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Reading and Writing: developing strong literacy bilingually. Kathleen Heugh Research Centre for Languages and Cultures University of South Australia Bilingual Schools Network MLTAV Workshop at Camberwell Primary School 11 October 2012.

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Reading and Writing:

developing strong literacy bilingually

Kathleen Heugh

Research Centre for Languages and Cultures

University of South Australia

Bilingual Schools Network


Workshop at Camberwell Primary School

11 October 2012

first things first what does bilingual immersion education mean now
First things first: what does bilingual (immersion) education mean now?

Conventional view:

Contemporary view:

Two languages, part of student’s repertoire (bilinguality/multilinguality)

Focus on (social) process – ‘languaging’ Merill Swain; ‘translanguaging’ Ofelia Garçia

Increasing awareness of what bilingual learners do to make meaning

Reappraisal of the role of translation and interpreting

  • Two languages, taught as separate entities (Lambert 1970s)
  • Focus on Form (structure – lexis, syntax, 4 skills)
  • Code-switching and code-mixing – regarded as illegitimate practices
  • Grammar-translation methodology gave way to other methods (direct, audio-lingual, communicative etc.)
reading and writing a continuum rather than 2 separate skills
Reading and writing: a continuum rather than 2 separate skills

What are these students doing?

Gaps between early literacy and academic literacy: language policy & curriculum weakness in most settings
  • Focus on teaching literacy only to Year 3
  • Gap between early literacy

‘Learning to read’ stories

and the kind of literacy needed

across the curriculum

‘Reading to learn’ science, mathematics, history, geography etc.

from Year 4 onwards.

  • This involves a mental (cognitive) jump for all children around the world 
gaps between early literacy and academic literacy continued
Gaps between early literacy and academic literacy - continued

Most children change from local language(s)

to English (French or Portuguese) or a dominant regional language

e.g. by the end of year 3 in Africa and India.

Attempts to use L2 for teaching & learning

  • when learners have ± 500-600 words, and
  • simple sentence structures[simple syntax]

for whole curriculum

  • which needs ± 5000-7000 words and
  • complex structures and sentences

from year 4 ≠ workable.

It creates a double jump for students from a minority community

The double jumpis too great.

common findings in relation to most language learning reading programs
Common findings in relation to most language learning & reading programs

Years 1-3

Years 4-6

Years 6/7+

Student achievement more or less similar across most reading programs

Gaps begin to widen depending upon program

Students in dual language (immersion) programs outperform other students

the potential of immersion p rograms
The potential of immersion programs
  • Carefully prepared reading across the curriculum in Years 1-3, in two languages can
    • Remove the double cognitive jump
    • Reduce the single cognitive jump
      • Between year 3 an 4 (and beyond)
  • Benefits all children, including those considered vulnerable
  • Carefully prepared reading across curriculum continued in Years 4-6+ offers greatest rewards
  • Maximising opportunities for print and reading everywhere in the school – in two or more languages
using students multilinguality and intercultural knowledge to advance reading and writing
Using students’ multilinguality and intercultural knowledge to advance reading and writing
  • Teachers who are aware of their students’ multilinguality can turn this into powerful literacy (multi-literacy) development.
  • Involving children’s prior knowledge is important for:
    • Building self-esteem – essential for successful learning
    • Sharing prior knowledge increases the knowledge base of the entire class
    • Can provide opportunities to develop both reading and writing resources
    • Encourages cultural respect and social cohesion
which rules are really necessary in writing
Which rules are really necessary in writing?

Keeping languages separated prevents most multilingual children from writing and speaking.

Mixing languages (code-mixing, code-switching) is normal.

If most vocabulary used in English has been borrowed and absorbed from other languages, what does this suggest to us in our teaching contexts?

Read Ekkehard Wolff on the way Ugandan children use access to different language codes to maintain social controls.

who are the model teachers and which methods work best
Who are the model teachers and which methods work best?

If your methods work and your students make good progress – then you are doing well.

If your methods don’t work, ask yourself questions, and explore alternatives.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We can all learn from one another.

We can add to our toolbox – bit by bit.

We only have to add what we understand and what makes sense to us.

