Children learning together: Being a member of a culturally and linguistically diverse classroom

Year: 2019

Author: Theobald, Maryanne, Danby, Susan, Busch, Gillian, Mushin, Ilana, O'Gorman, Lyndal

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

One in four children in Australia speak a language other than English at home. Early childhood classrooms, while increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse, may yet to fully realise the richness that such diversity can contribute to young children’s participation, communication and inclusion. In early years classrooms characterised by cultural and linguistic diversity, children have everyday opportunities to communicate and respect others, and develop intercultural practices for global citizenship and intercultural practices that promote participation, fairness and respect.

In practice, however, little is known about how children’s participation and peer practices are being enacted and experienced in early years classrooms with culturally and linguistically diverse children. This paper reports on a study that video-recorded the everyday classroom experiences of Prep aged children (5-6 years) in 12 regional and urban Prep classrooms across Queensland. Approximately 90 hours of video-recording were collected. Excerpts from the video-recordings were used by teachers to stimulate child-focused conversations with children in their classes. The paper shares children’s perspectives on their strategies for participating, communicating and belonging in classrooms characterised by cultural and linguistic diversity. Interactional analysis highlights how children draw on linguistic and cultural resources to create and shape peer cultures by identifying the complex learning opportunities and possible downsides of their daily experiences. Particular attention is given to demonstrating how children enlist their linguistic and embodied skills in a range of interactional practices, such as initiating and participating in conversations, code switching, storytelling, and access to play activities and resources. The implications of the study findings point to how multilingual classroom settings can provide significant opportunities for children learning about language and group membership works, and about how to be an accepted and valued member of the culturally and linguistically diverse classroom.