Emergent Bilinguals Reflective Paper
Schools are ideal for socialization and relational development since they provide opportunities for sharing information, knowledge, values, and cultures. In this sense, learners from different backgrounds can interact within the learning environment and foster meaningful relationships that enhance their relational development and academic progression.
According to Darling-Hammond et al. (2019), interactions between various environments, relationships, and experience opportunities influence children’s development and learning. Equally, physical, cognitive, psychological, emotional, and social contexts can facilitate or undermine learning.
It is essential to note that learners exhibit diverse experiences, learning styles, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, level of schooling and literacy, and proficiency in English. As a result, differentiating instructions and implementing policies that address chasms in education can effectively strengthen schools as institutions of learning and socialization.
Although the current education policies and regulations in the United States guarantee equal access to education and learning opportunities for learners regardless of their ethnic background, socio-economic status, proficiency in English, and literacy, emergent bilinguals (English language learners or limited English Proficient) face multiple challenges due to their limited proficiency in English.
According to Garcia & Kleifgen (2019), emergent bilinguals are “those students who speak a language other than English and are acquiring English in school” (P. 1). Often, these categories of learners encounter difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding the English language. Garcia & Kleifgen (2019) contend that difficulties in understanding, speaking, writing, and reading the English language can deprive emergent bilinguals of opportunities to socialize and meet the state’s proficient level of achievement on state assessments.
Discrepancies in learners’ proficiency levels widen the chasm between English Language Learners (ELL) and non-ELLs. As a result, it is essential to develop and enact teaching strategies and instructions that focus on improving academic performance for ELLs and improving their relational skills.
Therefore, this paper aims to elaborate on the issues facing emergent bilinguals, discuss various theoretical frameworks that are consistent with knowledge acquisition for ELL, and interrogate personal connections to these perspectives regarding my role as an educator of bilinguals and educational scholars.
Challenges and Issues Facing Emergent Bilinguals
Learning environments in the United States accommodate learners from different backgrounds with various learning styles and capabilities. Amidst diversities in ethnicity and socioeconomic status, proficiency in English emerges as a core determinant of learning outcomes and levels of socialization.
Garcia & Kleifgen (2019) present bilingualism as a beneficial concept that enables learners to enhance their cognitive, relational, and social competencies. According to Garcia & Kleifgen (2019), bilingualism has multiple benefits, including enhanced cognitive performance, linguistic interdependence, and academic language and literacy development.
Equally, Crosson et al. (2019) associate bilingualism with various social and economic benefits, including improved relational competencies and employability skills in a globalized society. Regardless of these benefits of bilingualism, emergent bilinguals face challenges compromising their knowledge acquisition, relational competencies, and academic performance.
The first issue facing emergent bilinguals is exclusion from mainstream teaching instructions and methodologies due to over-relying on English as the primary language for instructional designing, development, and delivery. According to Crosson et al. (2019), the road to bilingualism is complex since students need to receive the quality and intensity of learning instructions necessary for developing advanced language proficiency.
In the same breath, Ortiz et al. (2022) contend that the problem of educational inequality that manifests through limited access to resources, shortages of qualified teaching personnel, and undifferentiated curricula and instructions compound challenges facing emergent bilinguals in the United States. These issues create chasms in education attainment, socialization, and acquisition of knowledge among English language learners (ELLs).
Secondly, emergent bilinguals lag in academic performance compared to non-English language Learners owing to the problems and gaps in curricula and instructions. Garcia & Kleifgen (2019) argue that the end goal of bilingualism is to enable learners to comprehend and communicate effectively and complete cognitively demanding tasks in content areas at the appropriate level in English.
As a result, educators can use oral proficiency tests, literacy assessments, and achievement tests to evaluate the extent of English proficiency. Unfortunately, English language learners (ELLs) do not often perform well in English and other subjects when educators fail to individualize and differentiate instructions to reflect and complement learners’ needs and priorities.
Consequently, the determination to address emergent bilinguals’ challenges relies massively upon how educators understand theoretical frameworks for knowledge acquisition and tailor instructions, classroom activities, and resources in ways consistent with learners learning styles, needs, and preferences.
