LINGUIST List 15.1974

Thu Jul 1 2004

Review: Applied Linguistics: Perez (2004)

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  1. Laura Loder Buechel, Becoming Biliterate: Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Education

Message 1: Becoming Biliterate: Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Education

Date: Thu, 01 Jul 2004 14:00:03 +0200
From: Laura Loder Buechel <>
Subject: Becoming Biliterate: Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Education

AUTHOR: Perez, Bertha
TITLE: Becoming Biliterate
SUBTITLE: A Study of Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Education
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Laura Loder B�chel, P�dagogische Hochschule, Zurich and Schaffhausen,

Becoming Biliterate offers an in-depth look into many aspects of two
two-way bilingual Spanish and English immersion programs in San
Antonio, Texas, USA over a six year period (1994-2001). While
individual studies about specific points such as student learning have
been carried out within this time frame with these two schools, this
book is a detailed account of how biliteracy has been facilitated
through teachers, administrators, policymakers, and parents
(p. xxiv). Becoming Biliterate is appropriate for a large audience --
policymakers, administrators, preservice and current teachers,
graduate students and researchers. The foreword by Mar�a
E. Torres-Guzm�n sets a nice stage for what is to follow. The first
chapter begins by examining the current and historical situations in
the USA and the following chapters delve specifically into the
situation in San Antonio, Texas and look within the schools for
factors such as leadership and parents, skills development, testing,
the role of the teacher. The appendix begins with a description of the
research methodology and is followed by a thorough description of the
various methods used in data collection.

In her introduction, Perez sets puts forth questions which are
unfortunately still having to be asked, such as why limited English
proficient students still fall behind their monolingual counterparts
and what is involved in changing this -- from policies to
didactics. She describes her multi-faceted data collection techniques
- classroom observations, feedback, discussions and workshops with
parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers and mentions that
while standardized test results belong with this data, they do not
work alone in evaluating and describing results.

Chapter One (Language and Literacy Education of Mexican-Origin and
Mexican American Children) begins by stating the need for bilingual
education as a reflection of the demographic trends in the US and in
Texas -- the US has one of the highest percentages of Spanish speakers
in the world and in Texas, close to 30% of the population speak
Spanish at home. The history of bilingual education and ''language
rights'' is discussed as well. It wasn't until 2001 that bilingual
programs started focusing on additive bilingualism meaning that
Spanish speakers not just get enough instruction in Spanish to be able
to follow in English and then only get education in English, but that
academic skills in both languages be developed and
maintained. Finally, Perez sets the stage for the remainder of the
book, how looking through a prism of sociocultural perspective with
critical pedagogy and Bourdieu's (1984, 1992) constructs of linguistic
and cultural capital, she can analyze ''how the participant's
understanding of their roles, the status of each language, and the
programs' cultural identity impacted the access and stances taken by
each over time (p. 24).''

Chapter Two (The Community, School Context, and Students) introduces
us to San Antonio and the two schools being studied -- Storm (548
students) and Bonham (340 students) Elementary Schools. Interesting is
the hypocrisy found in language use -- English speakers oblige Spanish
speakers to speak in English (when Spanish speakers make up a large
percentage of the population) and Mexican nationals who come as
tourists criticize the Spanish spoken by the citizens. The schools
themselves have a majority of Mexican American students although the
percentage of children speaking Spanish at home is 50% and 30%
respectively. The studies that follow are based on the 216 children
enrolled in a two-way bilingual program in both schools. One of the
main goals of these programs is to eliminate the social pressure of
speaking English, to value the Spanish language and its speakers. The
two-way bilingual programs in these schools started with a 90-10 model
(90% instruction in Spanish, 10% in English) in kindergarten and first
grade, 70-30 in second and third grades, and 50-50 in the fourth and
fifth grades. It was agreed that the Spanish and English spoken would
be the standard of that of the mainstream business community.

Chapter Three (Leadership and Parents) reinforces the integrality of
parents in the decision-making process in developing an appropriate
curriculum. Samples of parent input are cited, demonstrating the
difficulty the situation in finding an equitable education for all
when there are so many experiences and opinions, yet also showing the
richness of the community. Various topics are discussed such as the
importance of English, time allocations for teaching in Spanish and in
English, whether the whole school be involved or just a part, how
parents can support children in a language they themselves do not
master, keeping parents up-to-date and involved in decisions, and
establishing leadership from the parents and the community. A Campus
Leadership Team, composed of parents, administrators, teachers,
community residents, among others was established at each school with
the philosophy that the success of the school, of the program, of the
students, is based on this interaction.

