My sister and I did a thing. We wrote a bilingual children’s book! As a former second grade, Spanish-side dual language teacher, I tried to find bilingual books that were authentic in language and culture. There are so many fantastic children’s bilingual books out there, yet I had trouble finding one that talked about Puerto Rican culture. My students seemed to enjoy ABC book stories, so I began to think. I decided to humor these ideas and thought to myself, what is something that would honor Puerto Rican culture and heritage? A book about FOOD!! YES! So I had the idea, I selected the foods to highlight, and visualized many of the stories and illustrations that would go with some of them. I was missing the essential piece! I needed a creative and talented writer! Let’s just say, creative writing is not my forté.
During this time, my sister Lizmer decided to temporarily move near our family due to the grave conditions in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. As soon as I looked at her face-to-face, I knew we would do this together! Lizmer is an amazingly creative writer and we complement each other very well. I had the educator knowledge, she had the communications knowledge. Finally, we needed an illustrator! Our search lead us to Manuel Santiago, who just happened to be my high school best friend!
This process began in the Fall of 2017. So, how long does it take to write a children’s book when you’re a mother, a wife, have a full-time job, and pursuing an Ed.D? Way too long! But someway, somehow, we did it!! Lizmer and I put so much love into this book. We shared many laughs while reminiscing about our childhood and our abuelas. Manuel did an amazing job recreating our childhood experiences into illustrations. His attention to detail to display the Puerto Rican spirit was astounding!
Our hope is that this book provides all children an opportunity to learn how food, and the events around it, are a huge part of our Puerto Rican culture. We hope that this book provides adults the opportunity to talk to their children about their childhood, their recipes, and their traditions, regardless of where they’re from. We hope that this book allows each person’s legacy to be passed down to the next generation, keeping their culture alive.
Let’s teach our children to be proud of where they come from and their language! We never have to give up one for another. Being multicultural and multilingual is a beautiful gift. All cultures and all languages can live inside of us in harmony.
Lucy Ann Montalvo Blanton
Happy Fall! ¡Feliz otoño! Greetings to all of our fellow lovers of bilingual education. The weather in Central Virginia has recently decided it’s Fall and it is a beautiful thing. We no longer have to worry about melting outside at recess (it was 90 degrees a week ago) and the landscape is beginning to show off with the change of color. It has been a long time since we have added a written section to Super Bilingües. As teachers, we know you understand our struggles of keeping up with anything other than our classrooms. However, we continue to be dedicated in helping students discover their own bilingual powers.
Thanks to my Literacy and Biliteracy professor at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, I (Lucy) am writing an entry blog of my choosing. Amanda (my co-teacher and partner in Super Bilingües) and I have been really focused on using Oracy to elevate students' academic success. It all started when I began my studies at UTRGV, I was accepted as a doctoral student in their Ed.D program for Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Bilingual Studies. During my first class I had the honor of having Kathy Escamilla, one of the authors of Biliteracy from the Start, as a guest speaker in my class. I had the opportunity to ask her many questions. My experience was that there is always a group of emergent bilinguals who continued to progress grade after grade yet remained below benchmark in both English and Spanish reading. I constantly wondered, what am I missing? What do I need to change? The main question I asked Dr. Escamillas was, “Why do most of our bilingual students remain below reading benchmark throughout their years in elementary school? We [teachers] have been making connections between languages, we focus on understanding, etc.” Dr. Escamilla responded, “Have your teachers been devoting equal times to all four components of biliteracy; reading, writing, metalanguage and oracy?” In my head as she mentioned each component I thought, “reading= CHECK, writing= CHECK, metalanguage= CHECK, oracy= ???UMMMM.” Reflecting on her response I realized that I was missing something key in my instruction. I realized I do need to change something. I need to make sure that I devote equal time to oracy as I do reading, writing, and metalanguage. As I began learning about this concept I thought easy peasy, piece of cake...
Oracy? What is it? Why is it so important? What does oracy entail? How do I use it in the classroom? How can we allot this component as much time as I do the other three components? I know I used turn and talk at times, but personally, I could not recall daily instances and routines where students talked (academically I mean, cause Lord knows social dialogue is not a problem). In this post, I hope to catch you up with what we have learned, what we have presented and provide you some examples of how to use oracy in the classroom. I look forward to learning how you implement this biliteracy component as well. Your feedback and input is greatly appreciated.
