Candis @ iteachduallanguage is hosting a "Speaking in Tongues Linky Party" in which she has asked up to link up and share what our dual language classrooms are like- a day in the life if you will. Thus I want to preface my piece by saying that this is by no means what dual language is like around the country (as I am sure many of you who do teach dual may do it differently). This is simply just how we roll in our district!
In our district all Spanish speaking students automatically have the opportunity to be placed in a dual language classroom if their parents wish. We have three elementary schools which currently have dual language programs of which these students can attend even if it is not their neighborhood school. As I am part of a two-way immersion (dual language) program and not just one-way, each dual language classroom is also comprised of students who are considered to be "native" English speakers. Our ideal classrooms are usually made up of 60% native Spanish speakers, 40% native English speakers, but as those of you who work with second language learners know...many can be classified as either/or particularly if they have been in this country for much of their lives.
Our day is broken down in percentages of time we should be spending in Spanish/English. K-2 teachers and students should spend roughly 80% of the day in Spanish instruction and 20% in English. In third grade it moves to 70/30 and so on until 5th grade which is 50/50. Middle school is currently by subject area as they clearly change classes throughout the day. In second grade as well as the other primary grades, literacy is the only thing we teach directly in English. All other subjects, are taught explicitly in Spanish. All of my students partake in English and Spanish guided reading groups with me in which we focus on word work, writing, comprehension, etc. as well to promote bilinguism and biliteracy in all students. The moment a student enters the dual language program after that first day of kindergarten, he/she is no longer considered monolingual, but a bilingual learner.
So that all of my students are exposed to the necessary vocabulary for any concept taught in both languages, many dual language teachers (including myself) will do something we like to call the "bridge". This is a special time after finishing up a unit, in which the teacher assists the students in bridging the vocabulary and concepts learned in one language to the next. This is the only time in my classroom where it is acceptable to be using both languages at the same time, because we are working on making connections between them. After I bridge the key vocabularly with my students, we usually do a key activity then in the opposite language of the original instruction to enable them to practice the new vocabulary. Once again the bridge is not considered a strictly English or Spanish "time".
To work to help my students keep that separation of languages during the rest of our school day, we have a special signal that we use. In my classroom, we put our fingers up to our ears and count 1,2,3 clic (in Spanish) and make a rotating motion with our fingers to show that we have changed our ears and are prepared for English time. We do the same for switching back to Spanish, but obviously count in English first. Also, during our English time, I wear a cape (goes with my Superkids theme) which is a visual reminder to my students as to what language they should be using.
I will say that you can walk into my classroom at any given time and it is usually noisy- this is the nature of dual language rooms! It's productive noise, as students should constantly be chatting with one another. Trust me, they learn more language from one another on any given day than I could ever hope to teach them. They are one another's best resources and language models! Furthermore, there is constant movement. TPR (total physical response) which is creating actions to go with vocabulary, is my middle name. We are constantly moving, utilizing visuals and graphic organizers, chanting and singing songs, you name it. I come home exhausted (as I am sure the kids do as well), but this is a day in the life if we want our students to effectively understand in their second language!
I love my job. I cannot express that enough. I cannot imagine doing anything else. Not only are my students presented with the challenge and gift of learning two languages each day, but I also continue to grow in my second language as well. It is so incredible to watch my students build their second language skills faster than I could have ever dreamed when I began studying Spanish in high school! They amaze me, and I can't help smile when I listen to them chatting away with their peers in the hallway in their second language or when their parents send me an email sharing how their native English speaking child helped them translate on their trip to Mexico etc.
I would love to answer any questions you have about dual language. I am by no means and expert, but I love more than anything to share with others what I know and spread the love for the program! So if you have some- don't be shy- someone else may want to know the same thing! Ask away...:)