(Extra)-Curricular Concerns: Bilingual Education and Out-of-School Time Programs in Curriculum Design

20Jul06

Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction

Knowledge advances each day. With the passing of time, among the many changes we can observe are new scientific discoveries, people migrating to different parts of the world, and information being easily disseminated using technology. Indeed, the world today would probably seem very surreal or fictional to people living generations ago. For starters, the cliché that the world has shrunk definitely has a lot of truth today. During one of my previous classes, I traversed the Pacific Ocean twice within four weeks and was still able to complete my assignments by making posts from internet “hot-spots” in Thailand and Singapore on my layovers between my flights and by writing papers on my laptop while flying. Just as I write this paragraph, I am sitting at a coffee shop in south India and I have just gotten off a voice over internet phone call to my mother in California which has cost me absolutely nothing. I am composing responses to my classmates who are scattered globally in locations such as the United States, Germany, and Japan as if we were just sitting in a classroom together.

At another level, however, the world has expanded a lot due to the very changes that makes it a smaller place. People today are more likely to make huge lifestyle changes based on the ideal place for them to reside at that moment. Children get exposed to a range of different cultures—whether formally or not—just from going to school every day. Along with the increase in knowledge, there is also greater scope in what the youth of today can aspire to. Thus, while the world is “shrinking,” opportunities are increasing… but only if we are smart enough to take advantage of the opportunities. That is where education and a curriculum designed to meet the needs of the dynamic world we live in today play very important roles.

Curriculum in its more inclusive definition veers away from the piece of paper that outlines what you are expected to study and instead focuses on the fundamental purpose that an educational program exists. In this somewhat abstract sense, curriculum is no longer restricted to a prescribed method of delivery. Instead, it has the liberty of looking at what the ultimate goal of the educational process would be. In today’s globalized competitive world, many would probably argue that knowledge is not all that is important; the ability to implement this knowledge is what is truly significant. Thus, one can argue that the purpose of curriculum has been transformed from one which was designed to impart knowledge to one which is designed to teach people how to use knowledge. In other words, students today—at least in the more developed world—are not receiving an education that teaches them what to think, but rather, an education that teaches them how to think.

That is, unfortunately, still a little bit of science-fiction in itself. While that may be where education should be to keep up with the expansive knowledge and the shrinking world, the education system still has a long way to go before reaching that goal. Another unfortunate reality is that the ability to get to that point is not an easy feat by any means. But, will it be that way within 10 years? Furthermore, will the needs of society be the same within 10 years, or will they have changed enough that the objective of the curriculum will also need modification?

To look at these questions, I would like to look at two facets of education that I am most closely involved with: English language instruction or bilingual education, and out-of-school time programming. The remainder of this paper will look at these two facets and how they may be impacted—and how they may impact—curriculum 10 years from now. The first part, on bilingual education, will look at one of the programmatic challenges a curriculum designer could face in the years to come. The second part, on out-of-school time programming, looks at one alternative to help curriculum designers achieve the goal of teaching students how to think. Due to the dynamic incredibly fast-changing world today, however, it is important to note that this is all entirely hypothetical!

Bilingual education

Having lived in California for the greater part of my life, the topic of English language instruction/bilingual education is one that has been very pronounced for me. Curriculum decisions regarding the use of a language other than English as a mode of instruction is a topic that creates much political and emotional controversy. Yet, the problem is not isolated to the state of California, nor is it one that will miraculously go away. In fact, considering how much easier individual mobility is today, chances are that the problem of many languages being represented in a single classroom is likely to increase in the years to come. Future curriculum designers need to look carefully at English language instruction in the classroom.

The United States has long been termed a “melting pot” where people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds have been able to find a home. In larger cities, you can find large cultural “pockets” where it may feel like you have crossed an imaginary border into a foreign country while still being able to identify elements that are characteristically “American.” This range of culture and personal histories can lead both to pride and conflict—pride in the ability to assimilate so many differences into something entirely new, and conflict from fear that cultures are becoming homogenized in this increasingly commercialistic society. Languages and dialects have long been associated with cultureMany languages, for example Spanish, can have quite subtle nuances from which people make cultural assumptions. There is also a certain amount of pride that goes along with one’s variant of a language—a sort of “competition” about which form of the language (for example, Argentine Spanish or Mexican Spanish) is the best. The variations can range from simple pronunciation differences to entirely different word or phrase choices., and although almost everyone can agree that English is the language of the United States, it is also quite easy to step out into many cities and hear a plethora of languages being spoken.

