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Constructing Knowledge in Bilingual/Multilingual Learning Environments. Wong Bee Eng email: Department of English Faculty of Modern Languages and Communication Universiti Putra Malaysia. Outline of Presentation . 1. Introduction

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constructing knowledge in bilingual multilingual learning environments

Constructing Knowledge in Bilingual/Multilingual Learning Environments

Wong Bee Eng


Department of English

Faculty of Modern Languages and Communication

Universiti Putra Malaysia

outline of presentation
Outline of Presentation

1. Introduction

2. Constructing Knowledge in Bilingual/Multilingual Learning Environments

3. Two communities of Learning

a. Methodology

b. Data - Malaysian

Data - US

4. Conclusion

Wong Bee Eng

  • The philosophy of education can be defined as the study of purposes, processes, nature and ideals of education (Jordan et al., 2008: 6).
  • In other words, the philosophy of a country relates to the purposes, processes, nature and ideals of education of that country.

Wong Bee Eng

  • And education attempts to develop personality in a preferred direction where development indicates growth and the preferred direction indicates a specific direction for that growth to occur (Jordan et al., 2008: 7).
  • Communities of learning are the product of the process of education.

Wong Bee Eng

communities of learning
Communities of Learning
  • A community of learning is when people come together in shared histories of activity and discourse associated with the learning enterprise (Wenger, 1999).
  • Central notion - the expert (teacher) teaches the apprentice (learner) not only the specific tasks associated with the primary activity of the learning community, but also the pragmatic, interpersonal conventions appropriate to carrying out those tasks.

Wong Bee Eng

constructing knowledge in bilingual multilingual learning environments1
Constructing Knowledge in Bilingual/Multilingual Learning Environments

Construction of knowledge is different in different learning communities and particularly in different bilingual/multilingual environments.

In relation to this we look at the notion of ‘constructivism’ since the data for this study is analyzed from this perspective.

Constructivism is not one, but an amalgam of theories that focus on meaning-making.

Wong Bee Eng


At least 3 perspectives are available:

  • trivial constructivism and individual meaning-making;
  • social constructivism, which emphasises collaborative meaning-making; and
  • critical constructivism, which looks at the construction of meaning as empowerment. (Jordan et al., 2008)

Wong Bee Eng

key ideas
Key ideas
  • Knowledge is situated and constructed in social contexts.
  • The learner is an active agent in the interpretation of the world.
  • Constructivism focuses on meaning-making and the understanding of knowledge.
  • Other people are important in the formation and modification of mental constructs (Jordan et al., 2008: 65).

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  • Thus, constructivism is based on the fundamental assertion that knowledge cannot exist outside our minds but rather it is “constructed” in interaction with others.
  • From the constructivist paradigm, a classroom provides opportunities for knowledge to be co-constructed.

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In this perspective, the teacher plays a number of important roles in the knowledge construction process.

1. As a facilitator who encourages and promotes active interaction.

2. As a source of curriculum knowledge.

3. As the provider of meaningful activities in which students are able to co-construct understanding.

(Wong & Kumar, 2009)

Wong Bee Eng

two communities of learning a methodology
Two Communities of Learning:a. Methodology
  • A classroom research
  • Objective: To show how learning is mediated in face-to-face interactions in these bilingual/multilingual environments and what can be learnt from such an analysis.

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  • Accounts of interaction in 2 bilingual/ multilingual learning environments

1stof a local situation (classrooms in 2 local schools in the Klang Valley), and

2nd is located in a school in the US (see Torres-Guzmán, 2009).

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Local context: classroom dialogues recorded by teacher when s(he) was teaching year 4 Science or Mathematics in a national or national type primary school.

Age group: 9 to 10 years

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  • Interactions of the US data was collected during a year-long study of Read Alouds in a 5th grade classroom.
  • Age group: 9 to 10 years, from language minority groups
  • Most of them - had been enrolled in dual language schooling since they were 5, and they were learning English as a L2 or L3.
  • The researcher made observations once a week and the Read Alouds were videotaped.

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  • Read Alouds - a distinct instructional activity in which the teacher reads a book to the whole class;

most of the time the text read is beyond the listeners’ ability to read on their own.

