Language First Standard #3: Biliteracy & Counterbalanced Instr.

April 26, 2023

Four focus areas that support the goal of bilingualism and biliteracy in dual language education: The Language First Standards – biliteracy & counterbalanced instruction

Teach language throughout content instruction

By: Stacey VandenBosch

In my last two posts, I talked about the Language First program fidelity and dual language development standards. Today, I want to talk about the biliteracy and counterbalanced instruction standards. Besides defining what we mean by biliteracy and counterbalanced instruction, I’ll explain why they go hand-in-hand. If you are interested in improving your students’ Spanish (or other language) language and literacy development. Read on!


Biliteracy is the development of literacy in two languages. But when we hear that reaching high levels of bilingualism and biliteracy is one of the goals for dual language immersion students, what do we actually mean?

For addalingua, high levels of biliteracy means that students are able to meet grade-level expectations in both languages of instruction. To be clear, I don’t mean the minute students enter a dual language program in preschool or Kindergarten. No, I mean after several years of quality literacy instruction in two languages.

Students who reach high levels of biliteracy are able to listen, read, write, and speak proficiently in two languages. And, a key component of proficiency is accuracy. But, according to research, the Spanish (or other minority language) side of biliteracy is more underdeveloped than the English side. Many dual language students’ speech and writing is characterized by errors that make it difficult for a native speaker to understand them. YIKES! And, that’s not just true for students whose home language is English. Many studies reveal that the same is true for students whose home language is Spanish.

counterbalanced instruction

In response to this research experts such as Dr. Roy Lyster developed methods of instruction that promote accuracy. According to Dr. Lyster, our brains focus on making meaning before concerning themselves with grammatical forms. So, in order to help students focus on form, it’s important to design instruction that draws their attention to key language features WHILE they are learning content. That means making sure our subject matter lesson plans have a language target in addition to a content objective. Let me explain. Imagine your students have to recap the steps they took in a science experiment. What type of language will they need to complete the task proficiently?

If your mind is traveling along the lines of past tense verb endings and the use of ordinal numbers, you’re right!

But, if your mind is also thinking that identifying language targets for every content lesson sounds like a lot of work, you’re also right! Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Our Language First approach makes counterbalanced instruction less overwhelming and high levels of biliteracy development more attainable.

To learn more, you can download a copy of the Biliteracy & Counterbalanced Instruction Standards here, watch our Language First Webinar here, and schedule a call here to learn more about our professional learning courses.