Top Ten Teacher Behaviors that Improve the Proficiency of Students in Dual Language Programs

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

By Myriam Met, Research Associate, National Foreign Language Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Teachers plan carefully to incorporate language learning in every content lesson

Dual language teachers recognize that there is a strong interaction among language, literacy, and academic achievement. As they plan content lessons, dual language teachers incorporate language objectives and language learning activities into their content lessons.

Teachers carefully monitor student engagement and comprehension

Dual language teachers use both verbal and non-verbal clues to ensure that students understand the language of instruction. Verbal responses to teacher questions and student-to-student interactions inform teachers of students’ understanding of both content and language. Similarly, non-verbal clues such as body language, use of manipulatives or concrete objects that show teachers that students did not understand help guide teachers to re-state or re-teach, to elicit explanations from other students, or to demonstrate using alternative visualizations of the same information.

Teachers encourage/require students to use the target language as appropriate to age, task, and level of proficiency

Because student language improves as they use language as a core tool for expressing their ideas and for verbalizing their understanding of content, teachers in dual language settings firmly encourage (or even require) that student interaction be in the appropriate language of instruction. While young students with limited proficiency in their new language may be allowed to respond in whichever language is most comfortable for them, older students will make more rapid progress in developing higher levels of proficiency when pushed into using their new language.

Teachers stretch and refine student language as students become more mature language users

In the early stages of language development, language learners benefit from extensive use of visuals, concrete experiences, and body language to enhance their comprehension of teacher language. As students become more proficient in comprehending their new language, they expand their comprehension by using language to understand new language material as teachers use paraphrase, exemplification strategies, and comparisons to stretch and refine student comprehension. In a similar vein, teachers push student use of language to be more refined, complex, and precise. Students are encouraged to use specific vocabulary as opposed to generic terms and to produce more complex and longer utterances.

Teachers ask open-ended questions that invite extended responses

Research has shown that in many classrooms, teachers do most of the talking. And, in these classrooms, when teachers ask questions, they often ask questions that can be answered in a word or brief phrase. Because output is a key factor in student language growth, dual language teachers ask openended questions that cannot be answered in a single word or phrase. Asking “Why?” questions or inviting students to support their responses with evidence are strategies for inviting extended responses.

Teachers engage students in structured pair or group work

Language growth requires extensive opportunities for interaction with multiple partners. Interaction allows for fluency to develop through retrieval and synthesis of recalled declarative knowledge leading to automaticity; it promotes negotiation of meaning; it reinforces the use of language as a tool for making meaning. Structured pair and group work ensures that all students are engaged and benefiting from opportunities for interaction.

Teachers scaffold tasks to help students give longer and more complex oral responses

Students who are learning a new language often have more complex ideas to express than their language repertoire allows. Teachers who scaffold output give students tools to express themselves in longer and more complex utterances, promoting both cognitive and language growth. Some useful scaffolds are graphic organizers that include key language as well as concepts, manipulatives, and visuals with print support in the physical environment that students may use as resources.

Teachers scaffold tasks to help students give longer and more complex written responses

Academic writing allows students to deepen their thinking by verbalizing their conceptual understanding. Students who put their ideas into words confront gaps in their conceptual or factual knowledge, as well as gaps in their linguistic repertoire. Teachers who use scaffolds such as graphic organizers, guiding questions, and instructional supports around the classroom give students useful tools to organize their thinking, to capture key concepts, and to identify the language tools they will need for expressing their thoughts.

Teachers provide learning centers that promote language development

In teacher-centered classrooms, teachers have more opportunities to talk than anyone else in the room. In student-centered classrooms, opportunities for student language use are far more extensive. Learning centers not only provide reinforcement of content, but also provide for interactivity among students, afford opportunities to listen to pre-recorded material, and engage students in writing tasks that are carried out either independently or with peers.

Teachers use wait time

Research by Mary Budd Rowe indicates that when teachers wait 3-10 seconds to call on students after posing a question, the quality and quantity of student responses increases substantially. In dual language classrooms, where students must not only determine the correct content of the response, but must also consider how to encode that information in a language they are acquiring, the use of teacher wait time is even more likely to improve student ability to provide higher quality responses in their new language.



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