  • Thus, the reading requires mediation at various levels.
  • The researcher and research assistant made observations once a week and they videotaped 14 Read Alouds. (see Torres-Guzmán, 2009)

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  • In both contexts, the recordings were transcribed and the transcriptions were analyzed based on the constructivist approach to better understand the expectations of the teacher and the learners on what it means to be a good learner.
  • In order to understand the linguistic complexities in the classroom, a micro-analysis of these classroom dialogues were made.
  • The study also attempted to identify strategy or strategies that the teachers adopted and used in the classroom in order to bring about learning.

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The following table summarizes the details of schools and participants in the study.

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malaysian data
Malaysian Data
  • The following are the transcripts of the dialogues.
  • The 1st set (extracts 1-3) are from the Malay classroom where the teacher taught Mathematics in English. (see Wong and Kumar, 2009)

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Extract #1
  • 01T Today, I want to continue errr, the lesson, ok? Open your textbook, page one hundred and forty-three, ok? Open your textbook page

one hundred and forty- two, er three. Are you ready? Are you ready? One hundred and forty-three, ok? ok, divide unit of land,

ok? How to divide? Same, same with another past lesson yang kita

pernah belajar yang dulu-dulu. that we had learned the last time. Cuma only the difference is unit, ok? Errr the last lesson divide for what unit, for time kan? right?ok, now continue with land, ok,

look at example number one, ok? Forty-two millimeters divide ok?, forty-two millimeters divide, ok?/ I want to show, I don’t want to

show you how to divide it because the step how to divide. The dif-

rence is unit, selalu awak buat tak ada unit atau unit masa kan? normally do you have unit or timeunit, right?ok, unit unit land, tetapi but the step cara dia tak [sa] sama, the method is not the same ok? I want to, ok F, come here! ok, don’t forget ah, if you get any ques- tion, youmust do, ok, I want you to do / I want you to try, do in

your textbook.

Wong Bee Eng

The following extract occurred a few minutes later, after the teacher had been trying to elicit whether a smaller number can be divided by a larger:

Extract #2

  • 01 T So, four cannot divide by
  • 02 Ss By six
  • 03 T Ok, if cannot divide, so you take two number. Forty?
  • 04 Ss Two
  • 05 T Forty-two, ok? Forty-two divide by?
  • 07 T Ok, can or not?Forty-two divide by six?
  • 06 Ss Six
  • 08 Ss Can
  • 09 T Why can, Hanif? Why can? Why forty-two can divide by six?
  • 10 Ss ((silence))

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #3:

01 T Cikgu pernah ajarkan macammana? Teacher has taught you how?Mana satu nak darab, mana satu nak bahagi? Which number to multiply, which number to divide? Which number to multiply?

Which number to divide? Ok what you have, Amirah?

02 Ss (xxx)

03 T Ok, Hamid /// Right or wrong?

04 Ss Right

05 T Right or wrong?

06 Ss Right

07 T Right or wrong?

08 Ss Right

09 T Who said right? Please put up your hand! Who saidright?Ok,

who said right? Please put up your hand!ok,who saidwrong?

Ok, never mind. Ah, Salima, do the correction/// Ikut kawan,

kawan cakap salah, awak pun angkat salah. Follow friend, friend said the wrong thing, you also raised your hand wrongly. Buat sini sini

sini. Do it here, here here.Jangan padam Don’t erase,no no, kenapa? Why? Semua dah lupa huh? All forgotten, huh? Cuti lama tak ingat? After long holidays, can’t remember?

Wong Bee Eng

This next set of data (extracts 4-7) is taken from a recording of a science lesson conducted in a year four national type primary Chinese classroom. (see Wong and Kumar, 2009)

Extract #4

  • 01 S? Class stand /
  • 02 Ss Good morning teacher
  • 03 T Ok, sit down
  • 04 Ss Thank you, teacher
  • 05 T Ok, good morning to you all, ok, erm, / how are you feeling today?
  • 06 Ss (xxx)
  • 07 T Fine, ok, I would like to see everyone is happy. Ok, now, teacher is going to teach you about, objects are materials made of different. Objects are made of different materials. Now you turn to your text book / to page seventy-six, ok? Alright? Properties of material. Have you found the page, seventy-six?

