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Learning in a Bilingual School ~ Part Three: Harmonization

Blog Type:  Bilingualism Lower School
Date Posted:  Friday, April 12, 2019

Three vital concepts in a bilingual school are collaboration, harmonization and co-teaching. This article is the third part of a three-part series examining those three ideas. The first part is about co-teaching, which refers to sessions with students when both the French and English teacher are with their class at the same time. The second part about collaboration outlines how French and English teachers collaborate together to plan instruction.

Harmonization is the third piece of the puzzle and refers to the instruction the French and English teachers do with the same set of students but at different times. This article will highlight just some of the ways we harmonize our curriculum.

Harmonization is the most important aspect of learning in a bilingual school as students spend most of their day with either their French or their English teacher. There are some other bilingual schools who keep the two respective language curriculums separate. At EB, we believe that teaching and learning in French and English has to be connected and this view is supported by educational research.

Teachers need to make explicit the connections between learning in the two languages and create bridges for students to take what they have learned in one language and transfer it to the other. In addition, since we cover two sets of standards, it is vital to make effective use of time with students by connecting the two curriculums.



Over the past three years, we have been examining our mathematics curriculum very closely to determine how to best teach math in two languages and prepare students for advanced mathematics in either language.

This year we have honed in on what we teach and how we teach it. We want to keep the unique aspects of the French and American math curriculums intact, build on each other for many of the common foundational aspects and also harmonize the approach of math between French and American teachers.

We have introduced bilingual problem solving strategies so that students can use the same approach to solving word problems and also use the same mathematical models, such as number bonds, bar models and area models--you can learn more about these tools in this previous newsletter article.

In first and second grade we are using Number Corner bilingually. It cycles through various elements of the American curriculum but is taught in both French and English on different days. It’s important to introduce certain concepts of the American curriculum in these grades since the major math instruction is conducted in French.

In third, fourth and fifth grades, we have created new progressions which harmonize the teaching of all mathematical concepts between the French and English teachers. We make deliberate decisions about how to introduce new concepts, which concepts to work on bilingually and how to transfer learning from one language to another.

Number Corner in grade 2.

For example, in fifth grade, teachers taught bilingual units on place value, multiplication, division and decimals in the fall. Then the English teachers started intensive units on fractions while the French teachers delved deeper into geometry, proportion and volume. They will end the year with another bilingual unit on the coordinate plane.

We will write about our math pilot and our plans for the future in an upcoming article.


Language Arts: Reading, Writing and Oral Language

There are many opportunities to harmonize our efforts in language arts. When we teach grammar and parts of speech, we can outlines the similarities and differences between French and English. For example, adjectives are words that describe nouns in both languages but in English they come before a noun and in French they often come after the noun but in certain cases can come before.

Phonics is another area where it is important to harmonize. We have developed a comparative phonics analysis which outlines the similarities and differences between the way sounds work in the two languages. Teachers use this tool to guide their instruction. They can explicitly teach certain sounds and letters that are the same in French and English.

French and English teachers also pay special attention to phonemes that do not exist in the other language to cultivate a near-native accent in both languages. Students need to also understand how vowels work in the two languages. This is complicated as vowels make more than one sound in both French and English so there are many rules to understand.

Teachers often take advantage of bilingual books in order to study the same story or author in French and English. Students in the Maternelle read the book Un Livre by Hervé Tullet in French and also the English version, Press Here, before attending the Bay Area Children’s Theater musical, Press Here.

In second grade, students read Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood in English and in French (Vif comme un grillon) to study adjectives.

As part of our balanced literacy approach, students first, second and third grade participate in small guided reading groups in both French and English. Teachers use a similar lesson plan so the instructional goals are clear to students. We use leveled books in both languages so we can differentiate instruction for each child. In addition, we have developed bilingual decoding strategies so that students know they can use the same tools when learning to read words off the page.

In third, fourth and fifth grades, we continue to implement the balanced literacy approach with reader’s and writer’s workshop. Teachers have developed bilingual units so that students are studying the same genre at the same time in both languages.

In third grade, students just finished a bilingual unit on writing informative text and created bilingual books about an animal. They studied about their chosen animal in both languages by reading informative text and learned how to take notes.

They chose four or five topics as their chapters and wrote some chapters in French and some chapters in English. They published their books this week by presenting them to the class.


In third grade, students wrote an informative text and created bilingual books about an animal as part of a bilingual unit.

Earlier this year in fourth grade, the teachers taught a bilingual unit on writing realistic fiction. All the mini-lessons conducted in French and English were applied to an original story in each language. Students learned about creating a story arc and combining description, action and dialogue to create a compelling finished piece.

Bilingual books created by G4 students.

We have also developed bilingual comprehension strategies and are in the process of implementing those school wide. They help students to understand that we use the same metacognitive strategies to understand text no matter which language we using. Here are the strategies students use at EB:

Reading comprehension strategies: Stratégies de compréhension de lecture:
Make connections
Ask questions
Determine importance
Summarize/ Synthesize
Stratégies de compréhension de lecture:
Faire des liens
Poser des questions
Faire des inférences
Aller à l’essentiel
Résumé/ Synthèse
Evaluer/ interpretation


Content Subjects: Social Studies and Science

There are many opportunities to harmonize learning in the content areas of history, geography, science and other content areas. Often students will learn about a subject in one language and learn the vocabulary for that topic in both languages.

An example was when first grade students learned about community helpers and developed vocabulary in French and English to prepare for their trip to the fire station. In third grade, students completed a bilingual STEAM unit around the four Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. In fourth grade, students began the year learning about the scientific process with a bilingual experiment creating pendulums.

Often teachers can connect history learning between two different topics. Fifth graders learn about both the American and French Revolutions and can make connections about how and why democracy changed our two nations.


Harmonization Takes Effort

We are very proud of the hard work and effort on the part of our teachers and Curriculum Coordinators, Sylvie Lemeur and Maggie Schoon, which creates the harmonization of learning possible at EB. Collaboration time between teachers at each grade level as well as with the curriculum coordinators allows for our two programs to be connected. Our goal is to make learning in two languages a comprehensive and cohesive experience for students.