Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: New Dilemmas for Teachers

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: New Dilemmas for Teachers


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A critical reality of contemporary education in a globalised world is the growing cultural, racial and linguistic diversity in schools and the issues involved in educating increasing numbers of students who are still learning the dominant language. This poses extraordinary challenges for second and foreign language teachers in many countries, where such students must engage with the mainstream curriculum in a new language. What do these increasingly plurilingual and multicultural classrooms look like? And how do language teachers address the challenges of such diverse classrooms? This book brings together a group of well-recognised language education scholars who present their research in a range of international settings. They focus on the key areas of pedagogy, language policy and curriculum and exemplify new research directions in the field.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847692177
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 10/15/2009
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Miller is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University where she teaches postgraduate TESOL courses. Her research and publications are in the areas of language acquisition and identity, the sociocultural framing of language pedagogy, and teacher’s work. Her book, Audible Difference: ESL and social identity (Multilingual Matters, 2003) explores the politics of speaking and identity for immigrant students in Australian high schools. Her current research concerns low literacy refugee students in the high school mainstream, and preservice teachers from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Alex Kostogriz is Associate Professor in TESOL in the School of Education, Deakin University. He has published widely on issues of professional practice and ethics of English language educators, teacher professional identity and learning, transcultural literacy and pedagogy of Thirdspace. He has co-edited Dimensions of Professional Learning (2007), special issues of Mind, Culture & Activity and English Teaching: Practice & Critique on learning in multicultural conditions.

Margaret Gearon is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. She specialises in language teacher education at both preservice and inservice levels, curriculum and assessment in foreign and community (heritage) languages, and bilingual education. Her research interests are in immersion education, code-switching in the foreign language classroom, and how the knowledge and beliefs of preservice languages teachers are manifested in their classroom practices. She is currently project director for the design of a teacher training course for community languages teachers in Australia.

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Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms

New Dilemmas for Teachers

By Jennifer Miller, Alex Kostogriz, Margaret Gearon

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2009 Jennifer Miller, Alex Kostogriz, Margaret Gearon and the authors of individual chapters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84769-379-2


The Challenges of Diversity in Language Education


A successful multilingualism policy can strengthen life chances of citizens: it may increase their employability, facilitate access to services and rights and contribute to solidarity through enhanced intercultural dialogue and social cohesion. Approached in this spirit, linguistic diversity can become a precious asset, increasingly so in today's globalised world. (European Commission, 2008: 3)

One of the most critical realities of contemporary education in a globalised world is the growing cultural, racial and linguistic diversity in schools and the problems involved in educating large numbers of students who do not speak the dominant language as their home or heritage language. The impact of this diversity is felt in many education-related fields, including policy, curriculum, pedagogy, teacher education, teachers' work and language education research. The range of diversity poses an extraordinary challenge for language teachers in countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK and many European Union countries, where students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds must engage with mainstream curriculum in a new language, frequently the dominant language. Programmes to support such students to cope with the demands of the set curriculum in the mainstream are limited and varied, and provide the focus of some chapters of this book. In addition, teachers of compulsory foreign language courses must also cater for the same heterogeneous student population, as well as adapting to the emergence of content-based language teaching.

In these complex cultural-linguistic circumstances, there is a need to re-evaluate language teaching practices and curriculum in a way that is more responsive to difference. Kramsch, for instance, points out that language education, if it is to be effective and democratic, requires a shift in what and how students in multicultural countries are taught. She states:

We are still teaching standard national languages according to a 19th century modern view of language as a structural system with rules of grammatical and lexical usage and rules of pragmatics reified to fit the image of a stereotyped Other. The 21st century is all about meaning, relations, creativity, subjectivity, historicity and the inter- as in interdisciplinary and intercultural ... We should conceive of what we do in ways that are more appropriate to the demands of a global, decentered, multilingual and multicultural world, more suited to our uncertain and unpredictable times. (Kramsch, 2008: 405)

Pedagogically, this highlights a tension around the role of language education in servicing the global economy and, more importantly, in mediating the everyday life of young people in multicultural conditions. This mixture of the global, the national and the local presents an increasing need to take into account multiple languages and hybrid literacies that young people use and develop for effective functioning within and across social and cultural borders (Kostogriz, 2005).

