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English Learner Education

Transitional Bilingual Education Programs

Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE)

A Transitional Bilingual Education program is defined in the M.G.L. 71A as, "a program designed to allow English learners to achieve long-term academic success through English-medium instruction in general education classrooms; provided, however, that the native language of the English learner is used to support the student's development of English and content learning and is then gradually phased out of instruction as a student's English proficiency increases." While, unlike SEI programs, native language is used in content to support ELs, TBE programs are subtractive, because unlike Dual Language programs, native language instruction is gradually phased out of content as a student's English language proficiency increases and a student is eventually promoted out of the TBE program.

TBE programs enroll ELs who speak a common home language. It is important to recognize that ELs may vary in a few other important areas, including country of origin, home language literacy experiences, prior schooling experiences, individual learning needs, and level of English proficiency. TBE programs can start or end at any grade level, according to individual student performance patterns and needs, and based on district policy. As such, TBE programs have the flexibility to support more transient student populations. Generally, programs that target early exit from TBE (early-exit programs) transition students to Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) programs. Students from early-exit models are still English learners (ELs) and should receive EL services.

Essential Features of Effective TBE Programs

TBE programs are designed to respond flexibly to students at different English proficiency levels, who are fluent in their home language. Typically, in TBE programs, initial content and literacy instruction is in the student's home language, paired with systematic and sequential ESL instruction. Teachers leverage students' linguistic and cultural resources to support language and literacy development and grade-level-appropriate content learning.

In TBE programs, initial instruction occurs primarily in the home language, with a small amount of English instruction that increases from year to year until students are able to successfully achieve in classrooms where the sole language of instruction is English.

The amount of time used for content instruction in the home language and English varies according to the students' English language proficiency and grade levels. The ratio of home language instruction progressively decreases as the ratio of English instruction increases, until instruction in the home language is phased out altogether.

Key features include:

  1. Clear articulation of the role and use of students' home language and English to support language and literacy development and mastery of grade-level content;
  2. Integration of students in the TBE program to the largest extent possible without compromising the integrity of their education; and
  3. High academic expectations for all students.

TBE Program Models (Early Exit vs. Late Exit Models):

Within the TBE classroom, there are two main models of instruction dependent on the students' language proficiency:

The main goal of the early-exit model is to expedite the acquisition of the second language so that ELs can be integrated into classrooms with native speakers of English. This model uses ELs' first language as a foundation for building English language competency. Students receive instruction in both languages to progress academically and prepare to transfer rapidly to a mainstream classroom with English native speakers of English in an SEI setting. The program can last from one to four years, usually from kindergarten to third or fourth grade. As students' competence in English increases, it gradually takes the place of the first language, so English is often taught at the expense of the first language. As a result, ordinarily students do not exit the program truly bilingual.

Implementation of Early-Exit Bilingual Programs

ELs who share the same first language are grouped in the same classroom. They have bilingual teachers who teach content subjects such as math and science in either the students' first language or in English. Districts may vary in the amount of first-language instruction that is utilized; however, the degree to which the ELs' first language is spoken in the classroom depends on the proficiency level of the ELs who generally require more instruction in their native language at earlier grade levels. In kindergarten, the average length of instruction in the first language may be approximately one hour to 90% of the school day. The amount of time spent teaching in the first language is then reduced in grades 1 and 2. Although ELs may be instructed in the language arts of both first and second languages simultaneously, instruction in reading in the second language doesn't typically begin until students meet the standards for reading in their first language. As ELs make progress in their second language, it becomes increasingly incorporated into the core content curriculum, gradually taking the place of the first language. A key component of the program is to teach the students' culture, and this is done through classroom activities and materials.

The main goal of the late-exit model is to facilitate understanding of all core content subjects while maintaining use of the students' native language, allowing a greater transitional period during which students acquire the second language at a slower pace. Unlike the early-exit model, more time and attention is given to mastering literacy in the students' home language to support new learning in the second language. Students typically spend a greater deal of time—especially in elementary school—learning in their native language. In late-exit transitional programs, the transition may take up to six years. The more closely ELs' prior experiences and background knowledge align with the academic and other expectations of U.S. schools, the more likely it is that the ELs can move through the program quickly. Students who may have limited or interrupted formal education ("SLIFE") need more time. A gradual transition of at least four to six years is may be optimal to provide these students with the necessary support for academic success.

Implementation of Late-Exit TBE Bilingual Programs

Like in early-exit programs, ELs who share the same first language are grouped in the same classroom and they have bilingual teachers who teach content subjects such as math and science in either the students' first language or in English. Both languages are used in the classroom; however, unlike early-exit programs, instruction in content areas is conducted in the first language for a longer period of time. A key difference between early- and late-exit programs is that late-exit programs generally span five to seven years, whereby it is more likely that students become truly bilingual when they exit the program. As ELs make progress in their second language it gradually takes the place of the first language. Like early-exit programs, a key component of the late-exit program is to help ELs to be proficient in their native language and bridge the academic gap between themselves and English only students.

No matter the model, TBE programs can start or end at any grade level. They have the flexibility to support more transient student populations, as the program design allows students to enter at any time and exit at any time according to individual performance patterns.

Guidance for Transitional Bilingual Education Programs

List of Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) Programs

Last Updated: June 14, 2023

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