Newswise — Across the state, the CSU is leading the way in creating dual-language immersion programs. The result: confident students who are both bilingual and biliterate.

Georgina started elementary school in Artesia, California, as a shy Spanish-speaking third-grader. But as she progressed through the school's dual-language immersion program, teacher Martha Alba-Gonzalez saw a change.

"As she maintained her native language and learned English as a second language, you could see her confidence increase," says Alba-Gonzalez, who completed her undergraduate and teaching credential at California State University, Long Beach.

Later, as a fifth-grader performing in the school's talent show, Georgina was the only student who danced and sang in Spanish. "It was refreshing to see she was confident enough to express herself creatively in her native language, yet she was successfully learning a second language," says Alba-Gonzalez.

By the time she graduated from high school, Georgina was both bilingual and  biliterate in English and Spanish. She went on to earn a bilingual teaching credential from CSU Long Beach and now teaches in an elementary school dual-language immersion program like the one where she began her own education.

Leading English Learners to Academic Success

Every one of California's 1.4 million P-12 English-language learner (EL or ELL) children must travel a road something like Georgina's in order to achieve academic success. How well they do depends a lot on the guidance of skilled teachers. Given that the California State University prepares more than half of the state's teachers, CSU schools of education play a critical role in equipping California's educators with the expertise they need to help their EL students.

"Teachers from the CSU's credentialing programs are better equipped today to meet the needs of English learners because there are more known strategies and better research on how to service ELs, and programs are looking to enhance their offerings," explains Fred Uy, Ph.D., director of Educator Preparation and Public School Programs at the CSU Office of the Chancellor.

All CSU teacher credential programs prepare candidates in what's called Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD). But in order for a teacher to instruct in a bilingual or dual-language immersion classroom, he or she must be proficient in both English and the non-English language they will be teaching.

What's more, they must obtain a bilingual authorization — called B-CLAD —  which can be earned by examination or by completing a bilingual program approved by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing

Currently 18 CSU campuses, representing a combined 13 different languages from Spanish to Armenian, offer bilingual teacher certification program, including San Diego State University, which has a dedicated department for its bilingual credential program, where it offers six different languages for primary instruction.

What Happens in a Bilingual Classroom

For the past 21 years, Alba-Gonzalez has taught children in English-Spanish dual immersion at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Long Beach, now a 100 percent dual-immersion K-5 school. 

Kids start the program in kindergarten with what's called 90/10 instruction; 90 percent of the class is taught in Spanish and 10 percent in English. As they move up through each grade, the percentage of English instruction is gradually increased until fifth-graders receive half their instruction in English and half in Spanish. 

The program is also deliberately designed for a mix of students — 50 percent are ELs and 50 percent are English-only speakers or speak Spanish as a second language.

Marguerite Ann Snow, Ph.D., chair of the Division of Applied and Advanced Studies in Education at California State University, Los Angeles and a TESOL master's program faculty member, believes that dual-language programs like these are ideal for young students: "The 5-year-old child will have a chance to develop her Spanish-first language skills over time while also acquiring English. 

"And lo and behold, when she finishes, she'll be bilingual."

One of the key tenets of bilingual education is teaching the language via the educational content itself, such as history or math, rather than emphasizing learning rote grammar and vocabulary drills, as is often the case in high-school language courses.

"We don't just teach the language; we teach through the language," stresses Alba-Gonzalez, explaining that she and her fellow teachers instruct as if their students were taking a math or history class in a Spanish-speaking country. "That's why it's called immersion."

Students then get to apply the language to real academic concepts, going well beyond just grammar and vocabulary. This applied use of language learning is known as content-based instruction, a branch of applied linguistics in which Dr. Snow specializes. 

It's not enough for students to be able to understand and speak English as a second language, says Snow, who is a three-time Fulbright scholar and an academic specialist for the U.S. State Department's Office of English Language Programs. "They must have a strong foundation in academic English in order to succeed in their other coursework." 

Becoming a Dual-Language Teacher

If you're interested in teaching in a dual-immersion program, one of the most important qualifications, says Veronica Madrigal, principal at Patrick Henry Elementary in Long Beach, is to have a strong grasp of academic language and not simply conversational proficiency. "We look for candidates who are able to teach a full lesson in academic Spanish," she says, adding that having the B-CLAD alone is also not enough.

"You need to have the academic vocabulary to teach history or mathematics in another language," agrees Alba-Gonzalez, adding that for her program, that means highly qualified biliterate teachers who can read, write and speak in Spanish.

One of Alba-Gonzalez's student teachers, Idalia Lopez, finished her bilingual teaching credential from CSULB in December 2017 after earning a master's in dual-language development. In fall 2018, Lopez will begin teaching kindergarten in a new dual-immersion program at Long Beach's Bixby Elementary School. 

"I am excited to be the students' first teacher that will teach them in Spanish," Lopez says, who proved her Spanish proficiency in an interview and passed the CSET: Spanish Subtest II. "Although it is a lot of work to earn a bilingual authorization, it is very much worth it."

Many schools are also looking for more diverse teacher candidates, a key focus of the CSU as well. Nearly one-third of CSU teacher credential candidates are Hispanic, according to a March 2018 report by the CSU Educator Preparation & Public School Programs.

One program aimed at adding diversity to the teacher credential pipeline is EduCorps, a CSU initiative that focuses on recruiting teachers of color, some of whom are bilingual. 

EduCorps relies on faculty to nominate undergraduates, explains Ken Futernick, Ph.D., who leads the initiative. "It's a promising strategy that's beginning to take hold and change the demographic, increase enrollment, and help solve the teacher shortage."

To learn more about the CSU's pathways to becoming a teacher or educator, explore our teacher pipeline programs.