This website uses cookies. A cookie is a small piece of code that gives your computer a unique identity, but it does not contain any information that allows us to identify you personally. For more information on how TESOL International Association uses cookies, please read our privacy policy. Most browsers automatically accept cookies, but if you prefer, you can opt out by changing your browser settings.

Bilingual Basics

Bilingual Basics News, Volume 8:1 (June 2006)

by User Not Found | 11/03/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Note From the Editor
    • BEIS Newsletter Mission Statement
    • Message From the BEIS Chair
    • Message from the BEIS Past Chair
  • Articles and Information
    • Call For Papers for the BEIS Spring Special Issue Newsletter
    • Empowering D/deaf Bilingual Learners: Clearing up the Confusion
    • Jim Cummins on ‘Diverse Futures: Rethinking the Image of the Child in Canadian Schools’
    • Promoting Dual-Language Literacies in English-Medium Settings
    • The Bilingual Basics
    • ESL in Bilingual Education With a Twist: Immigrant Children in Canadian French Immersion

Leadership Updates Note From the Editor

Shelley K. Taylor, Faculty of Education/Department of French Studies, The University of Western Ontario, Canada,

Welcome BEIS members! This promises to be an engaging issue of Bilingual Basics as the articles included in this issue raise age-old concerns of interest to our members, while presenting varied twists in new contexts. The following is an overview of everything in this issue of Bilingual Basic. Features · BEIS Newsletter Mission Statement · Message From the BEIS Chair, David Schwarzer · Message From the BEIS Past Chair, Fabiola Ponce Ehlers-Zavala, and the new slate of BEIS Officers
  • Call for Papers for the BEIS Spring Special Issue Newsletter
  • Articles

Articles Overview

All five articles included in this issue reflect the BEIS Newsletter mission statement. They deal with educational and sociopolitical issues in pre-K through postsecondary bilingual educational settings, from an international perspective.

Topics covered include how and why to

  • explicitly teach D/deaf students about key differences between ASL and English to enable them to skillfully distinguish between modalities
  • present multiliteracies pedagogy—practices designed to draw on bilingual students’ strengths and meet the needs of linguistically diverse learners in the 21st century
· implement teaching approaches that promote multiliteracies pedagogy · defend bilingualism, bilingual children, and bilingual education · recognize and support multilingual students’ L1s in a bilingual education program taught through the medium of their L2 and L3

Titles and Authors

The first article, entitled “Empowering D/deaf Bilingual Learners: Clearing up the Confusion,” was written by Baldev Kaur Khalsa. The second article, “Jim Cummins on ‘Diverse Futures: Rethinking the Image of the Child in Canadian Schools’,” was written by Natalie Rublik. Sarah Cohen wrote the third article, “Promoting Dual-Language Literacies in English-Medium Settings.” Joan Wink and Dawn Wink coauthored the fourth article, “The Bilingual Basics.” I wrote the fifth and final article, entitled “ESL in Bilingual Education With a Twist: Immigrant Children in Canadian French Immersion.”

Overlap in Focus

Despite the fact that these articles are based on different languages, programs, and contexts, there is a certain overlap in their focus. They all discuss ways to support minority language children’s L1s at the same time as developing all of their languages. What does this overlap tell us? It tells us that Edwards (2004) is justified in making the claim that many majority language groups are unwilling to recognize the prevalence, relevance, and role of bi-/multilingualism in society. As David Schwarzer (this issue) notes in his Message From the BEIS Chair, BEIS members can play a role in altering that perception. This issue of Bilingual Basics is one step in that direction.

Call for Papers

Also included in this issue is Nancy Dubetz’ call for papers for the BEIS Spring Special Issue of Bilingual Basics. Please send Nancy( brief articles (max. 1,200 words) that address the theme of preparing and supporting teachers of bilingual children byJune 1, 2006.

Copyright Finally, please note that articles that appear in the BEIS newsletter with bylines are not copyrighted by TESOL or the interest section. Authors retain copyright of their own work. Although TESOL encourages readers to share the contents of the newsletter with interested colleagues and students, articles may not be reprinted or posted online without the express written permission of the author.




Edwards, V. (2004). Multilingualism in the English-Speaking World. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

BEIS Newsletter Mission Statement


The goal of the BEIS Newsletter is to provide a forum for the discussion of educational and sociopolitical issues in pre-K through postsecondary bilingual educational settings around the world.


The BEIS Newsletter is oriented to practitioners and teacher educators working in bilingual education programs around the world.


The BEIS Newsletter serves as a vehicle for the expression of ideas and scholarship related to teaching and learning in bilingual classroom settings. The newsletter also takes an advocacy position with respect to bilingual education. It includes articles, research summaries, book reviews, convention information, and general commentary.

Approved at the 2004 annual business meeting on March 31, 2004.

Message From the BEIS Chair

David Schwarzer, The University of Texas—Austin,

Dear colleagues,

My name is David Schwarzer, and I am a professor in the Multilingual Studies Program at the University of Texas–Austin. I was born in Argentina, raised inIsrael, and am currently living in the United States. I am married to Taly and together we have three multilingual Hebrew/Spanish/English children: Noa, Ariel, and Tamar. It is a pleasure to write these first few lines here as the new BEIS chair.

My first task is very simple and gratifying: I would like to thank our past chair, Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala, for her leadership during the past year. Fabiola, we know how much work you put into our organization: ¡Muchas gracias! I also would like to congratulate our newly elected board members, particularly the incoming chair-elect, Linda Evans: ¡Felicidades!

My second task is a bit more complex: I would like to openly address some of the issues that have arisen in the bilingual education academic arena over the past few months. I strongly believe that this is not the time for bilingual educators, scholars, and leaders in our field to be divided. Bilingual education is being challenged at the national and state level; bilingual educators are being questioned about their credentials and beliefs; bilingual programs are being closed; and bilingual people are often discriminated against. Within TESOL, I believe that bilingual voices need to be heard loud and clear: We need to help TESOL become an attractive and viable option for some of our bilingual colleagues looking for an active organization in which to pursue their bilingual academic agenda.

TESOL provides several statements that are very friendly toward bilingual education. However, are we delivering them as an organization? I do not think so! It is time to decide whether bilingual education is the focus of our interest section, or whether a more inclusive term such as bilingual/multilingualinterest section is needed (as discussed in our annual meeting in Tampa). We need a clearer commitment from TESOL with regard to bilingual/multilingual education. For example, when will TESOL use the term bilingual/multilingual as the theme of an annual conference?

We should also put our voices together to reflect on the use of multiple languages in our own academic affairs. Again, for example, why are TESOL presentations only in English? Why is it that we offer the much needed and important translation services only to Deaf participants? Shouldn’t we consider extending these translation services to other languages? Why aren’t the abstracts of articles published in TESOL Quarterly translated into a few other languages? The International Reading Association has a strand of presentations in Spanish at their annual convention. Moreover, they publish two academic journals in Spanish and Russian as part of their academic organization. Furthermore, the International Reading Association’s major research journal, Reading Research Quarterly, includes translations of abstracts of its research articles in several languages. It is time for our interest section to raise such issues for the TESOL leadership to reflect on.

Finally, if we not only “talk the talk,” but start “walking the walk,” it will signal a major change in TESOL. Friends and colleagues worried about developments in other national associations may see TESOL as a viable venue for their scholarship and community.

Let me know in which way these or other issues related to our Bilingual Education Interest Section should be introduced and developed at the national and international level of TESOL. Please feel free to contact me at

Nos vemos, Shalom!


Message from the BEIS Past Chair

Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala, Illinois State University,

Dear BEIS Colleagues,

On behalf of our interest section, I hope you are enjoying the opportunities for professional development, networking, and educational renewal that you have had this year!

We have just had the opportunity to meet again at TESOL 2006 and exchange wonderful ideas that we can implement in the field of bilingual education as well as in the field of teaching English to deaf speakers.

TESOL 2006 was an exciting event at which, as convention planners indicated, the emphasis was on issues related to leadership in FL/SL education, which was the reason for its theme: “Daring to Lead.”

Our Academic Session this year, entitled “Monolingual ESL Teachers Fostering Bilingualism,” was a panel presentation by Yvonne and David Freeman, Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala, Ester de Jong, David Schwarzer, and Maria Brisk. Our new chair, David Schwarzer, organized our Interest Section Discussion Groups and Academic Sessions. We appreciate the support you provided our BEIS by attending the Interest Section Discussion Group. If you would like information on TESOL 2007, visit TESOL’s Web site at The deadline for proposals is June 1.

Along with the convention theme, we have also had the opportunity to elect our BEIS leaders. Our new slate of officers is posted below.

Again, on behalf of our BEIS, I would like to say how much I enjoyed meeting you at TESOL 2006 and to wish you all the best for the rest of the year. See you in Seattle in 2007!




