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Making space for learners' languages

6. Making Space for Learners’ Languages

The challenge for educators is to open up spaces that until now have been home languageprimarily monolingual and move towards a society that is actively multilingual. This means that the value of languages across local communities needs to be fostered to promote the status of language skills from the perspective of all language learners. In other words, multilingualism matters: increasing ‘superdiversity’ and exposure to different languages brings demands in terms of social communication, bi- and multi-literacy, and implications for active citizenship.

By placing learners at the centre of the pedagogical process this builds confidence in oral communication across languages; develops skills required to engage creatively and critically with multiliteracy; and build links between complementary and mainstream schools and with home and community. There is a failure within existing pedagogies to take account of learning in both formal and informal spaces.

Moreover, whilst frequent reference is made to increasing linguistic diversity, much less attention is given to the rate of language attrition within two to three generations and to the loss for the individual and for society that this represents. Equally, there is little official recognition of the role played by complementary schools and communities in maintaining home languages and developing children’s sense of pride in a plurilingual identity.

The concern is that children’s linguistic and cultural experiences are not recognised in mainstream schools, or used for teaching and learning. Recent research has moved away from the notion of literacy as a discrete cognitive skill developed exclusively in the school context to one which recognises the multiple literacies that form part of everyday life. This highlights both children’s agency and their ‘multidimensionality as linguistic, cultural and social beings’ (Harris, 2006: 33). This notion is also promoted by Cummins and Early (2011) in their work on ‘identity texts’ where they show the critical relationship between identity texts, literacy engagement, and multilingual students’ academic achievement.

Here we share pedagogical approaches that have been trialled and implemented to make space for learner’s languages:

1.    Interconnecting Worlds: Teacher partnerships for bilingual learning
2.    Critical Connections: Multilingual digital storytelling
3.    Bilingual Books - Biliterate Children