The perspective of learners as active contributors to learning outcomes and processes prompts educators to implement mechanisms for capitalizing on students’ social, cognitive, and relational contexts. In this sense, the view that learners are passive recipients of educational instructions is no longer influential, considering the need to embrace participative learning. Instead, many knowledge acquisition theories favor constructivism.
According to Seifert & Sutton (2019), the psychological version of constructivism hypothesizes that students can acquire knowledge by organizing and reorganizing new information and experience. In the same vein, the social perspective of constructivism endorses the belief that learners acquire knowledge by interacting with experienced and more knowledgeable individuals who share information and inspire learning (Seifert & Sutton, 2019).
Regardless of the varying standpoints across the two versions of the constructivism perspective, they ascertain learners’ control over learning processes and knowledge acquisition. Consequently, engaging emergent bilinguals in learning activities is possible by tailoring learning processes, instructions, and methodologies.
Russian psychologist and educator Lev Vygotsky formulated the sociocultural theory of learning to ascertain the role of social interactions in influencing learners’ acquisition of knowledge and information. The sociocultural learning theory is one of the most popular constructivist perspectives emphasizing the need to empower and involve learners in learning processes by improving social interactions and communication.
According to Vasileva & Balyasnikova (2019), the first premise of Vygotsky’s framework for acquiring knowledge is a systematic approach to developing the mind. In this sense, he contended that elements of the human mind are interdependent and organized in a hierarchical system distinguishing people from animals that rely on elementary, primitive, and lower psychological functions (LPF) (Vasileva & Balyasnikova, 2019).
Although this principle established the difference between humans and animals, it is overly complex and lacks a straightforward approach to ascertaining it. Therefore, it is vital to analyze the applicability of other theoretical premises of Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory in explaining the tenets of acquiring knowledge.
The second principle of sociocultural theory entails the importance of language and social contexts of the human mind. According to Vasileva & Balyasnikova (2019), Vygotsky identified language as the most profound element of human interaction with the environment, behaviors, and experiences.
Children use linguistic signs (words) to interact with others and advance their cognitive and social development. Although children can use language as a tool for specialization and knowledge enhancement, this theory emphasizes the importance of interacting with experienced and highly knowledgeable people, especially adults, who facilitate knowledge acquisition and retention (Vasileva & Balyasnikova, 2019). The perspective of interacting with experienced people during the learning process validates the role of educators in enabling learners to acquire and retain learned concepts.
The third premise of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory emphasizes the role of scaffolding and the zone of development in influencing knowledge. According to Xi & Lantolf (2020), the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is a theoretical concept through which learners develop higher mental functioning in the social environment without assistance from educators or experienced people. As a result, ZPD entails purely social interactions with peers that shape knowledge and individual experiences.
Conversely, scaffolding enables children and novice learners to solve problems, achieve goals, and carry out learning tasks by providing guidance and sharing information. Malik & Wiseman (2017) argue that scaffolding entails experienced and highly knowledgeable people controlling task elements beyond the learners’ capacity, enabling them to complete those elements within the range of competence.
Finally, the scaffolding process is temporary since it emphasizes assisting learners to gain independence and gradually become more confident and capable of completing tasks. Undeniably, scaffolding and the zone of proximal development concepts can influence how emergent bilinguals acquire knowledge and enhance English proficiency.
Self-efficacy is a profound factor that influences learners’ academic performance and attitudes toward their capabilities. Hayat et al. (2020) argue that self-efficacy is the individual belief regarding the ability to fulfill academic tasks. This belief translates to increased commitment, perseverance, and perseverance.
According to Seifert & Sutton (2019), self-efficacy is a primary and explicit explanation for motivation endorsed by famous psychologists such as Albert Bandura. In this sense, self-efficacy motivates learners to choose tasks and persist in completing specific tasks. Consequently, learners with a high level of self-efficacy develop proficiency in their areas of specialization and are willing to attempt complex tasks to enhance competencies.
Although self-efficacy is a self-constructed belief that improves learners’ academic performance, persistence, and endeavor, it may lead to challenges if educator-led moderation strategies are lacking. For example, learners with high self-efficacy can overestimate their capacity, altering their focus and impairing their performance (Seifert & Sutton, 2019).
