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Review of  Becoming Biliterate

Reviewer: Laura Loder Büchel
Book Title: Becoming Biliterate
Book Author: Bertha Perez
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.1974

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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

Laura Loder Büchel, Pädagogische Hochschule, Zurich and Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

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 María E. Torres-Guzmán 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 proficiency.

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 Büchel 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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0805846786
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 256
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