First and Last Name



Serving until…

Madeline Milian (2008)

Maria Coady (2008)

Jerry Berent (2007)

Milli Kushner (2007)

Mayra Daniel (2009)

Cheryl Serrano (2009)

Francisco Ramos (2009)


1-year term

Sarah Cohen (2007)


1-year term

Linda Evans (2007)

Newsletter Coeditors (Regular)

3-year term

Shelley K. Taylor (2007)

Sarah Cohen (2009)

Newsletter Coeditors (Special Topic)

3-year term

Nancy Dubetz (2007)

Alcione N. Ostorga (2008)


1-year term

David Schwarzer (2007)

Past Chair

1-year term

Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala (2007)

Webmaster (appointed)

1-year term

Darcy Christianson (2007)

Articles and Information Call For Papers for the BEIS Spring Special Issue Newsletter

Nancy Dubetz, Lehman College, The City University of New York,

Topic: Preparing and Supporting Teachers of Bilingual Children

The audience of this newsletter is bilingual teachers and teacher educators in TESOL. Manuscripts for the next issue of the newsletter should address the efforts to prepare new teachers or support practicing teachers who are working with bilingual children. Below are a set of questions related to this topic; however, manuscripts focusing on other aspects of preparation and professional development of bilingual educators are welcome.

o What are the characteristics of teachers who support children’s learning through two languages?

o How are the characteristics of effective bilingual teachers similar to and different from those of effective ESOL teachers?

o How are bilingual educators prepared to use ESOL methods in their teaching?

o What are the characteristics of effective models of preparation and professional development for teachers of bilingual children?

o How do bilingual teachers who support learning through two languages negotiate the politics around bilingualism in their countries?

o In the U.S. context, how is No Child Left Behind or other policies relevant to the education of bilingual learners affecting the day-to-day work of teachers of bilingual children? the preparation or professional development of teachers of bilingual children?

o What criteria exist for guiding the development and accreditation of preparation or professional development programs that support teachers of bilingual children?

o How should teacher effectiveness for those who teach bilingual children be determined (e.g., teaching exams, performance-based assessments)?

o What are existing examples of partnership/collaboration between bilingual and monolingual teachers that support student learning? between bilingual and ESOL teachers?

o How are bilingual teachers prepared to teach in and through the native language, and to connect L1 and L2 instruction?

The deadline for submission is June 1, 2006. Manuscripts should be no longer than 1,200 words in length and must be formatted according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual, Fifth Edition. Manuscripts must be submitted electronically

Empowering D/deaf Bilingual Learners: Clearing up the Confusion

Baldev Kaur Khalsa, National Technical Institute for the Deaf,

D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students need to be skilled bilinguals. Teachers should empower D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students by teaching them to distinguish between American Sign Language (ASL), English, sign system rules, and various modalities. This paper describes a course developed at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). In it, D/deaf students learn how these modalities and languages are distinct to reduce the confusion that switching between them can cause. Information about the course itself is provided as well.

Background Information and Issues

This section provides information on key terminology, students’ prior language experiences, how definitions of bilingualism apply to D/deaf learners, and related issues.

Key Terminology
Following a convention proposed by Woodward (1972), the use of lowercase deaf refers to the audiological condition of not hearing. The use of uppercase Deaf refers to the particular group of deaf people who share a culture and the language, ASL.

Student Language Experiences Prior to Entering NTID

D/deaf students arrive with a wide variety of learning histories.[1] For the majority of D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students in school today, the primary mode of communication and educational access to information is Simultaneous Communication (SC). SC refers to speaking English and signing in English word order. Consistently providing complete information in both of these modalities has inherent difficulties.

Mallery-Ruganis and Fischer (1990) and Stinson, Newell, Castle, Mallery-Ruganis, and Holcomb (1992) outlined long lists of necessary characteristics of effective SC. When poorly executed, it results in unclear information. Here are two examples: First, context-inaccurate sign choices might have an auxiliary verb have signed as possessive have, or like (same as) signed as like (an emotion). Second, information provided in speech-driven SC may have large gaps in the sign portion of the utterances (Sign Supported Speech), and may omit grammatical features of ASL.

NTID students’ communication preferences and performance vary by both type and level of skill. For example, some NTID students

  • have no sign skills, but have English oral/aural/visual (speaking/listening/lip-reading) skills;

know only Cued Speech;

  • use Sign English (signs in English word order);
  • use Signing Exact English (i.e., signs in English word order with as many as 87 invented sign markers that represent English affixes);
  • use Signed English (signs in English word order with 14 added sign markers to represent English affixes);
  • are skilled in Contact Variety Signing (i.e., signing that blends aspects of both English and ASL influenced by the language skills of those communicating); or
  • are proficient in using ASL.

More detailed information about these sign systems, the communication that results from contact between users of ASL and English, and grammatical information specific to ASL can be found in Bornstein (1990), Nover (1995), Stewart and Luetke-Stahlman (1998), and Valli and Lucas (2000).

Definitions of Bilingualism Applied to D/deaf Learners

Grosjean (1982), clarifying the use of the term bilingual, stated: “Anyone who regularly uses two languages to communicate can be considered bilingual” (p. 230). Kannapell (1982) discussed the tremendous variations in communication style within the Deaf community. These variations are, in large part, due to varied educational experiences. She put these variations in the following six categories:

  • ASL monolinguals,
  • ASL-dominant bilinguals,
  • Balanced bilinguals,
  • English-dominant bilinguals,
  • English monolinguals, and
  • Semilinguals.[2] (Kannapell, 1982, p. 24)

A D/deaf individual’s skills in both ASL and English are rarely equal, but a person would greatly benefit from being a balanced bilingual.


Armour (1991) suggested that Kannapell’s (1982) categories are related to the educational system created by the Total Communication (TC) philosophy of educating D/deaf individuals. This is because the TC philosophy lacked any standardized criteria that programs had to meet in order to be labeled Total Communication. Many TC programs maintained the dominant hearing culture agenda and philosophy, and just added on signs. Often, these programs chose signs from Sign English systems. The addition of these signs resulted in surface coding versus choosing signs for concept accuracy. TC programs often did not recognize or utilize ASL as a resource. Armour (1991) further stated that programs that claim to be using a bilingual, bicultural philosophy of educating D/deaf individuals employ varying components that do not meet her definition of a true “Bi-Bi” program. Simply stated, their goal is not to create D/deaf students equally skilled and empowered in both English and ASL.

For students whose educational careers have included some form of signing, their Sign Language models have often been inconsistent in their skills. Both teachers and parents have demonstrated varying amounts of sign language knowledge and skill. Students have had to accept whatever was available. Most students are incapable of correctly labeling, describing, or defining what type and level of skills they themselves have.

NTID students have all had continuous instruction in English reading and writing skills, but not from one consistent program. Often their Sign Language and English input has been through the blended mode of SC. When language models and/or communication modes are incomplete or confused, students learn some of that confusion. It shows up in both their English reading and writing skills, and in their sign communication skills.

These issues need to be addressed, and the confusion that arises from mixed languages and switched modalities needs to be cleared up. D/deaf students have a right to linguistic and grammatical information about ASL. Hearing learners of ASL often have more of this knowledge than do D/deaf users of ASL. Both hearing and D/deaf students benefit from knowing the rules of signed systems. Bilingual D/deaf students need to be empowered with this knowledge. Only then will they become skillful users of both ASL and English, and competent in sign system use.

Comparing ASL and English: The Course

This section describes several aspects of the NTID course (Comparing ASL and English). It provides background information and the rationale of the course, outlines the course content, lists the skills taught, and presents course expectations, benefits, and outcomes.

Background Information and Rationale

This course is offered to NTID students who want to learn about

  • differences and similarities in the grammatical structures of ASL and English,
  • how to separate the two languages, and
  • how to improve their skills in both ASL and English.


This manual/visual/spatial language has its own grammatical rules. These rules evolved to provide full accessibility to content, intent, and affect during face-to-face communication. ASL cannot be written, and is not used for written conversations. However, a Gloss Notation system has evolved out of ASL research as a way to log descriptions of signed utterances. Gloss Notation can be used to document what has been signed, and is used in class.


English is another language. It can be spoken, written, and coded (with varying degrees of accuracy) into the invented signed systems mentioned above. English has its own grammar rules.

Rationale for the course

To be healthy, capable, and productive members of the Deaf community, D/deaf students must be empowered by possessing good ASL skills. To be skilled participants in the hearing community, D/deaf students must be empowered by possessing good English skills.

Course Content and Skills Taught

The course informs students how to improve their skills in ASL and English through a variety of activities:

1. Students learn basic Gloss Notation to be able to code utterances in ASL and Sign in English word order.

2. They gloss sample utterances from their own spontaneous signing, captured on videotape.

3. They analyze, describe, and label these glosses.

4. The system each student uses is identified.

5. Every student’s positive communication skills are sorted out and labeled.

6. Every effort is made to describe students’ skills positively from a language-as-resource standpoint (Nover, 1995, p. 119).

