Educating Second Language Children: The Whole Child, the Whole Curriculum, The Whole Community

September 1996 — Volume 2, Number 2

Educating Second Language Children: The Whole Child, the Whole Curriculum, The Whole Community

Fred Genesee (Ed.) (1994)
New York: Cambridge University Press
Pp. ix + 365;
ISBN 0-521-45797-1 (paper); 0-521-45719-5 (cloth)
US $19.95 (paper); $44.95 (cloth)

Increasingly, educators have come to recognize that the successful education of ethnolinguistically diverse students is a complex endeavor which involves many factors in addition to second language acquisition. Until recently, the development of English language proficiency was the sole goal of the majority of programs designed for second language children, and their education was considered the sole responsibility of specialists trained in English as a Second Language, bilingual education or remedial approaches. Viewed from this unidimensional perspective, the second language learner came to school with a linguistic and cultural disadvantage. This “deficit” model failed to consider the social, cognitive and academic dimensions of the second language learner. It also failed to acknowledge the responsibilities of the grade level teacher for the educational outcome of this population. In the concluding chapter of Educating Second Language Children: The Whole Child, the Whole Curriculum, the Whole Community Jean Handscombe explains the circumstances of many linguistically diverse students: “The life, learning, and school experiences which young second language learners bring to school are now recognized as constituting the foundation for all their future learning. If some teachers choose to remain ignorant of these formative experiences, or if they disregard, or even worse discredit them, then a gap is created between the children and teachers which is left up to the children to close” (p. 354).

In Educating Second Language Children Fred Genesee offers the reader a different, and welcome, multidimensional view of the ethnolinguistically diverse student through a collection articles. Genesee, professor of psychology at McGill University, is known in the United States and Canada for his research on second language immersion programs, social and neuropsychological aspects of bilingualism, and second language learning in children and adults. As editor, he brings the perspective of his extensive experience and research on second language students to his selection of topics and contributors, selecting authors who recognize the richness and complexity of the experiences that young second language children bring to school as the foundation for educational success.

Educating Second Language Children is essentially an overview of the most widely accepted theories and principles advocated in the literature on teaching linguistically diverse students. It successfully presents the theoretical arguments and pedagogical recommendations which connect the classroom, school, family, and community to the students’ social, cognitive, academic and [-1-] linguistic development. The broad range of topics covered along with the expertise and experience of the contributors are the major strengths of the book.

In addition to an introduction and conclusion, four main sections examine different factors which impact the social, cognitive and academic development of second language students. The articles in each main section are related to a specific focus: general perspectives; the preschool years; classroom instruction; and the additional challenges of special education, low literacy and the social integration of immigrant and refugee children. The chapters include a review of related theory and research findings as well as recommendations about best practice.

In the first chapter, “Language, Culture and Schooling,” Denise McKeon introduces the reader to the importance and diversity of the social and cultural contexts which influence children, their language development and their interactions in school. The chapter incorporates discussions of some of the most important theories and research of the last decade: Heath’s (1983) seminal studies of Roadville and Trackton and her ethnographic research on language use in immigrant groups (1986); Ogbu and Matute-Bianchi’s (1986) theories of minority status; and Cummins’ (1981) theory of cognitive academic language proficiency. To readers who are not aware of the effects of broader sociocultural contexts on education, the value of the chapter is its potential as a starting point for exploring the issues through readings from the included bibliography. In a more practical vein, the author concludes with sound recommendations for teachers to examine their perceptions, to make classrooms authentic, to integrate language and content, and to recognize that all second language learners are not alike.

