May 16, 2022 12:00 am

Key Components of Authentic Spanish Language Arts Instruction

Imagine Learning created a Cultural Advisory Board of Spanish Language Arts experts to seek feedback for constant improvement in authenticity of content and pedagogy. Here are their suggestions.

Map of United States showing the 2021 DLI Programs

There is a growing consensus among educators that dual-language programs are essential to student success, especially as we prepare them for a global economy. In fact, there has been substantial growth in dual language programs from 300 in 2001 to 3600 in 2021, an 1100% increase. Additionally, Spanish accounts for 80% of these language immersion programs in the U.S., so there is a massive demand for Spanish Language Arts (SLA) programs. A significant challenge, however, is providing authentic Spanish instruction. Imagine Español draws upon the expertise of a Cultural Advisory Board to understand the key components of an effective SLA program. The board consists of directors of dual language programs, district administrators, instructional coaches, and educators from our customer base. Here’s what we learned:

1. Authentic Spanish content drives student engagement

Board members shared that students are less engaged, and it is challenging to maintain their interest when they learn Spanish from trans-adapted rather than authentic content. According to Market Research, “The growing population of such students presents an opportunity to provide them with materials to address their needs. Some educators complain that materials offered for students are simply translations of standard materials, lacking the authenticity of content developed in the language. As schools become more diverse — with some large districts reporting more than 100 different languages spoken —educators say they cannot find resources for some English-language learners.” What teachers are looking for is content that is specifically created to support SLA instruction. This authentic content should provide rich language support through vocabulary practice, independent reading, and assessments while also inspiring cultural appreciation and a love for the Spanish language.

Screenshot from Imagine Español showing the vocabulary word agitar
Group of people watching a street performance

2. Representation in Spanish instruction is key

It’s common for SLA programs to focus primarily on content from Mexico, but providing content that embraces the diversity of Latin American culture promotes inclusivity. “‘If we can make children feel more whole and more ready and more accepted and welcomed and validate their prior knowledge and prior learning experiences, then we’ve gone a long way to making them ready to learn over the course of a lifetime,’ says Tara Fortune, immersion program director at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.”

3. Instruction should be standards-aligned

As dual-language program adoption is expanding across schools in the U.S., there is greater demand for standards-aligned SLA education, particularly at the elementary level. Many states have their own SLA-specific standards, such as California. WIDA (World Class Instructional Design and Assessment) is a consortium of states with common SLA standards created in the early 2000s.

Because the creation and expansion of SLA programs and standards across the United States is more recent, there are not many SLA programs to choose from, let alone programs that are aligned with standards. The Center on Standards & Assessment Implementation described the important relationship between standards and curriculum: “Standards indicate what students should know and be able to do within a particular content area, while curriculum shapes how students will gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities as described in the standards.” A standards-aligned curriculum ensures teachers that students will focus on the skills they need, like accents, to be language proficient. SLA standards ask students to not only learn syllable emphasis but also to classify words by types of accents, such as agudas, graves, and esdrújulas, and also to spell words by placing accents correctly.

Laptop showing the Spanish Language Arts program

4. Digital instruction needs to be accessible to all students

The pandemic has brought to light the need for learning solutions to be accessible to students of all abilities, as well as for students who may be completing work on a smaller device, like a smartphone. Certain functions, like dragging and dropping, can be challenging, so providing multiple ways to respond to questions improves accessibility. Additionally, audio supports that read buttons or features allowed when students hover over them help to ensure all students can successfully complete the activity. This video shows an Imagine Español activity where students can use the different audio and video supports to learn vocabulary in multiple ways.

As dual-language programs become more prevalent, SLA curriculums evolve from their previous supplemental roles to be more front and center. And the experts all agree — to reach students, authenticity is key.

About the Author — Deviki Gupta

Product Marketing Manager, Imagine Español and Imagine Reading

Deviki Gupta is a Product Marketing Manager for Imagine Español and Imagine Reading. She leverages her six-year experience in EdTech and Big Data research to integrate customer insights into the product development and marketing roadmaps for Imagine Learning’s suite of dual-language solutions. Deviki is passionate about making bilingual education inclusive, culturally representative, and accessible for all.