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The following segment occurs only a few minutes after extract #4.

The teacher and the students are clicking pictures on computer screens as they go through the lesson:

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #5

01 T We want to know what are the properties of the materials, ok? Next, click on the picture and try to find out. Would you like to find out?

02 Ss Yes//

03 Tape These objects are made of metal. Metal is shiny. It can be bent but cannot be stretched easily.

04 T Ok, now you see these objects, the spoons and the forks, are made of //

05 Ss Metal

06 T Ok, metal is //

07 S? Shiny

08 Ss <in chorus> Shiny]

09 T What are] the properties of metal? One more time//

10 Ss Shiny

11 T Yes, Metal’s / one more time / Metal is shiny]…

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Extract #6

01 T Ok, You can see there are so many kind of material here. Can you name it?

02 Ss (xxx)

03 T No, the material is… Metal] louder]….

04 Ss Metal / Metal

05 T Rubber]

06 Ss Rubber, plastic, glass, wood, cloth, leather

07 T Ok, now you see, what are the properties of metal? Can you tell teacher?

08 Ss Shiny// can be bent

09 T Ok, good, and what about rubber? Rubber is //

10 Ss Tough / Can be stretched

11 T Good, rubber is tough but it can be stretched. What about this one?

12 Ss Light / Plastic]

Wong Bee Eng

The following extract, which occurred about 15 minutes later, closed the lesson.

Extract #7

01 T We have some, activity for you to do, at home, you see plastic, leather, and cloth. You group the, object, ok? You group the object according to the material they are made of. And you written / what are the properties of the materials use. Ok? Teacher will distribute some of the work sheet for

you all, you take it, you you bring it back to, at home, do it at home. ok? And you pass it tomorrow. Ok? And / That’s the end for today’s lesson and I hope all of you all enjoy the lesson. Do you enjoy the lesson?

02 Ss Yes

03 T Thank you very much.

04 Ss Thank you teacher.

Wong Bee Eng

The following set of data (extracts 8-10) is from a science lesson where the medium of instruction is Mandarin Chinese (collected by Wong (2009).

Extract #8 (Science Year 3 National Type Chinese School)

  • S1 :行礼,吴老师早安。

:Bow, good morning, teacher.

  • SS :吴老师早安。

:Good morning, teacher.

  • T :同学们早安,请坐下。

:Good morning, students. Please sit down.

  • SS :谢谢,吴老师。

:Thank you, teacher.

  • T :同学们,大家好不好?

:Students, how are you?

  • SS :好。:Fine.
  • T :那么呢,在我们还没有上课之前呢,我们来玩一下游戏,好不好 呢?

:So, before we start our class today, let us play games, ok?

  • SS :好。:Good.
  • T :那么我就…那位同学想出来,请举手。

:So, I will…who would like to come up here, please raise your hand.

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #9 (Science Year 3 National Type Chinese School)
  • T :好,来,同学们,今天呢,磁铁,谁可以告诉我,告诉老师啊,磁铁在 我们的 日常生活中,有带来好处吗?有还是没有?

:Good, come, everyone, today, magnet, who can tell me, tell me, is magnet very useful to our daily lives? Yes or no?

  • SS :有。


  • T :有。那么呢,谁可以告诉我,哪些东西呢,它是利用磁铁来操作的?

好,来, 啊,家定。

:Yes. So, is there anyone who can tell me, what are the things which can

function with the help of a magnet? Ok, come, ah, (a student’s name).

  • S3 :啊,指南针。

:Ah, compass.

  • T :指南针。很好。来接下去。 好,来,(学生名字)。

:Compass. Very good. Let’s get to the next one. Ok, Come, (a student’s name).

  • S4 :冰橱。


  • T :冰橱。冰橱还有另外一个名字叫什么?

:Refrigerator. Is there another name for it?

  • SS :冰箱。


  • T :冰箱。好,来,好,国俊。还有呢?

:Refrigerator. Ok, come, ok, (a student’s name). Anything else?

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Extract #10 (Science Year 3 National Type Chinese School)
  • T : 还有呢?啊,好,来。还有什么?

:What else? Ah, good, come. What else?