Chapter Four (Oral Language Practices) looks at teacher-student oral
communication and the strategies teachers promote in the classroom in
encouraging social and academic speaking, namely to: give students
wait time before they speak; allow the student to say what they have
to say in any language; to encourage the student to think in Spanish
or English; to allow the student to ask a peer; to allow the student
to pass on a request input which could be given later; and to allow
the student to use print. Interestingly, Perez tallied the frequency
of the use of the strategies and showed strategies transfers from one
grade level to the next and favored strategies at a given grade. The
second part of this chapter covered instructional language, making
input comprehensible and using language to mediate understanding (eg.
in a math problem). Perez found that no child was underchallenged,
even when instruction was in his or her native language and that
children developed not only social competence but also academic

Chapter Five (Developing Literacy) presents the framework used for the
teaching of reading and writing throughout the elementary school
years, with the goal of children developing literacy in Spanish in the
second grade when thereafter more instructed guiding in English would
occur. This chapter goes into detail about methods used and experience
in pre-writing and reading activities to beginning
writing. Interesting as well is the section on writing as a cultural
activity (pp. 106-108)which has identity development at its core --
with a focus not only on literacy development in the discussion and
sharing of celebrations, but the use of student directed code
switching and how and when students did so. As soon as children tested
grade level in Spanish, reading and writing in English began in
full. A discussion of transferred skills is presented in this chapter.

Chapter Six (Academic Biliteracy) discusses the ways academic literacy
skills were developed through content teaching. Though both school
handled this differently, the outcomes were similar -- that children
could handle content standards set by the TAAS (Texas Assessment of
Academic Skills), that they continued to develop academic proficiency
in Spanish and English, and that they could use personal and cultural
knowledge to make content meaningful. Four case studies with samples
of children's writing in Spanish and English are presented to
demonstrate this.

Chapter Seven (Testing Pressures and Student Outcomes) mentions the
demands placed on teachers and students before students take the TAAS
for the first time in third grade. Although there are, of course, many
discussions about the validity of such a test, overall performance on
certain sections can be taken as a sign that more work needs to be
done in the classroom in this specific area. Both schools used scores
on these tests to alter instructional design -- low scores in writing,
for example, indicated the need for more of a focus in
instruction. The results are amazing -- Bonham Elementary was even
recognized because all its students achieved above the 84th percentile
two years in a row. Results from other exams (ITBS and Aprenda
measuring language, reading and math; Tejas Lee and TPRI measuring
reading and comprehension; IDEA Proficiency test measuring Spanish and
English proficiency) are examined as well and also show that the
students in the bilingual programs perform as well as or better than
their peers.

Although Chapter Eight (Teachers' Role and Impact) describes the
pressure placed on teachers to always be on their toes in justifying
and explaining the program to fellow teachers, parents and outsiders,
it also mentions the support given to these bilingual teachers from
the same sources but also through their principals, librarians,
counselors, professional development opportunities and the
instructional guide at each campus.

Chapter Nine (Politics, Policy, and Theory) revisits the important
points of this research and provides a nice consolidation of the
important factors that make these two-way bilingual programs model
schools a success. Perez states nicely that ''...ultimately the
success of any model will depend on the development of ownership by
parents, teachers, and administrators (p. 189).'' She also reemphasis
the importance profiting from and increasing the ''linguistic,
cultural, and social capital'' (p. 190) of a community -- programs
which foster the development of this will create children who succeed
academically in two languages.

Rarely have I read a book for review so quickly and with as much
interest. In the foreword by Maria E. Torres-Guzman, she states ''This
book is a treasure in politics and education'' (p. xiv). It was a joy
to have the inside scoop from a school, this is a valuable resource
and we can only hope that policy makers out there will read it as
well. Many studies on bilingual programs are just bits and pieces of
the whole, or focus on one aspect. In Becoming Biliterate, we get a
full picture of the interplay among the various players -- external
(community and politics) and internal (teachers, children, parents).

On a basic level, the setup and organization of the book made it
reader friendly. The references comprised a very good literature
list. On a research methodology level, the author's techniques were
well explained and thought out throughout the book and in the
appendix, where more detail was given (summary of types of methods and
data, categories and themes used for initial analysis of data). The
study on the frequency of the use of strategies in chapter four is
noteworthy as is the ''Balanced Literacy Framework'' in chapter five.

Insofar as readability is concerned, it includes a lot of personal
touches -- from the author herself explaining why she did something a
certain way, what teachers' reactions to her were; samples of student
writing in Spanish and English; citations from parent feedback and
questions about the program and their own experiences in Spanish and
English. One could see that the community was listened to, appreciated
and integral to this study. It would have been also beneficial if more
citations and samples could have been included in further appendices.

It would be nice if such cohesive studies as these would be used as
frameworks for more two-way bilingual programs throughout the
US. While many similar programs exist in Europe along language
borders, it's amazing that the US is still struggling to get support
for additive bilingual education programs in areas where there are a
large number of speakers of other languages than English -- it should
be a given. Studies such as these should make the front page of the
Washington Post.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of
taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Perez, B. (2001). Learning in 2 Worlds: An integrated Spanish/English
biliteracy approach (3rd edition). Prentice Hall

Laura Loder B�chel is teacher trainer at the Teacher Training Colleges
of Schaffhausen and Zurich, Switzerland. She completed her M.Ed. in
Bilingual Education from Northern Arizona University in 2000. Her
research interests include the advantages of simultaneous first and
second language acquisition, the introduction of foreign languages in
the primary school and Computer Assisted Language Learning.
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