I find the skills these students have developed amazing, given the inconsistent language input they have experienced. The skills the students identify as their own are expected of them, but are rarely taught directly. For this reason, I view these expectations as unfair.

Expectations, Benefits, and Outcomes


Examples of unfair, untaught, yet expected transitions between modalities and languages that D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students are expected to make in a typical course follow:

  • Content information is presented in SC using Signing Exact English in lecture format.
  • Question-and-answer discussions (consultative discourse register) are followed by a short essay-style test in written English.

Is it fair to expect students to be able to change from an oral/manual/nonmanual//aural/visual (SC) mode to a print/visual mode? How to make such a transition was never modeled in their prior schooling.

Another example of expectations made of D/deaf students is as follows: Content information is presented on videotape in ASL. Students are then expected to make an oral/manual/nonmanual/aural/visual (SC) presentation to the class.

Is it fair to expect students to be able to switch languages and mix modalities without prior instruction on how to do so? D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students are expected to do so all the time. They meet these kinds of expectations with varying degrees of skill and success.

Course Benefits

The in-class sorting out of skills students are expected to use provides them with three main benefits. First, they learn about the Gloss Notation system. Second, students learn analytic and metalinguistic strategies (i.e., strategies in which language is used to discuss language terminology). They also learn about phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics for both ASL and English. The third and final benefit is that students learn about articulators used in SC. The list of articulators used in SC includes

  • lipreading,
  • sign reading,
  • facial expressions (eyes, eyebrows, and head position),
  • the signer’s body position in space, and
  • auditory cues and clues.

Students consult the list to determine how they retrieve pieces of a SC message.

Performance Outcomes

Listed below are expected performance outcomes students identified as areas for clarification and continued development during the course.

1. Metalinguistic awareness and correct use of terminology to discuss

the structure of ASL (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics),

English metalinguistic concepts and terms (nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases, etc.),

similarities and differences between ASL, Contact Variety Signing, and signed

English systems, and


2. Correct use of language decoding and coding strategies to create translations of ASL utterances that are English grammar equivalents.

3. Correct use of strategies to incorporate and use: (a) ASL grammar rules when presenting information in a visual/manual/nonmanual modality, and (b) English grammar rules when presenting information in a written modality.

4. Practice in, and refinement of, receptive and expressive skills when communicating in ASL and conceptually accurate Sign English.

5. Use of basic Gloss Notation to document semantic features in ASL, Sign English, and Signed English utterances.

6. Correct description of differences between using simultaneous nonmanual signals in ASL with ASL SIGNS (e.g., eye-gaze-2nd-person #D-O=D-O-whq), and using English grammar sign markers, which are added on in a linear manner (e.g., THE GIRL+S ARE PRETTY).

7. Attention to, and documentation of, lipread cues while using basic Gloss Notation to document semantic features in SC utterances.

Course activities lead students through within-modality equivalents and modality-changing translations between ASL and English. Reference is made to grammar patterns, dictionaries, and class handouts. Table 1 (below) provides a list of the wide array of switches practiced in the course.

Table 1. Within-modality equivalents and modality-changing translations between ASL and English

1. ASL to Sign English

2. ASL to written Gloss Notation for ASL

3. ASL to written Signed English Gloss Notation

4. ASL to written English translation

5. Printed English to Signed English transliteration

6. Printed English to Signed English Gloss Notation

7. Printed English to signed ASL translation

8. Signed English Gloss Notation to written English

9. Signed English to a written English transliteration

10. Signed English in Simultaneous Communication, to written English

11. Sign English in Simultaneous Communication, to written English


It is commonplace for D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students to have to maneuver through the sorts of combinations and transitions noted in Table 1 as part of their everyday school experience. They may be instructed in Signed English presented in Simultaneous Communication. Any peer-peer discussion that follows for clarification purposes may be conducted in ASL or Contact Variety Sign. Students then encounter essay tests or multiple-choice test questions in written English. The fairness of this modality and language switching is questionable unless students are taught how they are distinct. Explicit instruction must be provided to clear up any confusion.

The skills sets students need to navigate these switches must be identified. To move effortlessly between hearing and Deaf cultures, D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students must be skilled bilinguals. Teachers have the obligation to empower these students by teaching them skills in, and information about, ASL, English, sign system rules, and the various modalities. Teachers thus need continued professional development.


Armour, V. (1991). ASL and English: Comparative linguistics—Call it what it is. Professional on Parade: Proceedings of the 55th Biennial Meeting, Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf and 63rd Annual Meeting of the Conference of Educational Administrators Serving the Deaf, New Orleans, LA (pp. 89-91).Rochester, NY: Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf/CAID.

Bornstein, H. (Ed.). (1990). Manual communication: Implications for education. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with two languages: an introduction to bilingualism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kannapell, B. (1982). Inside the deaf community. The Deaf American, 34(4), 23-26.

Mallery-Ruganis, D., & Fischer, S. (1990). Characteristics that contribute to effective simultaneous communication. American Annals of the Deaf, 136(5), 401-408.

Nover, S. (1995). Politics and language: American Sign Language and English in deaf education. In C. Lucas (Ed.), Sociolinguistics in deaf communities (pp. 109-163). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Stewart, D., & Luetke-Stahlman, B. (1998). The signing family: What every parent should know about sign communication. Washington, DC: GallaudetUniversity Press.

Stinson, M., Newell, W., Castle, D., Mallery-Ruganis, D., & Holcomb, B. (1992). Deaf professionals’ views on the importance of features of simultaneous communication. Journal of the Academy of Rehabilitative Audiology, 25, 99-112.

Valli, C., & Lucas, C. (2000). Linguistics of American Sign Language: An introduction (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Woodward, J. (1972). Implications for sociolinguistics research among the deaf. Sign Language Studies, 1, 1-7.

[1] See Bornstein (1990) on manual communication in the United States, and Stewart and Luetke-Stahlman (1998) for more recent work on the same topic.

[2] Use of the term semilingual is highly disputed.

Jim Cummins on ‘Diverse Futures: Rethinking the Image of the Child in Canadian Schools’

Natalie Rublik, The University of Western Ontario[i],

The following is a review of Jim Cummins’s (2005) Joan Pedersen Distinguished Lecture given at The University of Western Ontario. I begin with highlights from Cummins’s message and conclude with my reflections as a teacher and academic.

Cummins stressed that being an educator today takes courage because of the enormous range of responsibilities affected by globalization and technological expansion. These changes have created new challenges for educators, and new student and societal needs. Both must be acknowledged and discussed at various levels in schools. These challenges also require that new choices be made. These choices include addressing the incongruence between the current curriculum and the new reality of increased student diversity in schools today. Cummins urged educators to rethink their image of students, especially those learning English as a second language (ESL). That is a first step toward realizing that finding one best practice for all students is an impossible goal. In reaction to Cummins’s lecture, I highlight the importance of

l developing a trusting relationship with ESL families,

l mandating required ESL theory/practice courses, and

l implementing policy changes that reflect the ever-evolving nature of teachers’ and students’ teaching and learning realities.

Globalization and Technological Expansion

Greater mobility worldwide, coupled with the advance of computer capacities and the digitalization of information, have increased cross-border flows of information and cross-cultural interaction. One result of these trends is that diversity is the new norm, especially in major urban centers in Western countries. This new reality opens up the possibility of introducing a multitude of languages in our classrooms. It also challenges our understanding of what it means to be literate in a pluralistic and increasingly technology-based society.

Today, some schools are still primarily focused on paper-and-pencil approaches to teaching, not on developing technological literacy. Often, teachers are unclear as to how to use computers in a viable and relevant way for students. Computers are often used haphazardly as rewards or management tools to control student behavior. Many educators and policymakers seem unclear as to how to integrate 21st-century literacies with traditional forms of literacy. This has led Cuban (2001) to describe new computer technology as “oversold and underused.”

Cummins (2005) saw a mismatch between the rhetoric of the “knowledge society” and the reality of instruction in schools today. He viewed technological literacy as important because of the power of the media. ESL and non-ESL students who do not have the tools to deconstruct propaganda may continue to process misinformation even after it has been debunked. They need to be taught how to develop critical literacy and critical language awareness in a digitalized world.

Management of Diversity

The intentions behind Heritage language programs (also known as International Language Programs in Canada) with regard to supporting students’ first language (L1) are good. However, these programs can marginalize the importance of ESL students’ L1s by virtue of not being an inherent part of the school day. This situation sets minority L1s up as someone else’s problem, and sends the message to students that their L1 is not an asset worth valuing.

Within the Canadian context of demographic, political, and economic constraints, it is not possible to offer bilingual education that equally values ESL students’ L1 and second language (L2) in all situations. Cummins (2005) argued that this fact does not justify doing nothing. We as educators should view cultural and linguistic diversity as a valuable resource to be tapped into and developed in our classrooms. Western governments accord little value to the development of multilingualism in minority language children. This apathy will not change unless strong public opinion supports multilingualism in schools.

