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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 075-153(WS)-E
Division Number: VII.
Professional Group: Reading
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 153.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Literacy in Two Languages: Best of Both Worlds

Maureen White


Judith Márquez

School Library and Information Science Program
University of Houston
Clear Lake, USA


The Two-Way Immersion Program at the L.A. Morgan Academy of Fine Arts, Galveston Independent School District in the Houston, Texas area, provides 90% of instruction in Spanish for a kindergarten, first, and second grade class. Children from two language groups, approximately an even number of native Spanish and English speakers, learn together and support each other's second language acquisition. Spanish literature and the Spanish version of Johns Hopkins University's "Success for All" reading program are used for instruction. Initial success in the program seems to come from dedicated teachers, students, parents, and administrators.


What makes it possible for children to achieve a smooth transition from speaking, writing, and reading in their mother tongue to the majority language of the country in which they live? The Houston/Galveston metropolitan area of Texas provides a fertile environment for the implementation of reading programs that provide just this type of transition. Many persons who emigrate from Spanish-speaking countries come to the Houston/Galveston area. This Spanish-speaking population is reflected in the large number of Hispanic students in the Houston/Galveston area.1 Oral proficiency and literacy in Spanish and English increases learning and career opportunities for all students, so it is especially important for children in this part of the country to have the opportunity to develop these skills in both languages. This can be accomplished through participation in a two way bilingual education program.

Description of Bilingual Programs

Bilingual education is a term used to refer to various types of program models for the instruction of limited English proficient (LEP) language minority children in U.S. schools. The programs vary based on the amount of native language instruction that is utilized in the program.

Many language minority students are offered a submersion curriculum; that is, they are expected to function academically in English along with native English speakers from the time they first enter school. 2 Submersion is also known as the "sink or swim" approach because students either learn to "swim" and survive in the all-English classroom, or they "sink," failing to learn English and failing to succeed academically.

In a transitional bilingual education program, students are educated primarily in their home language in the early grades with instruction in English as a second language (ESL). As students progress through the primary grades, the amount of English instruction increases and the amount of instruction in the home language decreases. 3 When they have presumably learned enough English, the students are transitioned into an English-only classroom.

A maintenance or developmental bilingual education program fosters the students' home language and strengthens their sense of cultural identity. Students in a maintenance program are encouraged to be proficient in both English and their native language. Instruction is provided in both the students' native language and English through the upper elementary grades and into secondary school when possible. 4

A two way bilingual education program includes speakers of both the majority language, in this case, English, and the minority language, Spanish. The ideal mix of student backgrounds is 50% English speakers and 50% Spanish speakers. These students are placed together in bilingual classrooms to receive instruction through their two languages. The ethnic and linguistic mix in these classrooms helps to keep the students from becoming isolated linguistic and cultural enclaves, and it makes it possible for children to have the academically and personally enriching experience of being exposed to different languages and cultures. 5

Two-way bilingual immersion program models fall under two categories: the 90-10 model and the 50-50 model. In the 90-10 model, the minority language is introduced as the language of instruction for 90 percent of the school day for the first two years (grades K through 1). Ten percent of the day consists of instruction in the majority language--English. English literacy is gradually added in second or third grade. By fourth or fifth grade, half of the instruction is presented in English and half in the minority language. This model is becoming increasingly popular for two-way programs in the U.S. For the English speakers it is a bilingual immersion program, emphasizing the minority language first, and for the language minority students it is a bilingual maintenance model, emphasizing their primary language first for literacy and academic development. Both groups stay together in this model throughout the school day and serve as peer tutors for each other. In research studies on this model, in both Canada and the U.S., academic achievement is very high for all groups of students participating in the program, when compared to comparable groups of students receiving schooling only through English. In a 50-50 model, half of the day's instruction is in the majority language and half is in the minority language. 6

Separating the two languages of instruction is an important principle in both the 90-10 and the 50-50 model. Although lessons are never repeated or translated in the second language, concepts taught in one language are reinforced across the two languages in a spiraling curriculum. The appropriate percentage of instruction in each language is carefully planned; the language of instruction might alternate by theme or subject area, by time of day, by day of the week, or by the week. In some schools, the selected approach for maintaining the separation of languages is team teaching, with each teacher representing one language.7

Description of the Program

There is a need to explore the kinds of programs being used to encourage literacy and promote reading among children. It is especially important to identify educational programs that facilitate the transition from a mother tongue to majority language. One such program identified by the researchers is the highly innovative Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program (Program) used in the L. A. Morgan Academy of Fine Arts (Morgan Academy) in the Galveston Independent School District. Galveston is a large city situated south of Houston on the Gulf of Mexico. The public school system of Galveston Independent School District serves approximately 10,000 students. Its student population includes: 39% African Americans, 30% Hispanics, and 29% Whites, as well as 3% Asian students. More than 57% of the students in that district are categorized as economically disadvantaged. Galveston provides bilingual or ESL education classes for 12% of its students. 8

The L. A. Morgan Academy has an enrollment of 680 students and is located in an economically disadvantaged area of Galveston. The Morgan Academy has an enrollment of 59.4% African Americans, 27.1% Hispanics, 11.7% Anglos, and 1.8% Asians. This is a magnet school in which dance, art, and drama are provided for all students. Children who are bused into this school must have talent in these areas, but they must help maintain a racial and ethnic balance for the school. In addition, a balance of native English and Spanish speakers must be maintained within the Two-Way Immersion Program.

