Maintaining and sustaining second-language learning

Maintaining and sustaining second-language learning

Sheets, Rosa Hernandez

Multicultural Resources

Rosa Hernandez Sheets

Children use language to communicate their needs, make social contacts, construct their learning, and influence others to grant their wishes. Although we often think of language differences as something foreign, in 1995 the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position paper on language and cultural diversity made two important points.

First, cultural and linguistic diversity is most common with young children under the age of six, and, contrary to popular belief, these children are neither foreign born nor immigrants. Approximately 45 million school age children – more than one in five – live in households in which languages other than English are spoken. It was not possible to ascertain if this figure included African American children who speak American Black English.

Second, language issues affect children who understand English but come from different cultural backgrounds. This includes bilingual African American children who speak American Black English, monolingual children who speak a dialect of English (e.g., children from Appalachia or other regions with distinct speech patterns), and children who come from homes where English is spoken but is not the dominant language.

At a very young age, children are required to negotiate difficult transitions between home and school. While it is challenging for any child to enter a new environment, this experience can be terrifying for young children whose home language differs from that of the classroom. For some children, the resulting psychological trauma may be a more debilitating consequence than the original language issue. Additionally, if the learning of English results in a shift of the heritage language in childhood, this cognitive and cultural disadvantage may produce feelings of anger and guilt in adolescence and/or adulthood.

In the classroom, linguistic isolation can make children feel unsafe, insignificant, and friendless, which affect participation in classroom events. These psychological and social factors sometimes outweigh the cognitive challenges of learning a new language. To be successful with diverse linguistic groups, teachers need to acknowledge the functions of language beyond direct exchange of information. Every language embodies both the historical experience of a particular cultural group and the group’s conscious effort to transmit its collective values (Vygotsky, 1962). Native speakers of a given language utilize not only its grammar and vocabulary, but also its distinctive verbal customs, patterns of thought, and styles of learning.

For example, the turn taking, eye contact, and conversational sequence modeled in many U.S. schools may be foreign to some children in diverse classrooms. Children from a culture that values spontaneous and exuberant call-and-response group dialogue may have difficulty raising their hand and waiting to be called on. Conversely, a child from a culture in which personal opinion and emotion are considered inappropriate for public display may withdraw from class participation (Minami & McCabe, 1995).

In addition to these cultural factors, teachers need to understand the developmental aspects that all children go through as they develop facility with language. Children might understand incoming language but may not be able to produce language that expresses their understanding. Also, many young children are in transition from the casual communication style used at home to the more formal one ofschool and society. As children advance their language abilities – speak, listen, read, and write they learn that language is a powerful social tool. Teachers who value children’s home language and culture increase children’s ability to communicate in American English while acknowledging the benefits and challenges in helping children maintain two or more languages.

Teachers understandings of the knowledge, skills, and experiences children need to successfully acquire a second language is a prerequisite to insure that the first language is not sacrificed in the learning process. A classic in the field,Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource book for K– 12 Teachers by Suzanne F. Peregoy and Owen F. Boyle, provides this critical knowledge needed to understand the role children’s dual languages play in schooling events.

This groundbreaking text is theoretically grounded and framed by the critical cultural dimensions that impact teachers’ behaviors and children’s displays of linguistic, academic, and social competence present in literacy development. Peregoy and Boyle maintain that today’s teachers will encounter children different from themselves in language and culture; therefore, they will be challenged to advance dual language learners’ ability to speak, read, write, and learn in their new language while maintaining their heritage language.

Although designed primarily as a text for use in university classrooms, this exemplary text is highly recommended as a valuable resource for professional development for teachers in the field. This book introduces readers to current theories of language learning and describes ways to translate this knowledge to practice. A strength of Peregoy’s and Boyle’s scholarship is the consistent use of classroom examples to describe how expert teachers construct classroom climates, adapt instruction, and include curricular content to encourage collaboration, engagement, and optimal conditions that enhance the language and literacy development of second language learners.

Other features unique to this text indude: (1) a stand-alone resource to examine the impact of language on learning, (2) explicit linkages of first and second language acquisition theory to learning-teaching instructional practices, (3) clarity and accessibility of assessment models for beginning and intermediate English language learners, (4) explanations of instructional strategies for the contextual application of language learning to content area learning (e.g., literacy, social studies, mathematics), and (5) annotated bibliographies of recommended readings to extend teacher knowledge.

Summaries of each of the ten chapters follow:

Chapter 1: English Language Learners in School explores possible teacher concerns in meeting the multiple linguistic and cultural needs of diverse second language learners in their classrooms. The chapter opens with a classroom example of what an expert teacher does on the first day of school to meet the needs of second language learners. This introduction is followed by clear definitions and origins of various terms and program types (e.g., limited English proficient, English language learner, English language development, two-way immersion programs). Peregoy and Boyle provide rich descriptions of English language learners, explain the need to obtain as much information about the child’s past schooling and home experiences, present sample classroom activities designed to help you know the children, and point out the need to establish a classroom context that promotes a sense of safety, security, and belonging.