Curriculum Teaching Choices

Cummins (2005) saw a lack of consensus among classroom teachers regarding their teaching philosophies and practices. The elementary (kindergarten to grade 8) curriculum set out by the province of Ontario lists 3,993 expectations that school-age children are expected to meet. That makes 500 to 700 expectations per year. Cummins (2005) noted that it is more difficult for teachers who adopt a holistic approach to teaching to determine whether they have met curricular expectations. Some educators feel that the best way to meet these objectives is through a linear, sequential, transmission approach. However, Cummins (2005) viewed a teacher-directed, transmission approach to teaching as inadequate in today’s reality. We live in a globalized, pluralistic social democracy made up of a linguistically diverse population of learners. He argued that by adopting a linear, sequential, transmission approach to teaching, teachers create a gap between rhetoric and reality. That is, they create a gap between a knowledge-based society, where students are expected to generate new knowledge, and how they are taught in schools. Cummins (2005) further argued that, in the context of globalization and escalating technological change, the transmission approach to teaching does not teach students to critically assess new knowledge. Rather, it trains them to be passive. Given this, he concluded that an inquiry-based approach is better than a transmission approach to teaching.

The Best-Practices Myth

Cummins (2005) pointed out that many educators believe they can identify and specify best practices for teaching various content matter and skills. He agreed that there are some tried-and-true pedagogic practices that work well with linguistically diverse learners. However, he strongly disagreed with the notion that a (mythical) best practice exists. Furthermore, seeking a best practice is a myth with limited usefulness, especially for ESL students and students in practical versus academic streams.

The assumption that best practices exist can be damaging because it “short-circuits the process of critically reflecting on the adequacy of current instructional practices, and [of opening] up to the range of choices that are available to us in the present” (Cummins, 2005). Cummins (2005) argued that instead of viewing education as a technical operation, we should view it as a process of making choices that affect the image we have of our culturally and linguistically diverse students. He explained that “School improvement requires that we make explicit the choices that we have within the system, school, and classroom, and choose options that reflect both our instructional understandings and ideological goals” (Cummins, 2005). That is, we achieve our goals by the choices we make. Our choices are based, in turn, on our image of what is desirable for the future.

New Student Populations at Risk

Cummins (2005) asserted that research has shown that it takes at least 5 years for ESL students to catch up academically to their native-English-speaking peers. Still, there is varied ESL support in schools. Also, once in mainstream classrooms, ESL students must play catch-up with native-English-speaking peers. In addition, many ESL students encounter teachers who do not have the necessary knowledge base to meet their needs or who are unsympathetic to their needs.

In spite of all this, some ESL students do extremely well. Children with a solid educational background and with highly educated and motivated parents who speak some English succeed. However, many students do very poorly. Students who experienced trauma and instability in previous places of residence often encounter more difficulty. In some Western countries, the dropout rate for high school ESL students is alarming (see Gunderson, 2000, and Watt & Roessingh, 2001). Cummins (2005) warned that we cannot afford to be complacent about this loss.

Negotiation of Changing Identity Images

Cummins (2005) pointed to gaps between

  • who linguistically diverse students are,
  • images people have of them,
  • the reality these students face, and
  • the kinds of ESL courses offered in Faculties of Education throughout Ontario.

In many Faculties of Education, ESL courses are offered only as electives. In others, as Cohen (this issue) pointed out, teacher candidates receive no ESL training. Consequently, teachers must learn how to teach culturally and linguistically diverse students on the job. Yet, preservice students need to know how to teach content subjects such as science to ESL students. It cannot be assumed that second language teaching is only an ESL teacher’s job.

What image of the student do teachers have when they enter the teaching profession? Is it a generic, White middle-class image of students? Is this image then normalized, thus becoming the default option even if it does not match the current level of diversity in student populations in Western schools? Again, Cummins (2005) outlined the incongruence between the identities of educators, students, and society. He suggested that we need to reflect on and make our following images explicit:

  • Our images of ourselves as educators: How do we get to where we want to go?
  • The image we have of our students compared to how they actually are.
  • The image we have of the society we hope our students will form.

Cummins (2005) argued that teachers always operate with an image of their students. Teachers must also critically examine these images because they affect the choices teachers make in their classrooms.

Valuing Students’ L1

If we do not consistently value and encourage students’ use of their L1s, the results can be disastrous. Language loss is imminent (Cummins, 2005). This marginalization of our ESL students’ L1 becomes a subtext for the ways in which we teach our students. ESL students learned to experience embarrassment about using their L1 in Western countries where multilingualism was originally associated with highly educated elites.

Cummins (2005) also observed that English-only policies are slowly changing in schools, but this change needs to become more consistent. The use of students’ L1 is vital, especially if their English proficiency is limited. Literacy does not equal English literacy alone because many ESL students are literate in their L1 (see Cohen, this issue). ESL students’ L1 needs to be added to the curriculum if their intelligence and feelings are to be accurately expressed.

Powerful metalinguistic development can be achieved when students use their L1 while learning new concepts. Students’ L1 usage must be viewed as an educational asset—a vital link between a student’s home, family, and school. Society needs all the intelligence, imagination, and multilingual talent it can get to sustain itself (Cummins, 2005).

Multiliteracies Pedagogy

Even though reference to the value of L1 usage and multicultural principles is found in curriculum documents, there is no explicit mention as to how teachers can valorize them. Cummins (2005) described the “dual language showcase,” an exemplary model of multiliteracies pedagogy ( (see also Chow, 2001). Cohen (this issue) also outlined the choices made by two teachers in their implementation of multiliteracies pedagogy.

In describing the dual-language showcase, Cummins (2005) described how students initially felt embarrassed when asked to include their L1 in their writing and learning. An English-only message had already been entrenched in their school experiences. Gradually, however, a transformation took place through the creation of identity texts. These texts included artifacts the students produced in various forms (e.g., on CDs or in print). Students took ownership of creations in which they had invested their identities.

Once produced, these identity texts were mirror images of these students’ identities. They shared their creations by displaying them on classroom bulletin boards or on the Internet where they had multiple audiences, including relatives in Canada and overseas. This dialogic exchange resulted in positive feedback and affirmation of their identities. Cummins (2005) observed that the dual-language showcase is just one way teachers can exercise their power of choice by using and valuing student L1s when teaching the curriculum.

The Power of Choice: Responsibilities and Opportunities

Teachers need to collectively articulate what their options are in order to achieve reform or transformation. An additive approach to language learning must be taken to produce the knowledge society will demand of our students. Cummins (2005) reminded educators of the challenges involved in exercising individual and collective choice, “regardless of institutional constraints”:

  • The choice to proactively make our classrooms our own identity texts.
    • The choice to make the curriculum a starting point. For example, do we teach the curriculum in a way that values our students? Do we believe our students are capable of biliteracy and critical, higher-order, imaginative thinking?
    • The choice to discover for ourselves what the best practices are for our students. There are some effective practices, but few tell us how to teach ESL students. First, we must acknowledge that we have options. Second, we must engage in dialogic negotiation about these choices.

To conclude, Cummins (2005) contended that educators have the responsibility to expand, rather than constrict, students’ identity options. That is, we as educators have the “opportunity to make our classrooms our own identity texts; we invest our identities in our teaching and we see ourselves reflected back positively in the mirror that our classrooms and students hold up for us” (Cummins, 2005).

Despite a lack of consensus among educators about most issues, they do agree on one principle: The curriculum must pertain to students in some way—hence the need to open up space for their identities in the curriculum. Students’ background knowledge is fundamental to their learning. They need to see some reflection of themselves in what they are learning. What can we educators do to make the curriculum relevant to minority language students? As Cummins (2005) put it: “We will not find ourselves in the curriculum, but in our exercise of choice.”

Personal Reflections

The following are my reflections on Cummins’s (2005) address in relation to ESL parents, preservice education, school transformation, evolving policies, and the research implications of his work.

ESL Parents

Cummins (2005) reminded us that students’ L1 must be valued and used in the home to prevent language loss and loss of self-esteem. For this to happen, however, more work is needed in terms of developing a trusting and open dialogue between parents and teachers. My experiences have shown that ESL parents are mistrustful of a system that does not respect and communicate openly with them. When ESL parents do not feel listened to, they stop listening themselves—even when given a message in the best interests of their children. Many ESL parents do not ask questions or challenge decisions (e.g., concerning placement in ESL or special education classes) for fear of hurting their children’s success in the classroom.

ESL parents I know have received the message that developing L1 literacy will impede their child’s English. Despite my urging, the English-only message has done its damage to the point where parents believe they are helping their children by focusing on English to the detriment of their L1. Both ESL and non-ESL populations need to be better informed of the academic, psychological, and cultural benefits of L1 usage at home and in school.

