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It is abundantly clear that from Mr. Foster’s point of view, bilingualism and biliteracy go hand-in-hand in their program goals. Spanish Immersion practices “integrate the reading, the writing, the speaking” in a way that doesn’t isolate language learning from the important curricular areas students must master. Yet he also described efforts to consider what students need to be taught directly about language. He described the development of the program over the years in terms of how teachers have learned what students need at various stages of their development as users of Spanish. Teachers in his program have learned about the grammar needs, vocabulary that should be taught, and orthography features generations of kids need to work on. Each year at their faculty retreat they attempt to answer the question, “How do we make the program better?,” a question that has involved not only vocabulary and grammar, but core literature they should use, and how to decide which reading should happen in Spanish and in English and in which grades. He described a school culture of making clear to new teachers what happens in each grade in terms of “literacy, spelling, grammar” so that the new teacher can say “OK I know in third grade these are the materials I use for literacy, spelling, grammar, here's the materials, here's the strategies we use, here's how we evaluat[e] it.” Their goal is to all be “on the same page” in terms of curriculum.
Cultural component: Diversity in Spanish Immersion program.
In describing typical Spanish Immersion students, Mr. Foster responded that he would describe them as “typical Midville Elementary student[s],” not only “the best and the brightest” from the district, as, he said, might have been the perception of many in the community in the early years of the program. He expressed awareness of the program’s reputation for being an “elite” one, but pointed out that just as the whole school had been defined by its diversity, so had been the Spanish Immersion program. From his point of view, the students in Spanish Immersion classrooms “are as diverse [as in non-immersion classrooms], they have behavior problems, they have special ed problems, speech language problems, those issues come up whether you are in immersion or nonimmersion.” He pointed to former students who struggled academically in the Spanish Immersion program, just as he felt they probably would have in English only classes, emphasizing the idea that all students should have access to learning in the program, and that the program had supported them to succeed academically as many of them had in the end.
He described diversity in terms of ethnicity and language as well: “You can go into immersion classes and find Hispanic kids, Caucasian kids, Chinese kids, AfricanAmerican kids, French kids, trilingual kids -- I can go into the classroom next door, that non-immersion [classroom], and I see French kids, Russian kids.” When asked directly about the participation of Mexican-origin kids in the program, he responded that while there was a period when fewer Mexican-origin kids (mostly from Cross Midville) participated in the program, in the past three or four years more families from Cross Midville have applied to the program, and, since they receive priority for getting into the program, all of the six of seven kindergarten applicants would be enrolled. These kids occupy the role of language models in the classrooms, following the TWI model, and for that reason all the Spanish-dominant students are assessed before entering the program to verify that they really do understand and speak Spanish. The program had been in such high demand by families of Hispanic-origin that Mr. Foster and the teachers had found it necessary to screen to make sure that a sufficient proportion of students in each class were really Spanish-dominant or bilingual.
Differences between Two-Way Immersion and World Language models.
Mr. Foster expressed a clear sense of his perception of the differences in language ideologies between the Spanish Immersion program and high school World Language education. In the Spanish Immersion program “the kids are living the language, they are immersed in it. I'll look at our Kindergarten classes. Every part of their instructional day is in Spanish. Every part of any communication is in Spanish. You do not get that without knowing anything about foreign language.” He presented a picture of Spanish Immersion education that “integrated” reading, writing and speaking into the everyday life of the classroom, saying “you don't get [that kind of language experience] that in a foreign language class.” He added, “I suspect a lot of foreign language is perhaps done in isolation and not integrated into their entire days and a foreign language model might have one period a day in 7th grade for 45 minutes and you've got kids here that are 5-1/2 hours of nothing but Spanish.” The portrait of high school World Language teachers he presented focused on what he understood as their deficit view of Spanish Immersion students’ language production.
Foster: I think from perhaps the high school perspective they may not view these kids as bilingual truly bilingual because they haven't acquired XY or Z maybe their grammar's not good enough and developmentally they probably shouldn't be at that point.
He contrasted this deficit view with what he imagined World Language teachers could
say about former Spanish Immersion students:
Foster: Instead of the view of, “Wow, we've got all these really talented kids, wow, let's take them here,” it's like “Oh no, you don't fit our traditional [World Language] kids coming into high school. OK, you can't be as good as we hear you are.” […] It's frustrating to me because I think you've got this gold nugget moving along and why do you tarnish it then when they get to high school.
He represented the possibility of World Language teachers seeing the students for what they can do with language as being overwhelmed by the problems caused because these students don’t fit the traditional World Language model of language learning and use.
The contrast between elementary Spanish Immersion language and secondary World Language ideologies came into the starkest contrast through Mr. Foster’s use of metaphors to describe what happened in the middle school program and his view of bilingual learning. In regards to the problems experienced in the middle school program, he compared the problems to a “disease” which put “obstacles and blockades” in the way of student success, rather than providing what would “enhance” what the students already had achieved. Rather than asking “How do we keep [what the kids have begun in Spanish Immersion] going?,” unnamed middle school teachers complained that the elementary teachers were “sending me all these little kids” or that “they shouldn’t be in the program” because of their language deficits. In contrast, Mr. Foster explained his view of language learning, bilingualism, as a “road […] and you're traveling down this road to different levels of proficiency and ease in which you access a language, and you may be here, and middle school you're here, and high school you're up here.” This metaphor emphasized the concept of bilingual language learning as a long-term project, a life-long one that has begun for these students in childhood. He expressed a serious view of childhood bilingualism, in which a second language “becomes part of them” in such a way that calls into question the appropriateness of the message of World Language teachers who had said “you’re not bilingual” to former Spanish Immersion students who enter into their classrooms. Mr. Foster wondered at what he saw as an effort to “cut [the] lifeline” to language learning by deeming them inadequate for certain World Language courses.
