Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Review: Educating Emergent Bilinguals

 Not much about computers or writing but definitely about language learning.
reviewed by Lynn Zimmerman — January 04, 2011
coverTitle: Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Language Learners. Search for book at Amazon.com
Author(s): Ofelia Garcia and Jo Anne Kleifgen
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751138, Pages: 192, Year: 2010  

For Garcia and Kleifgen the question: What’s in a name? is more than an existential question. In their book, Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Language Learners, they assert that how the question is answered not only gives a different meaning to the experience of people who are labeled in various ways as learners of English, but also has profound implications for educational policies and practices that impact them. Rather than using the “deficit model” of naming which has been the norm in the education of non-English speaking learners, Garcia and Kleifgen suggest calling them “emergent bilinguals.” This critical act of “re-naming” shifts the focus to the knowledge that they have and to the possibilities of bilingualism instead of focusing on their lack of English and the narrow goal of learning English.

Framing their examination of the issue of the education of bilingual learners using a social justice critique, Garcia and Kleifgen first look at who this rapidly growing population is, and how demographic information about them is collected. They then examine educational policy and practices, focusing on recent policies, particularly No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which emphasize English-only education. Finally, using a critical perspective based in a linguistic human rights philosophy, they examine the issues and inequities present in the education of non-English speaking learners. With research–based evidence to address the gap between theory and practice, the authors offer alternatives to current policies and practice which will create more effective and meaningful education for this population of learners.
After pointing out some of the contradictions and inconsistencies in how the non-English speaking population is identified by the various local, state and federal agencies who collect this data, the authors draw attention to several issues facing these learners: poverty, inadequate early childhood programs, and characteristics of these learners that often are not identified, such as whether they have experienced any interrupted schooling. The authors also point out that unlike many other “identified” groups, language learners’ status can change as proficiency in English develops. How that change is determined and measured is of key importance with emergent bilinguals because ability is often measured through tests of academic achievement, not language proficiency. All of these issues must be considered when creating educational policies for this population.
Despite the increase in the number of students who need English as a Second Language (ESL) services, educational policy has moved toward English-only programs over the past ten years. Therefore, more students are receiving English-only instruction or minimal ESL services, a shift which is contrary to research showing that use of the learners’ home language supports language learning, as well as acquisition of academic knowledge. Also, although research shows that it takes 5-7 years for full academic fluency to develop, most testing policies require students to exit special instruction after 1-3 years. Garcia and Kleifgen identify assessment as one of the key issues facing educators and emergent bilinguals.
In their discussion of the relationship between bilingualism and academic achievement, the authors focus on research about the effectiveness of bilingual education and particularly the development of a student’s home language for developing proficiency in English and for academic achievement. Garcia proposes a complex model of bilingualism, or “dynamic bilingualism,” which changes the focus from language being something that people “have” to something that people “use.” She suggests that, “any language-in-education approach that does not acknowledge and build upon the hybrid language practices in bilingual communities is more concerned with controlling language behavior than in educating” (p. 43). The language of bilinguals is a complex translanguage which incorporates the two languages and creates something different. The authors assert that education must recognize and take advantage of this complexity. Connections should be built between the two languages, and English Language Learners (ELLs) should be allowed and encouraged to use their first language to support their learning. For example, students can write papers in their first language, then make oral presentations in English. Double-entry journals in which students record their thoughts in both languages are also effective. Such techniques and other translanguaging pedagogies allow students to develop their own strategies for learning, and help them build content knowledge. Garcia and Kleifgen advocate using complex, but scaffolded, language. When various scaffolding techniques and some direct instruction are combined, students can engage in complex language interactions successfully. Further, authentic assessment, which recognizes the interaction between language and content, such as assessing students in their home language, assessing bilingually, and assessing through direct observation, should be used.
Garcia and Kleifgen also suggest critical multilingual awareness programs in which learners participate in authentic language activities, and can look at and analyze how language is used in different settings. For example, participants examine how different languages are used in the public landscape or what kind of language is considered acceptable in different public and social settings. Such critical examination of language increases the learners’ own awareness of language and of language issues.
Because of the variety of inequities that this population has faced, such as overrepresentation in special education, inadequate early childhood education, and tracking into less challenging curriculum, the authors assert that effective education for English learners must be based on linguistic human rights. This social justice philosophy supports students’ right to use their home language, and to learn the dominant language though a challenging and creative curriculum which includes cooperative learning. They support a transformative/intercultural pedagogy, a collaborative process among teachers, minority language learners, and majority learners which allows and encourages bilingual learners to affirm what they know and who they are. Such culturally relevant pedagogy engages students in communities of practice in such a way that they can develop through trying out ideas and actions. However, research shows that in order for any pedagogy to be effective, well-prepared and committed teachers and school personnel must be in place.
Research has also shown that an important indicator of students’ success is parental and community involvement. For emergent bilinguals this involvement requires that teachers have support to effectively communicate with these families and their community. Families must also receive assistance in learning how the school system works and how they can play an active role in their child’s education within this system.
The approaches in this text are directed at teachers, administrators, and policy makers. It presents the issues clearly and offers workable alternatives that can be implemented within existing guidelines or used to create new policies that better meet the needs of emergent bilinguals. The authors assert that a language policy should be developed which supports the research on English learners, not ignores it. Additionally, the authors recognize that school does not exist in a vacuum, and they incorporate realistic approaches for parental and community involvement. By re-naming this population “emergent bilinguals,” Garcia and Kleifgen pinpoint the existing inequities in current educational practice for this group and recognize the possibilities available to them for fulfilling and successful educational experiences.
Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 04, 2011
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16274, Date Accessed: 2/8/2011 9:32:20 PM

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