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Book Review – Using Home Language as a Resource in the Classroom, A Guide for Teachers of English Learners (2021) By Kate Paterson

Michelle Skowbo

Book Review – Using Home Language as a Resource in the Classroom, A Guide for Teachers of English Learners

By Kate Paterson

Using Home Language as a Resource in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers of English Learners Kate Paterson

By Unsoon Won and Kara Mac Donald  

Many teachers have English learners (EL) in their classrooms, not only in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and/or classes but also in mainstream content classes across all levels of instruction (e.g. K-12, university). It is important for teachers to know how to appropriately support ELs for them to be successful. The book is short and very accessible, making it ideal for busy teachers who want to know how to better meet ELs needs in the classroom.
The introductory chapter shares that it is intended for teachers, in-training, novice or experienced, but it is not limited to classroom instructors. It also addresses topics relevant to academic leadership, administrators, curriculum developers, and policy makers. Since many ELs are in mainstream classes, and their success is a direct result of teachers’ ability to meet their specific needs, this book fulfills an essential need within the larger field of education. The chapters contain small graphic icons (i.e. practice content, reflection opportunities, and insight snippets [i.e. quotes of wisdom] from others) making accessing the specific content easy. Although the author does not specifically state this, the book can be read from cover to cover in the order of each chapter’s presentation, but these chapters can be read in an order that is most meaningful to the reader, and because of the graphic icons, particular sections can be revisited as needed to consider instructional practice, take time to reflect as appropriate, and/or to simply fund motivation in words of wisdom.

Chapter one presents the underpinning rationale for why the home language (L1) is fundamental for ELs’ academic success. Common beliefs in favor of English-only instruction are examined with regard to research available to dissolve misconceptions to offer more equitable access to learning in the classroom for diverse learners from various language backgrounds. As an extension of this, the chapter demonstrates the role of L1 in eliminating views of ELs’ deficits, highlighting the role of the L1 in the classroom to acknowledge learners’ identities and resist established, and accepted normed practices, of inequities for ELs. The chapter structure, as described above, is super accessible in that the assumptions versus evidence for English-only instruction is put forth one by one, four in total, with the graphic icons for each content area (i.e. practice, reflection and insight) presented throughout as relevant. Since evidence and understanding alone are not enough, the chapter closes with lessons/activities related to the issues discussed earlier in the chapter.

With the rationale for use of the L1 in the classroom established, chapter two examines when to make use of the L1, how to leverage it, and how often should it be utilized, but the author states up front that there are debates as to when it should be leveraged and  how often to utilize it even among those in favor of home language use on the classroom. Since there is not sufficient evidence on these topics, the author asserts that the best and most appropriate approach is to make informed decisions based on the various relevant factors, and this may even result in selecting an English-only approach for a particular instructional segment. There are different approaches to using the L1 in the classroom. One approach is structured L1 portions of the lesson/day (e.g. color coding schedules, verbal or hand signals, or use of a physical prop), yet it may not always be possible to restrict language use among learners and a more instinctive and unplanned approach may be more suitable. Learners may find it more meaningful to use the L1 as a communicative strategy, for example, which permits the learners’ full language abilities in the L1 and English to be resourced for learning. Four lines of guidance are shared for when it may be beneficial to make use of the L1, which encompass achieving efficiency, true learning, real-world connections, and equity and inclusion as relevant to the situation. The chapter closes with practice-based suggestions.

Chapter three connects home language use in the classroom with TESOL’s The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners (TESOL Intl. Assoc., 2018), which outlines core tenets for EL instruction.  The 6 principles are: i. Know your learners; ii. Create conditions for language learning; iii. Design high-quality lessons for language development; iv. Adapt lesson delivery as needed; v. Monitor and assess student language development; vi. Engage and collaborate with a community of practice. The chapter examines each principle with respect to use of the L1 in the classroom across various instructional levels, examining various topics within each principle with practice-based suggestions, reflection opportunities and words of wisdom.

In chapter four, the author presents the notion of an asset-based perspective of ELs, opposed to a deficit one. By seeing what ELs bring to the classroom as positive attributes, teachers can not only recognize benefits of their diversity but also break down notions and practices fundamental to the hegemony of the English language and English-only instructional classrooms and institutions. In doing so the author confronts the native speaker bias, reimages what language learner success is by examining what instructional content is legitimate and distinguishing English competence and performance. As the last chapter in the book, the chapter finishes with considerations for the future, understanding the conflicts and debates in the country’s diverse population and struggles with diversity and equity, and puts forth  the notion of toward plurilingualism in (language) education, which draws on the various facets of individual language abilities regardless of proficiencies.
The Indexes, Appendices, and Resources section at the end of the book offers an easy access to specific content; as was mentioned earlier, it permits direct connection to relevant information for new and returning readers regarding the topic-based list (e.g. Critical Language Awareness, Literacy Engagement) and reflective questions), online resources relevant to the book’s discussion and example handouts for ELs reflection on language and identity.
In the current climate across the country advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT), this book also serves as a great resource for all educators regardless of experience, school administrators, and educational leaders. The hegemony of the English language and its impact on English language instruction has long been challenged. Practice-based approaches, based on research evidence, for L1 use in the classroom are offered to further move the topic from discussion based on research to actionable practices in the classroom.