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Teaching Strategies for Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is a vital component of the United States public school system. According to data provided by the Migration Policy Institute, over 5 million students in the United States met English Language Leaners (ELLs) classification in 2018. This represents a significant portion of the total enrollment in U.S. schools. Therefore, teachers and curriculum designers should understand and plan for ELL's unique educational needs to ensure that these students have the same opportunities for success as native speakers.

Improving Bilingual Education

Creating an environment where ELLs or emergent bilingual children can learn effectively and comfortably may seem daunting, but there are proven strategies that can work for any teacher. Consider the following tactics when building a curriculum that is inclusive for learners of all backgrounds:

  1. Control your cadence and utilize wait time.

It is important for instructors to speak in a calm, measured rate when interacting with ELLs. Speaking too quickly makes things more difficult for students who may be struggling to master a new language. According to an Edutopia article on bilingual education strategies, effective use of "wait time" also makes a tremendous difference in bilingual learning environments. Too often, teachers only give students one or two seconds to respond to a question, but research suggests that when educators "wait three to five seconds, the quality of responses is astronomically greater."

  1. Include native languages as an important part of the learning environment.

Forcing students to process new concepts solely within the confines of a new language can be counterproductive. Making native languages a part of the learning process is a far more effective strategy. The following process allows students to utilize their native languages to improve content mastery:

  • Introduce new academic units in advance and ask students to explore or investigate them in their native languages
  • Teach concepts in English during class
  • Request that students review what was taught in their native languages
  1. Diversify your use of modalities.

When students engage with academic material through a variety of methods, they are more likely to master that content. This is especially true for bilingual learners as it allows them additional opportunities to process new knowledge while simultaneously overcoming any language acquisition issues. Teachers who create opportunities to engage with content through each of the following modalities often find their students are more likely to achieve learning outcomes:

  • Listening
  • Drawing
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  1. Adopt culturally responsive teaching methods.

Creating a learning environment that values cultural diversity is key to the success of bilingual learners. ESL teacher Katie Toppel suggests that students "are most engaged when they feel a personal connection to a lesson or unit, a connection that's created, in part, by a teacher's investment in culturally competent relationships." Teachers may find the following strategies helpful:

  • Utilize home visits to gain a better understanding of students' cultural background
  • Incorporate aspects of students' lives into the curriculum
  1. Encourage language development in the classroom.

Teachers should strive to create curricula that actively promotes language development in the learning environment. The following instructional strategies are beneficial for ELLs:

  • Use new words multiple times in contexts that are relevant to students
  • Promote vocabulary development by reading aloud in class
  • Use visual aids to increase student understanding of course content
  • Incorporate songs and rhymes in both English and native languages

Professional Outlook for Bilingual Education Specialists

Recent graduates seeking work as bilingual education specialists will be entering a robust job market with the potential to secure a well-paying, meaningful career. The average salary for a bilingual education curriculum designer is $72,476 per year as of September 2021 data. Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts the demand for qualified professionals in this field to grow by 10% over the next decade.

As the world shifts toward becoming a global community, the ability to speak multiple languages increases in value. To encourage bilingual learning in the classroom, teachers need to employ strategies that help diverse student populations reach their academic goals. The MS in Curriculum and Instruction with a Specialization in Bilingual Education at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) can prepare teachers for leadership positions in this essential field. 

Learn more about Texas A&M International University's Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction with a Specialization in Bilingual Education online program.

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