In chapter 2, “Knowledge, Power and Identity in Teaching English as a Second Language,” Jim Cummins situates the education of second language children in the broader context of the social purpose of language. Cummins revisits his theories about the relationship of first and second language, the effects of bilingualism, academic language proficiency, and empowerment, which will be familiar to educators of second language children. Although educators may be weary of discussions of empowerment, the relationship of second language teaching to knowledge, power, identity, and the empowerment of the subordinated is a fundamental issue that cannot be allowed to fade into the background. Educators need to understand the disempowering impact of an educational system which stifles the development of both identity and knowledge in the second language child. Cummins’ extension of the concept of Vygotsky’s (1962) Zone of Proximal Development beyond the notion of the social construction of knowledge to include the “reciprocal negotiation of identity” (p.47) is a compelling comparison. The chapter advocates the implementation of critical pedagogy to foster negotiation of personal and cultural identities as well as the [-2-] construction of knowledge through the creation of conditions that encourage students to develop and express their voices. Cummins’ insightful observation that Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and critical literacy are both socially constructed processes prompts thoughtful reflection.

In the second section of the book, chapters 3, 4 and 5 focus on the preschool years. In chapter 3, “Interactions between Parents and Children in Bilingual Families,” Naomi Goodz provides a general overview of several theories of bilingual language development among preschool children. Much of the discussion centers around the effects of parental language use in the home.

“Language Socialization in Ethnic Minority Communities,” chapter 4, discusses the connections between language and culture. Cindy Pease-Alvarez and Olga Vazquez use data from their study of a Mexicano-American community to illustrate findings that demonstrate similarities in the ways middle-class English-speaking parents and Mexicano parents scaffold the speech of their children. Since some of their findings differ from earlier research, it is interesting to consider the relationship of these findings to Heath’s (1986) work on the social uses of language in immigrant communities described in an earlier chapter. The authors note well-documented problems with the typical recitation pattern of discourse used by many teachers, which is often an obstacle for ethnolinguistically diverse students. To change the ineffective discourse patterns used in many instructional settings, the authors suggest that teachers collaborate with university researchers to undertake ethnographic studies of the students’ communities.

Teachers will welcome the clarity and relevance of “English as a Second Language in Preschool Programs,” chapter 5, which provides a concise overview of general patterns of second language development in preschool settings. Patton Tabors’ and Catherine Snow’s examples from their own and others’ research richly illustrate the role of home language and portray the concepts of non-verbal communication, formulaic and telegraphic speech, productive language, and individual differences among second language children in the classroom. The authors are equally effective in the use of research to depict practices which they consider essential for developing quality preschool learning environments. Three case studies convincingly support the authors’ recommendations for environments which provide for (a) a routine and consistent organizational structure in which activities happen at regular intervals and in predictable ways; (b) a language-rich environment in which teachers use language that encourages both comprehension and production skills; and (c) discussions with, or perhaps training of, English-speaking children in the classroom to help provide socially appropriate language partners. [-3-]

In the third thematic section, “The Classroom,” chapters 6, 7, and 8 explore second language literacy development, content-based second language instruction, and classroom assessment for second language children. In chapter 6, Sarah Hudelson discusses “Literacy Development of Second Language Children” from the perspective of literacy as the social construction of meaning, which goes beyond a set of skills to include the potential for uncovering new views of the world and the ability to change. Through the incorporation of examples from different languages and cultural groups in her description of the stages of literacy development, Hudelson helps the reader recognize the similarities between the process of becoming literate in first and second languages, something that the experienced grade level teacher will find reassuring. Hudelson’s recommendations for literacy development in second language children include the creation of a literate classroom environment, use of collaborative learning, oral and written personal narratives, dialogic writing, predictable books, reading aloud, literature response, self-selected reading, and the linking of literacy activities to content. The value of these recommendations is that they will assure grade level teachers that second language students do not require elaborate or exotic teaching approaches.

