Post by Dr Jacqueline D’Warte
In 2019, cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a broad international commitment to multilingualism and linguistic diversity are at the centre of global educational policy and practice (UNESCO 2018). In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, global educators are working in classrooms that commonly comprise young people who speak multiple languages and dialects. These young people connect to and interact with diverse cultures and traditions across time and space, and they make meaning in multiple languages, multiple modes and media.
If people know my language they will know my personality (Ahmed Age 10).
I got to understand more about myself, my language and about the languages of my friends (Maura Age 11).
The above comments from Ahmed and Maura are representative of those shared by many multilingual young people involved in a recent Australian research project undertaken in Western Sydney classrooms (D’warte, 2014; 2016; 2018). This research conducted over four years, engaged young people and their teachers in Years 1 through 8 as researchers of ways they were reading writing, talking, listening and viewing in one or more languages, inside and outside of school.
This research was undertaken as part of regular classroom lessons; students learned to be researchers, observing and collecting information about the languages heard and seen within the school and surrounding neighbourhood. They also interviewed each other, collecting information about their language and literacy practices, for example, the languages they spoke and when, where, and with whom they were spoken or learned. They collected information about translating for family and friends and ways they were communicating, reading, and viewing in online environments. Students also created visual representations of their individual practices and experiences. Teachers created lessons that supported students to collate and present their collected data and they used the students’ information for ongoing learning. This included a range of lessons across subject areas: for example, working with data in math, facilitating writing tasks and comparing words, sound systems and grammar in English, mapping and research work in geography and history
What has been learned?
Teachers’ and students’ understandings and awareness of the ways young people were navigating their multilingual worlds were enhanced. As the student quotes above suggest, there is a powerful relationship between language and identity. This relationship was illuminated as home languages were validated and students became knowledge producers. Very few students involved in this research saw any relationship between the language and literacy practices and experiences of home and school as the research began. Most often they did not view their foundational linguistic knowledge as fundamental to learning and did not view their linguistic capacity as a strength.
Over the course of the classroom work, student confidence increased as many students began to consider what they knew and could do and began to discover ways to apply their knowledge and skill to English tasks. For many English as an Additional Language or Dialect Learners, learning moved away from typically focusing on what was limited or lacking to using students’ knowledge and skill as a starting point for learning. Evidence suggests this work promoted intercultural understanding for all students, and had a significant influence on self-esteem, and belonging for many young people who were struggling with English learning.
While many teachers knew their students spoke languages other than English, they were surprised by the variety and frequency of students’ language use and the complex multimodal, multilingual tasks they were engaged in outside of school. Teachers across classrooms reported the discovery of previously unknown information about their students. This classroom work enabled students and their teachers to make explicit connections between home and school, with teachers reporting an increase not only in students’ confidence but also in learning. They also reported an increase in their own ability to build on home language learning and reimagine curriculum that was cognitively challenging and engaging for their students. This work offered new opportunities for building relationships with parents and community members and this resulted in increased parent participation in classrooms and in student learning more generally.
Language is not just about culture it is about who you are (Mona, Age 11)
It is well established that capacities in one language can support or advance the development of another (Baker & Wright, 2017; Cummins, 2015). However, recent national and international research also identifies strong links between the recognition and use of first language and student identity and wellbeing and the ways this can improve education outcomes (García & Kleifgen, 2018; Rymes, 2014; Wright, Cruikshank, & Black, 2018; Yunkaporta & McGinty, 2009)
Australia’s 120 surviving Indigenous languages (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 2018) are joined by more than 300 languages spoken by 21% of Australians who speak a language other than English at home (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Australian classroom are culturally and linguistically dynamic spaces that offer exciting teaching and learning opportunities. What we do know is that the future is multilingual and multicultural and perpetuating and fostering a pluralist present and future (Alim & Paris, 2017) is a crucial and important educational endeavour.
About Dr Jacqueline D’Warte
Jacqueline is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University. She has 15 years of K-12 teaching experience in Australia, the United Kingdom, and India. She began her career as an elementary school teacher teaching a range of grades and specialising in ESL and literacy development. Jacqueline’s research interests include exploring connections between language and learning and how these influence educational equity, teacher and student expectations and teacher practice in culturally and linguistically diverse educational settings. Jacqueline’s most recent research involves students in primary and high school in being ethnographers of their own language and literacy practices. This research builds on the linguistic and cultural diversity that exists in 21st century classrooms by engaging young people in exploring how they use, change, invent and reinvent language and literacy practices in new and interesting ways.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census: Multicultural – Census reveals a fast changing, culturally diverse nation. March, viewed 28th January, 2017, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/lookup/media%20release3
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 2018. Indigenous Australian Languages: Celebrating 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, viewed 10 November, 2017 https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/indigenous-australianlanguages
Paris, D., & Alim, S. (2017). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies. Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World. New York: Teachers College Press.
Baker, C., & Wright, W. E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. (6th ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Wright, J. Cruickshank, K., & Black, S. (2018) Languages discourses in Australian middle-class schools: parent and student perspectives, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 39(1), 98-112
Cummins, J. (2015). Intercultural education and academic achievement: A framework for school-based policies in multilingual schools. Intercultural Education, 26(6), 455–468.
García, O., & Kleifgen, J. (2018). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs and practices for English learners (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Rymes, B. (2014). Communicative repertoire’ in C Leung & BV Street (Eds.). The Routledge companion to English studies, Routledge: London, pp. 287-301.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (2017). International mother language day: Towards sustainable futures through multilingual education. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/international-mother-language-day/UNESCO, 2018.
Vertovec, S. (2010). Towards post‐multiculturalism. Changing communities, conditions and contexts of diversity. International Social Science Journal 61(199), 83-95.
Yunkaporta., & McGinty, S. (2009) Reclaiming Aboriginal Knowledge at the Cultural Interface. The Australian Educational Researcher 36(2), 55-72.