Setting standards and guidelines, such as the Florida Department of Education’s Subject Area Competencies for ESOL K-12, makes for a goal-oriented curriculum or educational program. Competencies, in all aspects, are the unique sets of “knowledge, skills, or attitudes” (CePH, 2006) that people from different fields of learning or work should accomplish or possess in order for them to meet the standards or expectations of education or work.
For this reason, setting competencies in all fields of learning or work is extremely important because it provides directions or guidelines to people for them to accomplish success. In the field of education alone, setting competencies not only motivates students to acquire adequate knowledge, skills, or attitudes to achieve learning goals and objectives, but also helps in improving the quality of education by qualifying learning content and how educators should plan and carry out the teaching process, which are all based on what the students need to learn.
Thus, setting learning competencies, just as creating learning goals and objectives, serve as precursors to other aspects of learning, including the selection of teaching strategies or approaches, instructional design, lesson planning, execution, the creation of assessment or evaluation tests, and so on. (Spector, 2007; Richards & Rodgers, 2001) Consequently, it paves way to the development or progress of learning and education because it primarily makes the educational process precise or scrupulous and pertinent, and directs learning to the right path.
Due to the perceived significance of learning competencies, the remainder of this discussion will explore how setting competencies affects the process of education specifically. This objective will be achieved by analyzing one of the Florida Department of Education’s Subject Area Competencies for ESOL K-12 and how it directly relates to education and the teaching and learning process. The Florida Department of Education’s Subject Area Competencies for ESOL K-12
The Subject Area Competencies for ESOL K-12 set by the Florida Department of Education contains the knowledge, skills, or attitudes that students in K-12 should exhibit or possess, which are specific to different subject areas under the English to Speakers of Other Languages learning programs in various schools in Florida. Since the basic learning necessities of ESOL students are distinct as compared to the learning program for a regular classroom setting, the competencies are constrained to the learning of English across various disciplines.
From the 11 skills or competencies identified by the Florida Department of Education for ESOL K-12, only one will be considered for exploration and analysis. For this discussion, the underlying concepts and issues of the third competency will be used to explore learning and education in ESOL K-12. The third competency requires the student to display “Knowledge of sociolinguistic, cultural, ethnic, and sociopolitical issues.
” Under this competency, there are nine sub-competencies that specify issues concerning sociolinguistic diversity, government policies, political and social trends, culture, cultural adjustment and adaptation, student involvement, and multicultural sensitivity. (Florida Department of Education, 2006) By and large, this third competency is concerned with the knowledge, skills, and values or attitudes that English Language Learners (ELLs) should acquire or exhibit in terms of the relevance of learning English in the present social, cultural, and political landscape of society.
Exploring the Subject Area Competencies ESOL entails many difficulties and challenges especially since the learning goals and objectives vary from the regular classroom setting. Challenges and difficulties arise from the complex aims of ESOL. The program is not merely focused on teaching the English language to non-English speakers but also on how the learning process is relevant or correlated with other disciplines such as Science, History, Mathematics, and so on, and how it matches current social and political situations and addresses various cultural as well.
The complex structure of the ESOL program is best illustrated by the Fourth Touchstone that makes up the foundations of All Language Teaching or ALL curriculum. The Fourth Touchstone reflects how communication, which is the medium and goal of language learning are intertwined with four other principles. The four principles include socio-cultural aspect of language learning, learning how-to-learn, language and cultural awareness, and general knowledge. (Vale & Scarino, 2000) (Vale & Scarino, 2000, p.
33) The integration of the other four principles establish the idea that language learning programs, including ESOL, are not simply concerned with language acquisition. Since these kinds of programs are adapted into a standard classroom setup such as K-12, the forerunners of language teaching and learning thought it best for these kinds of programs to be relevant and practical. At this point, language teaching and learning have evolved into the use or purpose of learning the English language.
Thus, the goals and competencies prescribed for language learning programs, such as ESOL, include the acquisition of adequate knowledge, skills, and attitudes of ELLs that will enable them to communicate through the English language properly with the awareness of how it fits well with social landscapes, cultures, and politics. (Vale & Scarino, 2000) These concepts and ideas match with the third competency included in the Florida Department of Education Subject Area Competencies for ESOL K-12.
Sociolinguistic diversity refers to the different ways by which language is used and interpreted, based on social factors including culture, race or ethnicity, beliefs or ideologies, norms and mores, sex or gender, religion, contextual and connotative meaning, and so on. (Corson, 2001) This means that the practical use and interpretation of language shift due to the influences of various societal factors. For instance, the phrase “grab a bite” is a colloquial speech known to mean, “to eat,” for native speakers of English.
However, for non-native speakers of English who are learning the language, the phrase maybe most likely interpreted literally losing the actual meaning of the colloquial phrase. In religion, ELLs may also find it hard to understand the meaning of English terms. One example would be the use of the word “Anaphora. ” In language and literature, the term “anaphora” refers to a figure of speech. However, in Catholicism, “anaphora” is a prayer read during mass that conveys celebration.
In addition, there are many varieties of English, American and British being two of the most widely used, thus the use and interpretation of English differ between these varieties, making language learning complex. (Pope, 2002) This only means that culture is very much tied with language structure. In terms of culture, ELLs should be aware of how cultural diversity affects the use and interpretation of the English language because their knowledge will depend on how they will communicate or interact with other people from various cultures later on.