The commitment to provide a Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program was made and implemented two years before receipt of a federal grant in 1997. The five-year grant from the Department of Education provides for a coordinator, aides for each class, computers, and additional materials for each classroom. Ms. Kathleen Hughes initiated the program by teaching a two-way immersion kindergarten class in 1995. She now serves as the coordinator of the federally funded program at the Morgan Academy. Teachers are selected for the program because of their interest in the program, educational training, and their fluency in Spanish and English.

The Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program at Morgan Academy follows the 90-10 model of instruction, with 90% of the instruction in Spanish from kindergarten through second grade. The Program provides for approximately 10% of instruction time to increase or develop fluency in English through enrichment or educational English language activities. As students progress to the next grade level, the amount of English instruction increases until fifth grade, at which time the students receive about half of their instruction in English and half in Spanish. The Program is considered an additive one, because nothing is being taken away from either language group. Instead, a second language and experience with another culture are being added.

In this Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program, children from two language groups (Spanish and English) learn together in the same class. They teach each other and support each other's second language acquisition. For the English-speakers, the Program is an immersion model, for the Spanish speakers, it is a maintenance model, allowing students the opportunity to expand their vocabulary and build literacy first in their native language and then transferring those skills to their second language. 9

Program instruction includes a strong emphasis on content development, as well as linguistic development. Content courses are taught in Spanish by the use of a variety of second language acquisition strategies to make language and content comprehensible for all students.

Campus Observation and Interviews

Prior to visiting the Two-Way Immersion classes at L. A. Morgan Academy, general information about the Program was obtained from various sources. Several telephone interviews were conducted between Kathleen Hughes, coordinator of the Program, and the researchers, Dr. Judith Márquez and Dr. Maureen White, University of Houston-Clear Lake faculty members. Additionally, Ms. Hughes provided a variety of pamphlets and newsletters describing the Program.

Arrangements were made for an on-sight visit of the Two-Way Immersion classes at L. A. Morgan. As a result of preliminary telephone interviews and a review of the literature, questions were prepared in advance to present to Ms. Hughes and the three teachers in the Program. Observations of classes in progress and individual interviews with Ms. Hughes and the teachers were arranged prior to the visit.

There are three classes, including one kindergarten, one first grade, and one second grade immersion class. The K-1-2 classes have an approximate 50/50 ratio of native Spanish and English speakers. The racial mix is approximately 1/3 each of Anglo, Hispanic, and African Americans. Class sizes range from 17-22. The ratio of Spanish to English speakers is 11/11 in kindergarten; 12/10 in first grade; and 9/8 in second grade.

A visit to a kindergarten, first, and second grade classes revealed an exciting learning environment in each class. It is clear that the primary language of instruction is Spanish in the early grades, and the separation of languages is done by teachers. A sign on the outside of each semi-open concept classroom states:


Visits to each of the Two-Way Immersion classes revealed children eagerly talking, working, and learning. Although the noise and activity levels were high, the students seemed productive. Individual and small groups were the norm with read-aloud time being one of the major large group activities.

Interviews with the three teachers were framed around the following areas: 1) Teacher Background, 2) Success For All Reading Program, 3) Literature, and 4) Parental Involvement. Two of the three teachers were relatively new to the profession. One of the teachers had taught for several years, but recently started teaching in a bilingual program. All three teachers applied for these specific positions because they were interested in the Two-Way Program.

Galveston ISD adopted the Success for All Reading Program for implementation in all elementary schools in the 1997-98 school year. Success for All, a reading program developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, focuses on prevention and intensive early intervention in order to ensure the success of all children in learning to read. Success for All consists of the following components:

Positive results have been achieved in other schools with both the English and Spanish versions of this program. 11 Although the Success for All Program is in the first year of implementation at Morgan Academy, the teachers seem enthusiastic, and positive results are anticipated. The Two-Way Immersion kindergarten, first, and second grade classes use the Spanish "Roots" and "Wings program" for the first 90 minutes of the day. Students are tested every eight weeks and regrouped according to their reading skills. There are several levels within "Roots" and "Wings." Students go to the appropriate level for instruction, then return to their homeroom to continue their class work. "Roots" is more phonetically based, while Wings allows for more interaction, cooperative learning, and as one teacher put it, "responsibility for their own learning."

The teachers at Morgan Academy thought that Lee conmigo, the Spanish version of Success For All was a worthwhile reading program. They felt that the "Wings" portion of the Success for All program was more interesting to students than "Roots." Successes for All program developers are making changes to the program as input is received from teachers who use this program. Therefore, teachers feel a partnership in the development of a program that may become even better in the future.

