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Dual Language Immersion: Profile of
Chicago's Early Childhood Program

The ACIE Newsletter, November 2000, Vol. 4, No. 1

By Sonia White Soltero, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Bilingual-Bicultural Education,
School of Education, DePaul University

 


 

Maestra, ven aquí, yo soy un libro!"
Teacher, come here, I am a book!

A vivacious first-grade African-American girl says this to me as I make my way toward the office in a neighborhood Chicago Public School. Because Lamanda and I have communicated with each other in Spanish for some time, I immediately understand what she means. Lamanda, a student who has been in the Early Childhood Dual Language Program for the past two years, really means to say she wants (quiero) a book, confusing soy (I am) with quiero (I want). Although her statement is inaccurate, her words come out effortlessly and her pronunciation and intonation are amazingly native-like.

Lamanda's confidence in addressing me in Spanish reflects her affinity to the language and her comfort level in using it. Lamanda is among approximately 5,150 students in the Chicago Public Schools immersed in a truly bicultural and bilingual curriculum, learning and developing their first language and a second language with peers who are native speakers.

 

Chicago's Andersen Community Academy Kinder-
garten class celebrates learning in two languages!

Program Background

 

 

In 1998, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) began to offer the Early Childhood Dual Language Program in several preschools. The initiative, sponsored by the Office of Language, Cultural, and Early Childhood Education, is currently implemented from pre-K to second grade and available in 155 classrooms in 29 participating neighborhood schools. The final phase of the program will add third grade in the 2001-2002 school year.

Program Goals

 

The primary objective of the CPS Early Child-hood Dual Language Program is to implement cultural and linguistic developmentally appropriate curriculum in grades pre-K through third grade, where all students develop their first language and learn a second language through a rigorous academic program. Together, native English speakers and English language learners engage in rich educational experiences to achieve the program's three principal goals:

  • Students develop high levels of proficiency in the first and second language
  • Students perform at or above grade level in academic areas in both languages
  • Students demonstrate positive cross-cultural attitudes and behaviors.

Program Components

 

The most critical and innovative elements of this systemwide program are its commitment to dual language teacher staff development and support, as well as its unique parent involvement and training.

The dual language teachers implement one of two classroom setups: (1) team-teaching, where two teachers collaborate in the instruction of both language groups but are each responsible for only one language, or (2) self-contained, where a bilingual teacher is responsible for instructing both language groups in both languages. All teachers participate in ongoing staff development in-services provided by the program. These workshops have covered first and second language acquisition, biliteracy development, best practices, assessment, a thematic approach to curriculum development, learning centers, and implementation and management issues in dual language education. Parent in-services have included parent-volunteer training, family literacy, parenting skills, nutrition, home and school connections, multicultural experiences, and second language development.

The Early Childhood Dual Language Program advocates the use of learning and teaching strategies that are founded on developmentally appropriate practices such as cooperative learning, the thematic approach, learning centers, hands-on teaching and learning, and appropriate use of technology. The core curriculum is taught in both languages. One of the most important premises of the Early Childhood Dual Language Program is the integration of both language groups throughout most of the school day so that students interact and collaborate in the learning of both languages and cultures as well as the content areas.

The program also provides a rich learning environment that develops bilingualism, biliteracy, and cultural understanding among English language learners and native English speakers. Schools implement either an 80 - 20 or a 50 - 50 model of instruction. The decision to implement either model is a school decision. The predominant languages are Spanish and English; however, two schools offer the program in Chinese and English.

The Early Childhood Dual Language Program offers unique opportunities for participating students to develop two languages, to form a positive self image, to augment a better under-standing and respect for other cultures, and to engage in a dynamic and challenging academic curriculum. The program accords general-program teachers valuable knowledge and experiences about English language learners, provides bilingual teachers exposure and information concerning general-program students, and offers opportunities for meaningful collaboration between bilingual and general program teachers in the instruction of all children. Finally, the program presents parents and the community with optimum and on-going opportunities for communication, understanding, and collaboration between home and school, as well as important and pertinent resources for parents' own personal growth and for assisting with their children's academic, linguistic, and social development.

