The importance of co-teaching

When your pupils speak two languages, which one can you use in the classroom? Both of course! 

Most of the pupils at BBS Primary come up through our nursery from a full immersion English system. From year 1  they then begin lessons in Italian, so that children are taught different subjects in different languages. 

But could a lesson be delivered in two languages at the same time? At the start of the last school year we decided to try a new approach: “compresenza” lessons with two teachers speaking their respective languages. For us it made sense when teaching bilingual children that the full range of both languages should be set out for them. Why would you only deliver a lesson in one language when you know that the pupils can fully comprehend two? 

Previous thinking in bilingualism focused on the one person one language approach. A child should only hear one language “at a time” otherwise this could lead to, at best, confusion and at worst, linguistic development delays. Since then, thinking has moved on considerably to focus on code switching. Language is about communicating and when bilingual children use more than one language in a sentence, they are not “confused” they are code-switching! They know exactly what they want to say and they are using ALL the tools at their disposal to say it. Language researchers understood this because they studied how bilinguals use different languages when code switching. A bilingual child may not know the word for armchair in English so they will use the Italian word. The important thing is that they swop one noun for another. Their brain understands exactly the grammar for the languages they are using and substitutes accordingly. 

So how does “compresenza” at BBS work? In some subjects, such as History, Geography and Maths, both the English and the Italian teacher share teaching time within the same hour. So, for example, in History the children in Lower Primary learn about the passing of time: the season, months, days etc in both languages. This ensures that they learn all the relevant vocabulary in both languages but, and more importantly, that they make connections. They learn that the two languages they already speak are not separate from each other, but that they have many similarities syntactically and morphologically speaking. 


What is really interesting about the “compresenza” lessons is that, often it allows teachers to shine a light directly on two different cultures. Back to the topic of the passing of time; when does the afternoon end and the evening begin? Much later in Italy than in the UK it would seem! For bilingual and multilingual children this opportunity to make connections, to appreciate the gifts they have as dual language speakers is so important. Often they are the ones who translate or explain to one of the teachers, who, let’s not forget, may be monolingual. This is an incredible feeling of validation for a child. They are being seen and listened to. 


Of course, it’s a good experience for teachers as well. They get the chance to work closely with our colleagues and understand their thought processes and teaching methods. It helps them understand and move closer to another culture and maybe bridge a gap into another world.