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Top Ten Teaching Behaviors We Like to See When Observing in Dual Language Immersion Programs

The ACIE Newsletter, May 2007, Vol. 10, No. 3

Tara W. Fortune and Diane J. Tedick, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Over the past decade we have enjoyed the opportunity to sit in a variety of dual language immersion classrooms and observe practice throughout the country—from Hawaiian indigenous immersion in Hilo, to French and Spanish foreign language immersion in New Orleans, to Japanese partial immersion in Portland, to Spanish/English two-way immersion in the upper Midwest, and more. Often practitioners invite our feedback on program implementation and classroom instruction. Reflecting on these experiences, we offer the following top ten teaching behaviors we have observed as making a positive difference in program outcomes and student progress.


  • When teaching in the immersion language, educators and instructional assistants use only the immersion language; when elsewhere in the school, they use the immersion language as much as possible with others.

  • Teachers set clear expectations and consistently hold students accountable for immersion language use. As a program community, the teaching and administrative staff establish and communicate a specific period of time (e.g., half-way through first grade) when exclusive use of the immersion language is expected for classroom interaction. Individual teachers believe that students can make meaning through the immersion language and make clear that English is not needed.

  • Teachers address language learning and literacy development explicitly, both in English and the immersion language, in the context of content learning. To do this, they thoughtfully plan for two kinds of language objectives in each content lesson: content-obligatory and content-compatible. They ensure that language objectives incorporate specific functions, grammatical structures, and vocabulary. In two-way contexts, teachers differentiate language objectives based on learners’ language background to ensure that all students are engaged in developmentally and linguistically appropriate learning experiences throughout the instructional day.

  • Educators deepen student learning by purposefully recycling content at higher levels of cognitive demand and language sophistication. They are conscious of “upping the language ante” by expanding student language repertoires and pushing them to find more ways to communicate similar messages in a range of registers. As students progress, teachers also develop more challenging tasks that authentically elicit more sophisticated academic and communicative functions and the corresponding linguistic structures and vocabulary. Moreover, they remove language and task-based scaffolds that are so necessary early on but whose overuse can inhibit student growth.

  • After introducing a new topic, teachers talk less, and instead create endless ways for students to talk more. They incorporate project-based student presentations, teach students how to provide feedback to one another, and use learning centers and highly structured cooperative group experiences, etc.

  • Practitioners briefly and collaboratively elicit, model and review the language students need to successfully engage in any activity before asking them to do so. For example, if students are expected to gather information to graph classroom food preferences, appropriate language to formulate questions and responses will need teacher attention and support.

  • In the early primary years, teachers avoid teaching L1 word - L2 word equivalents (la casa = the house). Alternatively, they encourage word-object, word-action, word-picture, word-story, word-gist associations and help learners make cross-language connections by pointing out L1 - L2 similarities and differences.

  • To foster ongoing language growth, teachers supply less “corrected” language to students and elicit more accurate language from students. To do this, they make use of corrective feedback techniques that require students to pause and self-repair, techniques that tend to be more effective yet less frequently used by immersion teachers.

  • Teachers assess students’ content and culture learning and language and literacy development both within the classroom and at the program level. They make use of this information in important ways to inform classroom instruction and program efficacy, and to communicate to various program stakeholders, including district level policymakers, parents and the community at large.

  • And, last yet certainly not least…teachers care for themselves and their colleagues! Dual language immersion teachers are a rare and wonderful breed.






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