Bilingual pupils

25th May 2001 at 01:00
PLANNING FOR BILINGUAL LEARNERS: an inclusive curriculum. Edited by Maggie Gravelle. Trentham Books. pound;13.95. Available from TES Direct.

BILINGUALITY AND LITERACY: principles and practice. Edited by Manjula Datta. Continuum. pound;16.99 paperback. Available from TESDirect. (pound;55 hardback. TES price pound;50)

"I ate half an apple and half of what was left. What was left?" Joshua's answer? Seeds. Not a joke, but a graphic example of the different perspective of a bilingual learner in Planning for Bilingual Learners.

Maggie Gravelle's book has much in common with Manjula Datta's Bilinguality and Literacy, both painting vivid pictures of the experiences of bilingual learners in schools. Both argue that bilingualism is an asset to learning if teachers allow it, and that utilising the learner's home language is essential if he or she is to develop the cognitive and linguistic processes necessary for the demands of the key stage 2 and 3 curricula. Both express frustration that the needs of bilingual learners are underestimated by government, and concerns about cultural bias affecting assessment and perceptions of pupils' ability.

Planning for Bilingual Learners is a good starting point for anyone new to teaching, or to teaching children whose home language is not English. The introduction makes links between theory and practice, offering advice but going beyond "tips for teachers".

The case study format is insubstantial, but the interest is cross-curricular and cross-phase, with references to thenational literacy and numeracy strategies and national curriculum English. This book won't tell you what to do, but it will give you a sense of what it is like to be a young learner working in a new language. The essays go beyond language to the whole experience of being a learner in a "foreign" education system, the distinction between social language and academic English, and demonstrating a constructive approach to racism through literature.

Bilinguality and Literacy is more studious, pulling together broad research and sustained, detailed observation of bilingual (and multilingual) learners. Datta and her contributors draw the reader into a fascinating narrative which succeeds best when she goes beyond the interesting things children say and do, and uses them to illustrate points of theory. The book seems uncertain of its audience. It has the depth and originality to be of value in a study of bilingual education, and offers insight for the practitioner, but fails to recognise the recent changes in the teaching of literacy. The statement "Bilinguals learn to read best with a whole-language approach to reading", is more controversial than she acknowledges, and the only reference to the national literacy strategy is a statement from one school - "we don't do it". A brave stance, but one that limits the potential of this book for teachers today.

Julia Dou til is trainer and national co-ordinator at the Reading Recovery National Network, Institute of Education, University of London

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