New Trends in Language Education for Hispanic
Students. ERIC Digest.
by Schwartz, Wendy, Ed.
The high dropout rate among Hispanic youth has many causes. One especially
important factor is the failure of some public schools to provide a meaningful
education that builds on students' native language and culture while also
helping them develop good English language skills. To remain committed
to schools, students need to believe that families of their ethnicity are
welcome in school, that they will learn English sufficiently well to enable
their full social and economic participation in life in the United States,
and that earning a diploma will materially improve their future lives.
Further, for families to become involved in their children's school and
be supportive of their continued attendance, they need assurance that their
children are getting a good education--and for many of them that means
mastery of the English language.
In 1995 U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley initiated the Hispanic
Dropout Project (HDP) to develop a set of specific policy and practice
recommendations to improve the education and school retention of Hispanic
students. HDP's activities included collection of information on the school
experiences of Hispanic students, on the views about education and schools
held by members of the various Hispanic communities, and on the results
of relevant research studies. One commissioned paper, Transforming Education
for Hispanic Youth: Exemplary Practices, Programs, and Schools (Anne Turnbaugh
Lockwood and Walter G. Secada, published by the National Clearinghouse
for Bilingual Education, Washington, DC) reviewed case studies of replicable
exemplary schools and programs, demonstrating that schools taking several
different approaches can be equally effective.
This digest summarizes the effective bilingual strategies described
in Transforming Education and HDP's recommendations for bilingual education
at all school levels. While the strategies are specifically oriented to
the needs of Hispanic students, most can improve the education of all students
with immigrant and limited English speaking backgrounds.
PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE BILINGUAL EDUCATION PRACTICES
Educational Policy. Native Spanish-speaking students need to continue
in a bilingual program until they have a solid linguistic foundation that
enables their mastery of other academic subjects as well as English and
Spanish. Thus, learning a second language requires a long, consistent effort
that schools must support. Also, and perhaps most important, schools need
to convey the expectation that students will become literate in English
and learn to high standards. To provide an effective education for Hispanic
students who enter school speaking English, schools need to understand
the ways that their distinct culture influences how they learn and to provide
appropriate instruction. To promote the academic achievement of all students
of Hispanic origin, schools should nurture their native cultures by incorporating
information about them into the curriculum and celebrating them in school
activities; curriculum that builds on students' native language and their
real world knowledge in various subjects is most effective.
In order for schools to provide Hispanic students with a high quality
education and prepare them for higher education, bilingual education needs
to be depoliticized. That is, programs for Limited English Speaking (LEP)
students should not be used either to segregate and marginalize the students
or to diminish the quality of their education. Rather, bilingual programs
should be intellectually stimulating, and designed for integration with
mainstream education; they should prepare participants for greater learning
challenges, in English as well as Spanish.
Early tracking of LEP students into low-reading groups and other slow
classes-an unfortunately common practice-establishes a pattern of limited
learning. Such classes expose young children to fewer words, provide less
time for classroom reading, and suffer more frequent disruptions from students
than do other classes. Not only does such placement compromise students'
ability to learn English but it suggests to them that they are to blame
for their failure, which further exacerbates their difficulties in achieving.
Teacher Training and Performance. Knowledgeable and sensitive teachers
are essential to effective bilingual programs. Thus, teachers should be
kept up-to-date about state-of-the-art strategies for language instruction
specifically, and for instruction generally, that accounts for students'
varying levels of English proficiency. Teachers may need to be helped to
appreciate that Hispanic students can succeed in school, can go on to higher
education, and can have a good career, and that teachers' acceptance of
these beliefs will significantly affect their teaching efficacy. Further,
teachers' understanding of students' cultural heritage improves both their
teaching ability and their maintenance of home-school linkages. Teachers'
communication of trust and confidence, and development of a mutually respectful
relationship with students, bolsters children's self-esteem and fosters
a connection to school that helps inoculate them against an impulse to
Experience shows that specifically recruiting teachers and administrative
staff who speak Spanish and are familiar with Hispanic culture increases
achievement in schools with a large Hispanic student body. Thus, Lennox
Middle School (Lennox, CA), whose student population is overwhelmingly
Hispanic, and which has high student achievement and a low dropout rate,
requires that its staff be bilingual. Further, the school monitors teachers
regularly to ensure that they are sensitive to students' culture and show
respect for the students by patiently supporting their efforts to learn.
The Calexico School District, near the California-Mexico border, has similar
hiring practices, but, in addition, seeks teachers with a commitment to
collaboration so they will support the district's team-teaching orientation.
Calexico believes that team teaching promotes a collective sense of responsibility
and an ethos that problems are to be shared, not passed off to someone
else for solving, as well as more effective student learning.
