Undergraduate teachers, K-12 students learn from listening to each other in Blanton’s bilingual gallery lessons

Kateri David

Choosing words to describe colors and patterns buzzing with an energy of their own is no easy task for museum guides and gallery instructors, even while using their native language. At the Blanton Museum of Art, students are using two.

Bilingual Co-Teaching at the Blanton, a program spawned from a partnership with the College of Education and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, pairs English and Spanish in-gallery lessons and is offered to dual language K-12 students across Austin. 

The program teaches language acquisition through art instruction, aiming to naturally strengthen a student’s empathy and cultural awareness. Classes are taught by a pair of educators: an English-speaking graduate fellow and a Spanish-speaking bilingual education student. 

Co-teachers meet prior to the lesson to select artworks and activities that correspond to the learning objectives of the K-12 class teacher. Museum educator Sabrina Philips said the rapport between teachers is important in subtly fusing language and art teachings.

“Through the lesson, they’re eliciting the language,” Philips said. “There’s no translation happening between the teachers either, it’s just this beautiful flow of conversation between two languages.”

Although the program flips the dynamic by empowering English language learners, Philips said the dual language experience includes everyone. 

“It’s so empowering not only to hear students speaking in both languages, but also listening to each other,” Philips said. “Here, one student is encouraged to speak in Spanish and the other is encouraged to listen, whether they understand or not.”

Sofia Martin, bilingual education senior and co-teacher, said the Spanish teachers have become positive role models for ESL children. 

“When (the students) see an older person of authority speaking Spanish in an art presentation, they think that it’s alright to embrace their culture and identity,” Martin said. 

Bilingual education junior Azeneth Carvajal said partnering the two languages empowers native Spanish speakers without diminishing the value of English.  

“We use the Spanish language in an area that’s notably academic, and that’s not necessarily what they’re used to, since English is more of the academic language,” Carvajal said. “So (the program’s) built around a togetherness, that both matter in order to enrich both languages.”

Looking to the program’s future, Blanton educators aspire to partner with Austin ISD schools, fostering a smooth transition between the gallery lesson experiences of bilingual education undergrads and their future professions.