It will become easier for ELLs to understand other people from other cultures, and relate to cultural television shows, films, music, customs, and so on, if they learn how culture diversifies language. The confusion that arises due to differences on how the English language is used and interpreted, especially between native and non-native speakers of the language, requires that ELLs understand the concept of sociolinguistic diversity and how it influences the learning process – how the language is used and interpreted in different settings.
When ELLs become aware of sociolinguistic diversity, they will be able to use and distinguish the English language comprehensively such that their knowledge and understanding of the language expands from the literal context to the connotative, colloquial, and even metaphorical contexts or meanings. Consequently, ELLs gain the skills and self-confidence to use the English language properly in real life situations. For these reasons, learning content and instruction in terms of sociolinguistic diversity cover how the language is used in diverse settings.
Apart from sociolinguistic diversity and aspects of culture, government policies and political trends on educational programs for ELL affect the learning process. Although English language learning was not recognized until the 1970s in the United States (The Education Alliance, 2006), the educational policies being implemented by the federal and state governments today support English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. This is in line with the growing population of U. S. residents with no or limited knowledge of the English language.
Some of these people are also enrolled in several public schools in the country. By conducting surveys, the U. S. government learned that the students’ lack of ability in applying the English language was significantly affecting their academic performances. (EPE Research Center, 2004) Thus, educational policies in the country instigate the development of learning programs developed with the ultimate purpose of improving English proficiency and academic performance among students. Perhaps the most significant policy is the No Child Left Behind Act implemented in 2001 that includes guidelines on language learning.
This policy mandates that all school evaluate the English language competencies of students, and students who will not meet set standards will undergo fast track educational programs that will help them learn adequately and cope with their peers. (EPE Research Center, 2004) By and large, the entire point of the issue is that government policies concerning language education affects the success and achievement of ELLs. A government that supports bilingual education helps ELLs to obtain access to quality education and emerge successful from their undertakings.
Changes in political and social trends influence the learning content of ESOL programs simply because the practical use of the English language by ELLs in the real world requires that they are also aware of current social and political issues. Their awareness of social and political trends allow them to not only use the English language but to use the language to relate with other people, especially since societal and political issues are two of the most common topics of conversation.
At present time, for instance, most people use the Internet for socialization through social networking sites such as Facebook. To familiarize ELLs with social networking, learning content should include English terms used in cyberspace or in Facebook for that matter, so that they would be able to participate in the online community. In terms of student factors, the cultural backgrounds of ELLs may significantly influence their ability to adjust, learn, and participate in the ESOL program.
There are various stages in cultural adjustment wherein one initially experiences feelings of enthusiasm and elation. When an individual begins to realize the great differences between the old and new culture and has trouble of coping or adjusting to unfamiliar cultures, he experiences hostility and loneliness. Through time, an individual learns to adjust until he finally adapts to and accepts the new culture. At times, people undergo re-entry when they climb down to their old ways or culture.
(Hernandez-Gantes & Blank, 2008) For ELLs, it is extremely important to understand these four stages of cultural adjustment in the beginning of the ESOL program in order for them to become aware of what they will come to experience as time passes. In doing so, ELLs know the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead and thus, are prepared to handle and overcome them. Consequently, language learning becomes less stressful or complex.
However, cultural adjustment, as well as student participation and learning involvement of ELLs, are influenced by their beliefs, ideologies, values, attitudes, etc. as dictated by their culture. For example, ELLs who belong to cultures that value family ties and tradition may experience difficulties in adjusting to a new culture and thus, affect how their participate in class and adapt to the learning process. This is especially the case for ELLs who go to other countries to learn the English language.
The distance between them and their families may become a source of distraction due to loneliness and depression that ELLs might feel, disabling them to focus on their studies, learning, and adapting to a new culture. For ELLs, understanding the roles of culture in cultural adjustment, student participation, and learning, enables them to assess or evaluate what part of their culture interferes with their learning of English. In doing so, they will be able to realize the importance of setting aside cultural differences and prioritize their personal learning goals and objectives.
The last sub-competency requires ELLs to determine strategies and methods to increase their multicultural sensitivity. Multicultural sensitivity refers to an individual’s responsiveness to cultural differences, allowing him to understand that change and diversity are unalterable. This also allows him to understand his own culture in relation to other cultures as a means to reconcile differences. (Dana, 2005) By and large, multicultural sensitivity influences the achievement of other competencies already mentioned.
When an individual learns to understand, accept, and respect other cultures, it will allow him to appreciate his own culture, adapt to a new culture that speeds up cultural adjustment, and ultimately, embrace his learning tasks and responsibilities increasing his student participation, learning, and chances for success. Furthermore, it is also important that in discussing issues in multicultural sensitivity in an ESOL class, the topics of universal ethics and human rights should be discussed to enrich the learning process by means of making it globally relevant and practical.
Conclusion Ultimately, the competency and sub-competencies previously discussed covers the social, cultural, and political aspects of ESOL due to their roles in making English language learning relevant, efficient, practical, and purposeful. These competency and sub-competencies do not dwell too much on the technical aspects of learning the English language but on its practical uses as a means to express and communicate with other people, and understand current global or local issues and situations that are affecting the state of the people.
Although these competency and sub-competencies were intended for the accomplishment of ELLs, these are also important pieces of information that the teachers and educational institutions should be aware of. These competencies not only ensure that ELLs will be able to achieve learning goals and objectives of ESOL but also ascertain that the teaching process designed, including the learning content, instructional design, teaching strategies and approaches, and so on, are in line with the competencies in order to directly help students in accomplishing them. References
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