What makes sense to me may not make sense to you and vice versa.

success of finnish swedish learners in finland pisa assessments
Success of Finnish & Swedish learners in Finland, PISA assessments

‘Based on regression analyses of both the PISA 2000 and 2003 data, the single key factors that proved the strongest determinants of reading literacy performance in Finland were students’:

  • Own interests, attitudes and activities outside school.
  • Finnish students’ interest and engagement in reading, which were assessed in PISA 2003 only as a national option, had the strongest explanatory power in reading performance, even stronger than parents’ socio-economic or cultural status. This was the case in both language groups,the Finnish and Swedish speakers’

(Linnakylä, Malin & Taube, 2006)


Finnish children learn to read in 2 / 3 languages:

Finnish, Swedish and English; developing high level bi/triliteracy

a few ideas to combine reading and writing across the curriculum
A few ideas to combine reading and writing across the curriculum

From an inner city two-way immersion school in Los Angeles (poor children, weakest group, Year 2):

Bilingual Science Experiment

Bilingual Narrative Story

Bilingual: bar graphs / maths

Based on genre theory – learning to manage the formulae for different writing requirements provides access to written texts


At what stage, one can build in metacognitive awareness of languaging (translanguaging), comparisons between languages, translation skills etc.?

reading and writing in bi multilingual classrooms practical examples
Reading and writing in bi/multilingual classrooms – practical examples

Groups: 2 or more languages

Task 1a: Proverb (wise saying)

Think of a well-known proverb that is known in different communities (even if there are some differences)

Translate this into the languages of the group

help each other to do this

What challenges did you face?

How did you resolve these?

Task 1b:

Try to turn this into a small poster or pamphlet with each of the language versions side-by-side

Question: If you could you use a task like this in your context, what would your students learn? What other benefits are there?

developing strong academic literacy across the curriculum example 2
Developing strong academic literacy across the curriculum - example 2

Task 2a: In groups with 2 or 3 languages

Agree on a simple science experiment that you all know about

Using a typical formula for writing up the experiment – do this, and try to do it in two or three language versions.

Task 2b:

Make a list of the scientific terminology used. What are the similarities and differences between this terminology in the 2/3 languages of the classroom?

Are any of these words used differently in other contexts? What do you notice about the structure of the sentences (subjects, objects, verbs)?

Task 2c: How could you help the students to develop their academic reading and writing of text about experiments?

developing strong narrative skills in two languages example 3
Developing strong narrative skills in two languages – example 3

Task 3: In groups with 2 or more languages

Develop a story-line with the following elements:


List of characters




Try to write it up simultaneously – stage by stage in as many language versions as possible.

This means co-operative writing where there are gaps of expertise in some of the languages, borrowing of vocabulary and code-switching is legitimate.

The idea is to reward and acknowledge diversity – not to punish it – this will encourage development in writing and reduce student fear. It also maximises reading opportunities for the whole class.

simple materials across the curriculum
Simple materials across the curriculum

The following examples of bilingual materials – developed by a young teacher, Chandni, who works with Tribal children in a slum on the outskirts of Bhopal. Chandni, without knowing anything about bilingual education, or the need to extend literacy across the curriculum translated material from the internet into:

Hindi (the dominant language) and Gondi (the Tribal language), then she laminated the pages and put them together in a spiral bound book.

concluding tips
Concluding Tips
  • Maximise both reading and writing opportunities in both languages.
  • The stronger the academic literacy in the L1, the stronger it will become in the L2.
  • Integration of reading and writing, and ensuring opportunities for awareness of the formulae in multiple genres, exponentially increases academic literacy.
  • Increasing awareness of academic literacy as an ongoing process across:
    • the entire curriculum and school;
    • Students, staff, parents, school community.
  • Visibility of bilingual (multilingual) texts across the school.

Blackledge, Adrian and Angela Creese. 2010. Translanguaging as pedagogy in the bilingual classroom. Multilingualism.A Critical Perspective.201-214.

Garçia, Ofelia, 2009. Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Linnakylä, P. Malin & Taube. 2006.The Finnish success in PISA – and some reasons behind it. PISA 2003.

Slavin, Robert and Cheung, Alan. 2003. Effective Reading Programs for English Language Learners: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

Swain, Merill. 2006. Language, agency and collaboration in advanced second language proficiency. In Byrnes, Heidi (ed) Advanced Language Learning: The Contribution of Halliday and Vygotsky. London: Continuum. 95-108.

Thomas, Wayne P. & Collier, Virginia P. (2002). A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students' Long Term Academic Achievement. George Mason University, CREDE (Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence).

Does reading approach matter in two-way immersion programs

Teaching English Reading in a bilingual classroom.


Ekkehard Wolff provides an interesting discussion of how Ugandan children, who have access to Nubi (an informal code), Ganda, Swahili and English, make conscious decisions about when to change language (code-switch) (Wolff 2000). This demonstrates quite clearly that children are able to make sophisticated decisions about their language use. The older children use local conventions to decide or control who is allowed to use which code, and when. The older children use their social standing (age which requires respect) to exert power over or control of the younger ones. The younger children are only allowed to use Nubi and Ganda in the presence of the older children, whereas the older children will show off their linguistic power by making use of all of the codes, but use KiSwahili and English to symbolise their superior status over the younger children. This study is an excellent example of the social and political power of language use as well as code-switching. (