To prevent the potential negative consequences of self-efficacy, educators should set goals with learners, encourage them to compare their performance with previous achievements, establish the link between effort and improvement, and provide feedback and suggestions regarding performance.
The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning
Another essential theoretical framework that explains how learners acquire knowledge and proficiencies in their respective specializations is the cognitive theory of media learning. Richard Mayer developed this theory to capitalize on the widespread role of multimedia in influencing knowledge acquisition and retention.
Çeken & Taskin (2022) argue that advancement in technology in the past few decades has improved learning processes by facilitating interactions among students and enabling learners to utilize modern equipment, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). From Mayer’s perspective, it is possible to define multimedia as the simultaneous presentation of verbal and pictorial information.
In this sense, combining pictures and written texts when developing instructions lead to multimedia learning (Çeken & Taskin, 2022). Therefore, the cognitive theory of multimedia learning endorses three primary assumptions: dual-channel, limited capacity, and active processing.
The dual-channel assumption encourages the widespread use of visual and auditory learning modalities to improve knowledge acquisition and retention. Mayer believed that combining visuals, pictorial, verbal, and auditory instructions can improve learners’ engagement and learning processes (Çeken & Taskin, 2022).
The second assumption of limited capacity represents a belief that each channel has a limited capacity to process information at any given time. As a result, complementing and combining them provides opportunities for interactive learning.
Finally, the principle of active processing encompasses all the steps for actively joining the learning process. These steps are selecting words and visuals via sensory organs, organizing the selected data into mental interpretations, and integrating information for long-term memory (Çeken & Taskin, 2022). While the three approaches for active information processing are consistent with knowledge acquisition and retention, educators should design instructions consistent with an individual’s cognitive processing to prevent cognitive overload.
Personal Connections with Concepts from the Class
I have had opportunities to modify classroom activities and influence learners’ knowledge acquisition and retention using the three theoretical frameworks: socio-cultural, self-efficacy, and cognitive theory of multimedia learning. The sociocultural theory emphasizes the rationale for scaffolding and transforming learning environments to encourage peer interactions and socialization.
This theory forms the basis for improving English proficiency among young emergent bilinguals. According to Kirsch (2021), developing languages in early childhood education (ECE) entails applying multiple strategies, including stimulating linguistically and culturally sensitive learning environments, face-to-face interactions, literacy activities, and routine activities where children use simple and contextualized language.
While using the sociocultural learning theory as a framework for improving English proficiency among emergent bilinguals, I developed instructions that anchored team/group learning, obtaining feedback from learners, dual-language instructional support, and flipped learning approach by providing out-of-class learning materials.
Secondly, self-efficacy theory requires educators to improve learners’ self-confidence and ability to complete tasks. My approach for ensuring self-efficacy for emergent bilinguals included various instructional strategies, including setting collective goals with learners, providing feedback regarding performance, linking effort and improvement by providing information about learners’ improvement, and offering instructional support to avert the likelihood of overestimating learners’ capacity to complete tasks.
Other strategies for instructional scaffolding and helping emergent bilinguals improve English proficiency included setting vocabulary tests, using dictionary glossaries to master vocabulary, and team-based activities.
Finally, the cognitive theory of multimedia learning requires educators to combine verbal/auditory and visual/pictorial instructions. Consistent with this need, my teaching approaches included digital teaching/computer-assisted modalities. Ratnaningsih et al. (2019) state that computer-assisted language learning (CALL) involves using computer devices and other peripheral devices, including electronic whiteboards, mobile phones, mp3 players, and DVD players.
As a strategy of combining verbal and pictorial instructional methods, I prefer using internet resources, gap-filling and cloze programs, free-format activities, action mazes, sentence-reordering programs, and flashcards. These learning methods can aid knowledge acquisition and retention.
Emergent bilinguals face various challenges that compromise their ability to advance English proficiency. These problems include undifferentiated instructions and other diversities. Educators should align instructional methods with the overarching objective of inclusive education. Teaching instructions should foster socialization, improve teamwork, and enhance knowledge acquisition and retention.
Consequently, this paper elaborates on the issues facing emergent bilinguals, discusses various theoretical frameworks that are consistent with knowledge acquisition for ELL, and interrogates personal connections to these perspectives regarding my role as an educator of bilinguals and educational scholars.
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