Preservice Education

My experiences teaching in a Canadian Faculty of Education have shown me that preservice teachers feel excited and eager to begin teaching. They also feel anxious and overwhelmed by the task ahead of them. Preservice teachers who have enrolled in the ESL theory/practice course that I have taught have still felt frustrated at the end of the course as it was too short for them to feel competent enough to teach ESL students.

Governments need to make it compulsory for preservice students to enroll in an ESL theory/practice course to obtain teacher certification. Why? Teachers today will face more ethnically and linguistically diverse student populations than ever before. On my course evaluations, my preservice students have recommended that our course become compulsory. It is my view that this change will not take place until mere economic and political goals are set aside. Some argue that we cannot afford to offer more courses and extend teacher education programs beyond one academic year. However, given societal trends, can we afford not to?

School Transformation

According to Cummins (2005), educators, administrators, and governments need to exercise their power of choice both individually and collectively. However, how can teachers exercise power of choice before power-holders critically reflect on the incongruence of current policy and classroom reality? Teachers need the support of effective, accountable school leadership. All too often my preservice teachers recount teaching practices observed during practicum placements that devalue students’ L1. Why might this happen? One possibility is that teachers who are already overwhelmed may feel that Cummins’s (2005) messages, and what is taught in ESL theory/practice courses, are good for academics, but it would unrealistic to try to apply them to their situation.

Evolving Policies

As Cummins (2005) pointed out, governments and policymakers need to meet the challenges of rapid globalization and technological expansion. However, there comes a point when the same message is being given in varied ways, and interest groups just pay it lip service. Real change takes place when a message moves from print into reality: the reality of our homes, schools, and research. For this reality to come to fruition, courage is necessary (Cummins, 2005). Courage is easier to muster, though, when groups support each other rather than point fingers of blame at each other and compete with each other.

Research Implications and Conclusion

To summarize, there is incongruence between teachers’ perceptions of the adequacy of their teaching practices in relation to ESL students. One solution to breaking down this incongruence and restoring order is for schools to open up and welcome academics or teacher-researchers. As a teacher-researcher, I have not experienced a collegial relationship between universities and schools. This must change for inroads to be made on meeting the challenges noted above. Rather than viewing each other with suspicion, schools and universities need to engage in dialogue and to function as a unified front. Only then will policymakers and governments take our message seriously. Cummins’s (2005) message brings us to a turning point in ESL education: Certainly more needs to be heard but, equally important, more needs to be done.


Chow, P. (2001). Dual language showcase. A Thornwood Public School (Peel District School Board), York University, and OISE/University of Toronto Project.Retrieved December 12, 2005, from

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cummins, J. (2005, April 26). Diverse futures: Rethinking the image of the child in Canadian schools. Joan Pedersen Distinguished Lecture. The University of Western Ontario.

Gunderson, L. (2000). Voices of the teenage Diaspora. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Learning, 48, 692-706.

Watt, D., & Roessingh, H. (2001). The dynamics of ESL drop-out: plus ça change . . . Canadian Modern Language Review, 58(2), 203-223.

[i] As of August 2006, my academic affiliation will be L’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC), in the Department of Applied Linguistics/TESL. Also, my e-mail address will be

Promoting Dual-Language Literacies in English-Medium Settings

Sarah Cohen, OISE/University of Toronto,

During the past 2 years I have had the opportunity to be involved in a Canada-wide Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)-funded research project. Entitled “From Literacy to Multiliteracies: Knowledge Generation for the New Economy,” the project is based at The University of British Columbia and The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto (OISE/UT).[1]

The multiliteracies project has worked with teachers to explore and document innovative ways of teaching literacy. Among others, this has resulted in projects that

  • utilize instant messaging for academic purposes,
  • utilize students’ first language to engage in dual-language literacy activities,
  • connect sister-classes in schools in Toronto and Hong Kong, and
  • utilize computer technology to scaffold vocabulary learning.

As a graduate student research assistant at OISE/UT, I have had the role of working collaboratively with teachers to explore an aspect of their teaching practice. The focus of this paper is to elaborate on ways teachers can create a space within their teaching that respects the linguistic and cultural knowledge of their English language learners (ELLs) even when the instructional setting is English.

I came from a teaching background in Chicago. For my last 7 years there, I taught in a dual-language (Spanish/English) elementary school.[2] I was fascinated to learn about teachers who were integrating their students’ first language(s) into the literacy curriculum. It was even more impressive that this was being done within an English-medium setting and that the teachers did not necessarily speak the first languages of the students whom they were teaching. My research has explored the dual-language tasks these teachers have provided for their students, their rationale for creating these opportunities, and the response students have had to them.

Context of Study

The teaching context and background of each of the two teachers described here, Lisa and Padma, are different. Lisa began teaching 6 years ago as a grade 7 classroom teacher. Last year, she changed to an English as a second language (ESL) pull-out position within the same school. The school itself is just 6 years old. It was built in response to increased school-age population from expanding the boundaries of Toronto and from rising immigration patterns. It is a K-8 school in which 65% of the students are immigrants from Pakistan. Most of the remaining 25% are both first- and second-generation immigrants from other ethnic groups. Padma has been a teacher librarian for most of her 13-year teaching career in Canada. She taught in India for a few years before immigrating to Canada 20 years ago. She teaches at a K-6 elementary school with a highly diverse student population. In this school, 80 different countries are represented and 44 languages are spoken by the students and their families.

This research takes place against the backdrop of high levels of immigration across North America. In the Greater Toronto Area, where these studies take place, half the population was born outside of Canada (Canadian Heritage, 2004). That makes Toronto the city with the second highest number of foreign-born residents in the world. Within this context of an increasingly multicultural and multilingual student population, many educators and policymakers struggle to find successful ways to integrate these students within existing school programs. In Ontario, ESL programs have been cut by 15% since 1997-98. Yet there has been a simultaneous increase of 13.5 % in the number of immigrants to urban Ontario (People for Education, 2005). Although governmental support has increased during the past year, these circumstances have created a situation in which mainstream classroom teachers are expected to support ESL students even though the vast majority of teacher candidates do not receive ESL training (People for Education, 2005). This reality highlights the relevance of research that explores alternative ways of conceiving literacy learning in schools with multilingual student populations.

Theoretical Framework

Research indicates that it takes ELLs 5 to 7 years on average to catch up to their native English-speaking peers (Cummins, 1981). Access to academic vocabulary is often cited as a challenge for students engaged in this process because the very texts students need to be able to read in order to master content-area learning use specialized academic vocabulary (Corson, 1997). The importance of academic vocabulary for school success and the consequent difficulty of catching up to native-English-speaking peers increases as students get older. One of the findings in these studies has been the extent to which students describe using their first language to help them understand new English words. This finding underlines the value of teaching that enables students to build on this capital.

Another important factor in ELLs’ successful entry into school literacies focuses on

  • the type of classroom interactions that are expected and created for students, and
  • the way students’ linguistic and cultural identity is negotiated by the teacher (Cummins, 2001, 2004; Hawkins, 2004, 2005).

Cummins (2001) asserted that identity negotiation must go hand in hand with rigorous academic expectations. Only then can students achieve a high degree of cognitive engagement and investment in their schoolwork. Cummins (2001) also viewed teachers’ role definition in relation to their interactions with students as central: It is central to the messages teachers communicate to students about their place in the classroom and in wider society (Cummins, 2001, p. 17).

Teacher Role

What does an attitude of inclusion of children’s linguistic strengths and cultural background mean for teachers and students who have to negotiate the tension between a mandated curriculum and student needs? For many ELLs, their past experiences have little connection to mandated curriculum expectations. How might teachers best enable a bridging of worlds, literacies, and languages? How can they support students whose knowledge is not represented in the school setting? These are some of the questions that have guided research that Lisa, Padma, and I have conducted. As Rublik (this issue) pointed out, teachers do have power; they have the power to make choices individually and collectively. The curriculum they elaborate reflects the image they hold of the students they teach.

Lisa and Padma

Both Lisa and Padma found ways to exercise their choice as educators. They create a space in which provincial standards are met and students’ identities are brought into the curriculum. In so doing, they utilize a variety of literacy practices that purposefully draw on students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge. As Lisa has said:

Whether students are given the opportunity or not, it has been clear to me that students learning an additional language use their first language to help them make sense not only of grammatical tasks, but of the world around them since what is inside a language helps students see what they see and draw connections to old and new learning. Rather than keeping this a hidden process, my aim is to give it a space in the class. Opportunities like this bring out the inner voice of the students and makes what is invisible to the teacher visible.

One way Lisa gives voice to her students’ linguistic and cultural background is by engaging them in writing dual-language identity texts (Cummins, 2004). These have primarily been in the genre of stories that are reflective of the students’ lives and interests. Some students collaboratively develop writing projects; others write by themselves. Parents become involved when students need help translating from English to their first language.

