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LISA 21 project poster presentation
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. (LISA 21)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1730-5463
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. (LISA 21)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3735-0579
2007 (English)Conference paper, Poster (with or without abstract) (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

EARLI conference – LISA 21      August 2007

LISA 21 and Pilot Study Findings

LISA 21 is a one-year-old project supported by the Swedish Research Council which focuses on plurilingualism, identity work and learning in multicultural settings. It is part of the Communication, Culture & Diversity – Deaf Studies research group at Örebro university, Sweden. This text presents an aspect of the project group’s research interest and outlines the preliminary findings of a pilot study conducted by two of the project team.

Project aims and methods

Over the coming three years, in-depth fieldwork has been planned in three very different kinds of school – a school of the Deaf, an ‘international’ school and a multicultural school. These schools have been chosen because of their “good practice” status and all offer the opportunity to study plurilingual practices in teaching-learning situations. The fieldwork sites are secondary schools, specifically pupils in grades 7 to 9, since it is at these levels that it becomes possible to study the communicative practices of teachers and pupils in environments where they are using different languages for classroom communication.

The project’s envisaged studies assume a sociocultural perspective and, since they emphasize communication practices in plurilingual school arenas, are also informed by classroom interaction studies and an ethnographically inspired methodology. Fieldwork will involve both participant and nonparticipant observation techniques as a well as a study of national, school and classroom texts which bear relevance for pupils’ learning experiences.

Pilot studies, 2007

During the spring of 2007, two pilot studies were conducted in a school for the Deaf and Hearing-impaired and an ‘international’ school with the aim of identifying key areas of commonality and contrast for forthcoming ethnographic investigation. The studies involved ‘shadowing’ two classes through their daily schedule over a ten-day period in order to piece together a picture of the pupils’ daily school lives and routines. Video and audio recording of lesson activity as well as field notes were the primary methods used to collect data. A preliminary analysis of the data has pointed to several areas of potential significance for further fieldwork. They are of particular interest because they suggest educational incongruities, even contradictions, whose tensions and resolutions have important bearings on learning and development at school. Schools showed themselves to be formidable cultural institutions wielding certain powers and authority and yet sites of enormous struggle between, for example, curricular mandates and vision, teacher beliefs, educational ethos, parental demands and student identities. In the following paragraphs, we outline five of these areas which we hope will contribute impetus to the project’s focused fieldwork and analytical framework.

  1. 1.      Sense-making in plurilingual environments

One established way of analyzing communication practices in the classroom entails studying oral and writing activity. Oral interaction in school most commonly orientates around texts and presupposes that learners develop the ability to produce meaning when moving between text and speech. The generation of understanding with the aid of a text is based on a different approach to statements than is the case with speech. Given this difference, the way teachers and pupils use language when engaged in textual practices is of particular interest.

An ability to access written forms assumes a familiarity with specific ways of negotiating meaning. In a visually-oriented environment, mapping out similarities and differences between Swedish and Swedish Sign language is of less relevance than gaining insight into how pupils and teachers seek to build bridges between an everyday vernacular and the more specialized language of school. This issue has not been given the focus it deserves since research has often failed to highlight heterogeneity in the classroom, preferring to treat the body of pupils as a unified group. Building discursive bridges is especially interesting among the Deaf and Hearing-impaired since ‘bilingualism’ has long been regarded as a language model which is particularly characteristic of their language use. Underlying support for the view of a standardized form of ‘bilingualism’ has been given by linguistically-inspired research into Swedish Sign language and Swedish as a second language for the Deaf. Over the last few decades, such research has had a prevailing influence on educational thinking, school language policy and the way the syllabuses for special schools have been formulated.

  1. 2.      Suspending and resourcing dialogue

It was evident that the way teachers coordinate and conduct student attempts to contribute to the lesson has important repercussions for the extent to which pupils are allowed to engage with the subject matter and therefore for the generation of certain kinds of knowledge. Teachers exercised their monopoly on communication rights in the classroom by gate keeping access to the ‘floor’ and orchestrating student participation. Factors that governed teachers’ decisions to constrain rather than encourage student contributions included the teacher’s need to protect the delivery of his/her points from competing contributions. Behind this tendency is often a teacher-constructed body of material that the teacher feels pressure to ‘get through’ as well as conceptions of what counts as legitimate or ‘real’ school work.

