What’s the point of the question? Were you testing her ability to count or speak English? – USA

This was a parents response to a teacher when the  child was asked to count to twenty. The child did so in Spanish and was marked as wrong. It begs the debate I often have with those who do not understand bilingualism what are you testing? Was your assessment criteria flawed? Did the child understand that they had to respond in English?

No one is blaming the teacher it is just a change in the way we view things.  In mine and the parents case any previous knowledge in whatever language it was demonstrated in is fine. As in my opinion they will pick up English as they go along, but pretending they have no prior learning eats away at their confidence and self-esteem daily.

Hursh helped the teacher see that she was ignoring the knowledge the child did have. Still, Hursh understands that teacher’s perspective.

“Before coming to Erikson, I would have thought the same thing: I have to get these children speaking English. Now, I’m confident that they’ll pick it up. In the meantime, I want to support them in what they are able to do.”

Meléndez agrees with this balanced perspective. “Of course, dual language learners need to learn English if they are to succeed in school and life, but the acquisition of their second language does not have to mean the loss of their first.”

If you want to read the rest of this there are some extracts below and the original can be found at http://www.erikson.edu/default/news/news.aspx?c=6054

Susan Pryor, M.S. ’09, a kindergarten teacher at Erie, leads her class’s chant:

Donde quiera que vamos Todos nos preguntan ¿Quien somos? Y decimos Somos Loyola, los niños de Loyola. ¡Hola!

Erie is a bilingual charter school predominantly serving Latino students in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. The kindergarteners call themselves “children of Loyola,” because every classroom at Erie is named after a different university — a nod to the school’s goal of putting all students on the path to higher education.

“The commitment to graduating college-bound, bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural students is held by everyone, the teachers, the administration, the board,” says Pryor. “Everyone is on the same page.”

Erie, which partners with Erikson’s New Schools Project, is a model of bilingual education. However, there is no school system-wide commitment to high-quality biliteracy. Erikson seeks to change this by developing policies, practices, and teacher preparation programs to help meet these students’ unique needs.

DLL education in Illinois

In Illinois, nearly 8 percent of students are dual language learners (DLL), learning a home language and English simultaneously. The default program for educating them is a transitional bilingual program, which is designed to make non-English-speaking students proficient in English by third grade, when they first take the ISAT, or Illinois Standard Achievement Test. In this approach, the student’s native language is not supported beyond the transitional period.

 

The biggest thing teachers and administrators need to understand is the better a child learns his first language, the better he’ll learn his second language.”

Children are often rushed into learning English in the classroom, according to Meléndez, and parents are sometimes encouraged by teachers to speak English at home — even when they themselves have a limited command of the language.

“This causes many problems. The children start picking up their parents’ limited use of English, which isn’t accepted at school, but much worse is that their limited vocabulary keeps conversations to superficial exchanges. Their ability to have rich discussions and express abstract ideas is greatly diminished — a huge loss at that age.”

Perhaps most damaging, children whose native language is not supported may lose their ability to speak it. For immigrants, this may disconnect them from their family and their culture. In a short time, children could find that they are unable to communicate with their grandparents or interact when they visit their native country. This also wastes students’ bilingualism, which is something many English-speaking students strive to gain in their education.

Dawn Hursh, BESL ’11

“I’m always on my soapbox about dual language learners,” she admits, laughing. She recounts debating a teacher who had asked her students to count to 20. When one girl recited her numbers in Spanish, the teacher marked the response as incorrect.

“Later, I asked her, ‘What’s the point of the question? Were you testing her ability to count or speak English?’”

Hursh helped the teacher see that she was ignoring the knowledge the child did have. Still, Hursh understands that teacher’s perspective.

“Before coming to Erikson, I would have thought the same thing: I have to get these children speaking English. Now, I’m confident that they’ll pick it up. In the meantime, I want to support them in what they are able to do.”

Meléndez agrees with this balanced perspective. “Of course, dual language learners need to learn English if they are to succeed in school and life, but the acquisition of their second language does not have to mean the loss of their first.”