For curriculum designers, the question may appear to be a simple one of whether to use bilingual classrooms for English language learners. However, the form of the education—which comes in the broad categories of “bilingual education”, “immersion”, and “English language learners (ELL)”—is the most important consideration in this setting. Bilingual education in this case refers to a scenario where a student whose native language is something other than English receives education in both their native language and in English. The typically proposed scenario has the student starting out with a greater portion of their education being taught in their native language; that percentage is progressively lowered and more English is used as the language of instruction as the student’s English skills progresses. Immersion is a scenario in which students for whom English is not their native language are placed into standard classrooms where all the instruction takes place in English. The principle here is that “young minds absorb new languages like sponges when they are surrounded by foreign speakers” (Houston Chronicle, 2006). In other words, allowing students to be given maximum exposure to English will increase the rate at which their English proficiency develops. ELLELL is just one term of several that describe a very similar principle. ESL (English as a Second Language) and LEP (Limited English Proficiency) are two other commonly used terms. It is interesting to note the change from “second language” status to a status that can include native English speakers who need remedial work—language difficulties are not only experienced by immigrant populations (Los Angeles Times, 2004). is a scenario where students are taught English by trained language professionals.

The very first time I thought of the topic of abandoning bilingual education, I strongly opposed it thinking that the process would create too much of a “sink-or-swim” setting for students. However, upon reflection, I hope that future curriculum designers do not use bilingual education, as defined earlier, as a method to improve the educational opportunities of students for whom English is not their native language. These students should receive additional support because of their language shortcomings, but the traditional model of bilingual education does little to help many of these students. From my experience working with students whose native language was Spanish, bilingual education rarely amounts to bilingual students. Among former students, former classmates, and coworkers, I have met only a few individuals who are truly bilingual, and their abilities were not attributed to their experience in bilingual classrooms. While the majority of them were able to converse in Spanish, they often could not read and write in Spanish or were not comfortable with their abilities to do so.

Traditional bilingual education fails because students have spent too much time—perhaps a course of six years—on being exposed to gradually progressive EnglishAlthough I have not taught in a bilingual classroom, I have had a lot of experience as an ESL teacher. One of my former jobs was at an ESL school where many international students came to learn English. Although students came from a range of countries, a large percentage of the students were Brazilian. There were also two teachers who were fluent in Portuguese, one of whom lost his job due to repeated complaints from non-Portuguese ESL students that the teacher was using too much Portuguese to explain the more difficult nuances of grammar points and advanced vocabulary. It would be interesting to conduct a study to measure the teacher’s reliance on the native language to explain more challenging concepts and how that impacts a student’s ability to absorb new material. after which the emphasis on their native language is entirely lost. Unless the student has the initiative to pursue their studies in their native language, their skills in that language are quite minor by comparison to what we ultimately demand for academic or professional language skills. Additionally, the time involved with the transition to a classroom conducted entirely in English could be a hindrance to the student. Social acclamation with native English speakers, if it ever occurs, can be a slow process that would have been minimized had the student shared the classroom with the native English speakers all along.

But is the idea of bilingual education a bad one? Bilingual education itself is a very good idea especially in areas where a large portion of the population speaks a second languageOne component in favor of bilingual education not mentioned here is the role of bilingual education in preserving cultural heritage. For this reason, students who speak a language other than English are sometimes said to speak “heritage” languages. The principle is that, as mentioned earlier, language can be a significant cultural element and that forcing someone to give up their native, or heritage language is equivalent to forcing them to give up their culture. This is in stark contrast to the image that is often presented of the United States being a cultural “melting pot” (Moses, 2000).. What is important is that the education truly promotes a bilingual student—one who is proficient in both their native language and in English. Of course, curriculum designers would have to take into consideration the community demographics when making such a decision.

