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Review of  Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms

Reviewer: Kirstie Marie Lock
Book Title: Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms
Book Author: Elizabeth Coelho
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.5176

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Coelho
TITLE: Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms
SUBTITLE: A Practical Approach
SERIES TITLE: Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2012

Kirstie Swanson, Curriculum Developer for, Heyworth, IL USA


This book’s primary purpose is to provide research-based practical support for schools who are receiving immigrant students for the first time. It is designed to help a build the support structures that immigrant students need to succeed from the ground up. The book is written by a Canadian teacher who has been asked to give advice to teachers in Spain about their new immigrant population. She has taught in Toronto, dealing with immigrant students from all over the world, for more than thirty years and brings this experience to the topic. The book is a thorough review of the research on second language learners (L2Ls) and the importance of the administrator, teacher, and community support for their integration into their new country’s society.

Chapter 1
This chapter is focused on Canada’s immigration policy and gives the author’s observed reasons for the immigrants they have. It is intended to help administrators and teachers have empathy for the situations of the immigrants, who often come through a highly stressful ordeal to get to their new country. It is also aimed at helping educators see the benefits and skills that these people bring with them. Readers are introduced to the cultural shock phases that an immigrant family will likely go through: first impressions, where there is a feeling of curiosity about their new country, and possibly relief; culture shock, marked by reality, pessimism, and loneliness; renewed optimism, making friends and seeing success in school; and integration, discovering a new identity in their new home.

Chapter 2
The main audience for this chapter is administrators who are welcoming immigrant students into their school, likely for the first time. It gives practical advice on developing relationships with the parents of immigrant children. The author provides advice, starting with the visual elements that give the new family their first impression of the school through the assessment of the child’s educational background and the orientation that the family will need to start feeling connected to their new community. The author gives helpful hints about issues that have been cultural miscommunications and stumbling blocks in the past, such as the way different cultures view name use. The value of a bilingual interpreter is emphasized at this step in order to gather accurate information about the child’s past educational experience. There are also helpful example questionnaires and assessment tools that would be good starting points to help administrators and teachers get an accurate picture of the student’s grasp of age-appropriate concepts and their proficiency in their first language (L1). The chapter also points out ways to start integrating the child into the school immediately by keeping them in the main classroom for much of the day and providing student guides. There are also suggestions on additional community support, such as orientation for parents, parent networks, homework clubs, tutoring, and multi-lingual resources. The author makes a point of reminding her readers that the child’s L1 is very important for their second language (L2) development, and for the child’s identity. Suggestions such as community book-making projects and building a library’s collection of books in the community’s languages are suggested to help the child continue learning in their L1.

Chapter 3
A whole school, or whole school district, approach to providing language support for immigrant children is the central theme of this chapter. According to research, L2 learners take five years to catch up with their peers. This is due to the fact that they are learning academic English alongside conversational English, and that their peers are also learning new language skills at the same time that the L2 learner is trying to catch up (Cummins 2007). There are helpful clarifications in this chapter that point out the difference between academic and everyday language. The chapter also combats some of the current strategies that would recommend pulling the student out of the regular classroom just to focus on language, or would underestimate the need for language support because the child is young. Dual language classrooms are purported to be the best option for L2 learners, but the author realizes that this is not possible for many school systems. She insists that training teachers to handle the L2 learners in their class, and having specialist teachers for this purpose, is essential. Reviews are given of dual language classrooms, intensive self-contained language classes, part-time classes, tutorial support, and immersion. Second to dual language classrooms, and content-based instruction is the considered the best way for the student to learn their L2 (Genesee 1994).

Chapter 4
This chapter is about the assessment process and how to adjust assessment for the L2L in the classroom. The main audience for this chapter is teachers, because they will be the ones giving the student the content-based assessment and need to be concerned about the validity of their test for the L2L. The teacher should be focused on finding out what the student can do with the information they’ve been taught, not what they can’t do because they are still learning the language of instruction. The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) ( is introduced in this chapter as a tool for making assessment scaffolds for the L2Ls. Samples of how a teacher might use the CEFR are provided. The author also takes time in this chapter to combine research such as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, the Cummins model of context labels (Cummins 2000), and the CEFR to produce a chart of kinds of activities that will and will not work for helping an L2L learn and be appropriately assessed. The chapter provides examples and charts to clarify. The charts will help teachers analyze their activities and assessments to determine how much scaffolding they are providing to students. The chapter also provides other ways to assess a child’s knowledge of the content without requiring the production of unique language.

Chapter 5
This chapter is written to assist administrators in evaluating the school’s performance overall in helping the student reach the integration stage in their cultural adjustment. Statistics and charts are provided to combat the common belief that immigrant children will hinder the overall academic success of a school. There is also a closer look at the demographics of the adolescents with the highest high school dropout rate. The author criticizes the programs that are designed to identify and help at-risk students. This chapter champions the dual language classrooms through high school, and insists on long-term language support for L2Ls in their L1 and L2. Evidence is provided here that the teacher has a greater effect on the L2L’s achievement then the student’s living circumstances (Center for Public Education). A ten point plan, mainly focused on continual assessment and language support in the classroom, is proposed for the schools to start addressing this need.

