Exploring linguistic repertoires: Students as co-researchers and ethnographers of their own language practices in five Australian classrooms

Year: 2013

Author: D'warte, Jacqueline

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Exploring linguistic repertoires: Students as co-researchers and ethnographers of their own language practices in five Australian classrooms.

This presentation details findings from a study of 9 teachers and 105 students in grades 5, 6 and 7 as they collaboratively explored students’ everyday language practices, skills and experiences. As co-researchers and ethnographers of their own language practices, these students who spoke 31 different languages and dialects and engaged in wide ranging multimodal activity were given the opportunity to explicitly recognize and use their ‘repertoires of linguistic practice’ (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003) as a tool for thinking and acting in their study of English Language Arts.

While language and literacy-based practices are central to all school learning, and we explicitly address how language meets our academic needs, few opportunities exist to explore the ways students use language every day particularly for students from an increasingly diverse range of linguistic, cultural, class and racial backgrounds. Despite teachers’ best intentions, recognizing and building on students’ everyday language, literacy, and cultural competencies in service of classroom learning, can be a vast challenge. Increasingly student diversity of communicative competence is often erased or narrowed, especially under the influence of high stakes testing.

Theoretical framework and corresponding literature
Young people engage in multimodal activity, use multiple languages and cross registers and codes with flexibility, deploying them strategically for different relationships, contexts, and purposes (Martinez, 2010). Linguistic repertoires in particular are valuable cultural resources and funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) that can be built on in school. In this study, students’ repertoires of linguistic practice, (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003) was the object of study.

The research combines multi-phased ethnography with ‘design research’ (Brown 1992). Project data comprised audio recorded student and teacher interviews, curriculum artifacts and lesson observations. The application of ethnographic and discourse analytic methods to all data supported an inductive approach to analysis. Analysis across the data set and contrastive thematic analysis of entry and exit interview data provided evidence for research findings.

Qualitative analysis reveals positive influences on classroom culture, student identity and confidence and a very noticeable shift in teachers’ expectations of their students’ abilities. This research provides an insight into how deficit perspectives about everyday language practices can be challenged and offers possibilities for both enhancing classroom teaching and learning and building on students’ everyday language skills and experiences in service of learning.