Before I define oracy and dive in, there is an important realization we have come to during our research. Oracy is one method that provides ALL students with equal access to education. Oracy is a social justice piece and plays an important role is helping our emergent bilinguals achieve high academic achievement which is one of the main goals in additive bilingual programs. Looking into Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Freire (2009) analyzes dialogue as a human phenomenon (p.147), and discusses its necessity for existence. As educators, we must empower students to replace their silence with an active voice through critical thinking. “Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking. Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education” (p.150). As teachers, we need to provide our students vast opportunities for dialogue that promotes critical thinking as well as develop academic concepts.
So, what is oracy? Escamilla et al (2014) explain that, “The term oracy was coined in 1970 by Andrew Wilkinson, a British researcher and educator, in an attempt to draw attention to the neglect of the development of oral skills in education” (McLure, Phillips, & Wilkinson, 1988 as cited in Escamilla et al, 2014, p.19). Oracy is one of the four domains in the Holistic Biliteracy Framework developed by Escamilla et al. This frameworks pairs the literacies of Spanish and English each concentrating on four specific domains: reading, writing, metalanguage and oracy. In literacy, these four domains should be alloted equal times of instruction. I don’t believe that if you have 2 hours of literacy you have to teach reading, writing, metalanguage and oracy for 30 minute blocks each. I do believe however that oracy needs to be embedded in all content areas of instruction and should have significant amounts of time dedicated to oral language to develop academic language. “Oracy is an aspect of oral language, but it includes a more specific subset skills and strategies within oral language that more closely relates to literacy objectives in academic settings” (p. 21). Every time I reread chapter 2 on oracy from Biliteracy from the Start, I want to highlight more relevant information. Pretty soon, there will be no unhighlighted words. I recommend you read it.
That is a lot of fancy wording and definitions. In my own words, oracy is oral language that supports literacy development in academic settings. I believe oracy provides a foundation for students to be successful in reading, writing and prepares them to be successful in future careers and goals. I believe that if students can explain something and say it, they can read, write or solve the task at hand. If they can explain what they are learning, they can retain what they are learning.
Because I want to keep this blog mostly about the practical part of oracy, I have collected several websites and articles that discuss oracy one way or another, if you are interested in learning more. Click here to view a google doc with these links. One video that we came across in an Edutopia article, Talking in Class, provided this 6 minute video that provides a wealth of information. I have embedded the video here for your convenience. We should all strive to implement the oracy structure the way School 21 in London-based public school has.
If you watched the video you would probably agree that it looks amazing! After watching that video for the first time, I went home and changed my lesson plan (Before I go on I should remind you that I teach second grade on the Spanish side of a two-way dual language program). Instead of just showing my students my slideshow about Cesar Chavez and asking questions in a whole group setting, I would implement some sentence stems and have tables discuss the story Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez we had read the day before. Excited to begin my lesson, I provide each student with a different color chips at each table. When I said their color, they would use one of the sentence stems (if needed) displayed to express their opinion on the story. Some students did well, others responded with “no sé” and most did not feel the need to elaborate. Most kids spoke into thin air instead of looking at their classmate right next to them (SMH). As soon as they did their part (30 seconds later), many students resorted to somehow play with the one chip they had in their hand (I made sure there was nothing else at the table). **#FACEPALM** Not as easy as I thought. There is a lot to digest and think about when implementing oracy routines in your classroom. Take it slow and implement structures little by little. Slowly add on more routines or else you will have many FACEPALMS trying to do this all at once, the same way I did. I’m sure you will have these moments regardless, yet consistency is key. Don’t ever let yourself feel defeated. Instead, reflect on one thing to focus on and work on that. Keep trying and don’t give up, because this is what is missing and this will make a difference in student’s learning.
How to begin?
Ask yourself, What norms should partners and groups follow to effectively engage in oral discussions? The first thing I recommend is to establish some norms for oracy activities. This is similar to setting expectations as Responsive Classroom recommends, if you are familiar with the concept. Begin with having a discussion with your students asking what you do when you are talking to a friend. After these discussions, establish the norms students will follow when they engage in dialogue with a friend or a group. You may create an anchor chart such as these (disclaimer: I did not create these, please click on image to go to the author’s blog):
Or display one on your slideshow each time you are about to engage is an oracy activity. Here are two pictures of what our class has come up with.
Next, consider your grouping structures. Ask yourself:
Later, establish one or two grouping strategies and slowly build other configurations once the first ones are working well. Here is an image taken off the School 21 video (click here to see this image in the Edutopia article). These are some examples of how students would physically position themselves when engaging in oral discussions. I have only been brave enough to try the pairs, trios and groups of 4. I want to establish solid configurations before moving on to a new configuration.
