It is Tuesday morning; I am at my desk that is smothered by books, research, sticky notes, and who knows what else. I am on another call with one of our dual-language (DL) leaders whose words are tinged with sheer overwhelm that refuses to stay underneath the surface. It was the sixth call from a DL leader since Monday.
For program leaders and educators, navigating the complexity of DL during this pandemic has reached a breaking point. In large part, this has happened because of the many preexisting inequities. The first of these being the lack of belief or support, clear systems for, and collaborative processes that work to prevent isolation and ensure coherence around curriculum, instruction, and assessment, (Guilamo, 2020). The second factor that already existed was a historic lack of DL leader and educator access to “the same supports for improving their effectiveness,” …[even though they continued to be] accountable to the same teacher effectiveness accountability metrics & action (Guilamo, 2020). This pandemic has not changed that experience, nor did it create it.
“I know,” I reassure her, “it’s like someone has taken all the pieces of the puzzle, tossed them in the air, and thrown away the box with the picture. Start from the beginning so we figure out the first piece of the puzzle to hold on to.” I close my eyes, quiet the world, and I listen. I listen, and listen, and listen. I keep listening, until the picture makes sense, a pattern of puzzle pieces has emerged, and the one puzzle piece that we need to find first is clear.
DL leaders, educators, and program stakeholders will need to develop and leverage a similar approach. This approach must be rooted in a commitment to, “protect access to educational lifelines for immigrant, emergent-bilingual, and Black and Brown students—who still lack access to basic things like resources, evidence-based practices, environments,” (Guilamo, 2020). Together with a commitment to equity, the following data metrics, questions, and sources create the foundation for a more authentic, humane, and program-aligned approach to answering the hard questions about DL curriculum, student learning, and assessment.
Metric 1 – Attendance:
• Questions – What is the attendance rate is low-level data. Who is absent and why is what DL stakeholders need to know. Access to devices, connectivity (Arias, 2020), comprehensible input in the language other than English (LOTE), and meaningful interactions designed to maximize engagement and interaction continue to be the top reasons for DL student’s absence and failures.
• Source – The most effective strategy our schools have found is still a personal phone call by a trusted member of the school that can respect the families’ home language and cultural norms, and prioritizing the quality of time spent synchronously over the quantity of time as a meaningful indicator.
Metric 2 – Literacy:
• Questions – It’s not simply the literacy level that DL schools need to know. What literacy skills and abilities do students have across both program languages? What practices are authentic to that language and designed to be most effective in developing that skill? Is there a loving advocate at home that has been shown how to continue that practice?
• Source – formative literacy assessments that leverage teacher observation during small group instruction or one-on-one check-ins.
Metric 3 – Language:
• Questions – A student’s proficiency level or composite score is not what DL schools need to know. Can teachers and students describe what students can do across listening, speaking, reading, writing, and translanguaging, or mobilizing all linguistic resources and funds of knowledge (Seltzer, García, & Ibarra-Johnson, 2016)?
• Source – formative data processes, using teacher anecdotes, student work samples, and student ownership of language objectives.
Metric 4 – Perception:
• Questions – Questions like can we keep supporting DL, is it working, or should we continue to postpone the opening of new programs, are distractors. Who is DL working for? How do we know? Did we plan for the most vulnerable student groups success before planning for populations that already had access?
• Source – The source. Ask students what is working and expand those successes. Ask home advocates what is working and what is not, and work with them to remove real barriers that exist. Ask DL teachers leaders who has access, who is engaged (not present), and who is learning in that order.
Remember that the pandemic has caused a butterfly effect for DL programs that can be observed in the number of new programs that chose not to open, the increasing mobility of DL staff, and other data points that we must understand. With these small shifts in data sources and discussions, DL leaders can create powerful small moments and day to day conversations that spark meaningful progress towards equity. So, stop, close your eyes, and listen. Then keep listening to your students & families, your teachers, and your leaders until the picture makes sense, a pattern of puzzle pieces has emerged, and the next puzzle piece that you need to hold is clear.
Alexandra Guilamo (CEO, TaJu Educational Solutions) is an expert in the implementation, education, and effective leadership of dual-language, bilingual, and language-learner education. She has previously served as a teacher, academic coach, elementary school principal, and district-level educator.