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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Program Alternatives for Linguistically Diverse Students


This report looks at programs and approaches for educating students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. It is intended as a guide for decision makers in schools and school districts to help them identify the instructional approaches and programs that would best serve their students, meet their goals and needs, and match local resources and conditions. An underlying assumption of this report is that no single approach or program model works best in every situation. Many different approaches can be successful when implemented well. Local conditions, choices, and innovation are critical ingredients of success.

We discuss four program alternatives that are currently available to meet the diverse and complex needs of English language learners: (1) newcomer programs, (2) transitional bilingual education, (3) developmental bilingual education, and (4) two-way immersion. We also discuss an instructional approach that can be used with all students learning through the medium of a second language regardless of the type of program they are in. This approach is called sheltered instruction. Sheltered instruction can be implemented in conjunction with the other program alternatives discussed in this report, or it can be implemented as the sole approach for educating English language learners.

We also discuss foreign/second language immersion, which is designed for native-English-speaking students from the mainstream culture who want to acquire advanced proficiency in another language. Immersion programs also provide a viable option for educating indigenous language groups who have lost their heritage language. They are not intended, however, for English language learners; results from immersion programs should not be used to argue against first language instruction for these students.

Virtually all schools in America are being called upon to provide educational services for linguistically and culturally diverse students. It is imperative for the well-being of these students, their communities, and the nation that they receive the best education possible. In this report, we describe educational alternatives that work.

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