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Review of  Beyond the Beginnings

Reviewer: Stacia Ann Levy
Book Title: Beyond the Beginnings
Book Author: Angela Carrasquillo Stephen B. Kucer Ruth Abrams
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.3267

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Date: Fri, 19 Nov 2004 21:45:58 -0800
From: Stacia Levy
Subject: Beyond the Beginnings: Literacy Interventions for Upper
Elementary ELLs

AUTHOR: Carrasquillo, A.; Kucer, S. B.; Abrams, R.
TITLE: Beyond the Beginnings
SUBTITLE: Literacy Interventions for Upper Elementary English
Language Learners
SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 46
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
YEAR: 2004

Stacia Levy, University of the Pacific


Written for teachers and program administrators who serve English
Language Learner (ELL) students, this book addresses the issue of
teaching the intermediate English learners who are at middle school
level and in control of conversational English and decoding skills but
lacking the academic English skills needed to succeed in content
classes and read academic, expository texts -- a population
traditionally underserved as usual practices, such "back to basics,"
are ineffective, given that these students have the basics of phonics
and decoding skills but lack the more advanced reading skills to
comprehend academic texts. The book breaks little new ground, and
at times is repetitive or obvious, but it is nevertheless a thorough
review of the issues involved in serving the population of intermediate
language learners. Written from a constructionist perspective, the
authors emphasize the importance of background knowledge in
reading comprehension and offer specific cases of students and
examples of teaching methods.


Introduction. The authors give an overview of the issues addressed in
this book: social, political, and cognitive. They discuss the growing
interest in serving ELL students and the awareness that as students
progress into middle and upper grades, the demands for
understanding content-specific text increases, placing great linguistic
demand on students. ELL students often fail at meeting these
demands of understanding content-specific academic text in middle
and upper grades and little research has been conducted on this
problem. The authors address the No Child Left Behind legislation of
the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2001), and its demand
that all students make measurable progress. The authors also
address the constructionist model of reading, in which comprehension
is viewed as the result of a transaction between the reader and the
text, with the reader using his or her prior knowledge to construct
meaning. Instructors must be aware of ELL students' diverse
background knowledge, how this affects reading comprehension, and
plan instruction accordingly. The literacy gaps of ELL students in
grades 4-6 in particular need to be addressed, accordingly to the
authors, because this is when ELL students begin to fall behind their
peers as the demands for reading expository text increases. These
students often have English conversational skills and basic decoding
skills but lack the higher level reading skills necessary for
understanding academic text. It is serving this population through
different teaching models and learning strategies that the authors
address in this book.

Chapter 1: English Language Learners in United States' Schools. This
chapter addresses the growing number of ELL students in U.S.
schools and legislation and rulings that affects them, such as Lau v.
Nichols (1974), which decided that ELL students be given equal
access to the curriculum. The authors also address with the problem
that, despite such rulings, ELL students are still often thrown into
mainstream classrooms, where they must compete with native English
speakers, read long texts across the curriculum, acquire
conversational fluency in English, and most importantly, score on
standardized tests at grade level. Given these demands, educators
have to find ways to help ELL students develop their academic
reading and writing skills in different content areas, including
understanding the specialized vocabulary and grammatical patterns in
different subjects. The authors discuss different programs that serve
ELL students and offer profiles of typical ELL students and discuss
gaps in the learning of struggling ELL students as well as the
influencing factors on their achievement, and the need to tap their
specific background knowledge.

Chapter 2: English Literacy Development and English Language
Learners: A Theoretical Overview. In this chapter the authors present
a theoretical framework that includes literacy instruction and second
language acquisition, from a constructionist point of view, addressing
the need for background knowledge, or schema, to comprehend. The
authors address the question of how much of a second language a
learners needs to understand before using it as a vehicle for
academic content learning. The authors also discuss the difference
between conversational and academic English. In addressing these
concerns, the authors refer to classic works by such writers and
researchers such as Cummins (1994, 2001), who was one of the first
researchers to characterize the differences between conversational
and academic language and Krashen's (1981) input hypothesis, that
input or language of instruction should only be slightly above students'
current level of mastery in a second language (L2) for learning to be
possible. Scenarios of specific classroom situations for literacy are

Chapter 3: Moving Beyond the Transition: Struggling English Literacy
Learners in the Regular/Mainstream Classroom. In this chapter, after
the introduction given in the first two chapters, the authors go to the
heart of the problem this book concerns, those intermediate level ELL
students who have "transitioned" beyond the basics of English
acquisition but are still learning their second language at the same
time they are experiencing additional demands of learning content
through their second language. The authors discuss the differences
between monolingual and ELL learners and between the literacy
demands of early and later primary grades. The larger context of the
problem, an increase in ELL students in our schools at the same time
as a decrease in funding and support for these students is also
addressed. This chapter also prepares the reader for the next
chapter, where the authors begin to address specific methods for
teaching intermediate ELL students in content classes.

