31 SES 03 A, Language Education for Newcomers
The use of a learner’s mother tongue during additional language acquisition is widely heralded as a crucially important learning asset (Cummins, 2017; Hyltenstam & Milani, 2012). Despite research and report recommendations to value and make pedagogical use of newly arrived pupils’ indigenous language resources (e.g. Cummins, 2017; Skolverket, 2016), multilingual education in Sweden is still largely dominated by monolingual norms and practices (Jalali-Moghadam & Hedman, 2016). This paper presentation reports the findings of a project geared to the introduction of mother tongue language mentors (LMs) into the initial levels of the regular Swedish for immigrants (SFI) teaching programme of an adult education institute in Sweden. The language mentor project is the vision of an SFI teacher team whose concern over the low number of students who manage to reach minimum requirement levels to pass the first study path spurred them to bring about organizational change. In August, 2017, eight mother tongue language mentors were recruited for the autumn term and a 6-month pilot project was launched. Their mother tongues included several Arabic varieties, Dari and Somali. In cooperation with the participating teachers, this study aims to document and investigate the development and learning processes among participants of the project in order to gauge the effect of mentor intervention on the pedagogical environment in which students strive to learn additional language. Research questions include:
What indicators can be extrapolated from project data and second language acquisition research to serve as a basis for an evaluation of the kind of learning conditions mediated by teacher-mentor pedagogical cooperation for the development of students’ language skills?
In what ways does the work of the language mentors alongside teachers in the first study path effect students’ opportunities to participate in instructional activity and learn Swedish as an additional language?
In the light of project results, what changes need to be made to the mentor programme and their classroom practice in order to further improve conditions for students to achieve higher success rates on the first SFI study course?
Theoretically, this research project is inspired by both Bakhtin’s (1981; 1986) concepts and translanguaging as an account of multilingual communication practice. Bakhtin’s concepts of voice, understanding as responsive and heteroglossia have proved particularly apt in illuminating the phenomena of interest. For example, data points to the way the mentors make student voices accessible to the teachers.
Translanguaging creates novel analytical and pedagogical prospects in multilingual education. The concept highlights the capacity of bi- and multilinguals to make themselves understood and produce nuanced meanings by gliding between languages so that they use a variety of features and practices from their whole linguistic repertoires (Creese & Blackledge, 2010; García & Wei, 2014). Such communicative mobility on the basis of all a speaker’s linguistic resources has significant promise for doing language which is a necessary condition for knowing it (Dewey, 1938).
Methodology The first methodological objective was to devise a viable research design. To meet project objectives, indicators were extrapolated from participants’ responses, qualitative observation and second language acquisition research which would allow for analysis and evaluation of the quality of the conditions created by LMs and teachers for student language learning. Twelve indicators were discerned from project data highlighting, for example, mentor performance which insured that students have sufficient chance to make sense of Swedish input and to engage with teacher questions independently before the occurrence of mother tongue explanations. The two main methods of generating data within the project were direct classroom observation and series of interviews with students, mentors and teachers spread across the project period at initial, middle and final stages. Direct observations were seen as essential to gain an inside understanding of the context within which teachers, mentors and student were interacting as well as to capture a more comprehensive view of the focal setting than might be gleaned from the selective perceptions of the participants through interviews (Patton, 2002). Interview series were chosen as a way of tracking changes in participant experiences and perceptions which may cast light on significant development and learning dimensions within the scope of the project.
Expected results Preliminary results point to significant positive effects of mentor participation in the first SFI study course. The middle and final student interviews provide evidence of advantageous learning experiences and a strong sense of personal and pedagogical support from the mother tongue mentors. Both students and mentors emphasize the critical role mentors play in building up students’ self-esteem and giving them hope as a necessary condition for motivated language learning. All the participants agreed that, given the mentors’ understanding of the students’ cultural differences and linguistic vulnerability, they are able to explain language and cultural difficulties in a way which the teachers simply cannot. The mentors’ interview responses coupled to observations of their classroom performance show a strong learning curve connected to an evolving realization of the role they need to play. From simply providing ongoing translation of teacher instruction, the mentors have developed practices characterized by strategic intervention and scaffolding techniques. According to the teachers, mentor work had shifted from an initial teacher-student relationship to a well-coordinated co-teaching scenario. A significant pedagogical result was a general appreciation of the need to make a clear distinction between helping (doing the work for the students) and supporting (enabling students to do the work themselves) students in their language learning and the significant benefits of achieving the latter. While there may be potential disadvantages connected to the inclusion of language mentors into SFI education such as a dependency on the intervention of mentor support and an incongruity of methods used by teachers and mentors, the evidence is overwhelming that the advantages of language mentorship at this level of language learning far outweighs possible disadvantages.
References Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: The University of Texas Press. Bakhtin M. M. (1986). Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94, 1, 103-115. Cummins, J. (2017). Flerspråkiga elever: Effektiv undervisning i en utmanande tid. [Mulilingual pupils: Effective teaching in a challenging era]. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur. Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Touchstone. García, O., & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Jalali-Moghadam, N. & Hedman, C. (2016). Special Education Teachers’ Narratives on Literacy Support for Bilingual Students with Dyslexia in Swedish Compulsory Schools. Nordic Journal of Literacy Research, 2, 1-18. Hyltenstam, K. & Milani, T. (2012). Flerspråkighetens sociopolitiska och sociokutruella ramar [The Sociopolitical and the Sociocultural Frames of Multilingualism]. In K. Hyltenstam, M. Axelsson & I. Lindberg (Eds.), Flerspråkighet: en forskningsöversikt [Multilingualism: A research overview] (pp. 17-152). Vetenskapsrådets rapportserie 5. Stockholm: The Swedish Research Council. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Skolverket (2016). Utbildning för nyanlända elever [Education for newly-arrived pupils], Stockholm: Skolverket [The Swedish National Agency for Education]. Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and Language (A. Kozulin, Ed. & Trans.). Cambridge. MA: MIT Press. (Original work published 1934).
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