Frameworks for the teaching and learning of second language students

by David Lee

This article examines the framework and appropriate strategies for teaching and learning of L2 students at tertiary level. ‘L2’ refers to any student whose primary or first language is not English. The focus is on the renowned Cummins framework developed by Professor J. Cummins of the University of Ontario.

Cummins framework
At university level, students need to be able to carry out high-level activities that have different context and cognitive involvement. Therefore, L2 students need to be able to have cognitively academic language proficiency (CALP) English.

This is deemed necessary in order for the L2 learners to be able to read and comprehend content area and perform cognitively demanding tasks for all the different units, to conduct research, and write reports and research papers.

CALP English is the language used in problem solving, specifically in academic study, and it took several years to develop (Cummins, 2000). It is not uncommon to find L2 students in universities without CALP English, therefore lecturers need to use creative strategies that can lead to learning and development.

An effective teaching strategy is to use the Cummins framework to sequence tasks. The framework consists of 4 quadrants as per the following diagram:

For L2 students, educators need to design activities that are both context embedded and cognitively undemanding or Quadrant 1 activities in order to facilitate the learning of the students. Studies have shown that L2 students learn more when their lecturers are dynamic and their presentations are with clear instruction and context.

As students develop and have better English language skills, their lecturers will need to design more activities which are context embedded and cognitively more demanding or Quadrant 3 activities.

For students who have attained CALP, educators need to design more academically challenging tasks that are context reduced and cognitively demanding, such as writing research reports for the learners. These are the Quadrant 4 type of tasks.

For units such as Foundation Accounting at Curtin Sarawak, lecturers use various teaching strategies focused on attaining the university’s graduate attributes, that is, to be knowledge users, critical and creative thinkers, research smart, effective communicators, technology savvy, lifelong learners, international citizens, culturally sensitive and profession wise.

In order to achieve this aim, the attributes are weaved into the learning objectives of the unit. Therefore, the learning outcomes include acquiring accounting knowledge; understanding and applying internationally acceptable accounting principles; ability to prepare financial reports; ability to analyse, evaluate and interpret financial information; carrying out project and research work using ICT; and acquiring business decision-making skills.

Creative strategies have been developed across the unit, such as mind mapping, brain storming, open-ended questions, scaffolding, zone of proximal development, skills flow and information transfer. In addition, the educators have to be able to sequence the tasks using an appropriate framework, namely the Cummins framework.

This involves developing activities to match the language ability of the students and as their language skills improve, more cognitively demanding and context reduced tasks can be applied. Research has shown that such a strategy facilitates language acquisition and helps students to improve their command of the English language, particularly CALP English.

Contemporary examples can be used to demonstrate accounting terminologies and concepts. Open-ended questions are particularly useful in helping L2 learners acquire CALP English. The use of open-ended questions encourages them to participate and retain ownership of the learning, whilst scaffolding is used to extend their understanding and development.

Another strategy is group work. During group work, students have opportunities to discuss and be involved in problem-solving. The group activity can be designed to simulate real business scenarios.

Yet another innovative teaching strategy is using information transfer tasks. This involves lecturers designing activities to provide opportunities for learners to stay engaged, listen, discuss, specify and record the pros and cons on a pre-designed information transfer task template. The lecturers then need to provide feedback to the students on their work.

In summary, the purpose of using the above suggested strategies is to give L2 students opportunities to be involved in learning covering the four areas of language, listening, reading, writing and speaking, as well as develop students to become proficient in CALP English to perform the high level tasks of the unit.

David Lee is an associate lecturer in the Foundation Studies Department of the School of Business at Curtin Sarawak. He teaches accountingand has extensive accounting and corporate experience both in Malaysia and overseas. He has done significant research in the area of indirect taxation, including GST. He can be contacted at +6 085-443 939 ext. 3902 or by e-mail to