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Curriculum Bridging across Chinese and English Instructional Time in a Dual Language Education Program



Driven by a monoglossic ideology, bilingual speakers are often treated and seen as “two monolinguals in one” (Grosjean, 1985). Accordingly, the “two solitudes” approach is commonly adopted in Dual Language Education (DLE) programs, which fosters a strict separation of the two instructional languages by time, teacher, and content. In the two-teacher-two-language model, when partner teachers are assigned different subject matters, there are two layers of separation, language and academic content. Oftentimes accustomed to working in their separate realms of language or content teaching, the English teacher and the partner language teacher are largely unaware of each other’s curriculum. Students’ learning is cut into two separate processes in two classrooms, and it is very difficult for teachers to get a whole picture of students’ linguistic and academic development. This dissertation examines a unique case of teachers in a one-way Chinese English DLE program involved in creating a curriculum bridging process to enable continuity and reinforcement of content and language learning across two linguistic spaces.

Guided by principles of Sociocultural Theory, Communities of Practice Framework, and standards of interdisciplinary curriculum, this study explores the processes of curriculum bridging including its benefits and challenges as well as the ways in which curriculum bridging influences students’ learning. Through an ethnographic research design, data were collected by observing classroom interactions, interviewing teachers, and attending curriculum planning meetings over a 16-month period.

By coding and analyzing teacher discourses, classroom interactions, and teacher interview responses, the study found that teachers’ curriculum bridging group constitutes a community of practice as a localized response to the sociocultural realities of siloed teaching in the two-teacher-two-language model. As a community of practice, they constructed their own repertoire for the bridging process and collaboratively moved towards a more continuous bridging model where the two hands of the classroom are talking to each other more, and there is continuous learning across the English and Chinese instructional time. One prominent benefit is the increased accountability in Ms. Liu’s, a novice Chinese teacher, instructional design. Her collaboration with the other three teachers enabled her to revise her views towards teaching and learning and engage in the process of learning by becoming through the interactions with more capable peers.

However, despite teachers’ positive attitudes towards this joint enterprise, there are challenges involved in the curriculum bridging process, which includes 1) the lack of theoretical consideration for the design of the bridging point, and 2) limited linguistic bridging due to typological differences between Chinese and English and teachers’ lack of linguistic knowledge in these two languages. Other issues include 1) unidirectional bridging from English to Chinese, but not vice versa, 2) untranslatable concepts between the two languages, with the linguistic subtleties and cultural nuances unattended, and 3) power dynamics between the teachers that are not conducive to the construction of a safe and balanced relationship of collaboration.

In the actual implementation of the bridged curricula in class, mixed results were found. There is evidence showing that students took what they acquired in English as a base, acquired additional information in Chinese, and utilized both knowledge sources to make their own analysis and complete their ideas. However, due to the lack of detailed coordination between the two teachers’ curricula, there were instances that students misaligned the concepts and expressions that were instructed across the two linguistic spaces. Also, there were missed teachable moments to retain the relatedness recognized by students due to Ms. Liu’s unfamiliarity with the expressions and materials used in the English classroom. In addition, the teaching team all held an assumption that students would not be able to learn at a desired level of academic rigor in an emergent language; thus there was an imbalanced allocation of the cognitive demands across the English and Chinese instructional time.

Despite needing more refinement, the curriculum bridging model constructed by the teachers presents another way to approach the issues of teacher separation and content separation in today’s educational context and offers the possibility to reconcile the arbitrary divide between languages and content found in dual language immersion programs. Based on the findings, effective bridging requires theoretical guidance, authentic collaboration and detailed coordination to support the continuity of content and skills development for all students. There is a need to broaden the community of practice for curriculum bridging to include multiple perspectives from researchers, teachers and students to further explore the potential of curriculum bridging that may lead to more effective practices in DLE programs.

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