The Bilingual Technologist

Copyright 1996 Miguel Guhlin
This article was written while I worked in Mt. Pleasant ISD, Mt. Pleasant, Texas. At the time, I was a third grade bilingual teacher.
As a bilingual educator and technology coordinator for a small Texas town elementary school, experience has taught me a simple lesson: Computers aren�t just for the middle-class. . .they are for my at-risk students, too. Too often one finds that the technology that ends up in bilingual classrooms, if it gets there at all, is obsolete. More importantly, the philosophy that guides the use of technology in the bilingual classroom is off target.
Many reasons are given for the fundamental misuse of technology with bilingual students. Two reasons most often cited are: 1) Little software designed for bilingual instruction; 2) Existing software is in English and educators believe bilingual students cannot make use of it. The U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) (1987) found that only 1% of commercially available software programs are designed for students learning English as a Second Language. Furthermore, even in exemplary programs, software was poor in quality and primarily focused on grammatical forms, many of which were not important (Johnson, 1992). It is critical, now more than ever, to integrate technology into the bilingual curriculum. Unfortunately, among regular classrooms teachers who teach second language learners, 22% use computers compared to the proportion of all regular classroom teachers (50%) who use computers. (OTA, 1987). Although increasing numbers of computers are being placed in schools, they continue to be used for drill-n-practice activities requiring only relativley low level cognitive skills of rote memory and application (Becker, 1982 as cited by Cummins).
Review of the research (Mehan, Moll, and Riel, 1985 as cited in Cummins & Sayers, 1990) shows that not only are minority students excluded from using technology, but that female students and those from low income and ethnic minorities tend not to have the same access to computers as do their male, middle-income, non-minority counterparts; and when minority students do get access, they are more likely to be assigned to drill-n-practice rather than problem-solving activities The National Coalition of Advocates for Students (1988) cited in Cummins has estimated that by the year 2001, minority enrollment levels will range from 70 to 96% in the nation�s thirteen largest school systems. By the year 2020, whites in the U.S. will represent 70% of the total population and 30 years later, they will have dropped to just 60%. It is clear that technology cannot be limited to middle-income, non-minorities.
Preparing our children--both non-minorities and minorities--must involve the use of technology. But, how do we do it? As a classroom teacher and advocate of the use of technology as a tool, I suggest there is a simple model that computer assisted instruction (CAI) can follow. Johnson (1992) says it this way: Employ computers as tools for authentic communication and for accomplishing intellectually challenging, nonremedial tasks in the context of culturally appropriate whole activities. Thus, when we talk about using technology in the bilingual classroom, we must ask ourselves how computer assisted language learning (CALL) engages and interacts with students in its social context.
In my own third grade bilingual classroom, students are using technology to produce theme-centered, multimedia slide shows, electronic hypermedia books, and publish their poetry. They are also using technology to graph real life data and explore the relationships between data and their graphical representations. The tools they use include, but not limited to, Kid Pix 2 by Broderbund, The Graph Club by Tom Snyder, Storybook Weaver by MECC, The Bilingual TimeLiner by Tom Snyder and a shareware program called ScrapIt Pro. Hypermedia books are created using Roger Wagner�s HyperStudio. Employing technology as a tool, rather than as a drill-n-practice center, allows students to develop language skills in relation to the computer. As students use Kid Pix 2 to create a multimedia slide show, they learn to incorporate graphics from the public domain graphics collections in the MacIntosh computer�s scrapbook (which is managed by a shareware program called �Scrap It Pro� which allows multiple scrapbooks where graphics can be easily organized according to themes). Even the Spanish-only students begin to learn the words for the graphics they wish to incorporate in their slide show, as well as the processes of modifying, saving and retrieving their work. Students also interweave audio narration using the microphone on the MacIntosh computer, with some experimenting in the target language by reading or translating their work. For more advanced students, pasting their photograph (taken with a Quicktake camera) is a process that makes them into peer-tutors as their classmates learn to do the same. In my classroom, two girls demonstrate the process of copying and pasting their classmate�s faces into name poetry slides created with Kid Pix 2. But, this isn't all. As the school year ends, my students build on their knowledge of Kid Pix 2 multimedia slide show (with its transitions, adding graphics and sound). The next step is HyperStudio. Students create bilingual Hyperstudio stacks on our most current theme--the Solar System--incorporating actual photos of the planets taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. They add buttons that allow the reader to switch the text from English to Spanish and back again. Other student created buttons allow the reader to hear the student authored versions of the poem �Astronaut, Astronaut, What do You See?� in English and Spanish. Each group takes turns teaching the next how to make their buttons, determine the actions those buttons will take, helping them select their transitions. The culminating activity involves pasting a picture of the class and make each face come alive with sound. The last two weeks of school, students select their own topics and create Kid Pix multimedia slide shows or hypermedia books. Most choose hypermedia.
My one-computer classroom is not equipped with special software that makes my computer a Spanish-speaker. Rather, I am gifted with talented bilingual students that are excited to employ a new medium to share their ideas and what they have learned with their classmates, younger students in lower grade levels, and teachers. For them, computer-mediated communication has, as Murray, 1988 (cited in Johnson, 1992), created new patterns of discourse. Even more so than the regular classroom teacher, the bilingual technologist (the bilingual, technology-wielding teacher) must work to ensure that the students� experiences as they interact with and use computers be qualitatively equal or superior to those of mono-lingual students.
The double barrier (Johnson, 1985 as cited in Johnson 1992) of low socio-economic background and limited English proficiency demands that computer assisted instruction be used in the 21st Century classroom. This is the classroom that is based on cooperation and mutual learning between students, irregardless of cultural and/or language background.

References

Cummins, J. & Sayers, D. (1990). Education 2001: Learning Networks and Educational Reform. Haworth Press: New York.
DeVillar, R.A. & Faltis, C. J. (1990). Language Minority Students and Computers. Haworth Press: New York.
Johnson, D. (1992). Approaches to Research in Second Language Learning, Longman: New York.