Given the patterns of participation these constraints imply, what kind of learning do they lead to? A constraint on classroom participation and a suspension of dialogical rights tended to divert participation and, with it learning, to the ‘edges’, centrifugally, where plenty of knowledge sharing was going on, but which was not directly related to the activity in the ‘official’ arena. The term diverted learning perhaps describes the kind of learning that emerges when pupils are denied an ‘official’ opportunity to gain a discursive grip on a particular issue or concept. There were also discursive barriers to student lesson participation which some teachers failed to break down, but which others managed to bridge.

  1. 3.      Transferring and transforming understanding

In many of the lessons observed (Science and Social Studies being prime examples), there seemed to be a paradox, a critical tension, with regard to the learning aims and needs in the classroom. On one hand, the teachers seemed determined that the students should understand the lesson topics and reflect independently on them. On the other hand, their practices suggested a conception of gaining knowledge as transferring knowledge with very little room for the kind of interaction that encourages the co-production of understanding. The students’ questions and attempts to get a ‘handle’ on the topic demonstrated that their needs would be better satisfied with a transforming rather than a transferring of understanding. Even activity on the ‘unofficial’ fringe was sometimes geared to interacting with the topic meaningfully and trying to relate the new information to the pupils’ own experiences.

Data suggested that a teacher’s conception of how pupils can become more knowledgeable has a decisive effect on the aims, the roles, expectations, interaction patterns, learning activity and outcomes in the classroom. For example, a view of knowledge development as a cumulative packing of brains with bits and pieces of information reduces student influence, and ultimately democracy, to responsibility for receiving and reproducing school learning material rather than reflecting on or interacting with it creatively and constructively.

  1. 4.      Linguistic resources

Assuming a plurilingual perspective on a Sign language teaching setting, what linguistic resources do Deaf and Hearing-impaired pupils have access to when trying to understand each other in the midst of several potential language opportunities? This raises the question as to what importance the communication practices have for the teachers and pupils who participate together in classroom activities. The pilot study includes data showing different lessons in which different languages as well as different oral and writing activities shape different language encounters. The methods used captured sequences of classroom activity in which teachers converse with pupils about the relationships between different languages in different countries, language use, personal experiences of changing to a different language, code switching and second language socialization in Sweden among those with an ethnically different background. These sequences bring together both teacher and pupil experiences of language complexity regarding both language function and its different purposes in various contexts. The conversations with pupils suggest that a language need not create distance between everyday life experiences and the more technical language of the academic disciplines.

The study also points to different aspects of code switching.  Data suggests that the use of code switching has a communicative purpose and serves different pragmatic functions at a general level. The grammatical aspect of code switching is also evident when different languages are interwoven at a more micro level into the conversation between teacher and pupils. More specifically, the data shows examples of linking, chaining between Swedish and Swedish Sign language where teacher and pupils juxtapose different terms and expressions with the purpose of introducing or underlining the meaning of certain words in different contexts.

  1. 5.      Identity affordances and restraints in school arenas

A formal learning environment in which two or more languages are in operation as main means of classroom communication both creates opportunities for new identity positions, new roles and relationships in the classroom as well as conditions which restrain pupils’ ability to identify themselves as significant and eligible selves. On one hand,  the appropriation of new language practices extends pupils’ communicative capability, affords the possibility to display  an esteemed ‘bilingual’ competence and creates new roles, such as that of ‘interpreter’ of the teacher’s meaning or instruction for peers.

At the same time, working in a second language can limit the students’ capacity to express meaning, can put them at a cultural disadvantage and, in the face of ‘foreign’ values and practices, may lead to alienation. Given these restraints, plurilingual learning settings, without considerable pedagogical care, can war against inclusion. Whether these tensions are resolved or remain sharp depends on several factors which include second or third language competence, attitudes to this language, self-confidence and cultural affinity or remoteness.

Karin Allard and Oliver St John

Department of education, Örebro university, Sweden

 

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007.
National Category
Pedagogy Learning
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-69368OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-69368DiVA, id: diva2:1254081
Conference
12th Biennial Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI 2007), Budapest, Hungary, August 28 - September 1, 2007
Available from: 2018-10-08 Created: 2018-10-08 Last updated: 2019-03-26Bibliographically approved

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