Another important consideration for a curriculum designer is that bilingual education’s biggest failure lies not necessarily in its design, but in a shortage of resources. The resources lacking are not purely financial, but also programmatic. As past experience with bilingual education has not produced truly bilingual individuals, who will be the teachers in these more focused bilingual classrooms? Will we, for example, have to resort to “importing” teachers from Mexico or Spain to truly teach Spanish in classrooms in California alongside our English speaking teachers? Or will we instead mandate that the already overburdened existing teachers become fluent in Spanish and be able to teach in both Spanish and English? What about states like New York, where the immigrant population is quite diverse? Do we represent each language fairly?

Considering the lack of resources and the unlikely event of an ideal scenario, a more realistic general curriculum related solution would be the implementation of structured immersion programs. This would combine immersion in an English classroom with intensive ELL instruction. Children are quick to adapt, and cognitive linguists and researchers have always pointed to increased exposure to language as being one of the best ways to acquire additional language skillsOne can look, for example, at how a parent promotes language development with their child. Their child may attempt to form a question and use a particular syntax that led to a desired result. The parent reinforces their behavior, but can also develop their child’s linguistic abilities by rephrasing their child’s request. The child then makes two connections: (1) the original syntax they used was correct and effective, and (2) there is another way (modeled by their parent) to say the same thing (Bandura, 1989).. However, English language learners do also need special assistance. It is unrealistic, for example, to expect a child to perform well if they cannot even understand the teacher’s instructions. If students are immersed in a classroom where English is the only mode of instruction, but then are also offered auxiliary classes to actively work on language acquisition, the students have a better chance at developing their English language abilities more quickly. In simpler terms, immersion need not be “sink-or-swim,” but there can also be a floatation device—an English language specialist—to assist the struggling learner.

Out-of-School Time Programs

In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). One key component of the 1965 ESEA was the provision of quality educational assistance to low-income families to help break the cycle of poverty (Schugurensky 2002). This act led to the creation of preschool programs such as Head Start to help reduce the already present achievement gap between the poor and more affluent families. NCLB, in turn, proposed several additional methods to reduce the achievement gap including increased accountability, revised standards of teacher qualifications, and higher educational standards.

NCLB also included the provision of almost $1 billion annually for out-of-school-time programs (forthwith referred to as OST programs) called 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st-CCLCs) (Budget of the United States government). Broadly defined, a community learning center is:

an entity that assists students in meeting State and local academic achievement standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics, by providing the students with opportunities for academic enrichment activities and a broad array of other activities during nonschool hours or periods when school is not in session (such as before and afterschool or during summer recess). (Frequently asked questions).

With the federal government promoting the creation of OST programs and with the number and variety of OST programs publicly and privately available, the educational significance of these programs should be of interest to curriculum designers.

The number of OST programs available has risen mostly due to socioeconomic demands. As the number of single-parent families increase, the divorce rate rises, or both parents spend more of their time at one or more jobs, the need for quality OST care increases (Zhang & Byrd, 2005). It is not necessarily the case that parents today do not care as much as older generations did about the welfare of their children; more likely it is simply that parents do not spend at much time at home as they did in the past. This problem is also income related; parents in lower-income families work longer hours with fewer benefits such as paid vacation or the flexibility to take days off to care for their children if the need arises (Miller, 2003).

Child safety is often the most cited reason for the need of OST programs; children who are unsupervised in the hours between the end of the school day and the time that their parents are home from work are more likely to be at risk than children engaged in productive activities. Findings by the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Education show that these afternoon hours are the hours during which most youth begin experimenting with drug use, sexual activity, gang activity, or crime (Carter, 2003; Vinluan, 2005). The harm can also come in the form of unsupervised access to media such as television programs, video-games, or internet sites which may be inappropriate for youth. Sometimes collective referred to as “screen time,” excessive unsupervised exposure to screen media has been shown to result in lower standardized reading test scores, contribute to health problems like obesity, and contribute to more aggressive behaviorAs an example, Albert Bandura (1989) conducted some experiments as early as 1963 in which children watched videos, some with human models and some with cartoon characters, with the characters exhibiting aggressive behavior. For some of the groups, the videos were extended to let children see the aggressor being punished as a consequence of bad behavior. Bandura observed increased levels of aggression in the children who observed the aggressive behavior sans punishment, but a decrease in the undesirable behavior by children who saw the consequences of the action. This reinforced the idea that we can learn how to act based on our observations alone and that the subjects we observe do not have to be live models but can be abstractions of reality. With the proliferation of mass-media technologies today, his findings are now even more significant. (Miller, 2003).