In spring 2004, three students in Lisa’s grade 7 class—Kanta, Sulmana, and Madiha—worked together. They created the story, “The New Country,” based on their immigration experiences from Pakistan to Canada. Kanta and Sulmana had arrived in Canada in grade 4 whereas Madiha had just arrived in December 2003. This collaboration was timely for her in several ways:

  • She was able to integrate her recent lived experience into a class assignment.
  • She was scaffolded into the expectations of process writing in a North American classroom with the help of her more fluent English-speaking peers.
  • Her skills in Urdu were valued as the three girls translated the story from English to Urdu.

The three girls wrote the story in English first. All planning discussions took place in Urdu. Then, they translated the text into Urdu. At the same time, Kanta and Sulmana progressed along the continuum of their English language learning by

  • participating in this translation process, and
  • mentoring Madiha.

In the following excerpt, Kanta explains the learning that she saw happening:

The practice of writing in both languages helped us learn English because when you translate it you can see which word means what. Madiha, who was just learning English, could see what we had written in Urdu and have a better idea how to do it in English. It’s important too because there’s a different format for writing sentences in Urdu than in English, so when some words are translated it might not sound accurate right away, you might have to add more words in English than in our language so I think she learned a lot from that. It also helped us in our languages a lot too; it helped me improve my Urdu and I learned to translate better than before because it gave me some new words and practice going back and forth between the languages.

This work provided linguistic scaffolding and more: Students felt invested and affirmed by the teacher’s recognition of their culture and background. Madiha addressed this when she said

I am proud of “The New Country” because it is our story. Nobody else has written that story. And when we showed it to Ms. Leoni, she said it was really good. She said, “It’s about your home country and family, and Canada. It’s all attached. That’s so good.” I like that because it means she cares about our family and our country, not just Canada. Because she cares about us, that makes us want to do more work.

In Lisa’s ESL class the following year, she asked students to write a story that had a moral or lesson. Both Madiha and Aminah, another student from Pakistan who had just arrived in September, chose to retell stories with a religious moral. They had learned the moral as part of their religious and cultural upbringing. Another student, Tomer from Israel, who had also just arrived in September, also wrote a story. It focused on hard work as a way to make your dreams come true. Tomer’s delight in writing and illustrating a story that related to his passion for horses expressed itself in his eagerness to put pen to paper despite his limited English. The fact that he could write it in his native Hebrew and English made it that much more meaningful. He explained the importance of teaching to the child when he said:

That [having choice] is so important, especially when you are using a language that is not your first language. You already don’t understand perfectly so it’s important that you want to understand. If it’s boring then you won’t want to understand but if it’s interesting to you then you will want to try. When I wrote “Tom Goes to Kentucky,” it was like that for me. Ms. Leoni asked us to write a story and I chose a person called Tom who would be a rodeo rider because it’s fun to me to write a story about horses so it makes me work and it makes more pressure to do it from the inside.

These students’ comments echo Cummins’s (2001) description of the type of identity negotiation between teacher and students that creates optimal conditions for students to invest in their academic work. Lisa also highlights that having students write in their first language is useful for assessment purposes. It contributes important information to her in her ongoing work of observation and evaluation. This form of assessment is fundamental to all teaching.

Padma’s Library Class

In Padma’s library class, language, culture, and literacy are also brought together in innovative ways. She has built up a large dual-language published book collection in the library, which provides parents and students who speak a language other than English at home with a way to have a shared literacy experience. Parents are able to read to their children in their own language. At the same time, parents and children can see the English version of the story they are reading. Padma has also instituted the practice of having students write reading responses in the form of “flipbooks.” They have a retell, relate, reflect format that often includes a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer.

Padma encourages bilingual students to write these flipbooks in both of their languages. Her purpose is to involve parents in their child’s school literacy activities. This also gives students an opportunity to see their linguistic knowledge reflected in their schoolwork. Many are able to accomplish this dual language writing because, when they begin school in Canada, they are already literate in their first language. Others are fluent but not literate in their first language. They rely on parents or other family members to help them with their writing. By way of this collaboration, students acquire literacy skills in their home language. They also receive extra practice retelling the story and explaining their analysis. Furthermore, family members gain access to school literacy expectations. Padma’s vision for her students is reflected in her words:

I see [dual language literacy] as a resource, not as enrichment, I’d like to emphasize again and again and again that it’s not a drawback. It’s a huge treasure we’re sitting on top of like a mountain of the most expensive thing you can ever find in the world. All our parents come with that background too, and they’re willing to share.

Padma’s Dramatic Readings

Another way that Padma has incorporated students’ multilingual skills into her literacy teaching has been to organize dramatic readings with different classes. These lessons were impressive; she had a flair for weaving a variety of skills, including listening, retelling, comprehension, and discussion of different genres of literacy, throughout the reading. Padma took students beyond this point, however, by incorporating their own multilingual skills into the activity: First, students heard the story read aloud in English by other members of the class; next, they were invited to retell the story in their first language.

In one lesson I watched in awe as Padma gestured to the row of 10 students seated opposite her and said, “Now these people are going to tell us the story in another language.” I marveled as I saw and heard the story repeated first in Urdu, then Turkish, Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, Guajarati, Tamil, and Korean once each, and Arabic twice. The other students watching with me on the rug appeared as entranced as I, though many of us understood only some of what we were hearing. It is captivating to see the same story repeated with new or sometimes the same gestures while the words to express the action change. And it is an awesome sight to see the capacity of the students for comprehension, translation, and dramatization enabled in such a simple activity.

Manaan, a grade 6 boy, explained how he felt participating in oral storytelling in his own language. “It’s great—I feel perfect, I feel like I’m back in India. I just take a deep breath and think about what to speak . . . and then I start speaking my language.” A grade 2 student, Vidaal, said: “I like listening to other people’s story also because I get to know their languages and what kind of accent they speak in and what kind of language they speak in so it’s pretty neat to know more languages.” These quotes demonstrate the pleasure these students took in being given a chance to utilize their first language in school. They also reflect students’ interest in hearing other languages. Furthermore they highlight the power that teachers have, as Lisa has herself pointed out, to “destroy or validate [students’ identities].” These teachers see students who are learning English as an added language not as having a deficit but as coming with a resource. This orientation has led Lisa and Padma to find ways to integrate students’ prior knowledge into the work of the classroom. These teaching practices do not take away from the school curriculum. Rather, Lisa and Padma honor and draw on students’ linguistic resources. At the same time, they deepen and enrich students’ connections with the school’s literacy expectations.

These initiatives have clearly enabled students to bridge past experiences with new ones and to build stronger literacy skills in the process. The work produced by the students and their response to being invited to work in their first language as they learn English points to the power that language has as the vehicle for expressing one’s identity and ideas. Whether students are learning in a bilingual program or in an English-medium setting, teachers can develop activities that encourage skill transfer and identity investment through bilingual literacy tasks.


Canadian Heritage. (2004). Serving Canada’s multicultural population: Practical approaches for public servants. Retrieved September 7, 2005, from:

Corson, D. (1997). The learning and use of academic English words. Language Learning, 47(4), 671-718.

Cummins, J. (1981). Age on arrival and immigrant second language learning in Canada: A reassessment. Applied Linguistics, 1, 132-149.

Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: CABE.

Cummins, J. (2004). Learning with deep understanding: The role of identity texts and multiliteracies pedagogy. In Teaching for deep understanding: Toward the Ontario curriculum that we need (pp. 68-74). Toronto: ETFO & OISE/UT.

Hawkins, M. (2004). Researching English language and literacy development in schools. Educational Researcher 33(3), 14-25.

Hawkins, M. (2005). Becoming a student: Identity work and academic literacies in early schooling. TESOL Quarterly 39(1), 59-82.

People for Education (2005). Public education in Ontario’s cities. Retrieved September, 7, 2005, from

[1] See for more information and in-depth reporting on these and other school studies.

[2] Inter-American Magnet School is one of the first dual-language programs in the United States. It was begun over 30 years ago by two parents (Adela Coronada Greeley and Janet Nolan) who wanted their children to experience a bilingual, bicultural education.

The Bilingual Basics

Joan Wink, CSU Stanislaus,, and Dawn Wink, College of Santa Fe,

The more, the better.

The sooner, the better

The faster, the better

The harder, the better

The louder, the better.

Often, it seems that this is what the public understands about second language acquisition. If we want children to speak English, and we do, we have to give more, sooner, faster, harder, and louder. Because of this public (mis)understanding, each of us is often called on to explain language acquisition, ESL, bilingual education, and the multiple approaches to immersion. The following are some of the ways we respond, depending on our audience and the context.

Defining Bilingual Education in Various Contexts

In what follows, we will share our definitions, not so you will memorize them; rather, we hope that our definitions will help you articulate your own understandings. We, like you, get to define ESL and bilingual education on airplane trips, trips to the grocery store, and social gatherings. We have also noticed that this is not true for all academics. For example, a dear colleague is a statistician; very few understand what she does, and very few ever ask her to explain it: not true in bilingual education.

