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A socio-cultural analysis of language learning and identity transformation during a teaching experiment with primary school students. PhD Thesis (PhD).

Cumming-Potvin, W.ORCID: 0000-0002-4961-9379 (2001) A socio-cultural analysis of language learning and identity transformation during a teaching experiment with primary school students. PhD Thesis (PhD). University of Queensland .

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The study examined the literacy learning of three case study Year 4 students as they participated in a “teaching experiment” designed to introduce a Language Other Than English (LOTE) and to extend cultural awareness and engagement in diverse cultural activities. Students’ participation was analysed from a socio-cultural perspective (Bakhtin 1981, 1984, 1986; Rogoff 1990; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), which was situated within a critical organisational framework (Allaire & Firsimoto, 1988; Cummins, 1996). Alternating between adopting the role of interventionist and observer, the researcher implemented a Language and Culture Awareness Programme that aimed to sensitise students to diversity in language and culture, and to relate LOTE learning to other content areas of the primary school curriculum. Whilst the programme focused on teaching French as a LOTE language through bilingual shared story experiences, activities involving languages such as English, Danish and Dutch were also planned, to take advantage of the students’ own heritage and resources. As a classroom observer, the researcher gathered data from multiple sources, such as direct observations, semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and videotapes. To consider the complex interplay of factors, analysis of key policy documents was also conducted to provide an insight into the guiding cultural framework for LOTE in Australian schools.

The construction of three case studies documented over a six month period Sarah’s, Jerry’s and Tom’s language use with a variety of partners in a range of formal and informal settings. As case study students participated in literacy activities scaffolded by the “teaching experiment”, interpersonal spaces which were described as traditional or non-traditional, were constructed. Analysis of these spaces revealed a set of contending and related values and practices of the wider school community. Specifically, it was found that in non-traditional spaces involving particular learning conditions, such as the presence of two languages, peers of diverse ages and elements of informality, students began to self-regulate their learning, establish common group goals and assist others. It can be argued that the social interaction observed in these literacy activities created socially-just learning spaces, that promoted the goals of citizenship for a democratic and multicultural society. These transformations are linked to a phenomenon which in this dissertation has been termed multi-tiered scaffolding. This concept extends the accepted notion of scaffolding (Bruner, 1983; Rogoff, 1986) to include the process of sequential, triangular interaction involving numerous partners and the interplay between a multiplicity of past and present “voices”.

Through the “teaching experiment”, as case study students appropriated LOTE linguistic knowledge or made use of LOTE pedagogical material under particular learning conditions, they demonstrated their emerging membership of diverse cultural and linguistic groups. This integration resulted in varying degrees of identity transformation for the case study students. On a broader level, these results demonstrate the multi-dimensional links between linguistic achievement in second language learning and students’ development in a community organisation of culture. These findings support the necessity of actively encouraging socio-cultural and linguistic diversity through policies that integrate LOTE programmes into the mainstream curriculum. This integration should consider the multiple levels of schools’ culture, such as: ecology, structural organisation, perceptions held by actors and values promoted through official policies.

The successful implementation of such LOTE programmes may serve to interrupt the traditional power structures that are frequently promoted in formal educational practice. These structures often relate to dominant and submissive behavioural patterns and promote a restrictive concept of national identity. An effective approach to policy implementation that fosters diversity of language and culture, should focus on engaging key players, such as policy advisers, principals and classroom teachers, as well as the traditionally forgotten actors (parents and students), situated at the lower echelons of educational hierarchy. In this sense, the implementation of LOTE programmes based on a shared power structure can expand the use of multi-tiered scaffolding through dynamic forms of parental and peer participation, particularly in the area of informal LOTE learning. Finally, the study confirms and adds nuances to the complex interplay observed between first and second language thought processes as described by Ventriglia (1982) and Vygotsky (1986). Future qualitative research is recommended to further examine students’ metalinguistic awareness and learning management through the use of observation spanning first and second language learning in formal and informal contexts over an extended period of time.

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