OST programs also encourage children to take different approaches towards learning. OST programs are more likely to cater towards kinesthetic or visual learners, helping make up for the largely auditory learning experiences students may be exposed to at school; this alternative approach, consequently, may encourage some children to develop an interest in learning (Beck, 1996). In fact, the diversity of what individual learners can gain from OST programs has been cited as being perhaps more significant than the actual educational gains from participating in such programs. According to one recent report (Massachusetts After-School Research Study [MARS], 2005):

it is not clear that expecting programs to have direct academic effects is a fruitful avenue for the afterschool field…. While afterschool programs can contribute to improving academic achievement, they are best suited to support development in what might be termed the “prerequisites” for academic success.” (p. 2).

These prerequisites can include improved self-esteem, the development of leadership skills, and better behavior management. More simply put, it can be a step in the direction of teaching students how to think instead of what to think.

OST programs need careful curricular consideration as well. As one can imagine, a poorly designed OST program can be almost equally damaging to children as leaving them unsupervised. Many similar problems—including poor diet, feeling neglected or insecure, not completing work, or not getting enough physical activity—can occur within a poorly structured OST program. Considering the potential number of hours participants may spend at an after school program each week, the program becomes, in a way, part of their “homes” so a program design that allows participants to feel comfortable is very important (Hall et al., 2003). Curriculum designers will need to ensure that the OST program environment is a safe one that supports positive youth development. As with the case of the school-time curriculum, some standards are necessary.

OST programs will need to provide a setting in which participants can develop significant positive relationships among peers and between participants and adults. Programs which provide positive role models will help children become more confident expressing themselves. Positive reinforcement may also be lacking from their regular school-day activities or even in the home, and providing this reinforcement at an OST program can have long-lasting positive social and educational effects on participants.

In conjunction with the creation of positive relationships, OST programs are usually in a unique situation where they are able to offer very individualized instruction. This may be in the form of homework assistance, or in the form of special projects which serve to develop a participant’s interest. From a curricular perspective, however, that these projects should serve a clearly defined objective. This is not to say that programming should be restrictive or the approach towards the delivery of the lesson should be uniform, but rather that the instructor should be able to identify the significance of the work they are doing (Hall et al., 2003).

OST programs should not resort to being elaborate daycare services. Participants should clearly understand that the expectations for success are high. Higher expectations often lead to increased motivation, especially if the participant can be assured that failure will not result in dissatisfaction or punishment (MARS, 2005). Thus, program staff should make their projects challenging and relevant. Offering participants challenges can show participants that the program staff has confidence in them and also allows the participant an opportunity to try to find a new or different way to do something. Success in a particularly challenging project also boosts participants’ confidence in their abilities. Making sure that projects are also relevant gives students a chance to “own” their work, and encourages students to have the initiative to achieve things on their own (Hall et al., 2003). Again, this is an example of shifting the dynamic from what to think to how to think.

Giving OST program participants ownership of certain programmatic elements can also contribute to the prerequisites for academic success. This goes beyond having them decide which activities they want to partake in and having them take active leadership or decision-making roles. Putting students in these situations can also help improve their confidence while naturally helping develop their leadership skills.

As can be seen above, many of the above curricular concerns are not directly focused on academic requirements. An environment that exhibits these characteristics is an environment that contributes to the development of empowering skills. Building these skills will ultimately lead to participants who are more interested in learning and more confident of their abilities to excel.