In chapter 7, “Teaching Content through a Second Language”, Miriam Met addresses head-on the significant role of grade level teachers in educating second language children by pointing out that language learning can no longer be considered a separate curriculum taught by specialists. Rather it requires collaboration among all staff: ” all teachers who work with second language students–second language teachers, grade level teachers, bilingual education or two-way immersion teachers–must enable their students to make academic progress while they are learning English” (p. 160). An important and practical contribution of the chapter is the presentation of the concepts of “content obligatory” and “content compatible” language. These concepts provide useful frames that can guide all teachers in choosing language to support content learning. By highlighting the importance of learning content, the discussion successfully shifts the focus away from development of language proficiency as the main educational goal for second language children.

In chapter 8, “Grouping Strategies for Second Language Learners,” Donna Johnson contributes a useful model for linking content and language and fostering collaboration among teachers. Applying Johnson and Morrow’s (1981) “task dependency” principle, the author suggests that instructional tasks in lessons can be related in such a way that one could not be completed without the other, such as an ESL activity based on a social studies lesson given by a grade level teacher. Such links encourage students to connect language and content between the two contexts. Johnson’s discussion of the concepts of textual and contextual spheres in the development of literacy is reminiscent of the ideas of Cummins [-4-] (1981), Delpit (1988), and Gee (1989). In a way that is similar to these theories, her model of literacy requires that the child be able to draw on two types of resources. The textual sphere includes the authoritative texts and genres of the classroom while the contextual sphere refers to knowledge about life in the community, the school, the classroom, and in ongoing social interactions. These concepts emphasize the complex nature of literacy acquisition among second language learners, and provide a fresh framework for revisiting the work of Cummins, Delpit and Gee. Johnson also highlights two essential points which need to be considered in discussions of group work with second language learners. The first is that because second language children frequently do not understand the participant structures used in American schools, they often participate in marginal or inappropriate ways, as documented by Reyes (1992) in her ethnographic study of a whole language classroom. The second important point is that planning must take into account the fact that the teachers who work with second language learners in small groups are often not highly proficient speakers of English themselves, as described by Wong-Fillmore (1992) in her study of a Chinese American bilingual classroom.

Chapter 9, “Classroom-based Assessment,” provides a clear and comprehensive overview of issues and practices of classroom-based assessment oriented towards teachers of second language students. Fred Genesee and Else Hamayan make a strong link between assessment and instruction, a connection which educators often fail to make. A strength of the chapter is the emphasis on the integrative nature of assessing both language proficiency and content as part of the instructional process, thus encouraging the reader to think of the second language learner as a child, instead of as a set of language skills. The examples and discussion of the roles of observation, conferences, student journals, portfolios, narrative records, and checklists are helpful in developing a comprehensive view of student progress and in clarifying the concepts presented.

Even experienced teachers of second language children are likely to find the information presented in the final section of this volume valuable. “Additional Challenges” addresses areas of great concern and confusion for those whose work with second language learners. The three chapters in this section examine topics which are frequently overlooked when planning for the educational needs of ethnolinguistically diverse students: special education, low literacy and the social integration of immigrant and refugee children.

In “Special Education Needs of Second Language Students,” Nancy Cloud provides a much-needed framework for ESL, bilingual and grade level teachers who are concerned with the pre-referral of second language learners to special education. While the issues are indeed complex and there are few decisive answers for many potential questions, a fundamental truth is delineated with clarity: only [-5-] children who have intrinsic health, emotional or psychological impairments belong in special education. Significantly, children who have been undereducated or miseducated, as is undoubtedly the case with many second language learners, do not belong in special education. Cloud uses Spolsky’s (1989) theory of two clusters of language learning conditions to establish a useful framework for the discussion of special education issues. The theory holds that the external cluster relates to the social context, while the internal relates to the language learner and the learner’s engagement in the second language learning process. The interplay between the learner and the external opportunities for learning the language determines the outcome. Both internal and external factors are considered in Cloud’s proposed model of “ecological” assessment, which considers the impact of the learning environment (curriculum, teacher expertise, and amount and nature of instruction) together with the characteristics of the student. This model is antithetical to the “deficit model” and focuses on distinguishing between differences and disabilities. The chapter successfully raises the reader’s awareness of the complex and often misunderstood factors involved in special education for second language learners.