In language education research, bilingualism, multilingualism and plurilingualism are core concerns and often contested as educational values and goals. Clearly, students need to be competent in their first language use, and also in the dominant language of their country or region, which allows access to academic success, social power, further education and work. Many require proficiency in additional languages for school curricula and in day-to-day communication in their personal or later work-related lives. While this range of language competences may be recognised and even valued in some parts of the world, this is frequently not the case in predominantly English-speaking countries such as Australia, the UK, the USA and Canada. The European Community, by contrast, is highly conscious of the need for citizens to develop multilingual competence and has developed a language policy that recognises the value of multilingualism. The European Commission's (2008) statement declares, 'Multilingual citizens are better equipped to take advantage of the educational opportunities created by an integrated Europe', while its 'Action plan on language learning and linguistic diversity' specifies the scope of strategies to build multilingual competence.

Researchers have long demonstrated the additional political, economic, social, intellectual and communicative advantages of multilingualism, yet even in European Union policy statements there is little recognition of just how challenging diverse classrooms can be, not to mention the multiple contextual caveats that need to be attached to language planning, language learning and teaching objectives. In the USA, Commins and Miramontes (2005) problematise and deconstruct some of the myths and key arguments in the ongoing debate about linguistic diversity and teaching, and, in particular, issues around language policy, bilingualism, English literacy, equity and pragmatism.

It is not surprising that the issue of a socially just and democratic language education, one that is responsive to cultural and linguistic diversity in our classrooms, has been gradually disappearing from the discourses of educational policy making (Kostogriz, 2007). The neo-liberalisation of education in some countries, with its emphasis on the self-regulation of educational markets through privatisation, competition and 'customer' choice and the de-professionalisation of teachers through accountability and performativity mechanisms, has led to a convenient oversimplification of the cultural-linguistic complexity of schooling. Educators' confusion about how to teach students who often do not share their cultural values and linguistic backgrounds is just one consequence of this simplification.

Perhaps the one certainty in contemporary languages education is that mass movements of peoples due to global economies, conflict and sociopolitical instability, and the resulting impact of large numbers of immigrants, refugees and children of guest workers' in schools have changed the face of language teaching and, by implication, language teacher education around the world. Kramsch (2008) draws attention to the urgent need to shift how we think about and do language teaching, and the kinds of courses we offer to future language teachers. This also requires research into and reflection about how best to address languages education, whether first, second and foreign languages, in order to meet the needs and interests of these students, their families and their school context/s.

Our thinking about this book began three years ago with the project of exploring how language teacher educators might engage with the changes in classrooms such as those outlined above. At that time, we asked ourselves the question of how to address the needs of pre- and in-service teachers who must face the reality of multiple languages, voices and cultures in their classrooms. We noted Kramsch's statement that:

Linguistic and cultural pluralism is more than the mere coexistence of various languages. It is primarily about the transcultural circulation of values across borders, the negotiation of identities, the inversions, even inventions of meaning, often concealed by a common illusion of effective communication. ... The teacher trainers of tomorrow will need to be increasingly plurilingual and pluricultural. (Kramsch, 2008: 390)

The context of linguistic and cultural diversity is, therefore, a given that underlies the research presented in this book, which has several aims. These include:

• to continue the debate on the roles of language and power in rapidly changing multilingual and multicultural communities within various nations;

• to address ways in which this debate can inform policy, curriculum and language teacher education courses;

• to contribute to understandings of the tensions between home language/s and the dominant language of schooling, and to propose some ways these are being addressed;

• to present teacher and learner perspectives on mainstream participation for students who are still acquiring the dominant language of schooling;

• to problematise language pedagogy using a range of sociocultural theoretical perspectives that pay due attention to social, institutional and political contexts.