BILINGUAL EDUCATION IN THE CLASSROOM
Programs: The successful bilingual programs identified by HDP combine
rigorous English language instruction with classroom in-struction in Spanish,
and use of the Spanish language, as needed, to ensure learning in all subjects.
Most classes consist of a mix of students with widely varying English language
High School. The educational programs of the Calexico School District
have won awards. Its bilingual program, El Cid, which was created first
for its high school and later retooled for elementary school use as well,
promotes proficiency in both English and Spanish. The program is research-based
and continually refined to reflect new knowledge about effective bilingual
practices, identified from research conducted by experts in the field and
from the district's own experience. In addition to the usual ESL orientation,
El Cid has a Spanish as a Second Language component for students who have
lost their proficiency in Spanish. Classes are comprised of both native
English speakers and students whose primary language is Spanish. Teachers
team-teach: one is the model for correct use of the English language; the
other is the model for use of the Spanish language.
At the high school level, Calexico students participate in a strong
English Language Development program while they are receiving instruction
in other college-preparatory subjects in their native language or in sheltered
English, where content is presented to LEP students by teachers using a
limited English vocabulary, visuals, non-verbal cues, and other extra-lingual
instructional techniques. These students are therefore able to keep up
academically with their English-fluent classmates, and are expected to
pass an English language proficiency test in order to graduate from high
school. Late-arriving immigrants often continue their English education
at the local community college.
Middle School. The Lennox Middle School, which has a strong bilingual
program, organizes its students into learning teams, uses cooperative learning
strategies, and encourages "instructional conversation" (a teaching technique
consisting of verbal interaction between teachers and students) as a way
of solving problems and sharing knowledge and ideas. Each team is comprised
of students with varying levels of English proficiency to maximize communication
and promote both formal and informal language learning.
Elementary School. Some schools at the elementary level use existing
reform models to both improve education delivery overall and to teach English
to LEP students. For example, Success for All, a comprehensive school wide
reform effort, has a beginning reading curriculum for schools with Spanish/English
bilingual programs, Lee Conmigo, which uses curriculum materials and sequencing
appropriate to Hispanic culture and the Spanish language. Lackland City
Elementary School (San Antonio, TX), a Success for All school, also provides
ESL and GED classes for parents, to encourage family involvement.
Teachers in the Calexico School District high schools who teach classes
in English sometimes switch into Spanish to ensure the comprehension of
native Spanish speaking students. Because LEP students continue to be intimidated
by advanced classes in mathematics, despite active encouragement from advisors,
Calexico teachers emphasize that math has its own vocabulary, the mastery
of which is not determined by students' prior language knowledge. Teachers
often use instructional strategies that do not require language to teach
a lesson effectively or convey information.
Language switching can also be effective at the elementary level. For
example, Jefferson Elementary School (Lennox, CA), which uses Cognitively
Guided Instruction (CGI), an early elementary mathematics program, encourages
students to work in bilingual groups and to communicate with each other
and convey their method of problem solving by using the language they feel
most comfortable with. Teachers and students also use a great many visuals
to promote comprehension by LEP students. The school's overall goal, however,
is not only proficiency in math but in English language development and
Lennox Middle School, conversely, does not permit language switching
in teaching, although its bilingual staff uses both English and Spanish
informally to communicate with students. While the school emphasizes the
English language in the classroom, literature classes feature Latino/a
writers to demonstrate Hispanic accomplishment and pique students' interest.
The HOSTS (Helping One Student to Succeed) remedial basic skills tutoring
program, used by elementary schools nationwide, has a bilingual language
arts component that can be used by schools with different language acquisition
philosophies. For example, the Sparks Elementary School (Pasadena, TX)
matches students monolingual in Spanish with bilingual mentors to provide
initial instruction in students' primary language. However, the Saucedo
Academy (Chicago, IL), which uses English for classroom interactions outside
its bilingual program because many students hear English only at school,
uses HOSTS mentors whose tutoring is provided in English.
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, a national mentoring program, also
allows for use of both English and Spanish in tutoring sessions. The Cesar
E. Chavez Middle School (La Joya, TX), for example, accepts both Spanish
and English speakers as tutors and students, with the result that all participants
improve their skills in the two languages.
While the components of effective bilingual programs may differ, or
even contradict each other, some universal principles emerge in the quest
to reach the overall goal of student mastery of the English language. First,
schools continually revise their approaches as new strategies are proven
effective and new student needs are identified. Second, they embrace the
philosophy that true bilingualism means proficiency in both Spanish and
English and they represent Hispanic culture in the curriculum. Third, they
offer individualized instruction and other aids to ensure that students
learn English and other subjects that will enable future career fulfillment.
And, finally, schools, with the full participation of their teachers and
staff, maintain an atmosphere that supports the beliefs that all students
are equally valuable and bring to the school equally valuable cultures,
and the expectation that all will succeed.