“Our school mission statement is to develop global learners,” explained kindergarten teacher Kendra Guerrero, on the Indiana University Bloomington campus this week for the Dual Language Immersion Institute, “so this fits really nicely in the vision of our school.”
Guerrero teaches at Pleasant Run Elementary School in the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana, which has implemented a strand of dual language immersion. “Ultimately,” Guerrero said, “this is preparing our students to be successful in a global world connected by multiple languages.”
The bilingual educator was one of about 47 teachers and administrators from around the state who attended the first day of the program – focusing on best practices for biliteracy – at the School of Global and International Studies. Eighteen educators will continue with the training at the School of Education for the rest of the week.
It’s the second summer for the Dual Language Immersion Institute, an outgrowth of Indiana’s Bilteracy Legislation (Senate Enrolled Act no. 267) of 2015. Co-sponsored by SGIS’s Russian and East European Institute, East Asian Studies Center, Inner Asian & Uralic National Resource Center, Center for the Study of the Middle East, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, along with the Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration at the IU School of Education, the institute provides professional development and networking opportunities for educators at the state’s schools that have implemented DLI programs. The institute is being organized and facilitated by Vesna Dimitrieska, director of Global Education Initiatives within the Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration at the IU School of Education. Other facilitators include Martha Nyikos, associate professor in the department of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at the School of Education, and Ian Michalski, a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Linguistics, along with visiting biliteracy experts, Cheryl Urow and Diana Clemens.
Participant Guerrero described the logistics of the dual language immersion instruction at her school. For half of the day, Guerrero teaches half of the students in Spanish, before switching groups with her partner-teacher, who provides instruction in English. Real-time translation is discouraged in the dual language immersion pedagogy; instead, instructors provide a “bridge” to the other language at the conclusion of the lesson.
Whereas the student body of Pleasant Run, where Guerrero teaches, is 30 percent native Spanish-speaking, other schools that have received Indiana Department of Education grants to incorporate DLI programming are more linguistically homogeneous. Amy Bennett teaches at Poston Road Elementary School in Martinsville, where there were no native Spanish speakers in her kindergarten or first grade classes.
“Our superintendent is always looking for ways to attract students to our district,” Bennett explained. “Martinsville has a history of good foreign language programs in our high schools, so it was a good fit for our district.”
She knows whereof she speaks. Martinsville was where Bennett’s study of Spanish began, complemented by seven weeks in Mexico on the IU Honors Program in Foreign Languages for high school students.
As in Martinsville, other schools across the state that have opted for DLI programming do so for reasons that do not necessarily correspond to the ratio of English language learners in attendance. Although the benefits of the instructional model are clear for those students, DLI programming has been shown to enhance parent engagement more broadly, and to improve attitudes about bilingualism and biculturalism.
“That’s a goal of this grant program,” stated Bennett, “to increase global awareness; not only to teach biliteracy, but biculturalism as well.”
It’s easy to teach kids about foreign cultures through holiday celebrations, Bennett suggested, but teaching in another language has allowed Bennett to raise her students’ awareness of diverse cultural beliefs and practices in more nuanced ways. Take, for example, the different forms of address – for an adult versus a peer. “Even though the kids are not fully aware that they’re learning other cultural norms or expectations,” Bennett suggested, “when you teach a language they’re automatically embedded in there.”
“There are so many things that you’re not specifically teaching them that just by being immersed they pick up,” Guerrero elaborated, “and that’s why I think it’s so effective – they just have that exposure.”
Immersion was the language learning method that clicked for Guerrero, who admitted that she “hated” Spanish when she was in high school. She went out of her way to declare a major in college that would allow her to avoid a language requirement.
A mission trip to Guatemala however, revealed “the importance of language in relationships,” Guerrero shared. After the trip, she suddenly “had a reason” to learn Spanish. Soon, she was off for a semester in Ecuador, where her desire to communicate with her host family provided more incentive. After graduation, Guerrero took a job teaching in the Dominican Republic, where she met her future husband, who only spoke Spanish. “Not everyone has such a strong external motivator,” she conceded.