As we engaged with scholars and their work in several countries with highly diverse populations, including Canada, the UK, Australia, Spain and Finland, the book evolved beyond the scope of teacher education to incorporate policy and language planning, language curricula and innovative pedagogies, language and multimodal literacies, teachers' work, changing theoretical conceptions of language learning and use in transcultural contexts, and indeed the types of research best suited to explore these complexities. All the chapters address one or more of these areas, and the ensemble opens up to the reader a number of dilemmas and problematic issues surrounding language teaching and learning in highly diverse contemporary contexts.

Challenges in Globalised Language Education

This book focuses strongly on research oriented to language teaching and learning in multilingual and multicultural classrooms and societies. The first challenge we wish to raise regards the equity of educational provision for extremely diverse groups of students. It is uncontroversial to say that many of the culturally and linguistically diverse students that are the focus of the research in this book are also socially, economically and politically marginalised. Costley and Leung (this volume) draw attention to the entrenched disadvantage of many immigrant and refugee students, as well as to the hiatus between policy rhetoric and educational practice. When students arrive with limited or interrupted schooling, settlement, integration and academic success become even greater challenges (Brownet al., 2006). In the UK, and Australia for example, the gap between state claims and aims for multicultural education and the actual conditions in state-funded schools is vast and ever increasing. In Australia, this is accentuated by the severe underfunding of government schools, which are overwhelmingly attended by the students referred to above. The dramatic increase in numbers of these students is also a factor. Lasagabaster (this volume) highlights the tenfold increase in such students in the past decade in Spain, while Hammond (this volume) provides the important insight that in some inner city schools in Australia, ethnically and linguistically diverse students form 90% of the student body. It is a useful reminder that groups often labelled as 'minority' are, in fact, the overwhelming majority in some schools – a heterogeneous majority, but a critical one.

There are three related issues in highly diverse schools. These are complex integrated issues, but are primarily social, ideological and linguistic in focus, respectively. First, successful social integration, inclusion and cohesion depend largely on academic success. Rutter (2006) argues in the UK context that a primary indicator of successful integration is successful academic outcomes, and that unsuccessful groups remain as labour in society's worst and most low paid jobs. But, as second language researchers, we must also ask, what is the role and the importance of proficiency in the dominant language in these outcomes? One problem is that there is relatively little detailed empirical research that examines the efficacy of practices in relation to students' language proficiency, school participation or transitions through school (Anderson et al., 2004; Rutter, 2006; McBrien, 2005). Likewise, there is little detailed research that examines the conditions that enable schools to develop these practices in holistic ways. The need for hard-edged research that both measures and responds to the literacy needs of diverse students remains as urgent as ever. As Labov argued in his keynote address at the AAAL Conference in 2007, the failure of schools to teach disadvantaged children to read was the most serious social problem of the USA. The majority of these disadvantaged students, both in the USA and elsewhere, are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

A second challenge is basically ideological, and concerns the neglect of difference and diversity as consequential, while attention is increasingly galvanised on national curricula and national standards (see Kostogriz, this volume). Kostogriz points out that as teacher performance and accountability pressures increasingly dominate policy and media campaigns, diversity and contextual complexity remain in the background. In addition, the scale of diversity and its educational ramifications are silenced in public discourse. In Australia, this is partly out of fear of alienating the population even further from government schools, and partly because thinking through the needs of highly diverse school populations and coming up with viable responses requires too much work and money. This serves to reify disadvantage for already marginalised groups. A point that should be made here is that there is always a danger of homogenising ethnically, racially, linguistically, culturally, socially and educationally diverse groups. The categories within diversity are invariably heterogeneous, with a full range of talents, competencies and difficulties. This should, however, not distract from the primary problem that a large body of evidence identifies highly diverse student groups as overrepresented in educational underachievement. It is also worth recalling Cummins' (1997) argument that ignoring the intersections between power and pedagogy serves to reinforce coercive and exploitative structures in education.

