The Stenhouse Blog

The Importance of Teaching Both Spanish and English in the Bilingual Classroom

Posted by admin on Oct 28, 2019 8:28:08 AM

Below is an excerpt written by Caroline Sweet from the Introduction of Patterns of Power, en español. Caroline joined forces with Jeff Anderson and Whitney La Rocca to create this Spanish adaptation of their popular resource book, Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Language. In this excerpt, Caroline writes about the importance of teaching in both Spanish and English in bilingual classrooms.




Prolific children’s author Jane Yolen gives us this sentence in the historical fiction book Encuentro from the voice of a Taíno man reflecting on Columbus’s arrival to his homeland.

Tomamos su idioma en nuestras bocas, olvidando el nuestro.

—Jane Yolen, Encuentro

What do you, the bilingual educator, notice?

¿Pronombres posesivos? ¿Sujetos tácitos? Maybe it’s the content of the sentence that strikes you. Maybe you’ve heard kids say they have forgotten how to speak Spanish as they go through much of their day speaking English. Maybe you’ve sat with a parent or grandparent who complains that their child struggles to communicate in Spanish at home. Many students step into learning environments where English takes over and, unfortunately, occupies the space in the mind of a child where Spanish once resided.

That is precisely the outcome we, as bilingual teachers, hope to avoid. We teach in Spanish to make sure that the language of the home and family is not forgotten. We teach in Spanish so that children can develop fully their linguistic repertoires, communicate with the vast majority of people in the Western Hemisphere, and so they can find connections in their linguistically diverse communities.

By teaching in Spanish in your elementary classroom, you push back on a history where educational institutions once stripped students of home languages in favor of English. And here we are now, using both languages and valuing the language of the home as well as English. By doing this, we are indeed activating patterns of language that give each student the power to exercise their linguistic resources. Finding the patterns of language that writers employ grants students the power to use these same patterns to find their own voice and write their own stories.

You have picked up this book because you feel a commitment to value Spanish in your classroom. Simply by teaching in Spanish you are doing something liberating. You have decided that we have more power when we develop not just our English tongue but our Spanish language as well. You are allowing your students to discover that power as a community of bilingual writers.

The beautiful thing about Jeff and Whitney’s lesson cycle is that the start of every lesson asks the children to speak first. Our job in this moment is to affirm and acknowledge that they are capable of noticing patterns in language. En español. We need to hear our students make sense of language. They need the time to do so. The power is theirs to discover.

To read the full Introduction to Patterns of Power, en español, click here.

Topics: Writing