Our Basic Understandings

ESL, which is known as English language development (ELD) in some areas, focuses on the development of conversational and academic language for students who are not yet speaking English. The goal of ESL programs is the acquisition of English. Some programs, such as ESL in the Content Area, use content as a vehicle for the development of English. The students are often early language learners in the various models of ESL.

Sheltered content instruction is sometimes referred to as specially designed academic instruction in English (SDAIE). The goal is to make grade-level content (math, social studies, science) understandable and meaningful for nonnative speakers of English. Academic language is used to link prior knowledge and experiences with the generation of new concepts and cognition. Students in sheltered programs are often intermediate language learners.

When Speaking With School Administrators

First, when we are in an inservice session filled with principals, curriculum directors, and teachers who are interested and eager to understand, we say the following.

The goal of bilingual education is English: understanding, speaking, reading, and writing. A program consists of

  • good oral language development, often referred to as ESL (English as a second language)
  • good sheltered content instruction, which includes access to the core curriculum in the students’ dominant language, and
  • good mainstream activities and integration with all students.

The way each school or district divides up the day or week to provide the various components depends on the needs of the students, the human resources within the district, and the political will to provide the best services possible to the students who need it the most.

Early language learners of any age need more oral language (English, in this case) development and more time learning content in their primary language. Oral language includes the development of conversational and academic language.

Intermediate language learners need a little less time with oral English, and a little more time with sheltered content instruction. Intermediate language learners still need good primary language instruction.

Later language learners need even less oral English development and more sheltered content instruction. Later language learners still need good primary language learning experiences. For example, we can classify ourselves as later language learners in Spanish, but we still need good primary language (English) experiences.

All language learners need conversational and academic language. All language learners need literacy.

When Speaking in California

When we do an inservice in California, we make small changes to fit the context. For example, when we are talking about early language learners in California and their need for good oral English, we do not say ESL (English as a second language). We say ELD (English language development). From our perspective it does not matter if we say ESL or ELD or simply conversational and academic language development. That said, we are aware that unique language develops in various contexts. For example, in California, ELD now includes a heavy focus on literacy development, which we applaud. We are aware that other states use the word ESL and also focus on literacy development. What matters is that teachers understand how important oral language acquisition is, particularly for the early language learners. Even intermediate language learners need lots of good oral English because it increases comprehension and makes literacy more accessible. In addition, remember that we, later language learners in Spanish, still need our primary language. People all around the world like to use their primary language. It increases comprehension and makes literacy more accessible.

One other change we make in California is that we say SDAIE, instead of sheltered English or sheltered content instruction. Intermediate language learners, in particular, need lots of good SDAIE or sheltered content instruction. It increases comprehension and makes literacy more accessible. Once again, for us it doesn’t matter what terminology is used. What does matter is for teachers to understand the importance of making content and language meaningful for students who are in the process of acquiring English as another language. Literacy is the goal, and there are various paths to literacy development.

When Speaking With Highly Resistant, English-Only Colleagues

Second, if we are with a group of highly resistant, English-only mainstream classroom teachers, who for one reason or another have been mandated to come listen to us, we usually say something such as

The goal of bilingual education is English. If you have students who are dominant in languages other than English, you, too, are a part of bilingual education. We know you didn’t plan it this way; we know this was not your career goal; we know that in some cases, you might not even want it this way, but this is the way it is.

Bilingual education is far more than bilingual teachers. It is pedagogically grounded principals, secretaries, bus drivers, board members, and interested community members. If your community has students who speak other languages, you are a part of a bilingual/multilingual context. Each of you has talents and gifts to contribute. Each has something to offer to a total program for students. A total program includes

  • ESL,
  • sheltered content instruction,
  • primary language support, and
  • mainstream experiences.

ESL is nothing more than oral English: It is speaking and listening; it is good chatting skills in English. ESL is important for early language learners of any age. If students know very, very little English, they desperately need a great oral English teacher. Early language learner needs are unique. Often, these learners are frightened because they don’t have friends. They can’t express themselves. The total school experience is overwhelming. What they need is good oral English with a great teacher who loves kids. Often primary teachers understand this need better than do other staff members. They have studied the importance of language development. They understand the integration of ideas and words. They know that students need to feel safe as their language develops. They often know it takes time to acquire a language.

When Speaking With Language Acquisition Colleagues

Third, if we are with a group of language acquisition specialists, and particularly embattled bilingual teachers, we listen; we affirm; we validate. We seek to create a healing context.

With bilingual educators, we facilitate a discussion of morally, politically, and ethically grounded pedagogy. We are each challenged to act responsibly and morally based on our knowledge and experience. Bilingual teachers often have very comprehensive understandings of the social, cultural, and political context of language and learning. We cannot expect everyone to understand. It took us a long time to come to our understandings about languages, and we only learned it from students.

We repeat: All language learners need conversational and academic language. All language learners need literacy.

What Are the Bilingual Basics?

We have noticed that often in the grocery store or on a plane, we hear a different type of question. Sometimes people even ask questions about bilingual education though they don’t really want to hear our answer. They want to tell us that “this is America and kids need to learn English.” Incidentally, the answer to that is: “Yes,” “you’re right,” “yup,” “sí,” or “you betcha.” Because of this, we have tried to define the principles of language acquisition in short user-friendly language that might come in handy on planes or at family gatherings:

  • English is the primary goal of bilingual education.
  • Bilingual education is all about literacy and knowledge.
  • The truth is that we can all stop worrying about the kids not getting conversational English. They’re all doing it. We can’t stop them. However, conversational English alone is not the answer. Our job, as teachers, is to focus on academic language.
  • Kids can’t learn what they don’t understand. Me neither.
  • Knowing your first language really well makes learning a second language easier and faster.
  • Lots of first language literacy is a great indicator of success in school.
  • Poverty is a great roadblock to literacy and knowledge; our job is to level the playing field while the kids are with us in school.
  • People around the world feel strongly about their first language. Why not? It is how we all originally received love from our parents and families. It is okay to love your first language. It is okay for everyone to love their first language.
  • Being bilingual is not bad. In fact, it is very good.
  • Students must be prepared for a world we can only imagine. Students need to be able to pose and solve problems with technology that stretch beyond our wildest thoughts. Being able to do this in more than one language will be an advantage.

Above all, the students who will succeed socially and economically are those who will be able to thrive in a multilingual world. And, when that day comes, it will still be okay for each of us to have strong feelings about our first language.

This article is adapted from Chapter Six of Wink, J., & Wink, D. (2004). Teaching passionately: What’s love got to do with it? Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. A complete summary of the research is available as an annotated bibliography at the end of Chapter Six of the book. It is also available at Just click on the book cover icon.

ESL in Bilingual Education With a Twist: Immigrant Children in Canadian French Immersion

Shelley K. Taylor, The University of Western Ontario,

How can a paper on a Canadian French immersion program inform Bilingual Basics? The very term French immersion conjures up images of children whose first language (L1) is English, and for good reason. The program was initially developed to benefit English speakers in Quebec during the mid-1960s. They needed stronger French skills for economic survival (read: jobs) as a result of newly introduced French language laws following the Quiet Revolution (Edwards, 2004, p. 138). Though it is true that French immersion initially served English-speaking children, minority language parents can also see its benefit: Functional bilingualism in the country’s two official languages means jobs. As French immersion is now a bilingual education option for minority language children, it is an area that can inform TESOL’s Bilingual Education Interest Section—albeit with a twist.

Background Information, Research Questions, and Findings

What Is Known: Background Information

  • English-French bilingualism is common in Canada’s major cities: Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal (Edwards, 2004).
  • 50-70% of school-age children in Canada’s largest cities are the children of immigrants, many of whom are minority language speakers (Lamarre & Dagenais, 2004). Cohen’s (this issue) study of a K-8 school in the Toronto area serves as a case in point: 65% of the students in that school are immigrants from Pakistan.
  • Some 300,000 (or 7%) of all school-age children in Canada are now enrolled in some form of French immersion program (Cumming, 2000).
  • Most extant information on minority language children in Canadian French immersion programs comes from studies conducted in large urban centers, primarily Toronto and Vancouver (Dagenais & Day, 1998; Swain & Lapkin, 1991; Taylor, 1992).

What Is Unknown: Research Questions

1. How extensive is minority language student enrollment in a French immersion program outside Canadian centers known for high immigration and ethnolinguistic diversity?

2. What (if any) implications does minority language student enrollment in the program hold for its theoretical underpinnings and design?

These unknowns (or gaps in the research literature) became my research questions. I conducted a study involving minority language children in a middle-sized Canadian city located in a rural area. Tentative findings follow.


There are two main findings:

  • Minority language parents are choosing French immersion as a programmatic option for their children in at least one middle-sized city.
  • These children’s presence adds an unexpected twist to the theoretical underpinnings of the program, a twist with major implications for program design. At present, the minority language presence is unaccounted for in the program design. This situation challenges the premise of French immersion as a successful vehicle for the development of “additive” bilingualism.

