Diary of a Bilingual School: Review & Giveaway

by Corey · 43 comments

Diary of a Bilingual School: Review and Giveaway

By Corey Heller

Meeting a Bilingual Education Expert

A few years back, I had the honor and pleasure of being taken out to dinner by a bilingual education expert and her husband. Earlier that year, she had written an article for Multilingual Living Magazine and now we found ourselves in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle sharing a meal and discussing the past, present and future of bilingualism and bilingual education in America.

It was a delightfully memorable evening and as we parted, I knew that our paths would continue to cross and intertwine. I knew that her brilliant insights on quality bilingual education would appear again and again.

The woman I had the pleasure of meeting in person and share a meal was none other than Sharon Adelman Reyes. Her bio is extensive: She has “worked in education for more than thirty years as a teacher, principal, school district administrator, curriculum specialist, researcher, and university professor with extensive experience in bilingual and ESL classrooms. She is the coauthor of Teaching in Two languages: A Guide for K-12 Bilingual Educators and Constructivist Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners. Today she serves as program director of DiversityLearningK12.”

With our discussions from few years back still fresh in my mind, I received a book from Sharon recently titled Diary of a Bilingual School. The book outlines not only what a quality bilingual classroom should look like (some of which she shared with me over dinner), but what makes a bilingual education program truly successful (no, not all bilingual programs are created equal!).

Sharon wrote Diary of a Bilingual School together with James Crawford, a well-known advocate for quality bilingual education. He is “a former Washington editor of Education Week, and independent writer and advocate on issues affecting English language learners and founder of the Institute for Language and Education policy. Previously, he served as executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education. He is the author of seven books, including Educating English Learners (5th edition), Language Loyalties, Hold Your Tongue, and At War with Diversity. He is currently the president of DiversityLearningK12.”

Diary of a Bilingual School is not about teaching our children a standard test-based curriculum but in two languages instead of one. It is also not about some new education reform fad. It is about so much more than that! As the authors say right at the beginning of the Introduction of the book:

Some readers may be eager to know how dual immersion education can be “aligned” with the latest standards, tailored to federally mandated testing programs, or held accountable for meeting “benchmarks” of student achievement. If so, they should put down this book and look elsewhere.

What this book outlines is how to create a learning experience where school district, administration, teachers and parents come together to create a curriculum focused on stimulating students’ “intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning” which naturally takes place in more than one language:

This book, by contrast, is about possibility. Depicting a year in the life of a second-grade classroom, it demonstrates what can happen when the instruction is bilingual and the curriculum is constructivist.

Fundamentals and Narratives

Diary of a Bilingual School is organized into two sections: The first is titled “Fundamentals” and outlines the origins of dual immersion, what a constructivist education approach is, why the combination of bilingual learning with the constructivist approach is so successful, how assessments are conducted and what a curriculum for this kind of education approach looks like.

This section also outlines the decisions schools must make about the ratio of languages for instruction. Using Inter-American, the school discussed in this book, as an example, the authors explain why an “80-20” ratio was decided as optimal:

Initially, instruction was provided half in English and half in Spanish, a policy that required all teachers to be fully bilingual. This “50-50” model is common in dual immersion programs, often in response to parents’ anxieties. If my child is taught mostly in another language, they wonder, how will she keep up academically in English? While to concern is understandable, research shows it is largely unfounded. […] By 1990, it became clear that Inter-American students were doing quite well in English, but their Spanish proficiency was lagging. The founders recognized that the minority language, which had limited support outside of school, especially for English-dominant students, needed a stronger emphasis in the classroom. So they adopted an “80-20” ratio of Spanish to English from prekindergarten through fourth grade, combined with ESL and SSL (Spanish as a second language) as needed.