Does your brain hurt yet? I know mine did when I found myself thinking about all the details involved. If you want to have successful oral language lessons, you should really consider establishing these routines. I practiced all of these routines with social talk using topics such as: What do you like to do in the summer? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite superhero? These topics are ones that students don’t have to think twice to discuss and the norms and routines can be established. Usually, you would do this in the beginning of the school year.
Last but not least, think about your academic content. When thinking about implementing oracy one should consider its components which are dialogue, language structures and vocabulary. Oracy does not only belong in Language Arts, but is an important component in all subjects. Each time you switch subjects, the dialogue, language structures and vocabulary switches as well. In terms of your objectives, you would be thinking and displaying your content objective and language objective.
Personally, I begin with looking at the vocabulary I am teaching in my content area. Then I think about what I want my students to know and understand about this topic. The dialogue should revolve around being able to discuss the what, whys and hows of this topic using the vocabulary and desired language structures. We should ensure that we provide students the opportunity to demonstrate higher level thinking, that means that the dialogue should be open-ended and connected.
Before I show you an example, remember, I am a second grade teacher. My examples are very simple as they are meant for second graders at the beginning of the school year. As the year progresses, so do our dialogues. Each grade will look different and remember, oracy activities should occur from birth to adulthood. As school grade teachers, it should happen in every single grade, with every single child, regardless of their race, gender, ability, socioeconomic status or religion. No child should be excluded from oracy development.
This is an example of an oracy activity during math. First, I begin reviewing the key vocabulary words that we will be talking about.
Hundreds chart / number line
Then, I begin with a simple sentence stem to get them started. Because I want all of my students to be successful in discussing these math concepts, we discuss them as a whole group and talk about their use. All children should have heard the purpose of these tools and should be able to successfully participate in this discussion with a partner or a group. The sentence stems should be different levels depending on what you want to accomplish. If this is the first time discussing this topic you may want to provide more of a scaffold with only one word missing. After several discussions students may produce most of the sentence and you may only have keywords that help them discuss the topics on their own. Sentence stems should not be used as a crutch.
Discussion / A hundreds charts helps me __. / A number line helps me _____.
You can also think of ways to engage your students in critical thinking.
Discussion - The hundreds charts and the number line are alike/different because ____.
I am sure your wheels are turning. This is only the beginning in providing this important structure and routine in your classroom. What other things did you think of? What will work best for your classroom? Don’t forget to think about using oracy as an informal and formal way to assess students in what they understand. Some students who are not yet proficient in reading and writing should be assessed orally to gauge understanding. Remember, the more students speak about what they are learning, the more they will retain what they have learned!
We LOVE lessons with bridging components, and feel that some of our best teaching occurs during those lessons. Kids are engaged. They are comparing languages and coming up with rules and understandings. They are moving right up Bloom’s taxonomy to applying and analyzing. They are making connections, and synthesizing information. It’s a teacher’s dream. But then the bridging lesson is over. Then we begin digging in, heads down, back into our own language-specific lessons. As teachers of budding bilinguals, we are always looking for opportunities for kids to connect English and Spanish in authentic ways outside of those bridging lessons. I’m sure you are too.
This lesson idea, which was meant to be just such an authentic dual language lesson, came in a roundabout, sort of frustrating way, but I’m glad it did. If you are an English-side teacher, you may be able to relate. Let me first give a little background into being a dual-language immersion school in Virginia.
Dual language programs in Virginia, while growing, are few and far between. When considering starting up a program, new folks will often go on school visits to get a basic understanding of what dual language looks like in practice. I’ve done this; hopefully we all have. It’s an eye-opening experience. Usually, we visited the Spanish speaking classrooms. We got to see at what level of Spanish the students were working, the materials the teacher was using, the visuals around the room to support language, etc. I know I was amazed. What we did not see on our visits were the English classrooms. Why do think this is? If you have any comments in regard to this, please add them below with the hashtag #bilingualenglishlearners or #bilingualELLs. We will be discussing this topic on our next blog.
Now fast forward. Our school was preparing for one such visit. According to past practice, my classroom would not be observed during the visitation (normally I saw this as a blessing). My Spanish teaching partner knew that she would be observed. She absolutely should be, she and the kids are amazing. But this time, I was on the schedule too. Yikes! I had to grapple with some questions. Does my classroom look different from other English classrooms? Could visiting teachers learn from the materials that I used, the visuals I displayed, the level of English the students were speaking? The answers that I discovered were yes. But, I figured I had a little work to do to make that explicit.