In “Language Development of Low Literacy Students” (chapter 11), Else Hamayan uses anecdotes from her experience in the refugee camps of the Philippines to poignantly and graphically illustrate the characteristics of low literacy second-language children: paucity of exposure to environmental print, and lack of familiarity with the forms and functions of literacy. The instructional practices recommended for low literacy students integrate structural and holistic approaches. In delineating the rationale for this integrative approach, the author provides a balanced perspective on the structural approach, recognizing its shortcomings, but also acknowledging the need for explicit instruction in phonics, form and structure drawn from meaning-based activities. This clear, concise, and thoughtful discussion is a relief to educators tired of the phonics vs. whole language debate. Indeed it would be useful reading for teachers of all second language learners.

The first half of chapter 12, “Social Integration of Immigrant and Refugee Children,” outlines the factors which may characterize the experiences of immigrant or refugee populations in Canada. Elizabeth Coelho’s description of the most important factors is necessary information for the educator interested in developing an understanding of the complex nature of, and significant traumas involved in, the experiences of immigrant and refugee families. The concrete and practical suggestions on welcoming immigrant and refugee children and families to their new schools will be helpful to educators who are new to working with this population. School and community relations are presented as a two-way process, which includes the “restructuring of the school and community to accept and integrate the individual” (p. 323). The recommendations which follow vary from those feasible for individual teachers (hold [-6-] meetings at convenient times for parents, evaluate the way schools communicate with parents) to those requiring administrative decision making and fiscal support (establish a second language program for adult learners, establish and a promote heritage language program in the school).

The concluding chapter, “Putting It All Together,” effectively accomplishes the objective of putting the information from the previous chapters into a cohesive framework. Jean Handscombe notes the constancy of the authors in the recommendations made in the previous chapters. Among the most significant is the fact that second language acquisition is not the only important task of the children. Rather, social integration and academic achievement must also be considered integral to the successful education of linguistically diverse students. Other key points are the emphasis on the resources and life experiences that children bring to school which are the foundation of their academic development, and the roles of families and communities in the education of language minority children. Handscombe insightfully observes that the need to rethink the place of “add-on” programs is related to the fact that integrating the second language child into the mainstream classroom is of value for both the minority and mainstream child. The essential message of this concluding chapter is crystal-clear: the responsibility for academic success rests as much with the professionals as with the families and children. Parallel to examining the child and the families, the author raises the question of the skills and understanding which are required for the professionals employed to help the children achieve academic success. It is an important question. Hopefully the fact that the question is raised indicates an awakening on the part of all educators to understanding their roles and responsibilities in the schooling of second language children.

Reflecting on the whole child, whole curriculum, whole community philosophy of the book, several omissions emerge. Greater emphasis on the development of cognitive and academic skills is needed to shift the emphasis from language acquisition to academic achievement. Much of the research and recommended practice for literacy development is based on the narrative form and dialogic writing (Hudelson, pp. 142-143; Johnson, p. 202; Genesee & Hamayan, pp. 227-228). The advantage of narrative is that it “appears to be a fundamental process of the human mind, a basic way of making sense of the world” (p. 142), and therefore something that children from all cultures can relate to. The disadvantage is that it does not help develop skills in understanding and using the genres of expository text which are linked to success in school. In light of current recommendations that second language students need to become competent in the academic literacies of school and society (Delpit, 1988; Gee, 1989; Mercado, 1993), a discussion of the role of academic literacies and recommendations for fostering their development would provide the reader with a more comprehensive [-7-] understanding of what the second language learner requires to be successful in school. Furthermore, recent research (Langer, Bartolome, Vazquez & Lucas, 1990) has demonstrated that the reading performance of second language children is greater with narrative text than with expository text, indicating the need for greater practice with expository text.