The goal for the current school year is to concentrate on staff development for first and second grade teachers. The overall academic focus in CPS is literacy development and improved scores in reading, thus first grade teachers will be participating in in-services that support students' literacy and oral language development in both the first and second language (CPS has implemented a mandatory reading assessment similar to Reading Recovery's running record in English and Spanish in the child's native language). Support for second grade teachers will focus on dual language implementation as well as first and second language literacy and oral language development. Planning for next year's program expansion to third grade will also be part of this year's objectives. A final priority will be to solicit more feedback from principals and to provide opportunities for dialogue among the 29 participating schools.

 

A Kindergartener at Andersen Community
Academy responds in a journal in her native
Spanish after the English teacher has read
a book during shared reading.

Program Implementation

 

During the initial phase of the program, guidelines were developed to provide consistency and continuity. This set of principles forms the framework of the Early Childhood Dual Language Program in the Chicago Public Schools.

Early Childhood Dual Language Program Organization Guidelines

  • Classroom integration of native English speakers with native speakers of the target languages.
  • Separation of languages by time, room, content area, or teacher.
  • Target language used at least 50 - and preferably 80 - percent of the time with both language groups.
  • Eligible English language learners are counted for funding under state or local Transitional Bilingual Education mandates, up to the time they meet the exit criteria.
  • Spanish or Chinese language learners are not eligible for funding under State Transitional Bilingual Education.
  • Language categories may be used to guide the curriculum and alert teachers to the students' second language development.
  • Teachers meet at least three times a week to plan collaboratively.
  • Second language development relies heavily on the socialization and interaction of both language groups to learn the second language and the academic content.
  • Students initially learn to read and write in their native language.
  • Introduction to literacy in the second language (L2) begins pre-K. Formal literacy instruction in the L2 begins in second grade.
  • Parents are informed on an on-going basis about the program, the students' academic and second language progress, and their role as educational collaborators in the classroom and at home.
  • All students in the program are expected to meet or exceed the CPS Academic Standards and Goals, including ESL Standards and Goals.
  • The school and the parents strive to minimize mobility and attrition to ensure the best possible academic and language outcomes for the students in the program.

Program Challenges

 

As with any exemplary educational program, the participants in this systemwide dual language initiative constantly reflect upon the changing needs of the students, parents, teachers, classrooms, and schools in which the program operates.

Trying to support implementation in such a large number of neighborhood schools has been particularly problematic. Each school has its own set of support systems, variations in teacher training and experiences, shifts in demographics (both teacher and student), and other factors that affect coherence and uniformity across the dual language schools. Because the dual language program is not mandated, it has to respond to the needs or circumstances of each individual school. Thus, many program decisions are made on site.

However, the Early Childhood Dual Language Program encourages consistency among schools in the following areas:

  • time distribution in the two languages
  • developing a comprehensive understanding about dual language education
  • balancing the level of teacher training
  • using appropriate instructional materials
  • integrating multicultural curriculum, and
  • increasing parent participation and understanding.

Providing training and dual language in-services for teachers creates a strategic dilemma for principals who are reluctant to allow so many to leave their classrooms at once. Creative and practical ways to provide teacher training is always at the forefront of support-staff meetings. For example, two days before classes began this school year, 100 dual-language program teachers participated in an all-day in-service. The teachers were paid for attending and were given free materials. All the teachers received a copy of the Dual Language Instruction handbook by Cloud, Genesee, and Hamayan (2000). The program is also planning to expand school site visits and increase the number of support staff.

Parent participation has been successful, particularly for the minority-language parents, who tend to participate more often and consistently. Reaching English-speaking parents has become a priority. The program has been awarded a U.S. Department of Education Title VII grant for parent participation, which will provide in-services on dual language education, computer use, parenting skills, and other issues. The program will also select a number of parents to participate in a career ladder program funded by the grant.

Conclusion

 

The CPS Early Childhood Dual Language Program provides unique and exceptional educational experiences for language minority and language majority students. Students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds engage collaboratively to study the academic content in two languages, interact socially and intellectually to learn each others' languages and cultures, and develop their own native language. The program provides continuous support to students, teachers, administrators, and parents in an effort to ensure the program's continuity and ongoing improvement. The teachers, teacher assistants, administrators, and support staff are committed to the implementation of this progressive and dynamic educational initiative.

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