In Plain English

First-Graders make big strides with single-language approach

Hands shot up in a Canoga Park Elementary School first-grade class
last week as veteran teacher Karen Berg asked her students what makes
a butterfly an insect.

“It has six legs,” one pupil responded.

“And three body parts,” added another. “The head, thorax and

As the first year of classes under Proposition 227 ends on most
campuses this week, these Latino students from Spanish-speaking homes
offer a glimpse at how the effort to mandate English-only instruction
is faring.

The students were completing their first year in a Model B class
where instruction is given mostly in English – but where limited
Spanish explanations are allowed as a safety net.

In another wing of the school, Sheryl Rosario’s first-graders were
completing a math lesson on measurement.

Her Model A class included a mix of students from other countries
as well as Latino students whose parents insisted they receive all of
their lessons in English.

To teachers who have embraced English immersion instruction, it
often is difficult to distinguish between the Model B students, who
in past years would have been in bilingual classes, and their Model A

“They’re sponges at this age, they just soak it up,” said Berg, a
former bilingual class instructor.

Rosario said the two teachers frequently team teach and share some
instructional materials.

“It’s really rewarding to see everyone treated equally,” she said.

At the outset of the year, Berg said her students, who came from a
bilingual kindergarten, needed more help in Spanish to grasp some
skills. Yet by midyear she was teaching almost entirely in English.

“I’ve always taught in Spanish in the bilingual program,” said
Berg, a 15-year veteran. “I didn’t know what to think about this
first year in English, but I love it.”

Her students have gone from speaking no English on the first day
of class to speaking it well. And though technically reading is not
supposed to be a major part of Model B instruction and no standard
textbooks are provided, about half her class is reading at a first-
grade level now, Berg said.

“They’re learning the same skills in English that they did in
Spanish,” she added.

Berg attributes part of her success to taking English instruction

“I’ve done it from day one,” she said, describing how she
initially would tell students to line up in English, but then would
have to demonstrate what she meant.

“But it works. It’s rewarding to see them pick up English so

As her students studied compound words last week, Berg explained
how she slowly decreased the amount of Spanish assistance she
provided during lessons until now she essentially runs a Model A

During the transition, she said, students were encouraged to
rephrase Spanish questions into English, and she would respond in

Berg said she’s not opposed to her students spending another year,
or portion of a year, in Model B because some parents feel more
comfortable with a bilingual instructor. Also, she said about half
her class could use more time mastering verbal English skills.

Berg and Rosario said the English immersion program has resulted
in a different school environment for all.

More English is spoken on the playgrounds and in the hallways,
while teachers who a year ago frequently gave routine directions in
Spanish now do so in English.

The reward, Rosario said is seeing so many students “on the same

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