March 2018
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A HOLISTIC BILINGUAL UNDERGRADUATE COURSE TO BUILD ACADEMIC CONTENT AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY
Bernadette M. López-Fitzsimmons, Manhattan College, Riverdale, New York, USA

This article discusses the value of using a holistic bilingual method in a 300-level, three-credit college course to hold bilinguals accountable for their own learning of academic content, increasing disciplinary literacy as well as developing technical and life skills that are valuable in academic, professional, and personal endeavors (Achugar & Carpenter, 2014; Thompson, 2013). Research indicates that undergraduates who actively participate in directing their own learning develop higher self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-awareness in their own abilities to learn new knowledge as they organically dominate the English language (Mac Donnchaidh, 2018).

This article explains how learners who were held responsible for assigned weekly readings successfully, effectively, and creatively organized their ideas and prepared presentations with a partner on the readings’ tenets and taught these concepts to peers. As they used presentation software to speak about academic content based on authoritative sources—including the textbook, library digital and print sources, films (DVDs and streaming videos), and trustworthy websites—bilinguals augmented self-awareness with respect to their own cognitive abilities, increased self-efficacy and self-esteem in speaking and presenting in English, and developed more confidence when collaborating with a partner and taking risks in learning.

Background

The course selected, Intercultural Communication (Comunicación Intercultural), was a 300-level, three-credit undergraduate course in an associate’s degree program with Spanish-language assistance. The course was taught to native Spanish speakers who were interested in improving their English in order to become successful in college as well as professional and personal endeavors. Because Spanish-language assistance was provided in the course,teaching English across academic disciplines was the main methodology employed.

Student Population

The student population consisted of nine native Spanish-speaking undergraduates (ages 17–19) with limited proficiency in English. The cohort included learners from the Dominican Republic, Peru, Cuba, and Mexico. Their cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) and basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS; Cummins, 1979) ranged from “entering (beginning) and emerging (low intermediate) to transitioning (intermediate)(NYSED). To monitor learners’ progress in English, the standardized test Accuplacer was administered at regular intervals outside of class time.

Terms and Vocabulary

In this article, specific words and phrases are used based on postsecondary and higher education terminology rather than those used in Grades pre-k–12. The terms learners, bilinguals, students, and undergraduates are used synonymously and interchangeably. The term disciplinary literacy refers to activating prior and tacit knowledge from a multiple resources—including people, expertise, projects, challenges, inquiry, scholarly investigations, communities, and fieldwork—to build new knowledge across multiple academic and professional contexts (Achugar & Carpenter, 2014; Thompson, 2013).

Bilingual Methodology

The bilingual method chosen allowed learners to use their home language, Spanish, as they learned both English as an additional language and academic content (Mac Donnchaidh, 2018). Emphasis was placed on oral language use, engaging students in presenting, public speaking, and role-playing. Rather than focusing on the grammar-translation methodology, instructors used a holistic bilingual approach—integrated teaching English across the educational subjectsthat builtoral communication skills, gradually removing the home-language scaffolds as undergraduates’ proficiency in English increased (Mac Donnchaidh, 2018). The course, Intercultural Communication, is part of a bilingual associate’s degree program that provided native language support as learners improved their English; learned content; and developed skills in organization, time-management, note-taking, technical skills, and public speaking and presenting.

Students also met with bilingual coaches, academic advisors, learning specialists, peer tutors, and others. This environment provided a holistic support system for academic success so that undergraduates felt comfortable, confident, and supported in taking risks in learning.

Owning Learning: Teaching Peers by Using Presentation Software

Motivatingstudents to speak in class can be challenging, yet it is an important aspect of learning. These bilinguals were not willing to individually volunteer during whole-class share, nor did they appreciate speaking English during group or pair work. Fortunately, this cohort was very enthusiastic about copresenting with a peer. The students discovered that using presentation software such as Google Slides, Prezi, or PowerPoint for academic purposes was enjoyable and entertaining. While utilizing the software, undergraduates supported concepts with information from library and information sources, including print, electronic journal and streaming video databases, and DVDs. Finding photographs in Google Images to add to slides provided a diversion from scholarship, yet it was thought provoking, engaging, and fun. The Center for Academic Success and the library helped learners develop academic writing and information literacy skills necessary in higher education and professions:

  • Summarizing, paraphrasing, and direct quoting information from other sources

  • Understanding and recognizing plagiarism and patch-writing

  • Crediting authoritative sources with in-text citations and references

  • Creating reference citations in free online citation-creating programs

Assigning several pages from readings to prepare in oral presentations facilitated a variety of academic skills, reinforcing disciplinary literacy:

  • Listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in English and Spanish

  • Organizing the sequence of ideas in the slides

  • Researching in library and information sources (e.g., print, digital, internet, DVDs, streaming video databases)

