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Dual Language: Bilingualism and Biliteracy in an Online K-2 Environment

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Back to school, usually a time of excitement for children, parents, and teachers, has a different feel to it this year. As educators reflect on their learnings from virtual experiences in the spring, one question remains: what does a successful Dual Language environment look like in a virtual setting, especially in a K-2 environment? How can you meet the needs of all language learners in an online or hybrid setting?

Create a thriving dual language environment for emergent bilinguals 

English only students learn content in another language the same way that an EL learns content in English; they are all emergent bilinguals. Students thrive in a safe and welcoming environment that engages them with high quality resources that are linguistically and culturally authentic, and involves them in learning activities that respect and celebrate cultural differences, encourages oracy, and builds a community.

Create home to school connections 

Before the start of school, schedule a virtual or phone meeting with family members providing time for them to ask questions, such as:

  • How will I help my child if I don’t know the language? 
  • How will learning in both languages be assessed? 
  • How will future communications be handled?  

Provide them with a clear picture of various upcoming scenarios for learning that will involve different groupings, like bilingual pairs. Introduce family members to the digital tools their child will be working with in the two program languages. This could mean providing research articles or videos that will help them better understand the program expectations, and sharing websites they can access with their children to increase home learning opportunities in the new language. 

If a family member doesn’t speak either of the two program languages, use a translation app to communicate. As weeks go by, make yourself and your partner teacher available in different formats. One idea is for partners to record messages or announcements in both languages and send the link via email, allowing for parents to view the message at their discretion if they can’t connect with you directly.

Create a welcoming bilingual environment

From the start, make it clear to students which teacher and what content connects to which language. For example, Literacy might be taught in both languages, but Math might be taught in Spanish and Science might be taught in English. Until the students become familiar with routines, create a welcome slide for class meetings with a photo (or bitmoji!) and a visual cue for the language of instruction, and display it as students begin to sign in. 

With your partner teacher, answer any questions they may have about learning online, and learning in another language. Discuss expectations for each language to diminish any anxiety they have about having to speak or read in one of the program languages. Review routines and expectations in both languages. Introduce them to digital tools that will be used in distance learning in both program languages, and engage them early on in activities in which they can communicate their well-being and begin to learn the structures of each language. 

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Ellevation Strategies for Dual Language offers activities to help you establish routines for your students. 

Some digital tools that accommodate teaching for biliteracy include: Answergarden, Flipgrid, Quizlet, Google Jamboard, and Padlet. Keep in mind that as partner teachers, together you must strive for equity in all areas of instruction: allocation of time in each language, the online resources used, and the resources sent home for independent learning and family engagement.

Create a solid partnership 

As you plan with your partner teacher, incorporate activities that will engage and teach students the foundations of each language. Activities that involve the comparison of sounds between partner languages or emphasize syllabication will increase their reading fluency, while emphasizing cross-linguistic awareness and respect for their culture. Use dialogue journals in the form of a Google Doc or Flipgrid to communicate with students about their language learning, or use the journal to obtain informal feedback in the language of instruction. 

During your first online meetings with your emergent bilinguals, assign roles such as attendance or online student translator, so that students feel comfortable interacting with each other.  For older students, the online student translator is a rotating role that will allow you as a teacher not to become a translator. A native speaker can quickly provide their peer with a translation or example ,but this role doesn't have to be assigned to a native speaker! Simply ensure that a reliable age-appropriate online glossary has been introduced to the students beforehand.

Refer to the three pillars of dual language education and focus on laying the groundwork for biliteracy and bilingualism from day one! Provide time before and after an online class meeting for students to chat informally, in the language of their choice. This will not only improve their social-emotional state of mind, but it will help create a sense of community. 

Above all else, have fun with language so that you can impart that knowledge and appreciation with your students. You are part of a gift being given to them. As recipients of a unique bilingual education, their lives will be forever changed, and so will yours.