Chapter 4: Instructional Writing Strategies for Struggling English
Language Learners. This chapter begins by addressing the particular
writing concerns for intermediate ELL students: they have the "basics"
of writing: that is, some control over sentence structure and the
conventions of the alphabet code, grammar, and punctuation, as well
as narrative text structure, which they learn through story-telling in
lower grades; nevertheless, they lack understanding of different
discipline-based text structures such as comparison and contrast and
problem-solution. Again from a constructionist perspective, the
authors illustrate different teaching strategies to help these students,
such as learning "scaffolds," or supports of various levels that can
be "constructed" given the students' level of mastery. For example,
teachers can assign different levels of writing activities, from shared
writing to independent writing, depending on the students' mastery
and "deconstruct" the scaffold as students' skills develop.

Chapter 5: Instructional Practices to Promote Reading Development in
English Language Learners. The authors begin by addressing the
concern that in the upper elementary grades students move
from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," and the texts they read
also become longer and more complicated, no longer simple
narratives but often complex, expository texts ELL students, often
lacking crucial background knowledge, have particular problems in
comprehending these texts. The authors again address specific
scaffolds that teachers can use to help ELL students read their
content area texts, such as guided and shared reading. The authors
also address specific reading strategies to help students master, such
as developing their vocabulary and fluency.

Chapter 6: English Literacy Across the Curriculum. In this chapter, the
authors address the various "literacies," such as computer and
cultural literacy, as well as reading and writing skills, needed to learn
in various subject areas. Intermediate ELL students are typically
behind their monolingual peers in the different "literacies" needed in
content classes. The ELL students' instructors need to adapt content
area materials and instruction for their ELL students and incorporate
content language instruction. The cognitive processes, language, and
learning challenges of various content areas are analyzed and
instructional modifications and learning strategies are discussed.

Chapter 7: A Framework for Assessing English Literacy Among
Struggling English Language Learners. This chapter focuses on the
crucial need to effectively assess ELL learners' language and literacy
development for appropriate placement and instruction as well as
accountability. Multiple measures, or using more than one means of
assessment, as well as alternative assessment (assessment other
than standardized tests) to get a clear picture of students' strengths
and weaknesses, are addressed. Specific assessment tools and
methods, such as checklists and inventories, are illustrated for both
oral and writing skills across content areas. The use of standardized
tests is also discussed.

Chapter 8: Developing Collaborative Literacy Relationships with
Parents. This chapter emphasizes the importance of parents in their
children's education and literacy development and the need for
schools to take the initiative in involving parents, particularly the
parents of ELL students, who may not know when and how to become
involved. Barriers to and strategies to increase parental involvement
are discussed. Specific topics for workshops and methods for parents
to assist in homework are illustrated. Finally, different family literacy
programs are discussed.


This book addresses an important topic, especially for those
educators in upper elementary and high school content classes who
may be stumped as to why their ELL students, who seem to have a
good command of oral English, nevertheless fail in academic classes.
The book does a good job pulling together applicable research on this
important topic and putting it all in context of current issues and
trends, such as No Child Left Behind. It has many useful charts and
graphs to illustrate key points, as well as specific case studies and
scenarios of students and teaching situations. Chapter 6 is particularly
valuable in characterizing the language and structure of various
content texts and giving specific instructional methods and learning
strategies. There is also an extensive list of resources, such websites
and journals, for the teacher of ELL students.

However, at times, I did find the book obvious and repetitive. For
example, no teacher or even casual observer of U.S. society needs to
be told repeatedly that we have a growing number of immigrants. In
addition, the author treads well-worn ground in repeatedly addressing
the issue of the difference between conversational language and
academic language but offers few examples of these differences.
Chapter 8 seems to be particularly replete with obvious observations
and advice, such as an example note home inviting parents to a
conference with the teacher. Readers, most of whom have been
educated as teachers, would presumably not need explicit instruction
in this. Some advice is also puzzling, such as this to parents who feel
too weak in English skills to help their children with their
homework: "Perhaps the initial communication is an 'invitation' to
parents to check homework daily for 'neatness,' 'legibility,'
and 'completeness.' Later on, parents can be asked to check
homework for content literacy and for development of additional
reading and writing skills" (p. 141). It seems a broad assumption
that "later on" the parent formerly weak in these skills will have
somehow developed them.

I also find it puzzling as to why the authors would address teaching
writing strategies in the chapter before, not after, teaching reading
strategies. Even with these shortcomings, however, this is a valuable
book for anyone serving intermediate ELL students in upper
elementary or high school. Because the authors revisit classic works
on the topic, the book is especially important for those teachers who
are new to the entire issue of serving ELL students.


Cummins, J. (1994). The acquisition of English as a second language.
In K. Spangenberg-Urbschat and R.Pritchard (eds). Kids Come in All
Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students (pp. 36-62).
Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Cummins, J. (2001) Language, Power, and Pedagogy: Bilingual
Children in the Crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

ESEA (2001). Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington
D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.

Lau v. Nichols (1974). 414 US.563


Stacia Levy is an English and education professor in California. She
recently completed her dissertation, which examined the vocabulary
patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas
of research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent
literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.

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