Starting a program: Guide for Administrators

Are you ready to introduce German at your school?

By Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, Ph.D.

This guide outlines steps toward establishing an elementary school German dual language immersion program.

It is important for school leaders to know that excellent instructional models and German language materials are readily available and that a number of successful German dual language immersion schools already exist. Key issues to keep in mind include:

How to make all students succeed in dual language immersion?
How to continue dual language immersion from elementary to secondary school?
How to recruit and retain quality teachers?
Understanding dual language immersion and its goals
School leaders must communicate effectively and knowledgeably about dual language immersion as an educational model that serves all students with three goals:
  • academic achievement in the core subjects (English language arts, math and science),
  • high levels of proficiency and literacy in both languages (bilingualism and biliteracy),
  • and appreciation and understanding of different cultures (biculturalism). 
Determining the status of German and world languages
School leaders will need to position the dual language immersion program in relation to the status of world languages and specifically German at the district level by asking questions such as:
  • Are there any local, state or federal policies and procedures for building an immersion program?
  • Do any dual language immersion programs currently exist in the school district?
  • How does the school district support world languages in general, and German in particular?
  • Have any German programs in the district been recognized by professional organizations?
  • Which school does the elementary school feed into, and does it have a German program? 
Defining the instructional model
School leaders are able to rely on well-established instructional models that define, most importantly, the amount of partner language instruction in each grade and for each subject during the school day. They will also have to decide whether each grade will be taught by a single (bilingual) teacher or by two teachers, one German- and the other English-speaking, who will work closely together.
Other aspects of the instructional model include:
  • expectations of partner language use by the teacher and students,
  • formative and summative proficiency assessments,
  • teacher support and professional development,
  • and cultural activities in the classroom and the school as a whole to promote biculturalism.
You can read about typical curricular models here.

Making the case for German dual language immersion
School leaders should emphasize that a German dual language immersion program:
  • will be open to all students and strive for a diverse student body,
  • does not require German language heritage,
  • will hire both native and highly proficient non-native German teachers,
  • will rely on available instructional models, materials and assessments, for example German math that aligns with the Common Core; literacy programs from German publishers; and proficiency testing such as AAPPL,
  • will prepare students for standardized achievement tests that are administered in English,
  • will be able to consult with existing dual language immersion schools around the U.S. 
Building coalitions and partnerships
To establish and sustain a German dual language immersion program, school leaders will work with dedicated and engaged families, German teachers in the district, and professional organizations such as the Goethe-Institut and the state AATG chapter(s). Families are critical for promoting and supporting the program long-term; middle and high school teachers can assist with advocacy and teacher recruitment and the continuation from the elementary to the secondary level; and language organizations such as AATG and the Goethe-Institut can provide materials and also professional development for teachers.
Other partners might include: world language and ESL coordinators at the district level, principals of middle and high schools that offer German, German/world language departments at colleges and universities, local and state politicians and businesses. Finally it is important to identify funding sources for the program: grants, loans, partnerships with local German businesses, state and district funding sources, fundraising initiatives led by parent groups.
Teacher credentials, recruitment and retention
The success of dual language immersion is directly tied to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, who are both content and language teachers. Dual language immersion teachers should be certified in elementary education and, if they are not native speakers of German, have an Advanced High ACTFL proficiency rating. In addition, teachers should have been trained in second language pedagogy that focuses on the integration of language and academic subjects.
With the help of partners, schools have to recruit teachers from within and outside the state and then provide sufficient support to retain them. Key to retention is the adoption of high-quality instructional programs that align with U.S. educational standards such as the Common Core and are available in German. They not only benefit students’ academic achievement, but also reduce the workload for teachers. Teachers should not be asked to create their own German language teaching materials or to translate materials from English into German.

Further detailed information and step-by-step suggestions on how to start a dual language program can be found on the pages of the initiative: “Dual Language School Guide to Start a Successful Dual Language Immersion Program”.

Johanna Watzinger-Tharp JWT

Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Utah, researching and teaching on dual immersion, multilingualism, curriculum design and teacher education.