Alison Bailey: UCLA Lab School Project to Help Lead the Way in Dual-Language Learning

Through new initiatives at the on-campus demonstration school, researchers examine potential of bilingualism

Professor of Education Alison Bailey wants students, teachers, parents, and administrators to realize the inherent potential of bilingualism, and even multilingualism. She says that through her connections to UCLA Lab School and a range of new projects, she hopes to establish an understanding of bilingualism and multilingualism as an asset in education rather than a hindrance.

“Often, bilingualism is seen as a problem that needs a solution rather than… as an amazing investment in human capital for the future of California and L.A. in particular,” says Bailey, an expert on psychological studies in education at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. “[It’s] an amazing opportunity that kids come to school with a linguistic resource. Let’s build on it and make them multilingual.”

In the second year of a multi-year study currently supported by CONNECT, the research office of UCLA Lab School, Bailey and Associate Professor of Education Rashmita Mistry are working with Principal Norma Silva, UCLA Lab School teachers and graduate student researchers Cristal Byrne, Cathy Coddington, and Rachel Zwass on the evaluation and refinement of the Learning in Two Languages (LTL) dual-language program at the school.

The LTL program has made efforts to balance the number of children whose dominant language is English and who wish to acquire Spanish-speaking skills with the number of Spanish-speaking children who are working to learn English. Bailey says that such balance is necessary for the students to serve as models for one another.

“One thing we heard from a formative survey of parents and the teachers themselves was that there wasn’t enough Spanish being spoken throughout the day,” says Bailey. “One of the things Principal Silva did, based in part on feedback from families, was to initiate Spanish throughout the school. So every child in the school has Spanish enrichment, for about half an hour a day. Those who are in the two-way program get Spanish and English hopefully closer to 50-50 throughout the school day.”

Bailey says that in the last 15 years, bilingualism has been under fire for not yielding exemplary academic outcomes for English language learners, and that several states including California have passed mandates to curb the amount of bilingual programming offered.

“It doesn’t disappear entirely because parents can have a waiver to request primary language instruction in the content areas still, so even in California, there’s a sizable percentage of kids getting bilingual education,” she observes.

Despite the criticisms, Bailey says that two-way language learning is part of “a global ethos… that families have a commitment to multilingualism and multiculturalism in an increasingly global society.”

Bailey also states that there is strong evidence about the cognitive effects of bilingualism that enhance children’s academic and social development. The evaluation has therefore adopted a comprehensive framework, including student outcomes in academic, linguistic, social, and cultural competencies as indictors of program impact.

“There is some evidence in the literature that children who are exposed to two languages have greater executive functioning,” Bailey says. “They may be more precocious with their ability to control attention [span], pay attention to form and function, and language. So it really hones those underlying psychological skills.

“We’re looking at social development as well. There’s evidence that children who are being raised in a multicultural environment have better understanding of and empathy toward other people — the social dynamics where you take into account someone who is overtly different from you because they speak a different language. For example, using storytelling techniques, the Lab School children are challenged to solve hypothetical conflicts that may arise from learning and playing alongside other children who do not speak the same language.”

Bailey was awarded a Haynes Faculty Fellowship from The John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation in March, with $12,000 for her proposal of “Development of the Dual-Language Immersion Programs of the Greater LA Area through Research with a Professional Learning Community.”

Inspired by the commonalities between UCLA Lab School’s LTL Program and similar programs at local schools, Bailey hopes to bridge the gap between their English-dominant and English language learner populations by examining the common challenges that all dual-language faculty and staff face throughout Los Angeles County, including dual-language programs in Glendale, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Culver City, as well as other schools throughout LAUSD. An inaugural forum to launch the Professional Learning Community will be held at UCLA Lab School on Saturday, October 27, co-hosted with the UCLA Confucius Institute.

“Typically a dual-language or two-way program hopes for [the] exchange of knowledge of two languages between students,” says Bailey. “I think that UCLA Lab School and GSE&IS more broadly are well-positioned to take a leadership role in examining those models, what works, [and] what the challenges are; sharing the pedagogy that we experiment with, along with researchers and teachers together, collaborating. It would be a good thing to take a look at all that data, see what we are noticing in terms of student attitudes and parent involvement and parent attitudes as well as the curriculum, and be in a position to share that with the wider community.”

Together with GSE&IS doctoral student Anna Osipova, Bailey is also carrying out interviews with families and teachers at UCLA Lab School and beyond in a study of how Americans are fostering multilingualism in the daily lives of children.  Bailey says that bilingual and multilingual education depends on “getting families to, in a sense, experiment with their children’s education,” due to the high level of parental participation in language learning environments.

“Obviously, parents want their kids to be smart, and come out of this with all the advantages of bilingualism in order to be positioned for 21st Century jobs and careers,” says Bailey. “But I also believe that a good number of parents see it as [saying], ‘We want our children to be on the leading edge, being multicultural and multilingual so they can live in our increasingly global society.’”

Knowing just what the linguistics needs of the 21st Century classroom is the goal of a new and larger-scale project. Along with former student Dr. Kimberly Kelly, a Post Doctoral Fellow at GSE&IS, and Margaret Heritage, Assistant Director for Professional Development at UCLA’s National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), Bailey is in the midst of processing data from the first year of a four-year study entitled “Dynamic Language Learning Progressions” (DLLP). A $637,200 award from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research (WCER) is funding the project.  Other staff members include Barbara Jones and Albert Durstenfeld at CRESST and Sandy Chang, a doctoral student in GSE&IS. Their objective is to create research-conjectured and empirically-validated learning progressions of language to be used by a multi-state consortium to inform formative assessment and instruction of language and literacy in classrooms. Students and teachers at UCLA Lab School are involved in the pilot phases, with several Southern California schools and districts slated to participate in the future.