Bilingual model opens students' minds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 2010, 12:00am

In the era of globalisation, a bilingual co-teaching model has been adopted to help students better understand world affairs. It also promotes the development of fluency and proficiency in the language of instruction, and in a second target language.

Several international schools in Hong Kong have adopted this model from early childhood education to secondary levels.

According to Professor Joseph Lo Bianco, the chair of language and literacy education at the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education in Australia, the model helps open learners' minds to different ways of thinking and exposes them to the cultural assumptions built into all knowledge and human behaviour.

'The method also helps nurture children's practical skills in bilingual and, hopefully, multilingual skills that they can apply in their professional and personal lives beyond schooling,' he says.

The globalised thinking of students is sharpened in a bilingual co-teaching and learning environment, says Dr Sherry Steeley, a resident faculty member of the Centre for International Education, College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. 'Since language and culture are so closely related, students learning in a bilingual setting will have a much broader understanding than those in a monolingual school,' adds Steeley, who specialises in multicultural and multilingual education.

Bilingual education refers to the method of using two languages to teach subject matters in schooling or at a tertiary level. 'The most recent and promising developments are the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) method which originated in Europe over the last decade,' Lo Bianco says.

CLIL is the umbrella term describing both learning another content or subject, such as physics or geography, through the medium of a foreign language, and learning a foreign language by studying a content-based subject. The basis of CLIL is that content subjects are taught and learned in a language which is not the mother tongue of the students.

Knowledge of the language becomes the means of learning the content. Meanwhile, the language is integrated into the broad curriculum. Learning is improved through increased motivation and the study of language seen in context.

When students are interested in a topic, they are motivated to acquire the language required to communicate. CLIL is based on language acquisition rather than enforced learning. Language is learnt in real-life situations. This is a natural language development which builds on other forms of learning.

'All the bilingual co-teaching methods must be implemented with well-structured strategies,' Lo Bianco says. 'Great attention needs to be paid to the quality of teachers and the curriculum. If bilingual co-teaching is sustained at a school for an appropriate period of at least five years, it is an excellent tool for enhanced language acquisition with no cost to the mastery of academic content.'

Bilingual co-teaching also helps with learning at international schools. Research has proven that students who are able to receive instruction in their first language, while learning a second language, are far more successful than those who receive instruction only in the target second language. 'Bilingual co-teaching achieves this goal by providing academic instruction in the target language and ongoing development in the first language,' Steeley says.

In Lo Bianco's opinion, the main considerations and components in a course, which is delivered through the bilingual co-teaching method, include the quality and language proficiency of the teachers, the extensive collaboration between the participating teachers, and support from the school and parents.

The schools need to monitor the classroom activities and conduct regular assessments of progress made by students. To ensure they use the bilingual co-teaching method effectively, individual teachers, such as the language and the subject area specialists, need to work closely to reinforce children's emerging language and content knowledge.

'Teachers should research the various models and be familiar with the underlying cognitive, linguistic and communicative theories and their applications,' Lo Bianco says.

Steeley believes that teachers engaged in bilingual co-teaching should ensure that the academic content remains high while the language structure and functions are explicitly addressed when needed. 'The key to co-teaching is the 'co' in the equation,' she says. 'Language and content teachers should work together to ensure that language learners in content classes have access to the materials through appropriate scaffolding, a variety of instructional approaches and appropriate pacing.'