Jim Cummings

JIM CUMMING

Okay. The uh – when we look at the role of the first language and uh – in bilingual education and in the acquisition for second language, there’s a lot of misconceptions about this uh other uh – the argument that’s made against bilingual education often is that children need as much exposure as possible uh to the target language, which is English. Uh in fact the data are very, very clear to show uh strong – ensuring strong relationships across languages. Uh the better children know the first language uh the better they’re able to acquire the second language, the more foundation they have to build on. And – and we see this very clearly with children who come in uh from other countries. Uh when they come in grade 4, grade 5 with literacy developed in their first language; often they do very well and require minimum support. Uh it’s children who’s uh first language had not uh been supported uh outside the – the school, in the school, who often have the greatest difficulties.

Well the – what the interdependent hypothesis is saying is that there’s a strong relationship across languages – that’s transferred across languages. Um and this is for two reasons. One is linguistic, and then one is uh is related to our general cognitive functioning or apparatus of thinking. Um and – uh in some – some languages obviously are close – more closely related to English then others are. If we take Spanish and English, there are quite a few cognates, far more then, for example, Chinese and English. So the possibility for specific linguistic transfer from Chinese to English is going to be much less then for Spanish uh to English or from French to English. Uh but uh in research that uh we’ve done, uh it’s been cleared that even with Asian languages that don’t have a lot of linguistic relationship to English, uh we find uh strong correlations across languages that students, for example, have come in to the Untied States or to Canada from Japan with well developed Japanese academic skills do better then students who um come in with uh lesser developed uh Japanese uh academic skills. And that’s because when we’re talking about language, we’re not just talking about the language in a narrow sense, we’re talking about the concepts and we’re talking about the uh thinking skills that are encoded in the language and uh the more ability one has develop, or a student has developed in that in the native language, the more they have to transfer at a general level to the uh – to the second language. So with the interdependent groups together both the generalized cognitive uh transfer – cognitive and conceptual uh transfer that occurs across any language with the more specific uh linguistic transfer that occurs uh between languages that are relatively more close.

Okay um the threshold hypothesis was put forward for a very specific purpose. Um the research data on the affects of bilingualism and children’s development appeared to be contradictive. A lot of the early studies uh seem to show that bilingual children were doing much – a lot worse academically, they were having all kinds of cognitive and linguistic problems and a lot of the research that had been carried out between 1920 and 1960 talked about bilingual deficits or bilingualism causing problems for children. Um research carried out roughly between the 1960 and – and today has tended to show the exact opposite that children who uh are bilingual, in fact the more bilingual the better, seem to uh experience positive cognitive consequences. They’re more aware language, more flexible in their thinking; they’re better able to acquire additional languages. The list goes on. And the threshold idea was put forward uh to try to integrate this apparently contradictory pattern in the results and – and it basically says that uh there may be a threshold, or possibly two threshold out there, uh in terms of the level of language development that students um, uh develop or experience. If – if students do not develop strong skills uh in both their languages, particularly in – in the case of the language of instruction – if they don’t develop a high level of bilingualism, then they’re not going to be getting as much out of their schooling. If they’re not understanding uh the language instruction, they’re not catching up, they’re not getting input in their first language, uh so they’re not developing literacy in both and they’re going to fall further and further behind because they don’t have the academic uh knowledge, the linguistic knowledge to benefit from instruction. And so under those conditions there may be a lower threshold uh level that um – below which children will not uh do well academically. Uh but there’s also uh the possibility of a higher threshold level where above which bilingualism will begin to observe positive affects, so those positive affects will become consolidated. And um – so the threshold idea was put forward specifically to try and explain the results of studies that looked at effects of bilingualism and children’s development. A lot of people get the threshold hypothesis and the interdependence hypothesis mixed up. They say children have got to get a uh – a certain level of – of ability in their first language before we infuse them to English and that’s got translated into uh – in some bilingual programs we’ve seen, “Well, we’ve got to keep children away from English,” and nothing could be further from the truth. What the threshold idea is saying is we’ve got to make children vibrantly bilingual. We’ve got to get them developing in both language, and if we do it properly, both languages will reinforce uh each other. So the threshold uh is – and people drawing uh inappropriate instances from that. So do you want me to go ahead (Interruption) Okay. One misconception that’s out there uh among both advocates of bilingual education and opponents is there’s – the interdependence and threshold hypothesis are sometimes – somehow joined and that what that means is that we should build up the first language as completely as possible before we introduce English, and that’s not what they’re saying at all. As I said before, the – they’re directed to different issues. The threshold hypothesis is only focused on explaining the results of studies that have looked at the effects of bilingualism in children’s development. The interdependence hypothesis looks at the relationship across languages. Um but what the implication that I would see uh in those hypothesis is that we certainly want to develop students uh first language and second language as strong as possible. We don’t need to be afraid of English, we don’t need to delay the introduction of English, um we should look at ways of increasing children’s attention uh in relationship to language, focusing them on language, getting them to play with language, getting them to uh explore language. And we know that bilingual children tend to do it uh spontaneously. Imagine what they could achieve if we were to guild that language awareness development into our classrooms and get children, for example, Spanish/English bilingual children looking at cognates in the two languages. Many of the most um difficult words in English are based in Greek and Latin. And a lot of those have cognates, uh words that have the same root, in Spanish. So the – the most difficult words in English are words that many Spanish-speaking students have in their internal database in their heads, but we don’t let them into the secret. Uh so we’ve got to – in a bilingual program or in an English-only program, use the knowledge of the first language that children have, use that as a resource for learning English.

