Clear Objectives for Bilingual Education: - Cultural Awareness to Make Content Meaningful

by Loretta Nannini
Seton Hall Univerisity


Effective instruction of linguistically and culturally diverse students requires teachers to be sensitive to students' unique learning styles. To achieve intended outcomes, learning goals must be clearly communicated, reflect cultural awareness and be relevant to the student's experiences. Content will be meaningful only if it takes into account the student's prior knowledge and his/her world view. If bilingual education is to be a successful and enriching experience for all students, teacher education must include multicultural awareness and foster an acceptance and respect of different cultures and linguistic traits, to facilitate students in acquiring a second language and learning the modes of a new culture, while maintaining an appreciation of their own cultural heritage.
Clear Objectives for Bilingual Education:

Cultural Awareness to make Content Meaningful

Clear learning goals are fundamental to all students. "The link between effective teaching and learning and the teacher's formulation of learning goals that are appropriate to the student" (Danielson, 1996, p. 123) takes on even greater significance where effective bilingual instruction is the aim.

Clarity of Learning Goals

A study of significant bilingual instructional features revealed a clear linkage between the teachers' ability to specify clearly the intent of instruction, the organization and delivery of instruction to reflect this intent, and student performance with intended outcomes (Tikunoff, 1985). If "a clear objective is one that creates an image of specifically what a student will know or be able to do when the instruction is over . What's important is that the image is framed from the students' point of view" (Saphier & Gower, 1997, p. 408), the unique linguistic and academic needs of the bilingual student must be taken into consideration when formulating and communicating learning goals.

Appropriate strategies might be as diverse as putting all the goals on the board to assure that students and teacher can measure what they do or taking the time to discuss why the objective is worhwhile ( Saphier & Gower, 1997). In either case, the bilingual student will be able to insert the goal into a suitable frame of reference to meet his/her particular needs.

Cultural Awareness

To facilitate learning, teachers need to "accomodate students' background knowledge and skills" (Danielson, 1996, p. 41) . "By the time children begin their formal education at the age of five or six, they have already internalized many of the basic values and beliefs of their native culture" (Saville-Troike, 1978). This is the often hidden element of culture that is so important to successful bilingual education. All students bring to the classroom out-of school knowledge that influences school-based learning (Danielson). When this individual knowledge includes another language and a different culture, it must be taken into account so as not to become "a barrier in the communication process between teachers and students" (Cruz, Bonissone & Baff, 1995). If learning as defined by McCombs (as cited in Danielson) is "an individual process of contructing meaning from information and experience, filtered though each individual's unique perceptions, thoughts, and feelings", then a student's cultural heritage must not be dismissed but instead utilized to enhance his/her learning. It is also important to identify potential areas of cultural interference where two cultures may come into conflict or overlap. There may be different values, expectations and behaviors to be learned by a student before going on to study the curriculum.

Teacher education programs must develop cultural awareness and teachers must prepare to be effective instructors of culturally and linguistically diverse student populations (Parla, 1994). Teachers should be encouraged to reflect on their attitudes and experiences toward language and culture and thus hopefully develop a greater understanding of different learning styles and different cultural expectations.

There is no longer the fear that speaking a native language at home will place a student's success with second language acquisition at risk. Studies by Cummins and Collier & Thomas (as cited in Soto, Smrekar & Nekcovei, 1999) indicate that children can readily transfer concepts learned at home in their first language to the second language. If "bilingualism" is then extended to embrace "biculturalism", a unique opportunity is provided for exchange among learners, families, educators and the community, which allows students to utilize their cultural and linguistic heritage while learning new skills which, in turn, increases their academic success (Cruz et al., 1995).

The old model of sacrificing native language and rejecting its cultural ties can be replaced with one of teaching and learning about the second culture and how to operate effectively within it, without requiring students to sever all ties to the former. Bicultural education should "broaden the range of choice for cultural identity" (Saville-Troike, 1978), not restrict it to the dominant culture. "Learning is a process owned by the learner and facilitated by the teacher which includes respect for the student and his/her view of the world " Freire (as cited in Serpa & Serpa, 1997).

Meaningful Content

The theories supporting bicultural education extend to content and curriculum. Students gain "a sense of empowerment when the content presented and ideas discussed are relevant to their experiences and histories" (Fern, Anstrom & Silcox, 1993). Students engage material at a deeper level if they find aspects of it that have personal relevance (Warmoth, 1995).

How can teachers implement a curriculum that reflects diverse languages and cultures? They can tap the community's cultural resources for use in the classroom, incorporate out-of-school experiences, be flexible in their teaching styles, involve parents and the community and, above all, remain sensitive to and respectful of cultural and linguistic differences among their students.

Multicultural sensitivity should be institutionalized in the schooling process regardless of the content taught or the instructional approach. Teacher education programs should foster an attitude of acceptance and respect for unique cultures and linguistic traits. Once in the classroom, bilingual teacher competencies should aim at helping children appreciate their own ethnic heritage, thereby developing a positive self-concept, foster peer acceptance and interaction, and minimize the inevitable conflicts between cultures (Canales & Ruiz-Escalante, 1992).


Clearly stating objectives that the bilingual student can decode and understand, and that have relevance to his/her cultural background can impact on student learning significantly.

The challenge of preparing future citizens of the 21st century who can meet the demands of a multicultural society is in the hands of today's educators. If students are to reach their full potential, educational goals must go beyond instructional objectives and include values and expectations and teaching must provide the meaningful content that enhances students' understanding of the interconnectedness of all cultures and peoples.


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Cruz, G. I., Bonissone, P. R. & Baff, S. J. (1995). The Teaching of Culture in Bilingual Education Programs: Moving Beyond the Basics. New York State Association for Bilingual Education Journal 10, 1-5. [On-line]. Available:

Danielson, C. (1996). Enhancing Professional Practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Diaz Soto, L., Smrekar, J. L. & Nekcovei, D. L. (1999). Preserving Home Languages and Cultures in the Classroom: Challenges and Opportunities. Directions in Language & Education, National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 13. [On-line]. Available:

Fern, V., Anstrom, K. & Silcox, B. (1993). Active Learning and The Limited English Proficient Student. Directions in Language & Education, National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1 (2). [On-line]. Available:

Parla, J. (1994). Educating Teachers for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity: A Model for All Teachers. New York State Association for Bilingual Education Journal 9, 1-6. [On-line]. Available:

Saphier, J. & Gower, G. (1997). The Skillful Teacher. Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching, Inc.

Saville-Troike, M. (1978). A Guide to Culture in the Classroom. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. [On-line]. Available:

Serpa, M. B. & Serpa, C. V. (1997). Book Review: Freire, P. Pedagogia da Automomia. Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism & Practice, 1. Lesley College, Cambridge, MA. [On-line]. Available:

Tikunoff, W. J. (1985). Applying Significant Bilingual Instructional Features in the Classroom. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. (ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education/Columbia Teachers College). [On-line]. Available :

Warmoth, A. (1995). Thoughts on Feedback in Interactive/Collaborative Teaching-Learning Models. California Learning Community Consortium On-Line Library. [On-line]. Available:

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