By Jennifer McEntee
Kimberly Morrison teaches K-12 teachers how bilingualism can translate into greater achievement in the classroom and beyond.
She struck upon the idea for a UC San Diego Extension program in dual-language immersion while working as an elementary school teacher. She and a Spanish-speaking partner teacher were co-instructing second graders in a dual-language program in Alpine, east of San Diego.
"I loved it," she recalls. "It's double the work, double the expectation."
At the time, there wasn't much in the way of continuing education to allow parents, teachers, or administrators to learn about the latest in dual-language models, theoretical principles and instructional practices, according to Morrison.
So, she combed through textbooks on the topic, ultimately developing a curriculum to educate professionals through specialized coursework and time-tested practices to best implement dual-language programming in K-12 schools.
"I wanted this to be research-based," said Morrison, who has a Master's Degree in Literacy and Reading Instruction and a Multiple Subject and Reading Specialist credential.
UC San Diego Extension's Dual Language Immersion program takes participants through bilingualism basics, curriculum development, educational leadership, and assessment and accountability.
First offered in summer 2020, the program consists of four successive online courses taken within the span of six months. Students earn an award of completion and 19.5 units and salary-scale applicable credit from UC San Diego.
Morrison is the sole instructor for the courses, which are offered asynchronously to accommodate the work schedules of the 20 or so professionals who comprise each cohort.
Promoting equity and access
Morgan Appel, Assistant Dean of Education and Community Outreach for UC San Diego Extension, says the dual-language immersion program furthers the department's efforts to advance "the causes of equity, access and inclusion in diverse educational settings."
"Dual-language immersion programming offered by the Division of Extended Studies avails opportunities for educators to work with students and families in contextually grounded ways," Appel says. That work cultivates "multilingual competencies, enhancing socio-emotional well-being and cultural appreciation, as well as strengthening essential metacognitive skills, not the least of which is effective communication and resiliency."
Appel says that demand for dual-language programs is on the rise, especially in border regions like San Diego and Baja California, where cultures, the economy and varied languages are intertwined.
It's a good time for educators to scale up their skills in multilingual education as school districts pursue the California Department of Education's Global California 2030 initiative. Among the statewide initiative's goals: by 2030, half of all K-12 students should participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages. By 2040, three out of four California students should be proficient in two or more languages.
According to state figures, California has 6.2 million K-12 students, of which one-fourth are English learners. They speak English at school but may use any of about 60 different languages at home.
Dual-language programs in K-12 schools can vary in levels of immersion. Some school districts prefer a 50-50 split between two languages spoken in class, while others split the instruction 90-10, with the new language introduced more heavily, Morrison says.
"You have to decide what works best for the students," she says.
Building literacy and flexibility
Translanguaging – as in, mixing a home language with a new language to read, write and discuss academic topics – is gaining interest as a way for students to build literacy and intellectual flexibility. Morrison explains that if a teacher says, "The grass is verde," the student gains a better understanding through context.
Morrison isn't bilingual but does speak some Spanish. Educators needn't be fluent in every language their students might speak to positively impact their education. The continuing education classes offered through the Dual Language Immersion program are designed to help educators better understand the needs of diverse populations.
"This is a dual-language program, but it's for all teachers regardless," she says. "You never know what or where you're going to teach. You don't want to shy away from it because you're not bilingual."
Because the classes are offered online, recent Dual Language Immersion cohorts have included educators working out of state; one even lives in Europe. The participants speak an array of languages and teach in languages such as Spanish and Mandarin.
"It's so great to hear different points of view," Morrison says, explaining that she encourages participating educators to share their personal experiences. "We can learn a lot about language and culture."