In Chapter 2: Second Language Acquisition, the authors describe theories of how children acquire a first language and how they learn a second language. The authors provide: clear distinctions between the schooling experiences of younger and older learners in the acquisition of a second language, characteristics of the language used for social interactions and the language used for academic learning, an analysis of learner errors, and the influence of social interactions in the development of language proficiency.

Chapter 3: Classroom Practices for English Learner Instruction describes and elaborates specific instructional strategies related to English language learners. In this chapter Peregoy and Boyle explain multiple ways to plan, organize, and evaluate Sheltered Instruction or Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE). Examples in the various subject areas (e.g., science, literature), critical elements (e.g., cooperative group work, buddy systems, literature response groups), and assessment procedures (e.g., formal assessment, performance assessments) are used to clarify the components, objectives, and outcomes of sheltered instruction. The construct of scaffolding – challenging children with support and encouragement – is described and applied to language learning, literacy development, and second language acquisition.

The relationships among listening, reading, and writing are the focus of Chapter 4: Oral Language Development in Second Language Acquisition. The authors describe form, function, and social context in oral language use, explain the differences between beginning and intermediate English learners; and suggest ways to promote oral language development.

In Chapter 5: Emergent Literacy: English Learners Beginningto Write and Read, Peregoy and Boyle concentrate on English language learners’ early literacy development and home-school relationships. They present classroom strategies to enhance children’s reading and writing experiences, and explore ways to document and assess children’s progress in the early stages of reading and writing development. The authors also describe the differences between oral and written language development and children’s emergent literacy in English as a non-native language.

The benefits of a process approach to writing instruction are addressed in Chapter 6: English Learners and Process Writing. While this chapter points out the advantages of a process approach to writing (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing), it centers on the scholarship on second language writing. Clear explanations of process writing strategies, developmental phases in second language writing, and assessment of writing progress for English language learners are provided.

In Chapter 7: Reading and Literature Instruction for English Language Learners, the authors discuss the reading process, compare first and second language reading, provide suggestions for promoting second language reading using a variety of contexts and instructional strategies, and suggests ways to select quality multicultural literature. This is a must read chapter for all educators involved with the schooling of dual language learners.

Issues and research concerned with reading in the content areas – literacy, social studies, science, mathematics – are explored in Chapter 8: Content Reading and Writing: Prereading and During Reading. This chapter points out strategies to promote reading comprehension. For example instructive prereading strategies and activities are discussed in terms of developing motivation, purpose and ways to access prior knowledge. This section is followed by during-reading strategies to help students use metacognitive skills to self– monitor their comprehension, which in turn is based on the purpose for their reading.

Chapter 9: Content Reading and Writing: Postreading Strategies for Organizing and Remembering integrates reading and writing to enhance children’s ability to understand and remember what they have read in the subject matter content areas. Topics such as vocabulary development, collaborative learning activities, mapping, research projects, and the use of journals and writing logs provide the reader with the information needed to address the needs of dual language learners.

While student progress assessment and adaptation of instruction is an integral aspect of each of the previous chapters, Chapter 10: Reading Assessment and Instruction provides a concise summation of the various aspects involved in the assessing the placement, progress, and effectiveness of programs for dual language learners. Sample informal reading inventories and a listing of recommended commercial informal reading inventories are provided. The scholarship and research contained in this volume is useful to scholars who prepare students to serve and educate our children, as well as to teachers on the front line. It can provide excellent summer reading as well as new insights to help us understanding the role of language and culture and language in schooling.

This book, grounded in a conceptual understanding of the second language acquisition, is able to move theory and advocacy a step closer to a language of pedagogy. Major strengths of this text include: research-based commentary of the various theoretical positions of second language constructs, descriptive exemplary teaching content and instructional strategies, and powerful, effective classroom vignettes. I join the “unanimous praise” Suzanne Peregoy and Owen Boyle have received from students, scholars, reviewers, and critics who have read and used this text in the classroom. I highly recommend this book.

Featured Book

Suzanne F. Peregoy & Owen F. Boyle. (2001). Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource book forK-12 Teachers. Boston, MA:Addison Wesley Longman. . ISBN 0-8013-3249-4; pbk., 447 pgs; $47.00.


Minami, M., & McCabe, A. (1995). Rice Balls and Bear Hunts: Japanese and North American Family Narrative Patterns. Child Language, 22 (2), 423-445.

NAEYC Position Statement: Responding to linguistic and cultural diversity – Recommendations for effective early childhood education. (1995). Young Children 51, (2) 4-12.

Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

-Rosa Hernandez Sheets is an assistant professor in the Department of Elementary Education of the College of Education at San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California. Authors or publishers wishing to submit books or other media for review in the ‘Multicultural Resources” section of Multicultural Education should address such materials to: Rosa Hernandez Sheets Department of Elementary Education San Francisco State University 1600 Holloway Avenue San Francisco, California 94132.

Copyright Caddo Gap Press Summer 2002

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