  • T : 那个叫什么?留言便条的吸盘,对了。还有吗?好,来, 啊,来,你。

:What is it called? Notes magnet, that’s correct. Anything else? Ok, come, ah, come, you.

  • T : 手表没有,手表没有。好,来,好,家定。

:A watch does not have a magnet, a watch does not have a magnet. Ok, come, ok, (a student’s name).

  • S38 : 那个煮东西的…

: That thing which we can use it to cook….

  • T : 没有。那个火炉没有。

:No, a cooker does not have a magnet in it.

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #10 (Science Year 3 National Type Chinese School)
  • S39 : 收音机。


  • T : 对了,收音机。好,来,请坐下。好,那个有冰箱,铅笔盒,指南 针,那个留言便条的吸盘,电视机,收音机,还有音乐盒。啊,这个我 们没有,剩下的没有。Ok, 好,来。今天我们学了指南针啊,磁铁呢带 给我们什么?

:That’s right, radio. Ok, come, please sit down. Ok, they are refrigerator, pencil case, compass, the Notes magnet, television, radio, and musical box. Ah, this one we don’t have, the rest have no magnets in them. Ok, good, come. Today we learnt about compass, what can a magnet give us?

  • S40 : 好处。


  • T : 啊,带给我们很多好处。所以,磁铁是我们生活中的好夥伴。好, 来,今天我们的课就到此为止了。来,起立。

:Ah, it gives us a lot of benefits. So, magnet is our good companion. Ok, come, our class ends here. Come, rise.

  • S41 : 起立。行礼。谢谢吴老师。

:Rise. Bow. Thank you teacher.

  • SS : 谢谢吴老师。

:Thank you teacher.

Wong Bee Eng

malaysian data discussion
Malaysian Data - Discussion

The micro-analysis of the data suggest the following (see Wong and Kumar, 2009):

The teacher is an authority

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The teacher is in authority

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The role of silence

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Code switching – a simplification strategy

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b us data
b. US Data
  • The social interactions selected for analysis occurred during the 2nd semester of the academic year, when the teacher and, especially, the children were familiar with each other’s ways. (see Torres-Guzmán, 2009)
  • During the interactions, the teacher was reading William H. Armstrong’s book, Sounder, an historical fiction chapter book about sharecropping that was beyond the students’ reading level, providing the students a bit of a challenge.
  • The following extracts (1 – 3) are taken from Torres-Guzmán, (2009).

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #1

01T Let’s share some of your thought but I want you to explain a little

bit. Don’t worry about raising your hands. I’ll hop around a bit.

Cecilia, what did you say?

02 Ce Sadness because you’re taken away from your family.

03 T OK, sadness because of that…{Teacher signals to student 2}

04 Ma They were unhappy because they were in jail getting whipped

and they couldn’t even get time to sleep.

05 T Unhappiness because they want to do what other people can do

but they’re tied down.

06 Ju They don’t have enough things so they can play.

07 T They have nothing. They only have what the master would give them.

08 Ed A prisoner. It’s like a prison. . .

09 T Over here, I’m reminded, Gerardo and Jaime, of a word they found today when they were reading about Harriet Tubman.

And what was that word?

10 Ge Neglected

11 T Neglected. And what does that mean?

12 Ge They ignored him.

13 T Yeah they’re totally ignored, they don’t care about you.

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #2

01 T You have to imagine a large place like that. Now we know that a lot of what they planted was cotton, tobacco. Now in those times, were there any machines to pick up this stuff? ((Students shake their heads)) So, that meant that humans had to be used. Why didn’t they hire a lot of people and pay them?Why did they go out of their way to buy slaves to work in these giant plantations? Why didn’t they? Why didn’t they?

02 Ju They didn’t want to hire people because they thought they’d be wasting their money. They’re greedy, selfish.

03 Xa They didn’t do it on the White people because that was from their people.

04 T And they would have to pay them, right?

05 Lu Blacks were the kind that they needed so they could pick up the cotton and plant stuff and they wouldn’t have to pay them.

06 T Right, so basically the slaves became the machines that they would use.

Wong Bee Eng

Extract # 2 (cont.)

07 Ed Those people thought in those times that black people were animals but that was wrong (xxx) different colors.

08 T So you’re saying that in those times blacks were considered different from Whites so they could be treated as animals but you consider that to be wrong.

