Monday, April 16, 2012

Dual Language… what I do

What on earth is Dual Language? Welp, if you teach in a school with second language learners, it's likely that you have some sort of program in place to address their specific learning needs.  There are two main types of Bilingual Education programs: 1) transitional programs where the goal is that students become proficient in English (examples include ESL, early exit, late exit, TPR, and others) and 2) Dual Language programs where students are taught English to mastery in conjunction with one (or more) additional languages. In our school, we try our darndest to implement the model studied and authored by Gómez & Gómez (Texas).

Dr. Leo Gómez Professor in Bilingual/Bicultural Education 

Dr. Leo Gómez has focused his research and work on the linguistic and academic issues that impact language minority populations, particularly Spanish-dominant bilingual learners, for over 16 years. He is widely known and respected as a leader in the field, at both the state and national level, for ensuring that Latino students are provided equal opportunities in education.

Dr. Richard Gómez

Dr. Richard Gómez Professor in Bilingual/Dual Language Education

Dr. Richard Gómez is an identified spokesperson for national dual language initiatives. Dr. Gómez interfaces with State Departments of Education and district leaders to implement the DLTI Model. He has served as the director of Washington State’s migrant and bilingual education program.

You may be surprised to know, but not all of Washington is rainy and gloomy like Seattle. In fact, on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range, is a wonderful four season part of the state where you can see temperatures range from well-below freezing in the winter to over 100ºF in the summertime. These conditions are excellent for a variety of agricultural crops (like the most amazing apples on the PLANET… no bias, of course). With the agricultural work available in our area many migrant families help our local economy thrive (as well as bring rich culture, language, and contributors to our community)!
After 15 years in my district, I finally got brave and applied for an opening at our district's only Dual Language school. Being a Spanish-speaking teacher, I always thought I'd come to this school as the Spanish teacher, but strangely enough, I'm the English teacher. This works out well because between Math and Science, I am a BIG OLE Math fan! I have also chosen to seek placement for my two daughters. We just LOVE the dual language program. It's full of rigor and excitement while still being able to meet kids where they are!

Three main tenets of Dual Language Education are:
(1) Bilingualism, mastery of at least two languages, English being one of them.
(2) Biliteracy, mastery of reading and writing skills in two languages.
(3) High academic achievement as measured by achievement tests in English and in another language.
In grades K-2, students have two teachers: a homeroom teacher and a 2nd teacher. Each classroom is mixed (just like any other school probably tries to place students-- mix of genders, academic abilities, dominant language, behavior needs, etc…). In my case (and for other K-2 teachers in my building), students spend 50% of their academic day with each of two teachers. I have a partner teacher, who is the Spanish teacher for our team (there's another 2nd grade team that's configured exactly the same: 1 English Teacher and 1 Spanish Teacher-- there is no English Only option at our school. We're set up so that all students learn in two languages. We receive many choice applications for families trying to "get it" to this desirable program.)

In our school, Math is taught in English grades K-5. Science/Social Studies is taught in Spanish grades K-5. For literacy, students learn to read in their primary language (L1) for grades K and 1. Grade 2 (my year) is a whirlwind of learning to read not only in L1, but also in L2 (second language)! By 3rd grade, it is expected that students are proficient in two languages so they can use reading for LEARNING across curricular areas.

If you're in my class, you're a Schmidt Sweetie (my partner is Kunkel Cuties)-- yes… corny, but the kids love it and I can identify who I'm talking about and we can all remember it easily. Throughout the day my students (all 2nd graders, actually) are in two different configurations (homeroom for Math/Science/Beginning of the Day/Lunchtime/End of the Day, Language 1 Literacy, and Language 2 Literacy). I teach two Math lessons each day: one for Sweeties (end of day) and one for Cuties (beginning of day) and I also teach two literacy blocks 4 days per week (one for Native English Speakers and one for Second Language Learners). The schedules below show what Sweeties do during the day, so anywhere it says Science/Social Studies, that's where I teach Math for Cuties.
Cute because of DJ Inkers-- not me… I WISH!

