Learning 4 Feb 2016

Bilingual Learning Practices at CIS

By Tarrah Sasha MacDonald, Grade 2 Bilingual English Teacher and Jinghua Hou, Grade 2 Bilingual Chinese Teacher -
Photograph by CIS Communications

The Bilingual Programme at CIS provides students with a unique opportunity to learn in an environment that supports language development in both Chinese and English. In joining the programme, students become a part of a classroom that is managed and taught in either Chinese or English, throughout their school days. This allows students to be fully immersed in both languages as they experience all aspects of classroom life in both Chinese and English.

The programme is structured differently than a mainstream class as teaching time and classroom routines are split between the two languages. Students have Literacy and Mathematics lessons as well as being engaged in their PYP Units of Inquiry. They also have Chinese language lessons, which consist of speaking, listening, reading and writing. For these lessons students are split into groups based on Chinese proficiency in order to ensure children’s language learning progress.

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We teachers use a range of teaching approaches such as story telling, role-playing, flash card games, songs, movement and presentations to engage students in their learning. Storytelling, for example, let students be exposed to new words and grammatical patterns in a context that facilitates comprehension in a natural way.

Chinese and English teachers work closely together and all lessons are linked to the specific Unit of Inquiry. Lessons are never translated directly from one language to the other, but rather built upon previous learning, helping students to develop a good understanding of the concepts and objectives in both languages, without wasting time on repetition. This ensures students stay engaged in their learning, as they are required to pay close attention in both languages and are able to make connections between what they are taught in Chinese classes and in English classes.

Each week there are a number of ‘Unit of Inquiry’ lessons built into the timetable, which are taught equally in both languages. The structure of these lessons varies. For example, one day Jinghua Hou might lead a lesson to help students inquire into the differences between solids, liquids and gases. The next lesson we might split the class into two groups, and each conducts a different experiment. After a period of time, the children would swap groups, meaning they get to participate in two different experiments, one in Chinese and one in English. Through these hands-on, inquiry based lessons, students are able to build their own understanding and approach their learning in a way that is meaningful to them. As students build their confidence and vocabulary in their second language, they start to take more risks in their Unit of Inquiry lessons, demonstrating their newly developing language skills.

To support this language development, some lessons are designed to provide students with the language they will need to participate in during their Unit of Inquiry lessons taught in their second language. For example, if they need to have certain vocabulary to make observations in an experiment conducted in Chinese, the Chinese teacher might conduct a lesson beforehand to give students practice identifying the properties of matter.

One example of this might be giving children a pile of cooking materials, and then asking them to mix them together in any way they like in order to change the material into something new. While they are engaged in this activity, Jinghua would go from table to table, asking students to describe their creations. This gives children practice using the vocabulary while engaged in a fun and stimulating activity.

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Learning in a bilingual classroom also has many social and character advantages. As every child in the class experiences the challenges of learning a new language, the programme helps students to develop a sense of empathy and understanding of others. It is also a great confidence boost as students use their mother tongue language skills to support their classmates and learn to take risks with their own learning when they see other students doing the same. Students are carefully organised in pair or group work to ensure a mixture of language abilities are represented. This encourages children to support one another, and gives all students a chance to feel like experts.

In an increasingly globalised world, the ability to speak multiple languages is a valuable asset that allows people from very different backgrounds to understand one another and work towards mutually beneficial goals. The bilingual programme at CIS combines stimulating language learning with the PYP to provide a unique opportunity for students to develop their language skills in an integrated and stimulating way.