These findings are explained below.

Context of the Study

The city in which this study was conducted is considered a wealthy bastion of English-speaking Canada. According to a local ESL coordinator who wishes to remain anonymous, the district’s ESL population accounts for only 4% of the school-age population (personal communication, January 11, 2006). This is a far cry from results in large urban centers reported by Cohen (this issue) or Lamarre and Dagenais (2004). The relative homogeneity of the setting makes it a useful point of comparison with studies conducted in highly diverse settings. Of note and contrary to the city, district, and other immersion schools in the district, Pauline Johnson French Immersion Public School[1] (the school in which my study was conducted) was linguistically diverse.

Pauline Johnson French Immersion Public School

Six hundred students are enrolled in this K-8 French immersion public school. It is located in a lower socioeconomic-status part of the city. Many immigrants and First Nations peoples live nearby. Children from beyond the local encatchment area also attend the school. They come from a long north-south corridor as the district provides free bussing to French immersion schools.

Pauline Johnson is an immersion center, meaning that all students at the school are enrolled in French immersion. The majority of the students are in Early French Immersion (EFI), which begins in senior kindergarten or grade 1. There are also two Late Immersion cohorts. Late Immersion begins in grade 7 and continues into grade 8, the last year of elementary school. Only EFI students were included in the present study. All EFI students receive French instruction for 70%, and English instruction for 30%, of the school day.


In this section, information is provided on participants in the study and the research instruments used.


The study focused on 190 target-group students (i.e., in grades 4 through 8 at Pauline Johnson). Of this group, 57 students and their parents consented to participate in the study. Four students from the same cohort were selected for interviews: Two spoke Arabic as their L1, and two spoke English as their L1. All the research assistants[2] (RAs) for this study were at least bilingual, if not multilingual, and had a background in minority language issues.

Research Instruments

Qualitative and quantitative measures were used in this case study. Qualitative measures included classroom-based participant-observation and interviews. The quantitative measures included a questionnaire and an oral survey, and they are the only measures discussed here.

Online Questionnaire

The 29-item online questionnaire was supported by a software program called “Survey in a Box.” It features the immediate return of preliminary statistical analyses of completed questionnaires. Consenting participants were assigned a user ID and password, allowing them to access the survey. It was administered during the students’ regularly scheduled computer period with RA help.

The questionnaire elicited data on the students’ overall (sociopsychological and academic) well-being. Items included “rate your school performance” and “rate your social life.” The primary intent of the questionnaire was, however, to elicit data on

  • the breadth of students’ language usage and proficiency,
  • their emotional attachment to various languages,
  • the sense of pride/stigma they associated with certain languages, and
  • the overall ethnolinguistic vitality of their minority languages.

To tap into these practices, feelings, and attitudes, questionnaire items included

  • selecting among a list of people to indicate to whom the students spoke French (or English or their L1),
  • questions about the importance of maintaining their L1 (or L2, etc.) in the future, and
  • questions about the language students felt most comfortable reading (or writing, or using to listen to music or express sadness, etc.).

Oral Survey

My RAs conducted an oral survey, which was completely separate from the questionnaire. They went from classroom to classroom, asking a single question about whether the students were “bilingual” or “trilingual.” “Multilingual” was not an option in the oral survey. I thought distinguishing between tri- and multilingual might confuse children who would not be completing the online questionnaire, and would take too much instructional time.

All children in the target grades answered the question with a show of hands. The survey served as a point of comparison between results garnered from the smaller (questionnaire) sample versus the larger (survey) sample.

Results and Discussion

A review of the results provides answers to both research questions.

Question #1: Minority Language Student Representation In The Program

As Figure 1 shows, the online questionnaire results suggest that 44.2% of respondents were tri- or multilingual.

Figure 1. Online questionnaire respondents who described themselves as bi-, tri-, or multilingual

These results are stronger, but comparable, to the oral survey results presented next. They are a far cry from the “4% ESL” statistic reported by the local ESL coordinator. The results also strongly suggest that minority language children are opting for this form of bilingual education.

The oral survey results show that 33% of the entire target group population reported being trilingual, and 67% of that group reported being bilingual.

The percentage of trilinguals in Figure 2 (the oral survey data) is 11.2% lower than the percentage of tri-/multilinguals in Figure 1 (the questionnaire data)—from 33% to 44.2%. Why?

Perhaps tri-/multilingual students were drawn to the study in higher numbers because they were trilingual and knew the questionnaire was targeting trilinguals. That might account for their higher participation in the study than overall numbers led us to expect. One can only surmise; however, it is worth mentioning again that even the lower figure reported in Figure 2 (33%) is a far cry from the district’s 4%. This finding again suggests that minority language parents are opting for French immersion in noteworthy numbers.

Answer to Question #1

Both the questionnaire and oral survey figures suggest that minority language children are overrepresented in this French immersion program. In this case at least, minority language student enrollment in French immersion is not just a phenomenon of highly diverse, major urban centers. Caution is advised, however, in interpreting these figures, as nothing conclusive can be said before further studies are conducted in other small to mid-sized cities across the country.

Question #2: From “Additive” To “Subtractive” Bilingualism And Back Again?

Baker (2001) saw the aim of maintenance bilingual education programs as fostering “the minority language in [a] child, strengthening the child’s sense of cultural identity and affirming the rights of an ethnic minority group in a nation” (p. 192). Baker (2001) further qualified maintenance bilingual education, calling immersion programs for majority language children enrichment maintenance bilingual education because L1 fluency is maintained and L1 literacy is developed. Traditionally, and according to Baker’s (2001) criteria, French immersion was an enrichment maintenance bilingual education program; however, the presence of minority language children alters the program’s ability to maintain all children’s L1 or develop all children’s L1 literacy. Therefore, it can no longer be called an enrichment maintenance bilingual education program for all.

This complication tests the validity of some of Swain and Johnson’s (1997) “core” features of immersion programming, particularly the following two:

  • Overt support exists for the L1.
  • The program aims for additive bilingualism.

There is neither overt nor covert support for minority language children’s’ L1 in French immersion as it is presently designed. Though the program may aim for additive bilingualism, it can only result in subtractive bilingualism for some (i.e., L1 loss).

Recognizing the poor fit between the old program design and new demolinguistic realities, Swain and Lapkin (2005) reworked some of the core features, updating terminology and notions as needed. For example, French is no longer assumed to be all children’s L2; it is more likely to be minority language children’s L3. Swain and Lapkin (2005) still stress that immersion programs aim for additive bilingualism, but they also note that overt support needs to be given to all home languages, which is not presently the case. They recommend that recognition for students’ multiple L1s be built into the program.

Answer to Question #2

Achieving the goal of additive bilingualism requires that a twist be made to the design of Canadian French immersion programs. Maintaining the status quo can result only in an unanticipated (and unwelcome) twist: subtractive versus additive bilingualism.


Swain and Lapkin’s (2005) recommendation that recognition for students’ multiple L1s be built into the program fits the BEIS mandate, which also recommends that overall support be provided for minority language children’s L1. However, both recommendations raise the age-old question of “how to” that occupies much of the discussion in Bilingual Basics. Clearly, more needs to be done to support minority language children’s tri- and multilingual development. Perhaps if minority language enrollment in Canadian French immersion programs continues to grow, parents will gain enough power to find answers to the how-to question themselves. That would truly be ESL in bilingual education with a twist.


Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. (3rd ed.). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Cumming, A. (2000). Second language education in schools in Canada. Modern Language Centre, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto. Retrieved September 16th, 2005 from

Dagenais, D., & Day, E. (1998). Multilingual children and classroom processes in French immersion. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 54, 376-393.

Edwards, V. (2004). Multilingualism in the English-speaking world. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Lamarre, P., & Dagenais, D. (2004). Language practices of trilingual youth in two Canadian cities. In C. Hoffman & J. Ytsma (Eds.), Trilingualism in family, school and community (pp. 53-74). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Swain, M., & Johnson, R. K. (1997). Immersion education: A category within bilingual education. In R. K. Johnson & M. Swain (Eds.), Immersion education: International perspectives (pp. 1-16). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (1991). Heritage language children in an English-French bilingual program. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 47(4), 635-641.

Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (2005). The evolving socio-political context of immersion education in Canada: Some implications for program development.International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 15, 169-186.

Taylor, S. K. (1992). Victor: A case study of a Cantonese child in early French immersion. Canadian Modern Language Review, 48(4), 736‑759.

[1] This is a pseudonym.

[2] I would like to thank the Faculty of Education and the Department of French Studies at the University of Western Ontario for their support in funding this project, and my research assistants for their help. Sincere thanks to Fida Dakroub, Yu Liu, Tara Paynter, Céline Poirier, Jennifer Waringer, & Hongfang Yu.