Okay the – there’s again another misconception uh theory about the affects of bilingual education and the quality of research that’s been done in bilingual education, and actually in fact there’s a huge amount of research, much of it is extremely well done, it’s very consistent in what it shows. It’s not just U.S. research, its international research. There’s hardly a country in the world that doesn’t have some form of bilingual education in place in it. I recently edited a – a volume of a – an encyclopedia of language and education um that focused on bilingual education and we have contributions there from over 30 countries and the – the results from these programs are very consistence in showing, number one, that you don’t lose out uh in terms of mastery of academic skills in a majority language, as a result of spending similar instructional time through the minority language. That holds where we were talking about the majority language kids or kids from linguistic uh minority backgrounds. The – the programs that work best in terms of both cognitive development, academic development, and linguistic development are ones that continue first language instruction through – onto at least grade 6. Um the two-way bilingual immersion programs or two-way developmental programs, as Virginia Collard calls them, um have produced extraordinary results uh in many cases. The Oyster School in Washington, D.C. is well-known. By grade 6 students in that program perform 4 grade levels ahead of uh grade norms. Now something has happened there. These kids have had 50% of their instruction through Spanish, 50% through English. There’s kids from English home backgrounds and Spanish home backgrounds in the program. Uh the – the program is purely showing that you can spend instructional time through a child’s monotone without hurting their acquisition of English, in fact, they’re doing much better in English.

Well, when we look at uh the results of bilingual education, obviously we can talk about the principles and how the principles uh are um exemplified in a lot of very successful programs that are out there, but there’s clearly a lot of poor bilingual programs, just the same ways there’s a lot of poor programs period, uh whether they’re monolingual or bilingual. And in a bilingual program, um one that is obviously highly politically volatile, one that is often um not supported at the school level – or at the school board level, one in which predominantly uh who relatively less effective models have been implemented. Models that uh very quickly yank children out from any supporter or don’t seriously try to support the development literacy in the mother tongue, in these – under these conditions you’re going to have problems that are not uh achieving their optimal potential and uh to address this we need teachers uh who know what the principals are and know how to put them into practice, and know that it’s not just a matter of strategies and techniques, uh it’s a matter of their relationships with children.

In – I talked about power relationship in a number of publications um because uh you can’t look at any education program without looking at how power is infused within the interactions between teachers and students – obviously teachers and the principal at least have more power then students do. Uh principals in school have more power, in some sense, then uh – then teachers and students, um but there’s another – another way in which uh the power operates. It operates in a broader society in terms of the priorities of thesocity, the perceptions of what schools should be doing, um the – the goals of school and uh – so when we look at course and collaborative power relations and we first of all got to look at the society level in terms of what the history of education of bilingual (unintelligible) students uh has been. Um how power relations, and attitudes, and racism in the broad of society have translated uh into schools and into the interactions between students and – and teachers. If we look at it’s very clear how power relations have operates. Um children were punched for speaking their first language in the school, uh they were – teachers were fined, for example in Texas uh in 1969, if they were caught speaking their first language, the facilities that African-American and Latino students uh were considered being inferior to uh those other students. So we have all kinds of ways in which the status of the group in the wider societies translated in the schooling their children received. So if we look at power relations as they’re currently operating within schools, we’ve got to ask the question, “Well to what extent are we challenging that historical legacy of corrosive power relations?” And by corrosive power relations I mean power being exercised by a dominant group, or individual, or country to the determent uh of the subordinated group, or individual, or country. Uh and I think all of us know what that means. It’s the meaning of power that you find in your dictionaries when you look up uh, uh the word power – uh the first meaning you would generally find is the meaning of somebody or some uh group having power or exercising its power over another. Um and clearly that’s a predominant way in which, unfortunately, we as human beings have related to each other and – but it operates often very subtle in the classroom, and it operates when a teacher communicates to a student that their first language has no place. It operates when children look at curriculum materials and they don’t see anybody who looks like them. It looks – it operates when we look at the way we treat history and the choices that are made in terms of what we um see as being fit to pass on to the next generation. What – what aspects of our identity we wish to publicize and what aspects we wish to hide, and every country’s aspects of their identities that they don’t want to boast about, so um those are – those reflect uh power relations in the wider society, but they played themselves out in all kinds of ways in the classroom. If we look at, for example, psychological assessment uh of children, when – if we were trying to identify who belongs in a gifted and talented program, who belongs in a learning uh disabled program, we’re testing only in English and the people who are doing that testing have had very little training or background in relation to what they need to know to validly test bilingual students. And that’s an example of corrosive power relations. So it’s embedded in the structures, it’s embedded in the attitudes that we bring to the classroom. And the challenge for all of us, I think, is to discuss within our schools, within whatever institutions we’re operating within, how we can translate or – or transform that legacy of corrosive power relations into a pattern of collaborative power relations.

