade. Regardless of the model, immersion classrooms generally comprise a balanced student ratio of both native English speakers and native speakers of the target language.
In my 2nd grade dual-immersion classroom, I use cooperative learning, reciprocal teaching, pictorials, thematic units, hands-on materials, project-based learning, total physical response, mini-lessons, visuals, and graphic organizers to teach content-area material and create a language-rich environment. One of my priorities is to immerse students in fun, developmentally appropriate content-based activities to speak Spanish and further their academic and oral-language development across all subjects.
The challenge is that, all too often and regardless of their native language, my students default to speaking English. A number of studies indicate that English preference among students is prevalent in dual-immersion programs, despite teachers' efforts to promote equality between English and the target language. As such, I make a greater effort to provide my students with a variety of engaging and meaningful opportunities to speak Spanish.
Two years ago, I received a grant that allowed me to host a Berkeley Repertory Theatre teaching artist to lead a theater workshop for my students. Our teaching artist was fully bilingual and delivered the workshop in Spanish. Under her guidance, my students wrote a 12-act play in Spanish, and it was a great success! Students were no longer reluctant to speak Spanish and loved every aspect of the play: making props, developing original characters and story, writing the script, rehearsing, and performing—all of which were done in Spanish. With Berkeley Rep's teaching artist, my students were also able to enhance their literacy-analysis skills by exploring the plot, setting, and characters of stories—all in Spanish.
Since witnessing the success of oral-language development with theater, I started to use readers theater in my classroom as well. If you want to jump right in, many scripts are readily available online.
Incorporating theater has also given my students an opportunity for creative expression while improving their reading fluency, intonation, and comprehension in Spanish. Most important, my once reluctant Spanish speakers are taking center stage delivering language-rich performances with proud smiles on their faces.
Liliana Aguas is a 2nd grade dual-language immersion teacher at Leconte Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif. She received ASCD's Outstanding Young Educator Award in 2012.
Copyright © 2013 by ASCD
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