Implications for mainstream teachers

We should not assume that non-native speakers who have attained a high degree of fluency and accuracy in everyday spoken English have the corresponding academic language proficiency. This may help us to avoid labelling students who exhibit this disparity as having special educational needs when all they need Implications for mainstream teachers is more time. The non-native speakers in your classes, who have exited from the ESL program, are still, in most cases, in the process of catching up with their native speaking peers.

Common underlying proficiency (CUP)

Jim Cummins also advances the theory that there is a common underlying proficiency (CUP Implications for mainstream teachers) between two languages. Skills, ideas and concepts students learn in their first language will be transferred to the second language.

Briefly stated, Cummins believes that in the course of learning one language a child acquires a set of skills and implicit metalinguistic knowledge that can be drawn upon Implications for mainstream teachers when later working in another language. This common underlying proficiency (CUP), as he calls these skills and knowledge, is illustrated in the diagram below. It can be seen that the CUP provides the base for the development of both the first language (L1) and the second language (L Implications for mainstream teachers2). It follows that any expansion of CUP that takes place in one language will have a beneficial effect on the other language(s). This theory also serves to explain why it becomes easier and easier to learn additional languages.


Implications for mainstream teachers

It is very important that Implications for mainstream teachers students be encouraged to continue their native language development. When parents ask about the best ways they can help their child at home, you can reply that the child should have the opportunity to read extensively in her own language. You could suggest that parents make some time every evening Implications for mainstream teachers to discuss with their child, in their native language, what she has done in school that day: ask her to talk about the science experiment she did, question her about her understanding of primary and secondary sources of historical information, have her explain how she has solved a math Implications for mainstream teachers problem etc.

As Cummins (2000) states: "Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input in the other language comprehensible." If a child already understands the concepts of "justice" or "honesty" in her own language, all she has to do is acquire the label for these terms Implications for mainstream teachers in English. She has a far more difficult task, however, if she has to acquire both the label and the concept in her second language.

Task Difficulty

Cummins has devised a model whereby the different tasks we expect our students to engage in can be categorized. In the diagram below tasks range Implications for mainstream teachers in difficulty along one continuum from cognitively undemanding to cognitively demanding; and along the other continuum from context-embedded to context-reduced. A context-embedded task is one in which the student has access to a range of additional visual and oral cues; for example s/he can look Implications for mainstream teachers at illustrations of what is being talked about or ask questions to confirm understanding. A context-reduced task is one such as listening to a lecture or reading dense text, where there are no other sources of help than the language itself. Clearly, a D quadrant task, which is Implications for mainstream teachers both cognitively demanding and context- reduced, is likely to be the most difficult for students, particularly for non-native speakers in their first years of learning English. However, it is essential that ESL students develop the ability to accomplish such tasks, since academic success is impossible without it Implications for mainstream teachers.

Context A cognitively embedded C cognitively
Undemanding B Context Demanding D reduced

Bloom's taxonomy (Knowledge > Comprehension > Application > Analysis > Synthesis) provides a useful way of determining whether a task is demanding or undemanding. So activities which fall within the category of Knowledge – such as collecting, naming, showing etc. – will clearly Implications for mainstream teachers be less demanding than Analysis activities such as comparing, explaining and inferring.

The degree to which a task is context-embedded depends on the number of channels of information available to the student. So a student who listens to a news report on the radio has only one Implications for mainstream teachers channel of information – this is a context-reduced learning experience. Compare this with the student who reads a report about the same event in a newspaper article which contains photographs and diagrams. The student can read at her own speed and has access to a dictionary. If she can Implications for mainstream teachers also ask another student or her parents to explain parts of the text, then she has many channels of information available to her. This is clearly a context-embedded activity and as a result is much more manageable.

It is difficult to see the value of any tasks that Implications for mainstream teachers are cognitively undemanding and context-reduced. Copying a list of the kings and queens of England from a textbook to an exercise book is an example of such an activity. It is sometimes called busy work.