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Chapter 8: Cognitive Theories of Bilingualism and Curriculum

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John Irish

on 24 October 2013

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Transcript of Chapter 8: Cognitive Theories of Bilingualism and Curriculum

Chapter 8: Cognitive Theories of Bilingualism and Curriculum
by John Irish

Introduction
Part 1: A Naive View: "The Balance Theory"
(AKA The Separate Proficiency Model)
Part 2: The Iceberg Theory
(AKA The Common Underlying Proficiency Model)
Part 3: Threshold Theory and
"Developmental Interdependence Hypothesis"
Part 4: Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) &
Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)
Part 5: Key points and Conclusion
The Balance Theory (Cummins, 1980)
Problem: Early studies found that monolinguals were better at performing certain tasks than Bilinguals.
Answer: There is a limited amount of brain function available for languages; knowing two languages leads to frustration and failure.
Why is The Balanced Theory Important?
Pros:
Easy to understand.
"Common sense"
Cons:
Does not fit the data at all
Cognitive advantages of Bilingualism
Wrong to assume that there is a limited language capacity (backed by research)
Why it's important for us to understand:
Perhaps due to its comprehensibility and lack of exposure to other languages (I think especially here in the US) many laymen subscribe to this theory, on some level.
We have to be aware of this theory so that we know where people are coming from when we have conversations about bilingualism.
KEY POINT: Bilingual development happens at the EXPENSE of cognitive development (which has been proved wrong).
The Threshold Theory (Cummins, 1976. Toukomaa and Skutnabb-Kangas 1977.)
Threshold Theory Illustration
Balance Theory Model Illustration #2
The Balance Theory Illustration #1
The Iceberg Analogy (Cummins, 1980, 1981)
The Iceberg Analogy, AKA: The Common Underlying Proficiency Model, could be seen as a response to the Balance Theory of Bilingualism.
Main Points:
The human brain is capable of storing more than one language.
Bilinguals have the ability to use two languages, there is one part of the brain that controls both.
This Central Operating System is in charge of Reading, Writing, Listening and Reading skills
This system can obtain knowledge presented in either language and can use it if the learner has a developed a high enough level in that language (ex. math skills, historical facts, cognitive skills, such as reading etc).
Common Underlying Proficiency "Iceberg Analogy" Illustration
Fully functioning bilingual cognitive system
Problems in learning and the Common Underlying Proficiency Model
Insufficiently developed second language scenario
What happens when children don't have an adequate level of development in one or both languages?
Working with the Central Operating System in either language helps cognitive development (increased ability of the COP).
BUT: If the child is forced to interact with cognitively challenging material exclusively in a language he or she isn't proficient in, the system will not work as well, and be less productive.
Case in point: a submersion classroom, where the child has to perform cognitively challenging tasks, but does not have the ability to process or produce at a high level.
Fact: There are cognitive benefits to bilingualism.
Fact: Bilingual students sometimes seem to struggle in school.
Question: Under what conditions does bilingualism become positive, when is it negative and when is it neutral?
There are three levels of bilingualism.
1. The first: the child's language ability in any language is not developed enough in either
language (especially compared to other children).
2. The second: the child knows one language well enough to succeed in school, but his second
language's level is too low to get much cognitive benefit from it.
3. The top level is a child that has become good enough at both languages to succeed in school (balanced
bilingual). He may then start getting the cognitive advantages of bilingualism.
Developmental Interdependence Hypothesis (Cummins 1978, 2000)
Developed as a part of Threshold Theory
Second language ability depends on how competent one is in their first language (increased power of the Central Operating Process)
High development of L1: easier
Low development of L2: more difficult
This is due to the transfer of skills between languages (reading and writing skills, etc)
This has been supported by research
Basic Interpersonal Communicative skills (BICS) and Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiencies
There's a difference between being surface fluent and having the language necessary to succeed in school.
BICS: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (everyday conversation/oral proficiency).
Takes 3 to 5 years to develop (Hakuta, 2000)
CALP: Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency
Takes 4 to 7 years to develop (Hakuta, 2000)
Many children are assumed to be fluent based on their BICS (ex. classroom interaction)
Without CALP (i.e. academic language), children can't adequately engage with the material or get as much benefit from it.
PROS: Very influential, "makes sense" intuitively.
Explains: why students often appear to be fluent, but do not succeed.
Also another reason why one year immersion-style programs do not work.
CONS: This is not a complete theory of development; only describes academic language.
Please see pages 171-172 for more information.
Curriculum Relevance of the Thresholds theory, BICS, and CALP
Designing better curriculum requires knowledge of: The cognitive demands of tasks, how much context to include, the child's language proficiency and learning preferences, what form of assessment would work and be valuable. Every child is going to find some tasks more cognitively demanding than others.
SUMMARY: Be sure to both challenge the student and make sure the input is comprehensible.
Context and Cognitive Demands Chart
Central Operating System must be developed through instruction, which should involve:
Cognitively challenge: with Higher Order Thinking skills.
Academics: content (ex, math terms)
Language: taught via linguistics (ex. language conventions) and socioculturally, sociopolitically (i.e., status and power)
This theory in curriculum:
Fact: Language is easier to process if it's in a context, and more difficult if there is little context available to help process.
BICS: More Context (ex., playground games) CALP language: Little Context
Fact: School is both a context reduced environment and involves cognitively demanding tasks.
There are four basic classification of activities. Teachers can design lessons and choose activities based on this model:
CONCLUSION:
1. Bilingualism does not come a the expense of cognitive development:
Though unfortunately very prevalent in society, the Balance Theory is wrong.
2. The Central Operating System is the "core concept" of the Threshold theory.
3. The Central Operating System can be strengthened through any language the student has a high enough level of development in.
4. There are cognitive advantages of being bilingual, but the language level must be high enough to process cognitively demanding tasks presented in that language.
5. There is a difference between high-context language (BICS) and low-context academic language (CALP which is necessary for school success). Do not be fooled by surface fluency.
6. It can take 2 years to develop BICS, but 5 - 8 years to develop CALP, immersion programs do not take this into account.
USE THIS CHAPTER TO: Support claims about why short-term immersion programs are not effective, the need for comprehensible input, justification of class activity selection, citing how long it takes to develop academic language, and PERHAPS explain the cognitive advantages adults have when learning a language and the importantance of differentiation.
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