It is hard to argue with the instructional approaches suggested throughout the book: literacy-rich environment, meaning-based activities, natural emergence of literacy, lowered anxiety level, motivating activities, and the integration of literacy with content. On the other hand, the book could also create the impression that teaching can be a “one size fits all” approach (Reyes, 1992, p. 427), equally suitable for all children. The integrative perspective of the book could be enriched with discussion of appropriate modifications in teaching approaches needed for second language students. Recent studies (Reyes, 1992; Gertzen & Jimenez, 1994; Hornberger, 1995) have demonstrated the importance of adapting methods to the linguistic and cultural experiences of students, and especially the need to include more explicit corrections and instructions in classroom processes.

In reading Educating Second Language Children the question of audience surfaces repeatedly. The book provides an excellent overview of accepted theory and instructional practice for second language students. Through the wide range of topics, the book achieves the intended integration, although at times the range of topics can also become a drawback, favoring breadth over depth. On its own, the book does not accomplish its stated goal of providing teachers with the information they need to make instructional decisions. Still, under the guidance of an experienced educator who can suggest supplementary readings from the bibliographies included in each chapter, and also facilitate in-depth discussion and analysis of the topics, this volume could serve admirably as an introductory text for administrators or for pre/in-service teacher development. A significant contribution of Educating Second Language Children is the recognition that both the diversity of needs as well as the cognitive, social and academic experiences of the second language child must be valued as the foundation of successful academic achievement and social integration. If educators who read this book take a step towards relinquishing the misinformed belief that the successful education of second language children is simply a matter of finding the right method for teaching English, the authors will have accomplished much.

References

Cummins, J. (1981). The role of primary language development in promoting educational success for language minority students. In California State Department of Education (Ed.), Schooling [-8-] and language minority students: A theoretical framework Los Angeles: California State University, Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center.

Delpit, L. S. (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in the education of other people’s children. Harvard Educational Review, 58, 280-198.

Gee, J. P. (1989). Literacy, discourse, and linguistics: An introduction. Journal of Education, 17 5-17.

Gertzen, R. & Jimenez, R. (1994). A delicate balance: Enhancing literature instruction for students of English as a second language. The Reading Teacher, 47, 337-349.

Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Heath, S. B. (1986). Sociocultural contexts of language development. In California State Department of Education (Ed.), Beyond language: Social and cultural factors in the schooling of language minority students Los Angeles: California State University, Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center.

Hornberger, N. H. (1995). Creating successful learning contexts for bilingual literacy. In O. Garcia and C. Baker (Eds.), Policy and practice in bilingual education. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

Johnson, K., & Morrow, K. (Eds.) (1981). Communication in the classroom, London: Longman.

Langer, J. A., Bartolome, L., Vazquez, O. & Lucas, T. (1990). Meaning construction in school literacy tasks: A study of bilingual students. American Educational Research Journal, 27 427-471.

Mercado C. (1993). Crossing cultural boundaries to learn from and contribute to practice in multiethnic urban settings. In Proceedings of the Third National Research Symposium on Limited English Proficient Student Issues, Vol. 2, 655-690. Washington DC: US Department of Education.

Ogbu, J. U., & Matute-Bianchi, M. E. (1986). Understanding socio-cultural factors: Knowledge, identity, and school adjustment. In California State Department of Education (Ed.), Beyond language: Social and cultural factors in schooling language minority students, Los Angeles: California State University, Evaluation, Dissemination, and Assessment Center. [-9-]

Reyes, M. de la Luz, (1992). Challenging venerable assumptions: Literacy instruction for linguistically different students. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 427-445.

Spolsky, B. (1989). Conditions for second language learning, New York: Oxford University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and Language Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Wong-Fillmore, L. (1992). Learning language from learners. In C. Kramsch & S. McConnely-Giner (Eds.), Text and context: Cross-disciplinary perspective on language study. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.

Patricia Prinz
New England College and Boston University
pp@nec1.nec.edu


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