09 An They didn’t want to lose the money. They didn’t want to pay anybody because they had so {student hand motions indicate and emphasize amount] much cotton. That means that they would have to pay a lot of people to do the work for them. And since they didn’t want to pay, they wouldn’t be able to afford that type of pay without having to get frustrated of wasting so much money. They just went to Africa and dragged the people, the African Americans and make them work with no pay.

Wong Bee Eng

Extract #2 (cont.)

10 T OK, I want to clear something up. A lot of you use the word wastefor spending money. Esto es porque en español, ustedes usan una palabra como gastarThis is because in Spanish you use the word waste/spend.Gastar, waste. In English, waste means that you’re just throwing your money away {teacher makes hand movement of throwing something away}. OK, when you waste your money. In English, the word to use is spend. They didn’t want to spend their money in that kind of way. So, remember that from now on. Now, Angel hit on a point. The plantation owners wanted to make money and they knew that paying a lot of people would be very expensive. So, it wasn’t only that they were greedy. It’s just that they thought of the expense, that it was going to be too much money so they ended up with slaves.

Wong Bee Eng

us data
US Data
  • 4 chapters later and just before the reading of the 5th chapter of Sounder, the teacher set the students up for what they might encounter.
  • She does so with a focused question that required the students to think about the character of the boy in the story.
  • The boy had no name yet.
  • The teacher asked the students to tell her how the boy might have been feeling at the end of the fourth chapter.
  • Students report on their pair share discussion.

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Extract #3:
  • 01 Ja It also said that the boy was hungry but once the man was squishing the cake, he didn’t feel like eating it.
  • 02 T Yeah, why?
  • 03 Ja Because, he felt kind of scared of the man and he felt like the man was just doing it for fun, without respect.
  • 04 T So he felt he was disrespected right? The boy, there were so many things going on in the experience he was having. Let me ask you this, do you think this kind of experience is going to affect him?
  • 05 Ss Yes!
  • 06 T Yes, as a matter of fact, he’s already thinking revenge. He’s already thinking revenge. I’m going to take 2 more comments and then we’re going to begin reading because I do want to read all of Chapter 5 today because it’s a very important chapter.

Wong Bee Eng

  • Recall that the theoretical underpinning of constructivism is that knowledge is “constructed” through interaction with others (Hendry, Frommer & Walker, 1999).
  • During this process of interaction, knowledge is co-constructed.
  • In order for knowledge to be co-constructed, conversation exchanges have to be highly interactive and collaborative (Sonnenmeier, 1993).

i.e. a high degree of interpersonal connection between the individuals working in the process (Goldstein, 1999: 648) is also expected.

  • Besides this, the process of co-construction also takes place through inferencing (Sonnenmeier, 1993).

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  • The US data clearly suggest that meaning and knowledge are verbally co-constructed through the ‘active inferencing’ (Sonnenmeier, 1993), and interpersonal connection (Goldstein, 1999) between the teacher and students.
  • The construction of knowledge is a two-way communication.

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US Data - Discussion

Co-construction of knowledge

  • The US students responded to the teacher’s questions without inhibition, for example in Extract#1, there was an alternation of teacher and student talk throughout.
  • This is also evident in Extracts #2 and #3.
  • Questions were used (e.g. extract #1 09, 11).
  • There are only two instances of extended teacher talk.
  • The first occurred in extract #2 where the teacher explained the scenario of the big plantations in the south of the U.S. and where a lot of labour was required to work these plantations (extract #2 01).
  • In the closing of extract #2, the teacher’s turn was extended as she went on to explain the English words spend/waste versus the word gastarin Spanish.
  • Students respond individually without being prompted most of the time.

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Teacher is not in authority

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  • In the U.S. classroom, the teacher does not come across as authoritarian like the Malaysian teachers; instead she is seen as a point of reference for the subject matter, an authority for the subject matter but notin authority like the Malaysian teachers.

