Pathways to Biliteracy

WHY:

The process of measuring and documenting biliteracy needs to begin at any point when learners enter the educational system. Learners arrive with a variety of backgrounds in languages and literacies in their heritage languages as well as in English. Institutions are encouraged to set up multiple pathways to biliteracy that allow for different entry points as well as continuous development. Pathways may begin in pre-kindergarten, primary years, the secondary level, or whenever students enter the educational system, in order to produce achievement of the Seal of Biliteracy in high school. Students should then be able to continue developing high levels of biliteracy through pathways available in two- and four-year postsecondary options and in careers. The benefits of biliteracy have been demonstrated through research4 , but many of our institutions do not yet have the programs that mirror the value of biliteracy. Now the work is to build programs and learning opportunities to enable all students to attain, maintain, and continue to improve multilingual proficiency. Preparing students for careers and participation in the 21st-century global world requires multiple pathways and varied language learning opportunities that build toward the global competency and linguistic and intercultural skills students need. Such pathways can support learners’ cultural and linguistic identities, address a shortfall in needed skills in our communities and economy, and offer concrete recognition of the vibrancy and value of cultural diversity. In addition, pathways towards biliteracy help to address the opportunity gaps experienced by English learners.

WHAT:

For any school or district, building pathways to biliteracy begins with clarity about the school or district’s goals and includes the development of a plan for quality implementation. A well-articulated PreK-12 Multiliteracy Pathways/Languages plan or roadmap for a district describes the various language programs that comprise a coherent set of language development opportunities PreK-12 (including community-based opportunities), as well as the supports needed for students to achieve the goal of mastery in two or more languages. It moves a district from an ad hoc approach to a coherent system of language-learning opportunities.

For any school or district, building pathways to biliteracy begins with clarity about the school or district’s goals and includes the development of a plan for quality implementation. A well-articulated PreK-12 Multiliteracy Pathways/Languages plan or roadmap for a district describes the various language programs that comprise a coherent set of language development opportunities PreK-12 (including community-based opportunities), as well as the supports needed for students to achieve the goal of mastery in two or more languages. It moves a district from an ad hoc approach to a coherent system of language-learning opportunities.

HOW:

Creating pathways to the Seal of Biliteracy involves the intentional planning of diverse routes to identify learners’ language proficiency levels as they enter the educational institution, to develop and strengthen learners’ language proficiency and literacy skills, and to chart progress toward benchmarks that lead to the level required for the Seal of Biliteracy.

Proficient biliteracy is a high standard. Research has demonstrated that it can take five to seven years of language development and the use of both languages in academic settings to achieve this level of proficiency. Along the pathway to attainment of high-level biliterate competency, there are developmental stages. These may be different for learners at different school levels and with different home language and literacy backgrounds. Particularly for English language learners, social and academic language use develop in tandem and learners may enter school at different grade levels. For young children learning a language other than English, exposure to the sounds and phrases of a new language, awareness that multiple languages exist, and experiencing how people speak and use different languages for communication are foundational understandings that build motivation to later acquire multiple languages. Language learning and development options need to take these differences into consideration and build in an articulated sequence towards linguistic and cultural proficiency that may continue beyond high school in postsecondary study and in careers.

There are key issues a school or district should consider in developing their biliteracy plans. Indicators of quality pathways programs include:

  • Establishing various entry points into the continuing development of learners’ language skills or the study of additional languages, including English
  • Identifying additional routes to develop and acquire language proficiency, such as through community-based organizations, home and other outside support, or weekly after-school meeting times, to identify what learners can do to develop language skills to higher levels
  • Building upon learners’ home language skills to develop English simultaneously with the home language and continue with both languages to support and maintain biliteracy
  • Tracking learners’ first and second language skills to document progress along the continuum of proficiency and to identify the continuous development of language skills to the level required for the Seal of Biliteracy.
  • The Seal of Biliteracy generally requires demonstration of proficiency in three modes of communication: Interpretive (understanding what is heard, read, or signed), Interpersonal (exchanging ideas, information, and opinions in conversations or discussions), and Presentational (creating a message that is spoken, written, or signed).
  • Celebrating the learners’ use of language or achievement of specific milestones toward the Seal of Biliteracy’s level of proficiency in English and the other language(s). Local institutions may establish targets to help learners chart progress in both languages toward the proficiency level they need to demonstrate for the Seal of Biliteracy, perhaps using WIDA ACCESS levels or ACTFL Proficiency levels or skill-based language performance tasks.
  • Providing long-term language study integrated with academic instruction and articulated across grade levels in order to develop students’ capacity to engage in high-level academic work in two or more languages, starting as early as possible to take advantage of the optimal time for learning in two or more languages
  • Considering equitable access to language learning regardless of when learners begin the process of learning additional languages
  • Engaging stakeholders in the development of the language-learning plan, considering what investments are needed to support students to build to high levels of proficiency in English and the other language(s).
  • Encouraging school counselors to enroll English learners in high-level English classes to be able to acquire the proficiency required for the Seal

Regardless of the specific program model, several key characteristics should be reflected across the language learning options. These include:

  • Integration of culture and language
  • Active engagement in language production
  • Development of metalinguistic awareness (understanding how language works)
  • An affirming climate about language and cultural diversity
  • Development of a proficiency-aligned curriculum articulated across levels
  • Providing high-quality instructional resources
  • Exposure to authentic, high-level and expressive language models and texts
  • Using valid and appropriate assessments for placement and to monitor progress
  • Age- and grade-appropriate instruction
  • Instruction that is differentiated and scaffolded by proficiency leve
  • Integrated uses of technology
  • Providing a system of professional learning and support for teachers