|Luis in First Grade :)|
Luis experienced the style of bilingual education promoted by Virginia Collier in the article “Teaching Multilingual Children.” Due to the large Latino population in San Jose, the elementary school that he attended offered a Bilingual Education program. His teachers spoke and instructed both in Spanish and in English, and the “eradication” that Collier frowns upon in Guidelines #2 & #3 was never a part of his education. He was never made to feel ostracized, or wrong, or like an outsider for using Spanish in the classroom.
He also benefitted from what Collier explains in Guideline #6 as establishing literacy in his primary language first. As Collier says the research shows, “the most successful long-term academic achievement occurs where the students’ primary language is the initial language of literacy.” (p. 233) She goes on to say that “dismiss[ing] the home language in literacy development places immigrant children at risk...[which] does not recede over time, but accumulates.” (p. 233) By learning to read and write in Spanish first, Luis was then able to transfer the literacy skills he obtained into learning to read and write in English. This enabled him to keep pace with his peers, instead of struggling with literacy in the second language which may have caused him to fall behind.
In kindergarten, it was mostly Spanish with a little English. First grade added a little more English, and by second grade, instruction was about 50/50. At this point, Luis’ natural curiosity with English took hold (he remembers wanting to understand what the English speaking kids were talking or joking about -- the group would talk and laugh, but he couldn’t understand what was funny). The way he had been taught up to that point motivated him to transition, which was nurtured and encouraged by the teacher he remembers as very influential to him. By third grade, Luis was in an English-only classroom.
I asked Luis if he thought his K-12 experience would have been different if he hadn’t had access to this program. He said that it’s likely that he would have had a harder time learning English, and thus a harder time with learning in general. Being made to feel “wrong” for speaking Spanish (and not having and understanding of English from home) could have been discouraging, or made him prone to giving up quicker. In the long run, his opportunity to begin his school experience in Bilingual Education gave him successful footing to do well in the rest of his schooling.
Talking Point: The population of Latinos in Luis’ community made funding of a Bilingual program in his school both necessary and possible. For schools without a high population, yet with some ELL students, the same level of support often isn’t an available because of a lack of funding. Does the system fail these students? What can be done to give them similar chances at success?