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  • The data shows that in both sets of data, the teachers used the strategy of code-switching in an effort to bring about learning. However, it is more prevalent in the Malaysian Malay set of data while there is only one instance of this strategy in the US data.
  • This occurs in the closing of extract #2.
  • Code-switching is necessary here to explain the difference in the use of the words spend/waste in English and gastarin Spanish.
  • In this respect, the objective of using this strategy is similar to teachers in Malaysian primary classroom where code-switching is used to facilitate students’ understanding of the content of the lesson.
  • The difference is that in the US data, it is to explain a particular aspect of the language whereas in the Malaysian data, it is used to explain content concepts.

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  • Another motivation on the part of Malaysian teachers for using this strategy is that they and the learners are not competent in English while this not the case in the US data.
  • The US learners generally do not have a linguistic deficit in English although the TL was their L2 or even L3, a characteristic shared with Malaysian learners.
  • The fluency and proficiency of the U.S. learners is perhaps not surprising since English is used as a medium of instruction across the curriculum, and not merely in one or two subjects.
  • Thus code-switching seems to be used to compensate for linguistic deficiency in the Malaysian data, while in the American classroom it seems to be used for linguistic enrichment.

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  • Although both sets of learners were learning English as a L2 or L3, it is extremely interesting to note that all the U.S. students participate actively in the classroom interaction.
  • In fact, the data clearly indicates that this is a student-centred class.
  • In addition, the teacher plays the role of a facilitator who encourages and promotes the learners’ active participation in the learning process.
  • The fact that they do not wait for the teacher to invite them to talk is probably based on the notion that they have both content and linguistic knowledge of the subject that is being discussed – and the freedom to express their views and developing understanding.

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  • In an effort to explain what is happening to the Malaysian Chinese classroom, i.e. to explain the behaviour of the teachers and learners, we refer to their cultural and religious norms.
  • It is perhaps useful to contrast the ‘western’ constructivist approach with 1st the Chinese schema of education.
  • Basically the philosophy behind Chinese culture is grounded in Confucian teaching (see e.g. Hui, 2005).
  • Based on this Confucian philosophy, teaching encompasses moral cultivation as this is seen as the ultimate means to mould learners to become appropriate members of an established society.
  • And teachers are regarded as transmitters of moral virtues and harmony. As such, teachers command a high degree of respect. In fact, generic honorifics are used to show respect to the teacher.

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  • As a result of this, students “are not supposed to interact freely with teachers on the basis of equal status” (Hui, 2005: 22).
  • Cultural schema for learning (Hui, 2005) in this case, added to the implications of changing language policies, hinder a Western type of learning experiences and construction of knowledge in these bilingual classrooms.
  • It may be said that both sides have reached mutual understanding of what it means to be a good learner based on their common cultural background.

Wong Bee Eng

  • The Malay schema of education, on the other hand, is strongly shaped by religious norms in Islamic teaching.
  • Islamic teachings encourage learners to seek knowledge as it is believed that “one will earn God’s pleasure when one seeks knowledge” (Mohd-Asraf, 2005: 117).
  • A good learner from the Islamic perspective is one who has a positive attitude towards learning and is able to associate the learning with “race, religion and nation” (Washima et al., 1996: 233).
  • From the Islamic point of view, the teacher is considered to be a person of equal standing as parents.
  • As such, a good student is one who is receptive of the teacher’s knowledge and wisdom.

Wong Bee Eng


These are the traditional ways known in the Chinese culture and Islamic Malay communities, which hold teachers in high regard as dispensers of knowledge and wisdom.

For the former, this notion is transmitted from generation to generation and this is evident in the philosophy of the Chinese diaspora, particularly descendants of immigrants.

The Islamic Malay community regards the teaching profession as a noble one due to their religious belief.

Thus it is obvious that culture and religion pervades the construction of what it means to be a good teacher, as well as a good learner, in the Malaysian primary classroom.

Wong Bee Eng

  • From the American point of view, democracy which is the system of government prevails in their schema of education as well.

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  • The micro-analysis of the teacher-student interactions reveal that different ideological practices seem to be at play in the 2 diverse bilingual/multilingual learning environments.
  • Such studies are enlightening in that they are able to generate a better understanding of how learning is effected in different communities of learning, i.e. the findings provide us a understanding of the interplay between language used, the culture practised and thus the ideological practices adopted by each of the learning communities studied.

Wong Bee Eng

Thank you

Wong Bee Eng