Engaging young people as linguistic ethnographers in super-diverse classrooms.

Year: 2019

Author: Wrench, Alison, D'warte, Jacqueline, Exley, Beryl, Zammit, Katina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The 21st century has brought rapid change to the global cultural and linguistic landscape, this rapidly changing landscape has prompted educators to suggest that the lived and evolving reality of contemporary classrooms demands a re-examination of current curriculum, pedagogies and assessment practices. Australian classrooms increasingly include young people who speak many different languages and dialects of English; these young people draw on multiple ways of learning and understanding and are mobile and connected across time and space. Australia has seen a clear shift and reframing of equity as quality. This equity as quality context has been used to justify Australia’s national assessment program and to relegate difference, particularly linguistic difference, to a problem fixed by further commitment to standardized English curriculum and assessment practices.

Engagement and equity for all learners is compromised in an environment, where attention is given to what is perceived as limited or lacking in young peoples’ knowledge of the English language and literacies practices most valued in school. This paper presents ethnolinguistic methodologies and innovative pedagogical interventions developed in one of the most socioeconomically, linguistically and culturally diverse regions in Australia. The key goals of this research were to facilitate opportunities for teachers and students to learn more about students’ language and literacy practices and experiences and to investigate whatcurriculum and potential learning could be generated when the linguisticknowledge and skill of students became the starting point for learning. This research is informed by culturally-sustaining pedagogy and place-conscious pedagogy.

This research combined linguistic ethnography with design research. It was undertaken over a four-year period as part of regular classroom practice in 13 Schools with 28 teachers and approximately 800 young people aged 6 to 14 years old. Schools comprised between 76–99% of students from Language Backgrounds Other Than English and high enrolments of students from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Data included classroom interventions and observations, interviews with teachers, students and community members and curriculum and work samples. Analysis centres on the positioning of young people as knowledge producers and how this deepened both teachers’ and students’ understandings and skill. Findings reveal teachers and students as partners in learning that went beyond celebrations of cultural and linguistic difference to instead place cultural and linguistic flexibility at the centre of teaching and learning. This work offers exciting possibilities for perpetuating and fostering a pluralist present and future and in turn a socially just educational agenda.