Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


ECHOHAWK, Barbara, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Dept, Metropolitan State University of Denver, 890 Auraria Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204,

For many adults, acquiring a new language in a new land is a challenge. In order to communicate effectively, the learner of a second language must attend not only to new vocabulary and linguistic structures but also to the network of meaning and value that has been socially constructed by the community of native speakers of the target language. The experience of non-majors in post-secondary geology courses may be contextually similar to this when the students encounter not only copious new vocabulary and concepts but also an unfamiliar network of meaning and value, ways of thinking, and communicative processes within the scientific community.

Part of second language acquisition (SLA) is making sense of the ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are fundamental to communicating effectively in the new language. Similarly, part of becoming scientifically literate is understanding the ways of thinking, investigating, and communicating that are valued within the scientific community. Contextual similarities and a common goal of effective communication in a “new language” suggest that successful teaching strategies from SLA can also enhance learning for non-majors in geology courses.

In SLA, the communicative language teaching approach emphasizes acquisition of a language by using it in the interactive ways that language is used in the real world, rather than by accruing a sequenced set of increasingly complex words and rules. In communicative language teaching and learning, accuracy is important, but so is fluency. Competence is important, but so is performance. All the verbal communication skills are important – listening, speaking, reading, and writing – and so are the non-verbal aspects of communication.

This approach, when adapted and applied to a geology course for non-majors, results in learning that is messy and non-linear but that also expands opportunities for meaningful discussion, critical thinking, and investigation of “why”, “how”, and “what if” questions. It also promotes student-centered learning, the building of a learning community, and mutual construction of meaning, which in turn helps students integrate scientific information and ways of thinking into asking questions and seeking solutions to everyday problems around them.