Diving into Dual-Language
Two kindergarten classes are speaking Spanish throughout most of their days in a successful opt-in, dual-language program in the Tigard-Tualatin (Ore.) School District.
Metzger Elementary School has some of the highest percentages of English Language Learners, at 28 percent, and Hispanic students, at 31 percent, in the district. Because of the prevalence of Spanish-speakers, this past school year, Metzger implemented its dual-language program in two kindergarten classes, reaching nearly 30 students. Principal Kraig Sproles explains that the classes follow a 80/20 model, where bilingual instructors teach 80 percent of the school day in Spanish, in subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. For the rest of the day, Spanish speakers and English speakers are taught separately to develop English language skills. Sproles says, “Our model says students need to make sure they have a strong first language, to learn in that language, and that they can transfer the Spanish literacy skills into learning English skills.”
The district has been researching dual-language programs over the last four years and have been prioritizing bilingualism in new teacher hires. Dan Goldman, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, says literacy skills were key in creating the dual-language program because reading and writing are highly stressed in the district. “During our research, we found that students in good bilingual programs excel more on statewide reading tests than their monolingual peers,” he says.
Sproles says he has seen many positive changes among students in Metzger’s dual-language program, such as a higher integration of Spanish and English speakers working together and speaking both languages in and outside of the classroom. “Kindergartners are like sponges in terms of learning a language,” Sproles says. “[The students had to adjust] at first, but after a month or so, we were seeing the kids string sentences together and having conversations in both languages in class, at recess, and at home. It’s remarkable and exciting to see.”
Teachers have also given English-speaking parents online tutorials and homework with English directions so they can better understand what’s happening in the classroom. Sporles says non-English speaking parents are also more involved in school than ever before because of the program. Because of the success at Metzger, Tigard-Tualatin is developing a dual-language program for another school, Bridgeport Elementary, which also has many ELLs. The program will be created to best fit Bridgeport’s resources, but will aim to have “as many classroom minutes taught in Spanish” as possible, Goldman says.