Multilingual Education in Practice: Using Diversity as a Resource

March 2004 — Volume 7, Number 4

Multilingual Education in Practice: Using Diversity as a Resource

Schecter, S. & Cummins, J. (Eds.). (2003).
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Pp. xi + 114.
ISBN 0-325-00430-7 (paper).

In many countries bilingual education is part of their daily lives, something that comes naturally, while in others (mine, Spain) it is something fairly new. However, in this global world it is hard to say that things, especially in education, do not change almost everyday. People move quite easily today because they need to improve their quality of life or just because they need to feel alive. Obviously, their families also move along. That is why that old reality in St. Lambert school district is always fresh and new. One may easily wonder why Multilingual Education in Practice comes back to this old issue of describing this multicultural experience in Thornwood and Floradale when most of what is said in this book seems just too obvious for many multilingual educators. The simple answer is because it is a clear, simple and straightforward book which compiles in just 114 pages an extensive work in bilingual education.

A simple research in bilingual education literature on I-net will retrieve thousands of books and articles. Few of them could be as illustrative and practical as this one. It compiles in just six chapters, a clear and accessible piece of research and experiences for teachers and researchers. Multilingual Education in Practice is, in fact, a dynamic experience that can transport and help the reader to transfer the writers’ experiences into one’s current practices. To do so, the six chapters go from a description of the theoretical principles that rule and support the description of the professional practices that the reader will find in the book, to more practical issues such as the guidelines that may benefit schools and their authorities to run multilingual programs.

As mentioned before, the book is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1 intends to give a brief but also global idea of those things that teachers should “know in order to teach effectively in linguistically and culturally diverse contexts” (p. 1). As other writers have pointed out in different works, behind this chapter is the underlying idea that sometimes teachers in bilingual education have to face the reality that they have no specific preparation to deal with their students. Thus, this chapter intends to provide a general framework for professional practice. It is especially valuable the central section of the chapter where Schecter and Cummins provide their ideas about The Interpersonal Space of Cognitive Engagement and Identity Investment matching sociological and language acquisition theories. [-1-]

In a very fascinating chapter 2, Sale, Sliz and Pacini-Ketchabaw take the reader to their own daily reality. The beginning of the chapter is especially interesting where they present their own experiences in a very novel-like style. It is hard for the reader not to share their feelings of that newcoming child arriving at school for the first time in a new school, home and country. Their goal of stressing the importance of providing students with a welcoming climate in which they will develop their full potential is perfectly achieved. The reader will certainly sympathise with the school, facilitating the easy reading of the rest of the book.

Chapter 3, “Valuing Multilingual and Multicultural Approaches to Learning”, gives life to what has always been Cummins best approach to bilingual education, the human aspect. Cummins and other well known researchers (Rinvolucri, Jane Arnold and others) share that interest in everything that makes language learning and literacy a human and living experience through parental and in-school childcare. The chapter emphasizes the respect and positive attitudes towards the newly arrived as the key element for Bi/Multilanguage development. The questionnaire given to parents clearly shows that when support is given to all the subjects that participate in the teaching-learning process school authorities and individual teachers can expect success. The reader will also enjoy the different samples of bilingual and multicultural projects shown in the pictures found in the chapter (and throughout the book).

Chapter 4, “New Country, New Language” deals with a 2-year writing project that was done with Primary students trying to get them to express their feelings about the school and their lives. The first year teachers promoted literacy development in prose while in the second year, poetry was used as a means of expression. The article also shows two main perspectives of research: first, the teacher, and then the university based researcher. The last part of the chapter is devoted to a conversation in which both express speak and compare their observations.

Chapter 5 and chapter 6 do not seem to be as experientially based as the rest of the book. Chapter 5 gives the theory that underlies the pre-service (teacher) preparation for teachers who worked in the two programs reflected in the book. In broad terms, there are two theories that support the teacher job. A Situated curriculum Model and A Service Learning Model. Both share the same fundamental vision which aims to “construct[ing] a pedagogy that takes into account linguistic, racial, and ethnic diversity in locally appropriate and cultural sensitive ways” (p. 93). While the first is based on the interaction and creation of educational projects and materials by working with the local people, the second uses interaction in the information process to the let the researchers create their own materials and plans afterwards. The first is based on researcher integration in society while the second uses the researcher as an informer to identify and strategize the use of local resources. The reader will find some valuable experiences on pages 86 through 93. Finally, chapter 6 gives positive advice on how to promote and run this type of multilingual education.

There is little doubt that this book will be very valuable for anyone working with bilingual education in Canadian or some American contexts and those (contexts) where respect is a valuable tool. As a Spanish educator, I wish what has been reflected in the book could be accepted in my society. The social, literacy and language issues addressed in the books are quite a new reality in Spain and a reading of the book would be extremely useful for many teachers who really walk in the dark with their immigrant students. Maybe, Schecter and Cummins’ facility and clarity in designing the book is its best feature for those who do not have the facilities to develop multilingual programs in their schools. As in other books by both editors, in Multilingual Education in Practice: Using Diversity as a Resource the reader may well identify his/her own practice, ideas and goals with the experiences lived by the teachers reflected in the different chapters and provide him/her with some practical ideas to approach his/her complex daily reality. [-2-]

An extra word

Sometimes it is hard to review a book from someone you admire. It is not because you have followed his writings and career for years but for the quality of his work itself. There is little about Jim Cummins that can be new at this point, but not that many people in Europe are so familiar with Sandra Schecter, whose contributions to the Second and Multilingual Education field are also remarkable. I have enjoyed this book for its quality and because it is very reader-friendly. There is no question that lots of people need future works by these two researchers.

Jesus Garcia Laborda
Universidad Politecnica de Valencia

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