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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Articles for Teachers

How to teach bilingual students successfully?
By:Isabel Wiliams <isabel.wiliams@gmail.com>

An effective bilingual education is in its nature multidimensional and flexible in classroom instruction, organization the creation of a program aimed to reach specific objectives. Teachers facing the challenge of instructing a group of bilingual students can resort to many different strategies that will help them to foster engagement in the classroom and deliver a great learning experience. Here are 7 effective methods for teaching a bilingual classroom.

1. Knowledge about key factors in academic development of students

Bilingual students might need a slightly different learning environment than teachers are used to create. One source identifies the most important aspects of an effective bilingual classroom to be highly interactive learning experiences, many activities based on problem solving and discovery learning by means of thematic experiences delivered across the curricula.

A different source mentions all the aspects listed above, adding a few more relevant points to be included in a successful bilingual classroom: creation of a predictable environment, opportunities for active participation in challenging and meaningful tasks, as well as a high degree of support and understanding.

2. The formulation of the learning program

Just like in any other case, a learning program created for the purposes of teaching a bilingual classroom needs to be based on a specific vision and geared towards concrete goals. Both the vision and program objectives should be communicated to students and guide the instruction.

It's important that program leaders are well-informed about the motivations behind the creation of a bilingual teaching program and are actively committed to bilingualism in general. Great program leaders will actively engage the community and private sector in the formulation of a bilingual program.

3. Classroom and school organization

Most sources agree that both classroom and school organization should be based on strategies that boost the impact of instruction and maximize its efficiency. In general, it's important to create a learning environment where teachers can easily communicate with each other and share relevant input.

That's why most such programs rely on the creation of small organizational arrangements, such as families or academic teams, which facilitate the learning process by providing an encouraging atmosphere.

4. Creating the right environment

The environment and climate of the school and classroom are crucial for developing an efficient bilingual learning program. First and foremost, the general atmosphere should be that of high expectation to encourage and motivate students to work on the learning material, which is in their case naturally harder to process and memorize.

But that's not all. The best climate in the classroom is one that communicates a sense of family, where students aren't afraid of making mistakes and are able to take educational risks, consequently facilitating the process of language acquisition. This principle extends to school personnel as well – people working in the program should share all decision making and responsibilities, exhibiting a high level of trust among each other.

5. A program that shows respect

This is probably the most important feature of a great bilingual learning program. Respect is a basic right of every single individual and should be shown to every culture, language and background.

That's why it's important to establish and communicate the fact that all languages of instruction share an equal status. Their use should always be determined by the proficiency level of students, and their first language used in teaching content areas of a discipline.

An efficient program will be equipped with sufficient learning materials – appropriate books and instructional materials should be provided in all languages to facilitate instruction and provide support to students who are developing their language skills.

6. Pull-out projects – advantages and drawbacks

Pull-out programs are designed to provide education through the use of students' first language to make instruction more meaningful. Among the most important advantages of pull-out programs are:
- creation of a safe space for speakers to practice their linguistic skills
- modification of the spoken language to match the students' proficiency level
- more opportunities for active participation
- higher comfort and increased tendency for taking educational risks
- building a sense of community
- teachers with special training and high qualifications
- possibility of targeted instruction

The most serious drawback of pull-out programs is the simple fact that students miss class time. Students might not be present at tests or important demonstrations, and bilingual teachers cannot always be flexible and allow students to miss their class either.

7. Full immersion – is it for everyone?

An alternative to pull-out classes is a full immersion program. Total or full immersion offers many educational advantages:
- an improved literacy in the second language is developed faster
- deeper understanding of the first language through comparison
- exposure to different to cultures and mindsets
- development of an ability to think globally

Some potential drawbacks cited for this kind of programs are fears that the second language will dominate over the first, negatively impacting students' fluency. Some parents also worry about the influence of exposure to new cultures on their child's cultural identity, but this argument is easily countered with the fact that such environments have been shown to help children grow and gain a deeper understating of different cultures in general – including their own.

Creating an efficient bilingual program isn't a piece of a cake – it requires a fair share of experience, a certain degree of flexibility and a number of additional qualifications possessed by the teaching staff for successfully delivering a bilingual program to students. All in all, helping students to improve their language skills is too important to be left unstructured.

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