Nov. 21, 2018
Last week, educators, students, parents, researchers, and advocates from around the country gathered in Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the 23rd Annual Dual Language Conference––La Cosecha. Hosted by the Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DLeNM)––a grass-roots educational non-profit organization focused on developing, supporting, and advocating for high-quality multilingual education in New Mexico––La Cosecha offers a space to network, collaborate and share best dual language practices.
The first La Cosecha Dual Language Conference started in 1996 with just 86 educators in Albuquerque. Now, La Cosecha is considered to be the largest dual language education conference in the U.S. with over 2,500 participants. This year’s conference drew attendees from 41 states, 19 Sovereign Tribal Nations, and 9 countries.
La Cosecha offers professional development opportunities that are needed to implement effective dual language programs. This year, La Cosecha offered 280 professional presentations and workshops in both Spanish and English. The sessions were organized in three strands: 1) Dual Language Education Programs; 2) Achievement Inspired Instruction; and 3) Dual Language Essentials.
Why is La Cosecha so popular? Dual language programs are in high demand across the country. These programs use two languages for instruction and aim for students to become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. Substantial research suggests that dual language education is effective for English learners (ELs) because it focuses on leveraging their home language (e.g., Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, etc) as a scaffold to learn English. However, implementing an effective dual language program requires specific program planning and qualified teachers and administrators who are offered ongoing professional development.
For instance, when I started as a kindergarten dual language teacher I didn’t have the appropriate training to teach in a dual language classroom. I thought that being bilingual and biliterate in English and Spanish was enough, but quickly realized that I needed specific training focused on building my students’ metalinguistic awareness (the ability to analyze the characteristics of a language) and cross-linguistic skills (the ability to connect one language to new situations in another language). Luckily, my school offered a professional development session by two experts in bilingualism and biliteracy instruction—and consequently very popular presenters at La Cosecha—Karen Beeman and Cheryl Urow. After receiving their training, I felt better equipped to effectively teach students learning two languages simultaneously.
Although La Cosecha focuses primarily on dual language education by sharing biliteracy and authentic instructional models in Spanish and English, the conference also includes sheltering and scaffolding instructional strategies for teachers in non-dual language programs to help build academic language and literacy for all students, especially ELs.
My experience at La Cosecha ranged from getting an overview of the research for the past 50 years, gaining additional knowledge about what dual language leaders must do to meet their students’ needs, and recharging my batteries through the sharing of ideas to better serve language learners. A couple of presentations really stood out for me.
First, Dr. Jim Cummins––a well-known scholar in the area of second language acquisition presented research that dates back to the 1970s, confirmed the value of dual language programs and shared evidence showing the stronger academic performance that ELs can experience in these programs.
Similarly, Dr. Fred Genesee––an expert in language learning research––discussed some of the findings on the development of pre-school and school-age ELs presented in Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English: Promising Futures––a consensus study published by the National Institutes of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Additionally, Dr. Genesee shared six lessons learned from 50 years of research on bilingualism and bilingual education:
- Bilingualism is not burdensome for young learners.
- Dual language education works for all students.
- Both languages should have equally high status (e.g., resources, materials, instructional time, school events should include both languages and priority should not be given to one language).
- Pedagogy matters (e.g., high-quality teaching practices that recognize students’ home languages and cultures as assets).
- Students’ home language is a useful tool for developing competence in a second language.
- Strong school leadership is critical.
Finally, education advocate and dual language expert, Dr. José Medina helped us to think through nuestro próposito, our purpose, stating, “As educators who serve language learners, we walk into a school system that has oppressed and marginalized students and families, and disrupt the space. That’s the job.” He then encouraged us to reflect on our present practices with a critical lens before identifying possible action steps.
As a whole, La Cosecha is a convening that unites attendees from different sectors to promote and implement educational programs that celebrate students’ home languages and cultures. But most importantly, the conference provides educators serving ELs around the country an opportunity to learn strategies for strengthening their own practices in the classroom. As one teacher shared on the La Cosecha website, “It was amazing to finally be a part of a conference that supported my career as a bilingual educator...The amount of knowledge that I was exposed to fulfilled many holes that sometimes leave us as bilingual educators questioning ourselves.”