Defining the role of language assistants in the bilingual classroom

Lyndsay R. Buckingham


The foreign language assistant (LA) has played a key role in the bilingual programs in the Community of Madrid (CM) for years. However, their role has often been misinterpreted by teachers and the LAs themselves causing LAs to often not be used to their potential. They sometimes carry out inappropriate tasks or they may not completely fulfill their role, often causing undesirable results. This study implicated the surveying of teachers and LAs involved in the three main bilingual programs in the CM (the CM public bilingual program, the Bilingual English Development and Assessment [BEDA] program and the Unión de Cooperativas de Enseñanza de Trabajo Asociado de Madrid
[UCETAM] program), asking them about their expectations and experiences regarding the role of the LA in the primary-level classroom. Official documentation from the three programs was also analyzed, and the results were compared to those of the questionnaire results analysis. It was found that teachers and LAs hold similar expectations at the start of the academic year, but that they do not always expect LAs to perform the tasks that they do. The study also revealed that classroom practices do not necessarily match the descriptions in official program documentation. Based on these findings, it is suggested that more is done to reconcile classroom practices with official role descriptions, including reflection on the ideal LA role, and training and improved communication in order to better define the role and demonstrate successful ways to make the most of LAs in the classroom.

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