Based on the visit and the interviews with Morgan Academy personnel, it seems that teachers make use of a great deal of literature in these primary grades. However, they have difficulty locating books in Spanish for particular thematic units. A choice of different thematic units that have a greater number of books available in Spanish may be necessary. For example, the kindergarten class had a thematic unit on Kenya as part of their Success for All curriculum. As one might expect, it was difficult to locate Spanish materials on Kenya.

One of the primary literacy goals of the L. A. Morgan Program is to use outstanding literature written in Spanish to provide strong motivation for wanting to read. Only literature in Spanish is provided for students in the classroom or translations of outstanding English literature into Spanish. Although most of the books are purchased from publishers, some of the books are translated by teachers or parents and reproduced in big book format for children to read. When the transition into English reading instruction takes place at grade 3, outstanding English literature that is meaningful and motivational for students will be provided.

The only use of bilingual books, text in more than one language within the book, is for the parents of students in the Program. Parents of the Two-Way Immersion Program agree to read aloud to their children or hear their children read aloud to them each night. Written forms are sent home each afternoon and returned each morning indicating that the parents or caregivers have read with their child for 20 minutes. Bilingual books can provide the parents with an understanding of a story that is being read aloud by the child in the second language or the parent reading aloud to the child in the second language. Program faculty prefer good literature in one language, either English or Spanish, for the students within the Program as opposed to books with the text in two languages.

Parents are an important part of the Program. They are required to make a commitment to the Two-Way Program by promising to help out in the school for at least 10 hours per year. Several parents work much more than this. Weekly classes in Spanish and English are available for parents and teachers. Teachers at Morgan felt that some families are greatly involved in the school and with their child's education. Parents are concerned that their children learn and be successful in school. They want their children to learn English and Spanish to increase the opportunities available to them.

What is the role of the school librarian within the Program? A visit by Dr. White with the school librarian revealed that she played only a minor role in the Two-Way Immersion Program. Ideally, the school librarian will be familiar not only with the language, but also with the best literature written in Spanish, in English, or literature presented in a bilingual format. Second, the library materials will be made available and promoted to all students. Third, the librarian will assist the Program coordinator in ordering appropriate literature for classroom collections and provide teachers with outstanding read-a-loud books that have been translated into Spanish. For example, in the second grade class that was visited the teacher was reading a Spanish translation of Ramona and her Father, and they had just finished listening to a Spanish translation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Selection of appropriate reading materials seemed to be a major problem with the teachers. Their selections seemed to be made on availability or what they remembered reading as a child rather than any evaluative literary criteria.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The combined efforts of parents, teachers, students, the school staff, and the librarian enhance learning and literacy for each person involved in the Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program. The students, teachers, coordinator, and principal are excited about the Program and are working hard to make it succeed. The goal is to be proficient in both Spanish and English. It was our observation that the Program is working. However, in order to increase success of the Program it is recommended that the parents and librarian play a greater role in the program. Parents are requested to work in the school for only 10 hours and year, and many have difficulty doing this. It is recommended that the parents put forth more of an effort to participate in special activities that will support the Program. The librarian could provide more popular, high-quality literature for the teachers and students in the Program. Perhaps better communication between the teachers and coordinator with the librarian as to the literature needs of the program would be a beginning point of collaboration among the professionals.

The researchers observed that the primary goal of bilingualism and biliteracy in English and Spanish seems to be an attainable one. The focus of the Program is on the core academic curriculum, quality language arts instruction in both languages, separation of the two languages for instruction, an additive bilingual environment that has full support of school administrators, a balanced ratio of students who speak each language, promotion of positive interdependence among peers and between teachers and students, and high quality instructional personnel. All of these are essential criteria for successful two-way bilingual programs. 12 In addition to the primary goal of bilingualism and biliteracy, Morgan Academy is on its way to achieving what may be an even more valuable outcome--the breaking down of cultural and linguistic barriers.


  1. Snapshot '96: 1995-96 School District Profiles. Division of Performance Reporting, Office of Policy Planning and Research. Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 1997.

  2. Díaz-Rico, L.T., & Weed, K.Z. (1995). The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook: A Complete K-12 Reference Guide. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

  3. Díaz-Rico & Weed (1995).

  4. Díaz-Rico & Weed (1995).

  5. Ovando, C. J., Collier, V.P. (1998). Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in Multicultural Contexts. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

  6. Ovando, C. J., Collier, V.P. (1998).

  7. Ovando, C. J., Collier, V.P. (1998).

  8. Snapshot '96.

  9. Au, K.H. (1993). Literacy instruction in multicultural settings. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

  10. Success for All, Roots and Wings: Strong Outcomes Continue for Elementary School Students. (1996). CRESPAR Research & Development Report. Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk, Johns Hopkins University & Howard University.

  11. Success for All.

  12. Ovando, C. J., Collier, V.P. (1998).