Bilingual Mother Dedicates Dissertation to Twin Sons

Lovingly dedicated to my twins:

Dissertation of Pedagogy and Successful Practices in Dual Language Programs

Reggie and Grady Sellards with bilingual sons, Sebastian and Benjamin
Reggie and Grady Sellards with bilingual sons, Sebastian and Benjamin

Born and raised in Switzerland as a native German speaker, I have been compelled to raise my twin boys, almost 5 now, bilingually and give them the benefit of a dual language education.  The ability to speak two languages is typically passed from parent to child in the home. It can, however, be challenging to consistently speak the second language when only one of the parents speaks and understands what the rest of the family is talking about. Ultimately, this is where the dual immersion programs come into play, as the regular school syllabus is taught through the instrument of the both the target language and English.

A little over two years ago, as a doctoral student in Organizational Leadership, I faced the challenge of selecting a dissertation topic. My husband suggested I choose something I am passionate about, such as dual language programs. He hit the nail on the head. Enthusiastically, I started my research about bilingual education and programs, and focused on investigating key factors and pedagogical strategies that successfully support Two-Way Immersion (TWI) students as they transition from elementary to middle and high school. The results were eye-opening for me and could definitely help newly established TWI programs and schools, as well as teachers and administrators, gain knowledge and ideas on how to adequately and effectively support TWI students. The focus was primarily on their transition from elementary to middle and high school, but the findings also provided guidelines and suggestions for implementing, enhancing, or improving dual language programs for these students.

I chose this topic of study due to the minimal amount of existing research in that field. To begin, I recruited a panel of experts to identify key factors and pedagogical and other strategies that support the successful transition of TWI students from elementary to middle and high school. The expert panel consisted of 7 researchers/authors, 3 principals, and 6 teachers, all researching, working, or teaching in the field of dual language education for 5 years or more. The first round of questions to them consisted of identifying crucial factors that support current elementary TWI students as they transition to middle and high school. After I compiled all the answers, the experts had to rate the degree of importance for the identified key factors as they pertain to a student’s designation as a dual language immersion student.  I then selected the highest ranked factors for the third and final round of questions. The expert panelists rated the importance of those factors, and then determined effective pedagogical strategies to address them.

Image of Reggie Sellard with her two sons, standing under the flags of the US and Switzerland
Reggie standing under the US and Swiss flags with her twin sons.

As the data was compiled, non-pedagogical factors seemed more important than pedagogical ones.  Identified as most important were teacher qualification, curriculum and program planning, communication, and administrative support. The experts also came to a consensus that engaged teachers with high language proficiency are crucial for this transition.  Recommendations related to pedagogical strategies were assigned to Vygotsky’s sociocultural pedagogy (language acquisition and learning happens through social interaction within an immediate social context) and Jim Cummins’ transformative pedagogy (focus on interactions between educators and students that foster the collaborative creative of power).

In summary, it is crucial for the success of these programs and their transition to higher grades to have the following four attributes: (a) a very selective process when it comes to recruitment of staff, (b) well-aligned and carefully planned programs, (c) surrounding administrative support from the district and school sites, and (d) an excellent communication structure and system. The insights from experts and practitioners on key factors and strategies for dual language immersion programs provide administrators, principals, and teachers, as well as parents, community, and board members, guidelines and suggestions for implementing, enhancing, or improving dual language immersion programs for students.

I am proud to state that I successfully defended my study on April 9, 2015.

Image of two boys dressed as pirates and thrusting a sword in the air.
Pirates Sebastian (left) and Bemjamin (right) inform Dr. Mommy that they are taking over the ship!

One unintended consequence of this study is that my boys like to call me “Dr. Mommy” now. They are glad that mom doesn’t go to “preschool” anymore and are looking forward to starting German Immersion Kindergarten in Fall 2016.

Reggie Sellards, August 6, 2015

About the Author:  Reggie used to be a teacher when she lived in Switzerland, but for the past eight years, she has been a business consultant and account manager, doing consulting work for school districts on Medi-Cal billing.

Your stories matter!  To share them with the CABE Corner community, contact Laurie Nesrala, CABE Education Consultant, laurie@bilingualeducation.org

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