  • Taking notes from a variety of authoritative information and library sources

  • Integrating information from sources into presentation slides

  • Engaging in inquiry-based thinking skills

  • Synthesizing academic concepts with experience and tacit knowledge

  • Familiarizing themselves with information-literacy concepts regarding plagiarism, in-text citations, and references integrating information from sources into presentation slides

  • Planning and organizing the actual delivery of the presentation, including sharing the speaking with a partner

  • Establishing consistent and regular study habits

  • Utilizing communication and information technologies such as cloud-based online programs for academic and professional purposes

  • Sharing documents and collaborating in cloud-based cyber learning environments

  • Developing a basic awareness of online privacy issues in Google Streaming (formerly Google Drive)

  • Improving English—BICS, CALP, disciplinary literacy (postsecondary educational terms and vocabulary), and professional terms and vocabulary—for academic and professional purposes

  • Developing increased self-efficacy and self-esteem in their own learning abilities to achieve academic, professional, and personal success

  • Taking risks in learning academic and professional content as well as using English

In this holistic bilingual program, learners were introduced to disciplinary literacy, acquiring academic terms in English used in higher education, and BICS and CALP. These skills will be useful in future academic, professional, and personal pursuits.

Public Speaking With Presentation Software to Build Self-Efficacy and Self-Esteem

Because this cohort responded well to delivering oral presentations, the instructor assigned mini-presentations. Not only did students’ speaking skills improve, they also utilized multiple literacies based on information gleaned from a wide gamut of legitimate sources. Rather than copy and paste hyperlinks onto the References slide, they used citation creators such as Knight Cite, Citation Machine, and EasyBib to present properly formatted reference citations. They used portable devices to search for the meanings and translations. Even though they enjoyed using technology to learn, undergraduates were not keen on Google Translate. Because it often generated awkward, confusing, or incorrect interpretations, they preferred using online bilingual and monolingual dictionaries.

Not only did learning outcomes demonstrate that students had accessed multiple intelligences and developed multiple literacies(Christison & Kennedy, 1999; Courts, 1997), they also indicated that learners had increased disciplinary literacy—important in postsecondary education and careers. They recalled “tacit knowledge”—knowledge that they did not realize they had learned (Thompson, 2013), successfully building new knowledge. As speaking English became more fluid, bilinguals’ self-efficacy and self-esteem increased, allowing them to feel more confident in taking risks. Their increased self-awareness related to their cognitive abilities facilitated more successful learning, providing a solid foundation for future accomplishments.

Conclusion

Using communication technologies engaged bilinguals in learning academic content, disciplinary literacy, English, and technical and life skills. Not only was the use of technologies successful in these areas, it also facilitated undergraduates’ self-awareness of their own cognitive abilities to learn new content based on prior and tacit knowledge. Scaffolded activities facilitated bilinguals’ self-directed motivation to learn, increasing self-efficacy and self-esteem as they commanded English in and across multiple contexts. Ultimately, this holistic approach to bilingual undergraduate higher education, based on teaching English across academic disciplines, afforded Spanish-speaking undergraduates the opportunity to thrive in their academic, professional, and personal lives, evolving as highly proficient bilinguals in English as well as Spanish.

References

Achugar, M., & Carpenter, B. D. (2014). Tracking movement toward academic language in multilingual classrooms. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 14, 60–71. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2013.12.002

Christison, M., & Kennedy, D. (1999, December). Multiple Intelligences: Theory and Practice in Adult ESL. ERIC Digest. Retrieved March 2, 2018, from http://ericae.net/edo/ed441350.htm

Courts, P. (1997). Chapter 4: Whole language and multiple intelligences: Who you think you foolin'? Counterpoints, 45, 101–132. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42975168

Cummins, J. (1979). Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguistic interdependence, the optimum age question and some other matters. Working Papers on Bilingualism, 19, 121–129. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED184334

Mac Donnchaidh, S. (2018). 7 advantages of the bilingual method of teaching English. Retrieved from https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/bilingual-method-of-teaching-english/

New York State Department of Education (NYSED). (n.d.). NYSELAT Parent Information Brochure. In New York State English Language as a Second Language Achievement Test. Retrieved March 2, 2018, from http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/bilingual-
ed/nyseslatparentinfobrochure-english.pdf

Thompson, A. (2013). The interface of language aptitude and multilingualism: Reconsidering the bilingual/multilingual dichotomy. The Modern Language Journal, 97(3), 685–701. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43651700


Bernadette M. López-Fitzsimmons is special faculty for the Camino Program/Programa Camino and associate librarian for research, instruction, and outreach at Manhattan College, Riverdale, New York. Bernadette has presented on TESOL methodologies at local and national conferences such as GIILC,ConnTESOL, and the New School’s Conference on Adult ESOL. Most recently, Academic and Research Libraries-New York (ACRL-NY) and the Library Association of the City University of New York (LaCUNY) invited her to speak on multiculturalism at a professional development event.

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