The second section of the book is titled “Narratives” and shows exactly what goes on in a bilingual classroom. It documents a year in Ms. Sontag’s second grade bilingual classroom during the 1995-96 school year. The classroom consists of a mix of many different languages and nationalities:

About half came from low-income families; the rest were middle-class. While a majority had Latino roots, many also came from bicultural homes. Their ethnicities were diverse: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Columbian, Ecuadorian, Belizean, Panamanian, Filipino, Jewish, African-American, and white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Language backgrounds ranged from English-monolingual to Spanish-dominant to everything in between.

The chapters in this section recount actual dialogs and discussions between students, student and teacher and, at times, student and parent, many of which Sharon observed first-hand. We are given a chance to see how, exactly, Ms. Sontag creates opportunities and environments for her students to interact and build social, academic and language skills all at the same time. The children help one another build comprehension and vocabulary in both languages as they engage their blossoming curiosity and eagerness.

Although Ms. Sontag conducts her teaching in Spanish, even when she dresses up as a beekeeper, the students in class are heard engaging in discussions in English and sometimes often address their teacher in English. Rather than reprimanding, Ms. Sontag continually responds back in Spanish yet ensures that her students understand. She uses targeted vocabulary and physical gestures to get her meaning across:

Now entering their third year of the dual immersion program, the children were not yet fully bilingual, although their skills varied significantly. When speaking in their second language, most students still made plenty of mistakes. Yet they were usually able to follow what Ms. Sontag was saying. As a former ESL and family literacy teacher, she knew how to make both Spanish and English input comprehensible to second-language learners, skillfully using physical gestures and context, along with a conversational style that stripped her speech of needless complexity.

Diary of a Bilingual School illustrates how Ms. Sontag uses context to her advantage. It isn’t an accident that students develop language skills naturally. Ms. Sontag creates environments which foster language learning together with academic learning.

What About Testing?

Many parents worry about sending their children to a bilingual school for fear of poor testing results. What consequence will that have on their children’s futures? Ms. Sontag’s school, Inter-American,

adopted a policy of limiting standardized tests. In line with its ‘philosophy of education the whole child,’ the school resolved to evaluate ‘progress not only in knowledge, but in skills and abilities such as thinking, valuing, and social participation. […] Inter-American recognized a pitfall that many other schools have since experienced: Unless kept in perspective, standardized testing can restrict – and even shape – curriculum and instruction.

Despite this cautionary view of standardized testing,

Year after year, standardized test scores for Inter-American students were among the highest in Chicago, even though a sizable percentage of the children came from low-income and minority households.

At the end of the book, the authors share information about the lives of the students today. Many still use their Spanish regularly and some have even gone on to use their bilingualism in their careers and/or to help them learn additional languages. Each remembers their time in Ms. Sontag’s class with fondness and express their appreciation for the opportunity to be educated in more than one language.

Making Meaning of It All

The authors of Diary of a Bilingual School do an excellent job of intertwining the actual in-class activities and discussions with informational boxes that explain the theory and research behind each of Ms. Sontag’s efforts. Some of the topics include: Collaborative learning, Literacy in two languages, Metalinguistic awareness, Constructing identity, Building on prior knowledge (plus many more).

The beauty of Diary of a Bilingual School is that anyone can read this book and gain something from it. Parents of bilingual children will learn tools on how to help their children’s education thrive. Bilingual educators and administrators will gain insights and tips on how to create the best bilingual classroom experience possible. Bilingual expert and layman alike will appreciate the combination of theory, research and hands-on examples for making education better overall.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in bilingual education, be it dual immersion, immersion, English as a second language or any other language education methodology.

We are delighted here at Multilingual Living to have the opportunity to give away a copy of this fantastic book! Thank you Sharon Adelman Reys, James Crawford and the whole DiversityLearningK12 team!

NOTE: This giveaway is open to everyone, not just those participating in Language Challenge 180!

How to Enter the Giveaway…

To enter this giveaway, all you need to do is to leave a comment below as to why you would like to receive this copy of Diary of a Bilingual School. Would it help you in your own bilingual classroom? Would it help you in homeschooling your bilingual children? Maybe you would like to donate it to your local school district?

