Bilingual Education Strategies

Bilingual education differs from ESL (English as a Second Language) in that it emphasizes growth in the students’ home language (L1) as well as English, whereas ESL is mostly geared towards learning English. Bilingual education is premised on a social justice framework for thinking about learning that seeks to incorporate student language, culture, and identity as powerful assets in the classroom as a means of working towards greater social equality both inside and outside of schools. Bilingual education is advocated for learners of all ages and varying linguistic proficiencies (Garcia, 2009).

In 2011, the CUNY-NYS Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals published a “Translanguaging Guide” which includes many concrete strategies for drawing on students’ full linguistic capacities in a variety of classroom settings. It can be found in its entirety for free here:

In the guide’s introduction, the authors state that “Translanguaging affords the opportunity to use home language practices, different as they may be from those of school, to practice the language of school, and thus to eventually also use the appropriate form of language.” As helping students learn academic discourse is a goal of Writing Across the Curriculum, here are a few  translanguaging strategies to help improve student writing:

Have students develop a language portfolio where they can record and celebrate their language learning in your course. They can set goals for language learning, document and explore encounters with new language introduced by your class, develop rubrics to evaluate their own capacities, needs, and progress, and collect examples of their own accomplishments in both languages. Students can use this portfolio across courses and disciplines as they progress in the program.

The guide also provides the following questions to help instructors reflect on the linguistic demands of the course and develop multilingual objectives and strategies to help students meet those demands:

1) Will students need to learn certain vocabulary words?

2) Will students need to use a particular aspect of grammar?

3) Will students need to use certain signal words in their writing to transition from one paragraph to the next?

4) What type of language will students need to learn to read or write in a particular genre/discipline?

Students can make comparisons between how two languages use grammar, certain words, paragraph  structure, and sentence structure.

Other practices include the strategic, purposeful use of both languages:

– Having students create one written assignment in English, and another (related) assignment in their home language.

– Translate a written assignment from their home language to English, or vice versa.

– Create a written assignment that uses both English and the home language for a specific purpose.

Finally, consider how students can work collaboratively in your class. Students can meet in small groups where they discuss the content in any language, but then share out or report back to the whole class in English. Students can work in groups to brainstorm in any language, and then write in English. Another possibility is to have students listen to your lecture or discussion in English, and then discuss it in small groups in any language. Students could also free-write and use concept maps to explore ideas in their home language, and develop these informal assignments into a formal paper or presentation in English.





WAC Highlight: Kurt Vonnegut

The following blog post is based on an assignment found on the website, reprinted from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield and published in October of 2012 by Delacorte Press.

 Professor: Kurt Vonnegut

Course:  Taught in 1965 at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Vonnegut says, “This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro.”

 Assignment: Term Paper

After having read a collection of 15 short stories, Vonnegut asked students to create their own table of contents for the book, giving each story a grade from A to F based on their enjoyment of the story. Students were then asked to pretend to be an editor at a literary magazine that is considering publishing 6 of the stories. He asks students to write a letter to their imaginary boss in which they argue for the publication of 3 stories that pleased them the most, and against the 3 that pleased them the least.

What WAC principles does this assignment exemplify?

First, this is a highly original and unusual assignment. As such, it has plagiarism prevention built into its design, as students would be hard pressed to find resources to copy from. Furthermore, the personal nature of the writing discourages cheating, as individual student perspective and voice are central to the assignment, rather than traditional models which privilege reiterating the ‘facts.’ Second, students are being invited to participate in a sophisticated level of academic discourse and analysis used by professionals in their field, i.e. editors, but in a way that is accessible to novices. Lastly, students are writing in a way that involves them in an ongoing and open ended critical conversation about literature. The assignment promotes critical thinking by having students engage with the texts in a way that forces them to reflect on how the stories make them feel, and argue convincingly based on that feeling. They will have to make strong connections between their own unique visceral, impressionistic responses to the stories and the particular elements of the stories that affected them in such a way, and out of this relationship craft an original argument.

How might this type of assignment be used in other courses across the curriculum?

An assignment like this could be used across the curriculum to engage students in drawing on their personal experience with a text, idea, concept, lab experiment, film, design, compute program, etc
 and developing a sophisticated argument grounded in that experience. Students could write similar reviews of architectural designs and structures for an imaginary magazine; they could review dental hygiene technology or practices; students could argue for or against philosophers being included in a philosophy course syllabus.

WAC Assignment Highlight

Professor: Sandra Cheng

Course: Survey of Art, ARTH 1103-6415 (
Assignment: Student Blog (
Students are required to write a minimum of 10 blog posts over the course of the semester. Professor Cheng posts topics each week, and students respond, lending their insights, making connections, and reflecting on ideas from the course readings, lectures, and activities.
What WAC principle(s) does this assignment exemplify?
Professor Cheng’s student blog is a great example of the WAC principle of ‘writing to learn.’ The blog functions as a informal, ungraded (just a check for completion) space for students to use public writing to think critically about ideas, as well as make connections to personal experience, other readings, lectures, and activities. Furthermore, Professor Cheng’s blog assignments engage students in multimedia and a variety of discourses, such as websites, scholarly articles, visual art, videos, and news reports.
How might this type of assignment be used in other courses across the curriculum?
Other courses could consider using a blog to provide a space for informal ‘writing to learn’ assignments beyond the face to face classroom. For instance, a psychology course could use the blog to have students reflect on various experiments and case studies, or short written responses applying theories to youtube clips where psychological theory is reflected in popular culture. An education course could use a similar blogging assignment to have students make connections between course readings on methodology and fieldwork experiences. Architecture students could maintain a blog describing urban design in different parts of NYC or their neighborhoods in particular; dental hygiene students could use informal blogging exercises to reflect on the representation of dental hygiene in popular culture and the media.

These kinds of informal writing assignments could be developed into larger, formal writing assignments like research papers, or as a reflective supplement to more structured assignments like lab reports.