All of my homeroom students start their day by doing their lunch count and entry responsibilities in my classroom, they then go to my partner teacher for Science, and from there recess. When I go to pick my students up at recess time, they are lined up (this takes a couple days of training, but kids get it quickly and it's no problem) by Language One Dominance. Students who are stronger in English: one line (coming with me) and students who are stronger in Spanish in another line (going with partner). This is Native Language Literacy time. From here we each take our students to specialist (common prep time), then students have lunch, and go to recess. After recess, students get into the same lines they did at the end of 1st recess, but this time a different teacher will take the line inside-- I'll take the students who are L1 Spanish for their English Literacy time while my partner takes L1 English students for Spanish literacy instruction.  After that, we're close to the end of our day and get our homeroom students back and teach (Math for my students and Science for Cuties). Then… phew… big breath!!!!! That's the end of the day!

Each team, K-2 consists of 4 teachers-- two 2-teacher teams. At grades 3-5, however, there are three teachers at each level and each teacher sees all students at that grade level for a particular subject.
Grade 3-- Teacher 1: Science/Social Studies with Literacy integration (taught in Spanish)
             Teacher 2: Math (taught in English)
             Teacher 3: Literacy Focus (taught in English)

Grade 4-- Teacher 1: Science/Social Studies with Literacy integration (taught in Spanish)

             Teacher 2: Math (taught in English grades)
             Teacher 3: Literacy Focus (taught in English)

Grade 5-- Teacher 1: Science (taught in Spanish)

             Teacher 2: Math (taught in English)
             Teacher 3: Literacy Focus with Social Studies Integrated (taught in English)

Whoa HO! What do you mean Science and Social Studies are taught in Spanish?! Yes. It's true and you know what? Learning is learning and students are easily able to discuss concepts and use literature in both languages to demonstrate learning! It's awesome. What about the teachers? What do teachers do to help students if they're dominant in a language that they themselves are not proficient in? In a dual language school, teachers do not have to be bilingual. All of our teachers have a strong command of English (have earned the same credentials as other teachers, but have a background in Spanish and are biliterate). Do the English teachers all speak Spanish? No. Some of our English teachers speak some (or a lot of) Spanish, but many are monolingual English speakers. Teachers scaffold learning experiences with a wonderful variety of sheltered English instructional strategies. Each classroom also has assigned bilingual partners, which change throughout the year (it's recommended to change bilingual partners every 3-4 weeks; I change at the beginning of each month-- usually). In bilingual partnerships, students are in 2s or 3s with at least one dominant English speaker and one dominant Spanish speaker. In my class, I have made a couple different types of charts. This year, I got crafty and used magnets.

This year's Bilingual Partner Charts: Magnets using students' school pictures
Here's a bilingual partners chart used in another classroom in my school.

Here's another Bilingual Partner Chart I've used for years. Student photos on popsicle sticks. Whatever way I do it, it's got to be easy to change regularly.

As you can see, dual language is a complex program, but wonderfully, our students adapt very quickly and within the first half of kindergarten, they know routines, love, treasure, and develop deep relationships with their teachers. Teachers are most successful teaching in dual language with a strong inclination and nature for collaboration both with their partner teacher (the one I share students with) as well as with their job alike partner (the other English teacher at my grade level is a wonderful partner and I just love collaborating and sharing back and forth). Parent communication is key in partnerships, so we do a shared newsletter and try to be on the same page as far as setting expectations and guiding students, which works just great and still allows a plethera of opportunities for our distinct personalities to shine through in our classrooms.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and collaborating on ideas that you use in your dual language program! It's a unique position and one purpose in this post was to hopefully find some people who can identify with the joys and challenges of teaching in a dual language environment. Additionally, I hope to help those who are interested in knowing more about it to use blog posting as an avenue.

I enjoy your comments and hope to follow each other for more rich experiences for our students.

Have a fantastic day!

Helpful Links:
Here's a blog from another dual language teacher


  1. I just happened to find your blog via Pinterest and am so excited to find another Dual Language teacher! I just added you to my blog roll over at
    This is such an informative post about your DL program! I hope you will link it up to my linky party next week so that other DL teachers can hear about you and your program!

  2. I can't tell you how tickled pink I am to have found the blog of another 2nd grade dual language teacher! I am your newest follower and cannot wait to share ideas!!! Come on over and check out my blog as well if you'd like!

    The Second Grade Superkids

  3. Hola Amigas! I too am a Dual Language Second Grade Teacher! I am thrilled to find you all on line via Pinterest...I am hoping to be in contact with you all and find many ways to be a better teacher because of your inspiration. Muchas gracias,
    Stella Veach
    Blix Elem
    Tacoma, WA