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Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs and Practices for English Learners

reviewed by Liv T. Dávila & Rebecca E. Linares - July 18, 2018

coverTitle: Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs and Practices for English Learners
Author(s): Ofelia García & Jo Anne Kleifgen
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080775885X, Pages: 256, Year: 2018
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Since the first edition of Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs and Practices for English Learners (2010), fluctuating global migration and resettlement trends, the introduction of new state and national educational reforms, as well as more recent scholarship in education have shaped how P-12 teachers in the U.S. approach the education of linguistically diverse students. In spite of these developments, as García and Kleifgen (2018) argue in the book’s second edition, “there is a growing dissonance between research on the education of emergent bilinguals, policy enacted to educate them, and the practices we observe in schools” (p. xiv). As with the first edition, the aim of this book is to build awareness among educators, school leaders, and policy makers of the talents and resources of emergent bilinguals, and to provide each of these constituencies with the tools to push back against exclusionary pedagogical programs and practices.


Additions to this edition include a chapter on digital technologies and multimodal literacies, a more pointed discussion of dual language immersion programs and neo-liberal critiques thereof, and discussions about race and raciolinguistics as they relate to the education of English learners in the U.S. (the majority of whom are Brown or Black, as the authors contend). The second edition also references more recent works by established and emerging scholars in the fields of educational linguistics, second language acquisition, and educational policy.


This text reads fluidly, making it particularly ideal for introductory undergraduate and master’s-level foundations of bilingual education courses, or other courses that focus on the education of culturally and linguistically diverse students in U.S. schools. Instructors could organize assigned readings around two overarching foci: historical and political underpinnings of bilingual education in the U.S. (Chapters One through Four) and equitable pedagogical approaches for emergent bilinguals (Chapters Five through Ten). Recurring themes woven throughout the volume provide readers with a nuanced understanding of how the education of emergent bilinguals concerns multiple actors and agendas, and “study questions” that bookend each chapter give instructors and students a starting point for synthesizing key points.


Chapter Two provides a comprehensive and critical overview of definitions of terms used by school districts to classify English learners, as well as demographic data on emergent bilingual student populations and how state and federal policies designate and reclassify emergent bilinguals once they have reached target proficiency in English. Chapter Three’s analysis of program models is an excellent resource for introducing readers to the spectrum of instructional approaches offered across the country, as is the overview of bilingual education policies in the U.S. and major legal cases against and for bilingual education. As in the first edition, García and Kleifgen review pioneering and more recent theories and research that evidence a positive relationship between bilingualism and academic achievement. The concepts of translanguaging, translanguaging spaces, and translanguaging pedagogies have gained traction among scholars and in many teacher preparation programs and schools since the first edition of the book was published. In keeping with this, the second edition includes a new section on the importance of heteroglossic bilingual instructional practices in monolingual, bilingual and dual language classrooms. In addition, the section on “English Academic Literacy” in the first edition has been replaced with a more encompassing section on “Complex Language/Literacy Use” presumably in any language.


The chapter on “Affordances of Technology” is a welcome addition to the book, as schools are in many ways challenged in keeping up with the latest technologies to support student learning. We have observed in our own research that while students in bilingual and ESL classrooms may frequently use technology for in-class assignments, they are often not encouraged to think and write creatively and with others, nor are they prompted to be critical consumers of the information accessible to them via the internet. The authors argue that information and communication technologies for learning “must be intelligently designed and tested, schools must be supplied with adequate technical infrastructure, and educators must be given the professional preparation and ongoing support to be students’ guides in these alternative learning spaces” (p. 105). This chapter provides clear examples of how, when used strategically, technology accounts for students’ “full-semiotic repertoire” (p. 93) and promotes learner agency and meaning-making.


Embedded throughout the text, though discussed in greater detail in Chapter Seven, are “accepted theories and evidence” (p. 109) regarding optimal approaches to educating and assessing emergent bilinguals. Curricular opportunities and practices for emergent bilinguals must start early, include a social justice and linguistic human rights orientation, be challenging and creative, and infuse learning opportunities that are transformative and collaborative. The authors also critique practices implemented in many school districts that segregate emergent bilinguals, including those that channel them into remedial programs or special education (where they are overrepresented). They also critique the alarmingly low percentage of teacher education programs that require at least one course focused on English learners and bilingualism, or fieldwork experience with emergent bilinguals, and stress the importance of preparing all school personnel to promote learning that is stimulating and engaging as well as responsive to learners’ identities and ambitions. We found the section on “preparing caring educators” to be lacking in detail, however, and thus recommend that it be supplemented with additional readings, including those cited by the authors.


In addition, the book provides an especially insightful discussion of theoretical and empirical evidence exploring the benefits derived from parental and family engagement by highlighting the ways in which parents are often left out, marginalized, or deemed unable to support their children in school. García and Kleifgen then provide suggestions for engaging parents in equal partnerships that are more culturally sensitive and resist deficit orientations that have traditionally taken a “let us fix them” approach (p. 137).


Equally valuable in the current era of high-stakes testing is Chapter Nine’s discussion of assessment in which García and Kleifgen argue that “assessment for emergent bilinguals, who are still learning the language in which the test is administered, is not valid unless language is disentangled from content” (p. 146). They then discuss alternative assessments that offer holistic, culturally-sensitive means of gathering more accurate data on students, such as providing linguistic modifications for questions that have excessive language demands, assessing in students’ home languages, and allowing for translanguaging in assessment.


Although Educating Emergent Bilinguals is highly practical and accessible to a wide audience, a few points merit minor critique. For instance, even though the demographic composition of the emergent bilingual student body is changing (e.g., with greater numbers of unaccompanied minors and children who have temporarily been separated from parents at the U.S. border), this text primarily targets a population of students who are part of family units (i.e., who have parents to engage as opposed to unaccompanied minors who have little to no familial support). Additional background on the role of students’ socioemotional factors in relation to learning (e.g., trauma) in order to implement effective teaching is increasingly necessary given escalating violence in many students’ home countries, as well as the current anti-immigrant political climate in the United States. Finally, additional direction on how teachers might implement recommended practices, such as longitudinal assessments or parental engagement strategies, would also be useful. We present these critiques as incentives for instructors to seek out supplemental readings, open spaces for classroom discussions, and develop course assignments such as classroom- or school-based action-research projects that dig deeper and encourage collaboration. Overall, we recommend this text without hesitation and with a particular nod to its call to action; rather than simply teaching the reader about inequities, this book prompts us to do something, inciting change for the good of all.



García, O. & Wei. L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 18, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22439, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 8:04:08 PM

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About the Author
  • Liv Dávila
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    LIV T. DÁVILA is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Policy, Organization & Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research explores the dynamic interplay between multilingual immigrant and refugee youths’ identities, new language and literacy development, and their contexts of learning. Her work has most recently appeared in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, the Journal of Language, Identity and Education, the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, System, and Race, Ethnicity and Education.
  • Rebecca Linares
    Montclair State University
    E-mail Author
    REBECCA E. LINARES is an assistant professor in the Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Literacy Education at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. She teaches classes on the theories and practices of language and early literacy development with a focus on bilingualism and second language learning. Her scholarship focuses on the diverse literacy practices and needs of multilingual youths learning an additional language.
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