Um, when we look at what collaborative relations of power mean and what they might look like in the classroom, um obviously it’s starting points that hit the opposite of corrosive relations of power. Uh but the – they’re the opposite in – in a number of senses. At a very basic level, again, when you look up your dictionary and look up the word power, you generally find another meaning of the word power and that’s the – to have the power within yourself to be enabled, to be empowered, to do more then you could before. And it’s that sense of empowerment that uh I’m talking about in relation to collaborative relations of power because power uh in this context is not a fixed quantity, like it is in corrosive relations of power. With corrosive relations of power, it’s like power is a pie and everybody wants to get a bigger slice, somebody squabbling about who gets the largest share. I collaborative relations of power it’s an additive process rather then a subtractive process. There isn’t any fixed quantity of power. In fact, it’s potentially infinite because the more one individual in a relationship, or a partnership, or one group in a partnership gets, the more is generated for the other to share. So power is created in – in the interactions between individuals or groups and uh the more that’s created, the more there is to share. And that’s what we need to aim for the classroom. How can we as teacher interacting with students in the classroom create a context of empowerment uh where power is being generated in those interactions? And I would define empowerment as the collaborative creation of power. A very simple definition, but I think one that uh says a lot about what we should be doing in the classroom. What might it look like? Let’s just take uh any um pedagogical interaction and you can look at it from two ways. Obviously you can look at it from a variety of ways, but two primary ways, or you can look at it from the point of view, “What is it – what is it doing in terms of promoting, teaching, and learning? Uh is it transmitting content, is it developing concepts, uh how is this interaction – interaction contributing to the teaching/learning relationship?” And we can talk about strategies and techniques that might help (unintelligible) various ways of teaching reading. All of those kinds of things fall into that category. But those same teacher/student interactions can be looked at through a different lens. They can be looked at uh from the – through the lens of identity negotiation and uh when we have students in the same – in the classroom who are of the same cultural background as the teacher – usually this is a non-problematic process that happens automatically – but when we have a mini-United Nations in the classroom and we have students who are from different cultural linguistic background then the teacher, often that process of identity negotiation is fraud with misconceptions, misunderstandings, uh low expectations that communicate the students very negative image of their own identity. This can happen in ways where the teacher, as I said before, communicates to the student that their first language is somehow not valued within the classroom, that there’s no um place for it. Even if the teacher doesn’t communicate this explicitly, the fact that the students are not being encouraged to use their first language resources, the fact that they’re not carrying out projects in language, uh all that is communicating a sense of lower status by omission rather then by anything might be – may be doing. So uh to – to uh really communicate a sense of empowerment uh to students who generate power with students, we need to be proactive in valuing the language and the culture of the students because that’s – those – that language and culture is being devalued outside of the classroom and it has historically been. If we take it in the example of something like activating students prior knowledge, uh in the reading process we hear a lot about that, uh we (unintelligible) will talk about cognitive schematic. The computer programs that we’ve got in our brains that allows us to process um uh familiar information very rapidly and unfamiliar information takes a lot longer um because if we activate prior knowledge then it makes comprehension much easier, then we can relate the new material to what we already know. When you’re doing that, obviously most reading theorists and cognitive psychologists agree that’s good pedagogy from a teaching/learning point of view. It makes the learning process more efficient, but look what it’s doing from the point of view of negotiation of identity uh when we look at it through that lens, so those lenses. Um you’ve got a situation where students are being invited to bring their prior experience into the classroom to talk about what they know, there’s an explicit communication to them that their voices will be heard, that the – what – that their pre – prior knowledge matters in the classroom, that I as a teacher want to find out their experiences, um and I’m inviting other children to share uh with each other, possibly from different culture backgrounds, what they know. We’ve got a classroom where the learning is taking place in a way that’s affirming the identities and background knowledge of all the participants there, and that’s empowering in a very uh important way because it communicates to students that they can participate and their voices will be heard. And this is exactly what we want and we call it academic engagement.

 

Mandy Marvel: Malone, Katz, Short, Hamayan, Cummings PAGE 1