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Transitional bilingual programs are known for teaching some subjects in the students’ native language in the beginning of their education and then switching the language of instruction to English after some years. There are two forms of transitional programs, early exit and late exit programs. My research focus is on Late Transitional Bilingual education. The main focus of late exit transition is teaching students proficiency in their native language, as well as instilling a positive attitude toward their native culture, while introducing the English language more and more each year until they are capable of joining the mainstream English only classes. This typically happens around sixth grade.
Transitional programs are exactly what they sound like. They first teach in the ELL’s first language, building literacy and achievement in other content areas while teaching English. Transition programs are most common in the early elementary grades, with instruction in the native language usually phased out after two or three years in the program. The difference between early and late transitional programs is the amount of time spent focusing on their native language. In early transitional programs, ELL (English-Language-Learners) students are taught in their first language during kindergarten and first-grade. The transition to English typically occurs in second and third grades. Late transition programs lengthen instruction in the ELLs’ native language through elementary school and begin transitioning to English in late elementary and early middle school.
In 1991, a researcher named J. David Ramirez, did an extensive four-year, longitudinal study of 2,000 Spanish-speaking students in five states. He studied English Immersion programs, Early Exit programs, Late Exit programs. In the immersion and early exit programs, Ramirez found that the basic end result of these programs was about the same. EEL students did not close the gap, but didn’t fall further behind. The late transitional programs, however, tell a different story. He found in this program that students who had more time learning in their native language transitioned to English at the same level as their monolingual peers. They tested at about the same level. He also discovered that parents of children in late exit programs were more involved with their student’s homework and more likely to help them with it than in either of the other two programs. According to Ramirez’s report, “this is attributed to the fact that the greater use of the child’s primary language makes it possible for parents to participate and support their child’s learning” (Cummings & Genzuk, 1991).
From this research, it is easy to see that the longer students were taught in their native language, the better their overall academic performance was even after they were no longer been taught in their native language. Students in this program were able to perform at the level of English proficient students or better, which is exactly what we are trying to help these kids achieve.
With these findings, and with so many successful late exit programs, it is hard to understand why there is still an argument about bilingual education. Over and over, it is not only said, but it is proven that students who are taught, and become proficient in their native language, do better, not only academically, but in general. They gain a sense of who they are, and are not only aloud to build a sense of pride in their culture, but are encouraged. They don’t have to “choose” between their native language and English. They get to be successful in both languages, which is a very marketable and a highly desired skill in the modern world.
The piece of this puzzle that really bothers me is that, because late transitional programs take a little more work, schools are slowly doing away with them because there are other useful programs that are easier to implement. But easier is not always better. It is like needing a green crayon to color grass, and deciding to use a forest green one, because it was the easiest to find. Yes, it will work, and it will look ok, but it’s not necessarily the right color.
There is so much controversy over bilingual education. Some feel bilingual programs don’t teach enough English. I understand both sides of the coin now. Before this class I was on that side. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel that every child deserves a quality education, but in my naivety and ignorance, I felt that because they are in the United States, that they should absolutely receive that education in English. It was not until I sat in this class and did the research for this paper that I realized that that idea doesn’t make any sense at all! Groups that oppose bilingual ed. state that in some states there are students who came here from their home country in middle school or high school and were the valedictorians of their graduating class because of the English only immersion programs they were in. But what they don’t say, or maybe more appropriately, don’t see, is that because these students were older when they came to this country, they already were proficient in their native language giving them the necessary academic base to be successful English language learners. I feel that this knowledge is the gap we, as TESL educators need to share.
Ramirez did his study in 1991, and others have done research too, with similar findings. There is proof, and there has been proof for a long time. Children need to be proficient in their native language to help them bridge the academic gap between themselves and English only students. We are doing these kids and our future such a disservice by not giving them the appropriate tools they need for success. We are failing them as a country. Education for ELL students needs to be put in the spotlight. It needs to become an important part of the reform initiatives. NCLB started the ball rolling when it comes to the accountability of schools for ELL’s, but it doesn’t put any focus on the need for good, quality programs. These kids are going to continue to slip through the cracks if we don’t act soon. They deserve to feel pride in their culture, they deserve to feel wanted in this country. They deserve a future. Education is what they need.
August, D. & assoc. Transitional programs for English language learners: Contextual factors
and effective programming. Report #58, May 2002. Retrieved from: http://www.csos.jhu.edu/crespar/techReports/Report58.pdf
Cummings, J., Genzuk, M. Analysis of final report longitudinal study of structured English
strategy, early exit and late-exit transitional bilingual education programs for language-minority children: Reprinted from the California Association for Bilingual Education Newsletter, Vol. 13, No. 5, March/April, 1991. Retrieved from: http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~genzuk/Ramirez_report.html
EDL Strategies. Second language programs for English learners. Retrieved from:
The Nation’s Leading English Language Advocates. Bilingual Education. Retrieved from:
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