Embracing Uncertainty: Navigating the Science of Reading in Dual Language Classrooms

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Embracing Uncertainty: Navigating the Science of Reading in Dual Language Classrooms

Written by: Erin Brown

June 19, 2024

As educators, leaning into our students’ data, sharpening our instructional craft, and having a deep understanding of the tools and resources available are just a few of the ways we can attempt to predict the future success of our students. Unfortunately, while we can’t know for 100% certainty that the decisions we make day-to-day in the classroom will always be the best ones, a culture of curiosity and problem-solving among teachers should be prioritized as a major factor in student success. 

This year, I have had the privilege of working with instructional coaches and principals at two central Indiana schools who are bringing the Science of Reading to life with their teachers and students through their Dual Language/Immersion programming. Their implementation of Science of Reading has looked different for these schools than for monolingual schools and classrooms. While a percentage of the day is spent in English instruction (this allocation differs from grade level to grade level and often from building to building), those serving in Dual Language/Immersion programs are asking many questions and seeking resources that take into account the development of their students’ bi-literate brains.

I’d like to share some of the questions we’ve been pondering together and just a few of the resources we’ve found help address some of these questions. Please note that I won’t use the words “answer” or “solve” or even “solution.” These questions and conversations are very much in progress, and the schools I serve are constantly seeking the latest research-backed strategies that best serve their students.

Wooden surface with messages on it.
Photo from Unsplash+ by Hannah Wright

One of the primary questions they have been asking for several years is: with the current emphasis on the Science of Reading in English, what research supports the Science of Reading in other languages?

One of the best background-building articles I’ve found to explain the difference between the ways monolingual and dual language students learn to read comes from Language MagazineThe Science of Reading in Dual Language”.

An “ah-ha” moment came when we realized the untapped potential in explicitly teaching students the similarities and differences between the two languages. “For dual language and emergent bilingual children, there isn’t an actual linguistic or cognitive wall between their two languages. The two literacy and language systems dynamically flow through a corriente of linguistic resources and codes” (Garcia et al., 2017). Research has shown that bilingual/biliterate students are able to use the same orthographic mapping process but with their full linguistic resources and codes within and across languages (Van Hell and Dijkstra, 2002; Dijksra et al., 1998). Program models might separate the languages of instruction, but linguistic resources and codes will continue to seek connections.” With the support of an outside consultancy, coaches and teachers have been able to implement strategies that support this bridging between languages in all components of the Science of Reading. Constructing these bridges has looked many different ways including phonics instruction in both languages simultaneously, anchor charts that collect cognates for student reference, and supplementing authentic Spanish texts in Spanish Language Art that not only build background knowledge that transfers into English Language Arts but respect the differences in grammatical structure and vocabulary necessary to develop Spanish literacy.  

Discovering and developing best practices for dual language learners brought another set of questions about the current curriculum and other instructional resources. Some of those questions include: How do these materials provide the support necessary for students in Dual Language? How do we know that the curricular materials we’re using for Spanish Language Arts support and enhance students’ English and Spanish learning?

“A critical step to finding the best curriculum suited for a particular group of students is asking the right questions.”

A “perfect” curriculum that addresses the needs of dual language learners likely does not exist (yet); however, a critical step to finding the best curriculum suited for a particular group of students is asking the right questions. One of the strongest moves we’ve made toward answering these multi-faceted questions has been utilizing rubrics to evaluate the different components of the Science of Reading through the lens of Spanish Language Arts. These rubrics have been central to multiple conversations between district and school leaders while determining the quality of current curricula and any possible replacements. The English Learners Success Forum recently published Materials Matter: Parity and Quality for Spanish Language Arts, which addresses the critical needs of quality SLA curriculum materials for use in Spanish-English dual language/bilingual programs in grades K-5. This would be an excellent resource to consult when developing such rubrics. 

Another valuable resource has been Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (3rd edition), a joint publication of the Center for Applied Linguistics, Dual Language Education of New Mexico, and Santillana USA. This comprehensive guide provides both information and activities to support a dual language program’s creation or review and refinement. It comprises seven chapters: program structure, curriculum, instruction, assessment and accountability, staff quality and professional development, family and community, and support and resources. With extensive amounts of relevant research, it is a valuable resource to ensure all stakeholders are equipped with high-quality information when questions are asked and decisions are made.

“A culture of curiosity and problem-solving among teachers should be prioritized as a major factor in student success.”

While the day-to-day decisions in our schools and classrooms come with inherent uncertainties, the journey of implementing the Science of Reading in diverse, multilingual settings, specifically Dual Language & Immersion programs, provides a unique and evolving landscape of learning for all involved. By asking critical questions and leveraging insights from key publications like Language Magazine, the English Learners Success Forum, and the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education, the schools I have had the pleasure of serving this year are better equipped to navigate the complexities of bilingual literacy. Their commitment to bridging languages and adapting curricula to meet the needs of dual-language learners underscores their ongoing efforts to provide equitable and effective education. I hope that in sharing a bit of our journey, you will feel empowered to join the conversations around developing strong dual-language opportunities for our multilingual learners here in Indiana!


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  • Erin Brown

    Erin Brown is currently a Training Support Specialist for the Indiana Literacy Cadre where she supports Instructional Coaches and their schools in implementing research-based practices in literacy and student-centered coaching. She received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from DePauw University and her master's in education from Marian University. She has served in public education since 2008 as an elementary classroom teacher, K-8 Interventionist, and Instructional Coach.

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