Ms. Gomez: 5th Grade Spanish Immersion Teacher
Ms. Gomez’s commentary on language learning and use was consistently grounded in her experience as a long-time teacher in this and other TWI and transitional bilingual programs, her own experience of language learning and use, and her understanding of the connection between language learning and social issues. She brought a different perspective to discussions of the meanings of bilingualism, the goals of Spanish Immersion education, and the differences between the Two-Way Immersion and World Language models than Mr. Foster, though her responses echoed some of the same values and practices mentioned by Mr. Foster. Providing a veteran teacher’s point of view, she framed the meanings and problems of student language learning and use in concrete, practical terms.
Bilingualism: Language use, biliteracy, language awareness, and authentic motives.
Ms. Gomez’s most basic definition of bilingualism involved language use, though she clearly valued language awareness and “mastery” of language features for her fifth grade students. When I asked her to give a definition of bilingualism, she responded that it meant “being able to use two languages; a multilingual would be able to use multiple languages” (Interview, 4/2/09). She turned to her own experience as a multilingual to provide ways of understanding the meaning of bilingualism, explaining that on her first resume, she had stated that she was bilingual in English and Spanish, and “had a working knowledge of Italian.” For her, that meant that she “could function in Italian,” while she “was more comfortable in English and Spanish,” “felt more fluent” in those languages.
Elaborating on the concept of “fluency,” she made a distinction between academic fluency and “interactive, personal interaction fluency,” a relatively dichotomous view of bilingual language use and mastery, grounded in Cummins's (1979) concepts of BICS and CALP. She did, however, acknowledge that language use for Spanish Immersion students meant having been exposed to a wide variety of topical/curricular areas over the course of their years in the program, and that students use specific language to demonstrate mastery of content in various curricular areas, such as science and social studies. She also referenced her experience teaching Business English students in Spain who “just had to get used to the idea of talking about their business matters in English.” So while Ms. Gomez made a distinction between academic and interpersonal uses, she also seemed aware that language use involved various domains and activities.
A few minutes into our discussion, Ms. Gomez pointed out that in our consideration of what it means to be bilingual, we had not yet broached the subject of biliteracy, which, judging from the frequent references she made to reading and writing in Spanish, formed the heart of her thinking about bilingualism in her classroom. This emphasis on biliteracy grounded her class’s language experience in academic forms. As a member of the National Writing Project, Ms. Gomez had trained other teachers (from both traditional English-only schools and TWI programs) in teaching writing. She expressed satisfaction with the progress she had made, becoming a “better teacher” of literacy, and having had more literacy materials and a high-quality writing program available. The aim of writing in Spanish (as in English) was to become “more fluent” in the target language, to be able to express oneself in a way that would generate even more fluency. The writing program had been accompanied by “very clear leveled Spanish books […] that have enabled [her] as a fifth grade teacher” to deal with the problems of fifth grade readers. She continued that “it always stinks trying to find reading materials in fourth and fifth grade; It's just, they're not good or they're not available, so the few things that we have that are great are fantastic.” She explained kids’ language acquisition in terms of literacy, that they would build vocabulary through reading and writing practices, such as taking notes on vocabulary, responding to literature through writing or presentation, “something that after they’ve taken in language, they produce it again, so that it gets stuck in their brains in the meantime.” For Ms. Gomez, biliteracy had its obvious language acquisition benefits for students from English-dominant homes, but she grounded her initial introduction of the theme of biliteracy in terms of the needs of students from Spanish-dominant homes. She stated the goal of the program as “to get them literate, reading and writing, functioning in those languages in that sense as well” because “a lot of families that will be in a program like this, may have a working knowledge, and be fluent speaking, orally, fluent in one of their languages, maybe their native tongue and then never have really learned very much.” That learning implied literacy for Ms. Gomez. She further emphasized, “some of these kids are getting this opportunity to understand the literacy aspect in both languages,” indirectly referencing the importance of literacy to kids from Spanishdominant homes. As I will discuss later, Ms. Gomez continually circled back to connecting bilingualism and biliteracy to social consequences and issues, something that was also apparent in her classroom teaching, and in her contributions to curriculum development in the middle school program.
Bilingualism and, its counterpart, biliteracy were also connected in Ms. Gomez’s view to a growing language awareness for her students. In explaining some of the students’ foundational experiences with biliteracy, she pointed toward practices that highlighted awareness of Spanish language forms and features. She recollected hearing
teachers discuss these practices among themselves:
I remember one of the teachers saying, “When I make word banks for the beginning of the month, for October, and we're talking about calabaza and murcielagos and whatever, cuervos, anything else that's related to fall,” she would say “You have to put that article on, because they have to get used to it, ‘cuz right now we're not doing that.” And it's that little extra step that will help them to understand how to use the language, so in that sense, with that fluency and understanding the language.