Conceptual awareness of ESL students at a college : an assessment
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The aims of this study are to determine the role that concepts play in the learning process and whether first-year disadvantaged English Second Language (ESL) college students are familiar with central subject-specific concepts. The basic assertion is that effective and meaningful learning can only occur if the students can relate the content of a text to existing background knowledge (schemata) and if the language of the text is understood. The study has revealed that a pre-existing knowledge base of concepts gives students a means of measuring new concepts. The development of concepts is affected by personal life experiences, cultural traditions, the student's mother tongue, the context in which the word appears and by vocabulary knowledge. Contextual and personal factors that give an indication of the students' background have also been determined, because no student can be separated from his or her background. An empirical study has been undertaken during which the students have written a test that consists of 52 subject-specific concepts. The students' conceptual comprehension ability has been tested in three subjects, namely Communication, Computer Practice and Entrepreneurship. The findings of the empirical study have shown that the conceptual awareness of disadvantaged ESL students at Rustenburg College regarding the subject fields tested is inadequate. The concepts are often interpreted in a general sense, rather than within the context of a specific subject. Students also seem to experience difficulty with the more abstract concepts. Practical guidelines and strategies are proposed to improve the students' conceptual awareness. These strategies include cross-curriculum teaching, rule-example and example-rule strategies, concept mapping, inquiry-based instruction, authentic learning and strategies based on constructivism. Factors that influence the choice of learning strategies are also considered. These include students' needs, time allocation, student characteristics, focus of instruction and the type of learning task that the student 1s confronted with.
- Humanities