Let us know!

The Following Entries Count Too!

Your comment counts as one entry. Plus, if you do any of the following listed below, then we are more than happy to count it as an additional entry to say “thank you” for all of your support of Multilingual Living as well as your help in getting the word out about this fantastic book.

If you do any of the following, make sure to leave a separate comment for each so that we can count it!

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Important Details

This giveaway will close at 10:00 pm PST on Friday, May 18, 2012.

*** Anyone in the world can enter – Multilingual Living is paying for the shipping! ***

Winner: The winner will be chosen at random using random.org’s sequence generator.

Rules: Make sure to read the Multilingual Living Giveaway Rules!

Hope you enjoy this giveaway! Thank you for all of your support for Multilingual Living!


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1 bee May 5, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I already like you on Facebook! 🙂

2 bee May 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I am a longtime subscriber to the email list.

3 bee May 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm

The two above comments are true but the real reason I want to read this book is that it fits right in with my research on immersion schools in Sweden and on CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) schools in the European context. I am always keen to learn more about the American context of bilingual education. I find it fascinating that not everyone jumps at the chance to choose it for their children. I would have if we had lived in the US!
/bee in sweden

4 Cynthia May 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm

This book sounds like an excellent and motivating presentation of research on a bilingual school. And a very good one. Hope to read it some day!

5 Cynthia May 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Like you on facebook 🙂

6 Andrea S. May 5, 2012 at 8:13 pm

I am a language teacher and am now raising my bilingual son as a single mother after the sudden passing of my husband. Now I see my husband’s goal to have his son fluent in Italian and part of the Italian culture as a moral mandate. My dream is one day to live in Italy and be fully immersed in Italian language and culture. Your book will help! Andrea in San Diego/Palermo, Italia

7 Mary Kay May 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Hello. I live in NYC where there is a multitude of schools to choose between for my child, now 2 years old. This book would help me decide which type of school would be optimal for her. It can be overwhelming to try to figure this out and reading this book with actual experiences from a bilingual school will help to inform my choices.

8 Simon May 5, 2012 at 10:05 pm

My son goes to a multilingual (immersion) public school and I can’t find this book on our city library’s website! I’ll read it a couple of times and then donate it to our school’s library. We are fledgling language-learners: I did the “French class” route in school and ended up with vocabulary but no conversational skills. I’m hoping to learn enough about multilingual education that I can support him, his peers, and our family in our path to be successfully multilingual, multicultural, aware, and thoughtful participants in a (peaceful) global community. It may sound cheesy, but I really think that our kids (and our parenting) can make a difference.

9 Simon May 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm

…also my family is on the email list…

10 Ebru May 6, 2012 at 1:33 am

This would help me with the turkish school we are trying to set up in NZ.

11 Alicia Morris May 6, 2012 at 2:30 am

I read your article with great interest. I work with an association called Accents here in France. All our children are bilingual & sometimes trilingual. This book would help us enormously in our classroom & teachers & parents would learn something from it.

12 Jenny May 6, 2012 at 4:59 am

I would be interested in reading this book as I explore schooling options for my young children.

13 Jenny May 6, 2012 at 4:59 am

I subscribe to ML through email.

14 Michelle May 6, 2012 at 6:48 am

Our 8 year old is in a Two Way Bilingual Immersion class – Spanish/English – and the school district is struggling to get this program really going. My husband is starting a Language Booster program so that the parents can be better involved, in a constructive way rather than complaining! The school district is really struggling with the testing – the state (MI) mandates testing in 3rd grade, available in ONLY English – so I’d love to read how other districts/schools have handled this. We just bought the book from Amazon, but I’d love another one to give to the school/administration!

15 Michelle May 6, 2012 at 6:48 am

I follow on Twitter! @MotherTongues

16 Michelle May 6, 2012 at 6:49 am

LOVE your Facebook page! I get so many good links to articles there!

17 Michelle May 6, 2012 at 6:50 am

I’m subscribed to the Email list. Thanks for all you do!