Chapter 6
Teachers are the target audience of this chapter. The information is presented in order to help them be inclusive of all languages in the classroom. The chapter starts by focusing on the teacher’s positive attitude toward the new students as a model for the rest of the students in the classroom. It goes on to introduce ways to give the students time and activities to help them get to know one another, not focusing on one culture, but allowing the students to represent all of their family cultures and backgrounds. Activity ideas are presented and illustrated, and ways to integrate the school’s cultures into the content material are proposed. Focus is given to language inclusive activities in literature, social studies, mathematics, science, the arts, and physical education classrooms.

Chapter 7
Using the school as a location to make linguistic diversity the norm is the intent of this chapter. Research about the benefits that multilingualism provides for the community, the school, the student, and the student’s family is provided. Following this information, the author makes suggestions on how to make the school multilingual, such as including immigrant parents in the classrooms, providing language classes in the community languages, and making signs, newsletters, and websites multilingual. The most important thing that schools and classrooms can do is make language inclusion normal, not treating it as strange or problematic. Classroom activities are suggested and exemplified to facilitate this attitude.

Chapter 8
Teachers should strive to provide a classroom environment where the student feels safe trying to use their L2 and where they can also feel that their use of their L1 is valued. The beginning of this chapter provides research regarding the different stages of language development (e.g. Krashen 1981). Suggestions are given on how to teach to each student’s language level, providing context support, and making the classroom safe for production practice. Specific areas of oral language may need to be taught explicitly, like syllable stress and rhythm. The chapter goes on to talk about the benefits of authentic language input and negotiation strategies that L2Ls will get by working in groups with their native language peers. Teachers are provided guidelines on how to manage those groups and given group activity suggestions.

Chapter 9
This chapter focuses on giving teachers ideas about how to support L2Ls in their reading and writing acquisition. The chapter presents clear charts on the differences between written and spoken language and encourages teachers to become sensitive to these issues. Scaffolding techniques for supporting L2L reading and writing are provided along with suggestions for different age and proficiency groups. For example, young readers and beginners both need print and picture rich environments. Ideas and activities to support this kind of learning are provided for teachers. The author cautions teachers about reading aloud activities and states that this activity shows more about the student’s ability to produce speech then to read and comprehend. It should only be used if the text is understood. Teachers are also provided with scaffolding techniques for helping L2Ls learn different kinds of writing skills. The scaffold for reading and writing is the same: the teacher shows the student what they will do, the teacher shows how to do it, the teacher helps the student do it, and then the student tries the activity on their own. Writing activities are presented and exemplified to help teachers envision how to concretely apply the scaffold in the classroom.

Chapter 10
The focus of this chapter is on vocabulary acquisition. Following the pattern of previous chapters, the author presents research on why this is important for all students, and especially L2Ls. This chapter proposes teaching word families, rather than individual words, and claims that the difference between the literacy abilities of a native English speaker and an L2L is vocabulary knowledge (Blachowicz et al. 2005). Teachers must be aware of the fact that L2Ls need to be learning new vocabulary at an accelerated rate to catch up with their peers. A chart is provided for teachers to help them determine if a word is high or low frequency in order to prioritize what the student needs to learn for that lesson and what will help them in everyday life. Teachers are encouraged to help their students read voluntarily, given activities to help them teach new words explicitly, and to help the student notice vocabulary words around them in their life inside and outside of the classroom.


This book is a practical and invigorating tool for teachers who are faced with the challenge of integrating immigrant students into their classroom. It also presents clearly the challenges that the school administration will face in order to properly support this group of students. The integrated summary of research on each chapter’s topic as well as the interview techniques, assessment plans, and practical classroom activity suggestions are useful for all teachers working with L2Ls in any mainstream classroom. In many ways, the attitude shift this book calls for is needed. Teachers must be able to see their immigrant students as an asset to their school, and to their country. This book not only explicitly encourages administrators and teachers to approach an immigrant family in a positive way, but it implicitly provides them with examples and activities that help them alter focus on the L2L as a positive challenge rather than a negative one.

Many of the suggestions in the book are idealized; however, the author recognizes that the best is not always possible. It provides small steps that can be taken to encourage language diversity from the level of classroom interaction and content all the way through offering language classes to the community in the immigrant’s languages and inclusive cultural involvement.


Blachowicz, Camille .L. Z., Peter J. Fisher, & Susan Watts-Taffe. 2005. Integrated vocabulary instruction: meeting the needs of diverse learners in grades K-5. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Center for Public Education (3 November, 2012.)

Common European Framework of Reference. (3 November, 2012.)

Cummins, Jim. 2007. Promoting literacy in multilingual contexts. (3 November, 2012.)

Cummins, Jim. 2000. Language, power and pedagogy: bilingual children caught in the crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Genesee, Fred. 1994. Integrating language and content: lessons from immersion (Educational Practice Reports No. 11). National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Krashen, S. D. 1981. Principles and practice in second language acquisition. English Language Teaching Series. London: Prentice-Hall International.

Kirstie Swanson (M.A. Payap University Linguistics Department) is a curriculum developer for Her research interests are in developing effective teaching strategies for English language teaching, assisting English as a second language students in accomplishing their language learning goals, and minority language preservation, documentation, and revitalization.

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