Empty seats where hard to come by as Jim Cummins paid Oslo University College a visit today, for an inspiring session on Identity in multicultural classrooms. The canadian Prof. focused especially on the importance of approaching multiculturalism, multilingualism and diversity with an open mind, with an eye for the opportunities that lie on such a complex situation, rather than focusing on the obstacles it can provide for the educator.
This approach includes acknowledging any lingual competence any student may carry, in their first language and second/target language alike, as competence, as a resource to be used within the context of the classroom. Thus, communicating to students that knowledge of more than one language is a great academic skill, even though recipients of communication within that language may be limited, is of the essence, and even something that may aid the communication between the educational institution and the home.
Mr. Cummins made several interesting points, of which there are two I would like to bring to the forefront: the first is the devision of language proficiency into three levels:
- Conversational fluency ->conversation in everyday context
- Discrete language skills ->discuss the rule-governed aspects of language
- Academic language proficiency ->knowledge of the language required to achieve academic success, whichever the level of the system you’re at.
To my understanding, this division has a profound impact in the way educators percieve their students, and especially students with a different mothertongue than the language used by the educational system. The idea that an educator will be able to determine the level of languageskill in a student by interacting in the classroom is severly undermined. A fully ‘functional’ student, able to interact in the everyday conversation, and even meta-lingual debate, may still have huge holes in their vocabulary, compromising any classroomactivity. Among many things, this may well lead to students that fall out of progress, becoming rabble-rousers. Have you ever heard a teacher say of his/her pupils; «It isn’t the language, their struggle is more of a social character», implying «they’re perfectly adequate speakers of Norwegian (majority language), they just can’t behave!»
The other point, slightly off the honourable professor’s field of research, but all the more interesting for educators concerned with implementing ICT in the classroom, was something that came up while he was presenting bilingual books, ‘identity affirmers’, made by secondary school students. These books, obviously acting as tools for aquiring and extending both the first and the second language, where given a whole new life once published on the internet. Out there, on Web 2.0, the books could be read by a wide variety of people, and certainly including relatives ‘back home’, adding to the students feeling of creating something important, something to be proud of, and something meaningful. This obviously falls within the category of ‘meaningful output’, and it felt as just another example of how powerful the tools of ICT can be, if utilized properly. And, it should go without saying: These books where as multimodal as any!
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…sorry about the (at times) weird lingo, and thanks for tuning in