From a curricular perspective, implementing these recommendations can be challenging for several reasons. The most obvious restriction would probably be funding. Insufficient funding can have negative consequences on staff development, space for program operations, or inadequate resources for activities. Staffing concerns are further compounded by a shortage of people willing to work at OST programs either because of reduced hours—currently, many of the jobs are part-time—or because of lower pay than regular teaching jobs. Additionally, at an OST program, the educators often come from a range of backgrounds including retired volunteers, college students, or even high-school students. While this diversity is often good for participants in terms of giving them more opportunities to connect with a caring adult, it also puts a strain on the OST program from a managerial perspective of matching the skills of the educators with the needs of the participants. Effectively utilizing a diverse group of educators also requires a greater commitment in the OST program design for standardizing the program objectives to ensure continuity in programming.

As educational institutions themselves, OST programs need to also ensure that they are able to create an effective reliable system of accountability and data collection. Now that OST programs are even more commonplace as part of a larger educational curriculum, this is even more important. Armed with a strong curriculum, OST programs can prove to be key players in the narrowing of the achievement gap that exists in education in the United States.

 

The bilingual education problem and the role of OST programs are just two small facets of education that curriculum designers need to look at. The future of curriculum is an exciting one filled with promise of change and progress. In this paper, I have intentionally refrained from assessing the role of technology in the future of curriculum. In many ways, technology holds as many problems as it does promises for curriculum designers. The rate of change and of absorption by the public is unpredictable at best. If there is one generalization that can be made with certainty about the years to come it is that education will become more dynamic.

In the meantime, however, it is important to consider the conditions we are already observing and consider how they will change in the future. For these reasons, I chose to focus on the two topics covered in this paper. As globalization sets in more strongly, people are going to want to hold on to their heritage—as they rightly should—and one of the ways they will do this is through their language choices. Curriculum designers are in the position where they can actually promote strengthening of heritage and the acceptance of cultural diversity while also ensuring that English literacy is not sacrificed in the process. Additionally, it is increasingly apparent that what sets aside many successful leaders today are qualities like leadership, initiative, creativity, and logic. While it would be ideal if curriculum designers can find ways to integrate these qualities in the standard educational curriculum, they can also look to the rise in OST programming to help them achieve this educational objective. Schools can remain accountable for the more typical academic requirements while simultaneously coordinating with public and private OST programs to augment the educational experience.

References

  • Bandura, A. (1989). Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development. Vol. 6. Six theories of child development (1-60). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  • Beck, E. L. (1996) Prevention and intervention programming: Lessons from an afterschool program. (UMI No. 9716619).
  • Budget of the United States government: Fiscal year 2007. (2006). [Education section].
  • Carter, J. B. (2003). Factors that influence afterschool care: Program coordinators’ job performance as it relates to documentation of accountability in the National School Lunch Program snack service. (UMI No. 3103648).
  • Frequently asked questions — 21st Century Community Learning Centers. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2006.
  • Hall, G., Yohalem, N., Tolman, J., Wilson, A. (2003) How afterschool programs can most effectively promote positive youth development as a support to academic achievement. Boston After-School for All Partnership: Boston, MA.
  • Little sponges / Politics should not determine how we teach English to Spanish speaking children. (2006, February 6). Houston Chronicle, p. B6. Retrieved from ProQuest Newsstand database. (Document ID: 982322401).
  • The Long road to fluency. (2004, April 3). Los Angeles Times, p. B20. Retrieved from Los Angeles Times database. (Document ID: 604049771).
  • Massachusetts After-School Research Study (MARS) Report. (2005). Pathways to success for youth: What counts in after-school. Intercultural Center for Research in Education (INCRE) Arlington, MA: Author.
  • Miller, B. M. (2003). Critical hours: After-school programs and educational success. Brookline, MA: Miller Midzik Research Associates.
  • Moses, M. S. (2000). Why bilingual education policy is needed: A philosophical response to the critics. Bilingual Research Journal, 24(4), 333354. Retrieved from Research Library database. (Document ID: 77423184).
  • Schugurensky, D. (2002). Elementary and Secondary School Act, the ‘War on Poverty’ and Title 1. In D. Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century. Retrieved June 25, 2006.
  • Vinluan, M. H. (2005). After-school programs alter lives of at-risk youth. Parks & Recreation, 40(8). Retrieved from Research Library database.
  • Zhang, J. J., & Byrd, C. E. (2005). Enhancing the quality of after school programs through effective program management. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 76(8). Retrieved from Research Library database.
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