Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Three-Year Transition Program for Native Spanish-Speaking Elementary Students

What Is It?

This 3-year program provides a sustained approach to Spanish and English development that cultivates and builds on primary language skills and personal and cultural experiences. The program is a combination of:

The language arts model establishes continuity of curriculum and instruction across the grade levels and as students move from primarily Spanish to English instruction.

Four theoretical premises undergird the program:

Why Did It Get Started?

The Three-Year Transition Program was developed and evaluated by educators and researchers in the Los Angeles area over a 5-year period (1991 to 1995). The impetus for the project was a growing concern among administrators, teachers, and parents in a particular group of schools about the transitional phase of the bilingual program (when students actually begin English reading and writing). Students seemed to be doing well in Spanish at the lower and middle grades but very poorly in English at the upper grades.

How Does It Work?

Grade three is explicitly considered a Pre-Transition year, grade four is Transition I, and grade five is Transition II. Each phase is described below. > As a way of maintaining continuity and capitalizing on students' Spanish literacy skills and experiences, the same language arts model is used across the 3-year program. The model comprises 12 components organized into three groups:

Units of Study -- Literature Units (Experience-Text-Relationship), Literature Logs, Instructional Conversation, and Culminating Writing Projects;
Skill Building -- Assigned Independent Reading, Reading Comprehension Strategies (strategic reading), Writing Conventions Lessons, Dictation, and English Language Development through Literature (specifically for Pre-Transition); and
Other Support Components -- Teacher Read-Alouds, Pleasure Reading, and Interactive Journals.

Model components were selected and refined to establish a high degree of academic challenge and to address comprehensively the full array of literacy skills and competencies (e.g., from spelling to revision, from literal comprehension to literary analysis, and from recitation to high-level discussions).

What Are The Costs?

During the first 3 years of implementation, a full-time facilitator or trainer is required. This position can be established through either Title VII funding, reallocation of Title I funds, or with district resources. Technical assistance and materials for year 1 typically average about $20,000. Continued assistance during years 2 and 3 cost approximately $5,000 per year.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

A system and structure to assist with implementation is under development. The model is phased in over a 3-year period that involves both organizational changes and sustained professional development for grades three through five teachers, and for the Title VII, Title I, and district- provided facilitator. Establishing the 3-year design of the program involves improving assessment and placement procedures, organizing Pre-Transition classes by oral English language proficiency levels, and constituting and staffing Transition I and Transition II classes.

Professional development addresses implementation of the language arts model for each phase of the transition program and involves three stages: classroom organization; literature units; and skill- building components. School-site training and coordination is carried out by program facilitators. Facilitators and a small number of teachers are trained by project staff during an initial 2-week Summer Institute, and 6 full-day follow-up meetings conducted across the first year of implementation. During years 2 and 3, ongoing professional development is carried out by school personnel. The facilitator and two or three lead teachers continue to attend regular support and guidance workshops led by project staff.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

Longitudinal evaluations conducted at the five original schools sites where the program is in operation indicate that the Three-Year Transition Program is more effective than the transitional bilingual program students receive. The findings include the following:

Where Can I See It?

Demonstration sites are available in the Los Angeles area for visits.

Whom Do I Contact?

Bill Saunders or Claude Goldenberg
Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence
The California State University, Long Beach
Department of Teacher Education
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
Long Beach, California 90840
Telephone: 310-536-0156 (Saunders) or 562-985-4443 (Goldenberg); Fax: 562-985-1774
E-mail: or

The Research Base

The four theoretical premises (Challenge, Continuity, Connections, and Comprehensiveness) are grounded in studies that have tried to identify the characteristics of successful programs for English- language learners. The program is designed around the study of literature because research has found that students benefit from extensive and intensive opportunities to work with text, to study interesting stories. Based upon research conducted as part of the Kamehameha Elementary Education Program in Hawaii and Spanish-speaking Latino communities in southern California, the Experience-Text-Relationship approach was selected as the framework for studying literature. Through discussion, writing activities, and reading, the teacher helps students study the story in relationship to their own experiences. Students learn to comprehend text, to make connections between the text and their own lives, and to develop more fully formed concepts through this recurrent process of individual and social discourse.

Grounded in second language acquisition theory, the literature units help provide substantial comprehensible input language that includes slightly more sophisticated structures or vocabulary than the learner can produce on his or her own, but language that is understandable within the context in which it is used. The literature unit becomes a meaningful social context in which words, phrases, language structures, and concepts are used, acquired, and learned.

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