The third challenge we wish to raise is more specifically linguistic and academic in nature. Students who speak a range of languages other than the dominant language or language of instruction must compete with native speakers of the dominant language, who are constantly improving their language proficiency, in mainstream classrooms, often with minimal or no intensive language support. Further, there is a significant difference, often poorly understood by policy makers and many teachers, between social language and the highly specific academic language required in schools. In a body of research spanning over 15 years, Collier and Thomas have addressed the problem of how long it takes language minority students in the USA to acquire the social and academic language for successful integration into the mainstream. They stress the need to look beyond the notion of 'learning English' to the processes involved in acquiring a second language for success at school. The language needed for academic success at school requires the use of specialised forms, genres and vocabulary, which are specific to subject areas such as maths, social science, science and so on. Collier's model (1995), which illustrates the complexity of acquiring any additional language in school, outlines the interdependence of academic development, language development, cognitive development and sociocultural processes.

How is this to be achieved? There is considerable research evidence that first language competence and literacy play a vital role in the acquisition of an additional language, particularly for academic purposes (Cummins, 1991; Thomas & Collier, 1997). Bilingual research provides a strong argument for first language support wherever possible. However, in highly diverse Australian classrooms, where up to ten language groups may be in one class, this becomes impossible. This is often the case in many North American and European classrooms too. Both Lasagabaster and Dooley (this volume) highlight the language demands of the mainstream, while Hammond reminds us that 'second language' is now a mainstream issue. In this book, research related to bilingualism is presented by Windle, and by Dagenais, Moore and Sabatier.

Specific bilingual support may prove impractical in some contexts, but this should not undermine the importance of what Cummins (2003) proposes so convincingly in his paper 'Challenging the construction of difference as deficit: Where are identity, intellect, imagination, and power in the new regime of truth?' For learning a new language for success at school and in society, Cummins (2000) emphasises the 'centrality of identity negotiation' (p. 154) and 'identity affirmation' (p. 268) in effective practice, while claiming these have been consistently ignored in mainstream educational research. For minority students in particular, he argues that practice must be grounded in the lives of the students. Research projects on innovative approaches to language education that reflect a strong focus on student identity are presented in this volume by Smythe and Toohey, and by Dagenais, Moore and Sabatier. The crossover between home and school literacies, the complex clashes between dominant language and culture with heritage language and culture, youth culture and technoliteracies, illustrated by Smythe and Toohey, highlight the challenges for teachers, students and schools as something beyond learning and teaching English. They reveal a range of tensions between institutional constraints and objectives, and the multilingual, multimodal and multicultural resources that minority students bring to school. In the context of foreign language teaching, Coyle lays out the re-conceptualisation needed to integrate traditional languages studied in mainstream schools and heritage languages or community languages taught in after hours schools.


Excerpted from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms by Jennifer Miller, Alex Kostogriz, Margaret Gearon. Copyright © 2009 Jennifer Miller, Alex Kostogriz, Margaret Gearon and the authors of individual chapters. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents

Part 1 Pedagogy in diverse classrooms

1 The challenges of diversity in language education Margaret Gearon Jennifer Miller Alex Kostogriz

2 Multilingual Educational Systems David Lasagabaster

3 Teaching with an Accent Jennifer Miller

4 High Challenge, High Support Programs with ESL Learners Jenny Hammond

5 Language, Culture and Inclusion in Mainstream Classrooms Karen Dooley

6 Influences on the Written Expression of Bilingual Students Joel Windle

Part 2 Language Policy and Curriculum

7 Dilemmas of Efficiency, Identity and Worldmindedness Joseph Lo Bianco

8 Professional Ethics in Multicultural Classrooms Alex Kostogriz

9 English as Additional Language across the Curriculum Tracey Costley Constant Leung

10 Language Pedagogies Revisited Do Coyle

11 Educating Languages Teachers for Multilingual and Multicultural settings Margaret Gearon

Part 3 Research directions in diverse contexts

12 Multilingual Researcher Identities Angela Creese Arvind Bhatt Peter Martin

13 Negotiating Teacher-Researcher Collaboration in Immersion Education Diane Dagenais Dani?le Moore C?cile Sabatier

14 Languages in the Classroom Hannele Dufva Olli-Pekka Salo

15 Bringing Home and Community to School Suzanne Smythe Kelleen Toohey

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