I felt that the things around my room were certainly fitting for a dual language classroom. I had multiple word walls (some bilingual), materials that represent the cultures of the students in my classes, and various posters/anchor charts to support English writing and oracy skills. For my lesson that day, I wasn’t scheduled to do a bridging activity. I thought that would have been ideal for the guests. Instead, I decided to do a reading lesson that used both Spanish and English. We were studying poetry, so it was the perfect platform.
We have a wonderful and accessible set of bilingual poetry books at our school, written by Francisco X. Alarcon and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (see links below). I chose to use poems out of the book, From the Bellybutton of the Moon. Poems were chosen at three different levels from the book and assigned to pairs of students. Another English-side teacher and I made an organizer to go along with the poems (get it here in English and Spanish).
The first step was to complete the top part of the organizer. Students were to use their knowledge of one language to help them with unknown words in the other. We began calling the two languages “partner languages.” Students worked through reading the poems in both languages. As they came across unknown words, they used the partner language to help them. The organizer had places for them to write down these pairs of words. In the poem Water Wheel/Rueda agua, we used the Spanish word vapor to figure out the English word mist. In the Poem Blue/Azul we used the word cry in English to figure out the word grito in Spanish.
The bottom part of the organizer was next. This was a comprehension, reflection, and performance section. The students chose a poem, practiced it, wrote about how they used the partner language, and then performed it in both English and Spanish. It worked out beautifully. The students were engaged, read the poems multiple times each to work on fluency, and used their knowledge of both English and Spanish as a tool.
The lesson was a success. Of course there were things that I will need to work on to improve it overall, mostly related to second graders working well with others (smile and sigh), but it achieved the goal of getting students to use Spanish in an authentic way on the English side.
I wish I could say that the visiting school got to see this in action, but they didn’t end up coming to my classroom that day. I know! Such is life. I was happy though that the prospect of the visit brought on a lesson that for me is what teaching in a dual language classroom is all about. It also helped me think about how dual language English classes might be different from regular English classes. And maybe this post will encourage folks out there to continue to look at the magic that takes place on the Spanish side, but also to consider a closer look at the role of the English class in preparing for and carrying out a dual language program.
We’ve tried many different schedules in our two-way 50/50 Dual Language program. We’ve also heard of other varieties! Let’s learn from each other! Tell us what your schedule is like!
An example that we normally start with comes from our study of habitats. Students learn in Spanish that a shelter is called a refugio. When we bridge the the Spanish vocabulary and bring it over to English, we discuss that in English, we commonly use the word shelter for the word refugio. This is an opportunity to point out that refugio has the English cognate of refuge. We discuss that a refuge is just another word for shelter. It is a word that the kids might read in a book or might hear being spoken by older people. It’s not a word that second graders are using when out on the playground (yet). We talk about how awesome it is that because they are budding bilinguals, they have the benefit of being able to figure out what a refuge is by using their Spanish to help them.
Because of the common Latin roots between English and Spanish, there are many of these kinds of words out there. I’m not sure if there is already a name for them. Maybe we could start calling them spartan to sparkle words (ugh, I know, I am such a second grade teacher)! To recap, these are words that are commonly spoken words (tier 1) in Spanish, but are higher level, mostly words used in writing (tier 2) in English. These words are picked up easily by adults who are exposed to both Spanish and English. It is much more difficult for students to find them.
Recently, one of my students had the word plume on a word study list for the long u pattern. Many of the students in that group were asking what the word meant; it wasn’t familiar to them. When I told the student that a plume was a feather, she said, “Oh like pluma in Spanish!” I just about hit the roof. Running back to the word wall, I got everyone’s attention, and asked to her to explain what she had discovered. It was such a great moment! Here is a picture of our current wall (please pardon my messy handwriting). The list always grows as the year continues. Do you have others that you can think of? Feel free to weigh in on what these kinds of words are really called (if they already have a name) or if you have a different suggestion to offer other than “spartan to sparkle” words, give it a shot. For our next post, fingers crossed, we would like to talk about some bridging activities.
So now you are teaching cognates. You and the students are finding them and pointing them out. Then you get that question, “But these words don’t sound the same. Why are they cognates?”