18 Amy May 6, 2012 at 7:58 am

I’d love a copy of this book because as a diplomatic family our children are facing the upcoming challenge of learning two additional languages at our next destination, and schools we are looking at have very different approaches for language learning. I would love to know more about the subject.

19 Murray May 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I would use the book to help our children decide on the best approach for our grandchildren language learning experience.

20 Murray May 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I subscribe to the email list.
Thank you

21 Laurie May 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm

My daughter will begin attending a 50/50 Spanish/English class in the fall. I’d like to learn how to help her make the most of this experience.

22 Laurie May 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I already susbscribe to your email list.

23 Laurie May 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Liked you in facebook!

24 Monika May 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I’ll be homeschooling my daughter. My brain tends to go around in circles when I think about what it will be like homeschooling with two languages. So yes, I definitely would love this book to gain some insight and clarity! 🙂

25 Monika May 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I already subscribe to your RSS Feed. 🙂

26 Monika May 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I already follow you on Twitter. 🙂

27 Monika May 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I already LIKE the Multilingual Living Facebook Page (I wish I could “LOVE” it!).

28 Monika May 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I’m already subscribed to the Multilingual Living Email List.

(and oops sorry about the auto-link on that last comment)

29 Elisa May 7, 2012 at 6:28 am

Such a book would help us decide wether to send our English/Italian speaking son to the local German school, or to opt for the international school where English is the main language, with some German as well. I love the idea of the international school, yet I am afraid he won’t learn German well enough to continue his education here.

30 audrey May 7, 2012 at 7:51 am

I would really like the book, I am obsessed with raising my kids bilingual, through i am an english speaker i went to spain and now am training to be a spanish and french teacher. I am considering home school for the younger so i can raise him fully bilingual. the eldest is by an ex so i don’t have full say so over his education. I am trying to learn about homeschooling as there are no bilingual schools in se london. I run a bilingual singing class in the midst of my teacher training so i can really immerse my youngest and he has a spanish live out au pair. i would like to open my own bilingual nursery and school one day and see this book as helping me reach my dream. the uk gov have opened up the school market. i am trying to get spanish speakers together so my kids have peers who speak spanish. thanks so much for this website!

31 audrey May 7, 2012 at 7:51 am

i am on the email list

32 audrey May 7, 2012 at 7:51 am

i am a follower on twitter

33 Mikayla May 7, 2012 at 8:23 am

I am a K-12 Spanish teacher and I love learning about language learning.

34 Wendy May 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

If I won this, I’d read it once and then give it to a group of parents in my school district who are trying to start a bilingual Spanish/English immersion school.

35 Emma May 8, 2012 at 10:13 am

I already follow you on twitter, like you and facebook and subscribe to the email list. Like a lot of people would like to read up on bilingual schooling for personal and professional reasons.

36 Brenda Delgado-Als May 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

I’m looking for insight on how InterAmerican made a true dual-immersion curriculum result in bilingual students who also excelled in all the mandated testing standards.

37 Karolena May 15, 2012 at 2:34 am

As a parent looking forward to my child’s education I would like to read this book, and also as a former bilingual teacher I would like to read all the ideas and antecdotes you mentioned for a classroom.

38 Karolena May 15, 2012 at 2:35 am

I alre

39 Karolena May 15, 2012 at 2:35 am

I already subscribe to the RSS feed.

40 Karolena May 15, 2012 at 2:39 am

I like Multilingual living on FB

41 Karolena May 15, 2012 at 2:40 am

I get e-mail updates.

42 Becky Smith May 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I would love to read this book as I’m trying to teach our children in two languages and have pursued a master’s degree in TESOL education as a result of the difficulties we’ve experienced on this road to bilingualism! So, I hope this book could offer more insights!

43 Nicola Küpelikilinc May 17, 2012 at 7:43 am

Would love to read the book to give me more inspiration for my work with German schools who are a long way from bilingualism

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