story by Claire Miller
By 2044, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group and by 2060, nearly one in five of the nation’s total population is projected to be foreign-born, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
These demographic estimates suggest Americans will be fluent in a variety of languages and educators will, in turn, need to be prepared for two different teaching scenarios: Working with a classroom of students who speak a variety of languages, and teaching students to speak – and learn subject-specific content – in more than one language.
Faculty and students in Georgia State University’s College of Education & Human Development (CEHD) have conducted research, developed degree programs and endorsements, and received grant funding for projects specifically designed to prepare teachers for those multilingual classrooms.
Teaching and Learning in Multiple Languages
In dual immersion classrooms, students spend half of their school day learning in a target language and the other half of the day learning in English.
During the 2017-2018 school year, there were 38 schools with dual immersion programs in the state of Georgia teaching in Spanish, French, German and Chinese, according to Cathy Amanti, clinical assistant professor in early childhood education. Early estimates suggest that number will increase to 53 in the 2018-2019 school year. In these programs, students spend half the day in one classroom and then move to a second classroom – and a different teacher – when it’s time to switch to the other language.
“The benefits of kids learning in another language are numerous,” Amanti explained. “Not only are they learning an additional language, but they’re learning content through two languages.”
There aren’t any full degree programs in Georgia solely focused on preparing teachers to work in dual language immersion classrooms, but CEHD faculty are working to change that.
In 2017, Georgia State became the first university in the state to offer a dual immersion early childhood education endorsement for students.
Teachers already certified in a foreign language and students working toward a foreign language teaching degree are eligible for the endorsement, which consists of five courses focused on culturally- and linguistically-diverse students in multilingual settings and field experiences in an elementary dual language classroom. In addition, students enrolled in the College of Education & Human Development’s master of education in elementary education program may choose a dual language concentration as part of their program.
“This is a great first step in addressing the urgency to fill positions in dual immersion schools in Georgia,” said Associate Professor Laura May. “What we’re trying to do is offer teachers some new ways of thinking that can help them teach in those settings.”
May serves as principal investigator on a federally-funded project that will lay the foundation for a teacher preparation program dedicated to dual language immersion. The Equipping Schools, Communities, and Universities for Excellence in Language Acquisition (ESCUELA) project is designed to recruit, develop and support teachers for those settings.
In the future, May and Amanti hope to expand dual language immersion teacher training beyond elementary-level teachers to include all K-12 educators. In the meantime, students in the CEHD’s elementary education teacher preparation programs can take coursework leading to an ESOL endorsement along with their other courses.
English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
In the college’s Department of Middle and Secondary Education, those who want to learn how to best teach students who speak other languages can earn a master of arts in teaching degree in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or take classes to obtain an endorsement in ESOL.
Students enrolled in either the ESOL degree program or endorsement learn how languages are learned and developed, explore cultural issues that may arise in the classroom, and practice their teaching skills in refugee families’ homes in Clarkston, Ga. – a city east of Atlanta with a large refugee population – as part of their student teaching practicum.
“We take a strengths-based approach that builds on the cultural, linguistic and cognitive abilities children do have, rather than focusing on what they don’t have,” said Gertrude Tinker Sachs, Middle and Secondary Education department chair and coordinator of the ESOL endorsement. “We ask our teachers what they’re doing to consider children’s home languages and how they welcome other cultural traditions and ideologies in their teaching practices and classrooms.”
Anyone who has ever tried learning a new language knows there are stumbling blocks along the way – mispronouncing words, searching for the right words, worrying about being misunderstood – and Tinker Sachs suggests teachers remember how those mistakes can feel when they work with ESOL students every day.
“It’s important to talk about this because teachers are the lifelines for students who speak different languages,” she said.
This story originally ran in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Research & Innovation, the College of Education & Human Development’s biannual research publication.