Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Experience of Co-Teaching for Emergent Arabic-English Literacy

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Experience of Co-Teaching for Emergent Arabic-English Literacy

Article excerpt

Introduction

When the government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced a "New School Model" (ADEC, 2010a) for state schools in 2010 as part of its major reformation of state schooling, one major innovative component was the introduction of English as a medium of instruction for half of the school day, alongside the existing medium and national language of Arabic. Recognizing that this shift from teaching through Arabic alone to teaching through Arabic-and-English represented "a monumental step" (ADEC, 2010b) for the country, the education council's Director-General saw the need to spell out the reason: "This new approach to education focuses on creating bi-literate students, which means students will be able to understand, speak, read and write in both English and Arabic" (UNESCO, 2011). The task of beginning to create a biliterate future population of native Arabic-speaking Emiratis would be initiated through the use of English as a parallel medium of instruction alongside Arabic in every state school classroom from Kindergarten onwards, and co-teaching was the means through which to implement this at Kindergarten level. Co-teaching was intended to develop children's Arabic and English skills through having Arabic and English teachers jointly plan and teach classes (ADEC, 2012). Whereas Math and Science had been taught through the medium of the native tongue in the past, henceforth they would be taught in English from Kindergarten.

This move towards teaching for biliteracy from Kindergarten warrants investigation for several reasons. First, a significant shift in teacher culture occurred with the "New School Model" which saw thousands of Anglophone international teachers entering early years' classrooms that had hitherto been the domain of Arabic-speaking teachers from the Middle East (Dickson, 2012). The reorientation that this has wrought in schools' linguistic and pedagogical landscapes is worthy of investigation in itself. More specifically, the new approach provides a novel setting for investigation into the process of simultaneous biliteracy development in the early years, a topic that is garnering increasing interest within early childhood education. The small body of extant research tends to focus primarily on contexts of emergent Spanish-English biliteracy (August & Shanahan, 2006; Escamilla, Hopewell, Geisler & Ruiz, 2007; Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005), two languages which are linguistically similar in terms of directionality, alphabet and structure, albeit that Spanish is a Romance language and English a Germanic language. A smaller portion of the literature focuses on emergent biliteracy in linguistically distant languages, mainly Chinese and English (Weiyun He, 2006; Zhang & Guo, 2017). Only a small handful of studies deal with emergent Arabic-English biliteracy, two languages which are also linguistically distant. (See for example, Saiegh-Haddad & Geva, 2009; Tibi, Joshi, & McLeod, 2013). Moreover, the economic prosperity of this oil-rich country allowed for two fulltime teachers, one Arabic-speaking and one English-speaking, in each Kindergarten classroom, as well as an Arabic-speaking classroom assistant in some cases, a situation not generally afforded in other global contexts.

Furthermore, many of the studies of emergent biliteracy in general focus on acquisition in informal settings rather than in the more formal setting of a structured school system, as is the case in this study. Few studies focus on the process rather than on the product of biliteracy development, and investigation into the process of early biliteracy development from the teachers' perspective in particular is an under-researched area. In light of the foregoing, this study focuses on teachers' perceptions of co-teaching for biliteracy in the early years of the implementation of school reform in Abu Dhabi, for as Fullan (1991, p. 117) classically observed, "change in education depends upon what teachers do and think--it is as simple and complex as that. …

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