Top Ten Items on the Research Agenda for Two-Way Immersion

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

By Julie Sugarman, Research Associate, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC and Elizabeth R. Howard, Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Over the last twenty years, a number of research studies and program profiles have documented the implementation of two-way immersion (TWI) programs–a type of dual language education with a balanced population of native English speakers and native speakers of the program’s partner language, such as Spanish. Research on this particular branch of dual language education has also documented generally positive outcomes in bilingualism, biliteracy, and academic achievement among TWI students as a whole (see reviews in Howard, Sugarman, & Christian, 2003; Lindholm-Leary, 2005).

A robust and extensive research literature on other “one-way” dual language contexts (e.g., foreign language immersion, developmental bilingual education, indigenous immersion) exists as well. However, the degree to which findings from studies carried out in “one-way” programs that serve a linguistically similar student group can be used to inform “two-way” contexts remains unclear. Further, many unexplored topics about the design and implementation of TWI programs that are of vital interest to practitioners, researchers, and parents remain. This is our “top ten” listing of items on the two-way immersion research agenda.

Language of Initial Literacy Instruction

  • For both native English speakers and native speakers of other languages, what are the effects of simultaneous initial literacy instruction in both the first language (L1) and second language (L2) vs. initial literacy instruction only in the L1 or L2?
  • To what extent are these effects influenced by students’ background characteristics, such as native language, socioeconomic status, and the development of pre-literacy skills in early childhood, or by program characteristics such as program model (e.g., 90:10 vs. 50:50)?
  • What are the implications of these various approaches for long-term language and literacy development in both languages?

Special Student Populations

  • What are the outcomes for students from both language groups with special learning needs who participate in TWI programs? Do outcomes differ based on the type of learning difficulty, the native language of the student, or the program model?
  • What about newcomers who are native speakers of the partner language that enter the program after first grade with limited schooling or limited literacy in their native language?
  • What are the academic and social outcomes for third language speakers–students whose native language is neither English nor the program’s partner language? What factors impact third language speakers’ academic and social outcomes? Similarity of the learner’s L1 to one of the program languages? Program model? Percentage of third-language speakers enrolled?

Cross-Cultural Competence

  • How can the development of cross-cultural competence in TWI students be measured?
  • Is it meaningful to compare TWI students’ cross-cultural attitudes and those of students in other types of educational programs?
  • If we did make such a comparison, what level of difference between the two groups would be of practical significance?

Effects of Standardized Tests in English

  • How can the model fidelity of 90:10 programs be maintained in the face of the need to prepare all students, particularly the English language learners, to take high-stakes standardized achievement tests in English in third grade or earlier?
  • Should programs increase the percentage of English instruction in the primary grades?
  • When should formal English language arts be introduced?
  • Should that decision be made on a student-by-student basis, depending on factors such as L1 literacy and oral English proficiency (for native speakers of languages other than English)?

Approaches for Alternating Languages for Instruction

  • What are the ramifications of the various ways to alternate languages for instruction, particularly in the context of a 50:50 model or the upper grades of a 90:10 model? Specifically, what are the advantages or disadvantages of a single bilingual teacher who provides instruction through both languages at distinct times of the instructional day vs. a ‘side by side’ model that involves one English-speaking teacher and another who teaches in the partner language?
  • How, if at all, do student outcomes differ depending on whether languages are alternated on a half-day, day-by-day, weekly, or other schedule?
  • Do student outcomes differ in content areas that are taught in both languages or solely in one language or the other? If so, in what ways?

Peer Interaction

  • What is the influence of peer interaction on the development of bilingualism and biliteracy?
  • As students from the two native language groups are intended to serve as language models for each other in TWI programs, how can students be taught to support each other’s language and literacy development, particularly in the partner language?
  • In what circumstances and for what purposes are homogeneous groupings preferable to mixed language groupings?

Secondary TWI Programs

  • What should secondary (middle and high school) TWI programs look like?
  • How much time should be allocated to instruction in English vs. the partner language?
  • What pedagogical materials that are appropriate for secondary TWI students are available in languages other than English?

Language and Literacy Benchmarks

  • What benchmarks should we expect students to meet in language proficiency and literacy development in the partner language?
  • Should these benchmarks differ based on students’ native language or the program model?

The Use of Published/Scripted Curricula

  • What impact does the use of a scripted or highly-structured literacy curriculum have on biliteracy instruction and development?
  • When such curricula are not available in the program’s partner language, should teachers translate the lessons or try to present all of the material solely in English?


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