There are many cognates that have slightly different sounds. This is because sounds are specific to the language that is being used. For example, in English you have the word hero, and in Spanish the word héroe. They mean the same thing and have similar spellings, yet the beginning h sounds are different and Spanish adds the “e” at the end. Between Spanish and English, many letters of the alphabet have the same sounds. Yet, there are several that have different sounds. As teachers, this seems apparent, but we must be intentional about pointing this out to students. When students understand the similarities and differences between the sounds in the two languages, they will have greater success in reading. How many Spanish teachers have heard students read a Spanish word with English sounds and vice versa? I’m sure we all have.
Moments like these inspired our most recent resource. You can find this resource here.
Some suggestions on how to use this resource are:
As promised, here is a more fundamental lesson on cognates. Lucy created this activity and it is one that we use every year. The main idea of this lesson is to teach students what a cognate is and to have them practice finding examples and non examples of cognates. Included in the lesson are some slides to guide your discussion, sentence frames to build oracy, and a set of 12 cards with animal sounds in both languages. Here are some sneak previews.
While it is geared toward younger students, we used it for an in service with our teachers and they ate it up! They had so much fun with it. Who doesn’t love learning how animals “speak” in different languages? It’s just delightful and drives home the point of what cognates are and aren’t. We like to read the book, The Cow that went Moo in English and La vaca que decia oink in Spanish before the lesson as an introduction and background builder, but you could certainly skip that part if you don’t have access to the book. We hope that you and your students enjoy it as much as we do!
Find this resource on TPT here.
More About Cognates:
During this activity you may decide to use an anchor chart to display the word pairs side by side. When displaying cognates on an anchor chart it is recommended that you use different colors for each language. We like to use red for English and blue for Spanish. This allows you to differentiate the languages. Whatever color scheme you use should remain consistent throughout the year. When comparing cognates on an anchor chart, you should be intentional about pointing out the features that make the words cognates. We remind students that words don’t have to match exact spellings. For example, cuac & quack are cognates. The cu and the qu make the same sound. You would never see a word in Spanish with a qua syllable (only que or qui). We show students that the two spellings are not an exact match, but are similar and have the same meaning (sound a duck makes). We also make clear that there are false cognates which are words that are spelled similarly, but do not have the same meaning.
Allow us to introduce ourselves! We are a dual language team - four years running, teaching in a two-way Spanish-English dual immersion program. Our teaching style is inspired by the great bilingual thinkers and teachers before us. Teaching for Biliteracy, and Biliteracy from the Start inform our teaching and create a research-based foundation for our classroom practices. Tying in modern, fun, and engaging activities are our specialties. A focus of our work is to highlight the connection between the two languages that our students are learning. By making this connection explicit, a deeper understanding is created that helps learning both the home and target languages. We hope to spread the bilingual joy and to share our work with other teachers forging the same path as ours.
Amanda Brookman & Lucy Montalvo
It is fitting that we begin our blog posts with a strategy that we used at the start of our dual language teaching. In our paradigm, we share two separate classrooms of students. Though we each teach our own content, we wanted to institute common threads. Our intent was to tie the two classrooms together in meaningful ways that would help bridge the two languages. For us at the beginning, the easiest and most digestible way to do this was the teaching of cognates. We've added to our repertoire since then, but we haven't forgotten the power of cognates. You'll see more posts regarding how to find and use cognates in the future, but here is a simple sheet for students already familiar with cognates. If you haven't yet taught your students about cognates, be sure to check out our second post for a great lesson on introducing cognates to students.
Click HERE to download this FREE resource!
Objective: I can locate cognates in books that I read. I can understand unknown words by making connections from _______ to _______ (insert language of instruction).
About Cognates: Cognates are words in different languages that share an etymological root resulting in similar spelling, meaning, and pronunciation (Escamilla, Hopewell, Butvilofsky, et al, 2014). Cognates are best taught in a meaningful contexts while using explicit instruction (p.71).
The purpose of this resource is for children to search for cognates. This activity is intentional in allowing children to point out cognates while they read. After repeating this activity with a variety of books and activities, children become accustomed to recognizing cognates and therefore making connections to the other language being learned. Understanding the power of cognates aids students in reading comprehension and in writing (Escamilla, et al, 2014).
Activities: All lessons can conclude with students sharing the words they have found during a whole group discussion. Teachers can review cognates, false cognates and words that are not cognates.
Escamilla, K., Hopewell, S., & Butvilofsky, S. (2014). Biliteracy from the start: Literacy squared in action. Philadelphia, PA: Caslon, Inc.