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Teachers’ Perspectives, Practices and Challenges in Multilingual Education

Edited By Nagore Ipiña Larrañaga, Ainara Imaz Agirre, Begoña Pedrosa and Eneritz Garro

The aim of this book is to address teachers’ perspectives, practices and challenges in multilingual education. The book that brings together perspectives and practices in multilingual contexts could be of great interest for researchers, practitioners and stakeholders because it also provides ideas for pedagogical practice and new language policies. It covers key concepts such as emotional aspects of multilingualism, innovation in language teaching and teacher training and challenges in (foreign) language teaching.

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Chapter 9. Constructing Research Pathways from Multilingual Challenges to Pluriliteracies Practices (Do Coyle)

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Do Coyle

Chapter 9 Constructing Research Pathways

from Multilingual Challenges to Pluriliteracies


Abstract: Global, social, and cultural movements intertwined with educational challenges have fostered a new research agenda in terms of language and subject literacy development. Considering the trajectory of CLIL research, the author claims for a more holistic and connected research paradigm. Thus, this chapter presents a conceptual framework for a multiperspectival, participatory, and ‘close-to-practice’ research. It is also highlighted the importance of Research Partnerships if the potential of language and subject literacy is to be promoted.

Keywords: pluriliteracies, multilingualism. research agenda

This chapter of the volume seeks to frame a research agenda in terms of recent shifts in thinking driven by global, social and cultural movements referred to by Vertovec (2007) as ‘super-diversity’. Whilst the complex roles of language and languages in multilingual contexts have driven education debates, theoretical frameworks and practice-oriented models over centuries (Llinares, Morton & Whittaker, 2012), the dynamic, hybrid and transnational linguistic repertoires’ (May, 2014:1) of the here-and-now are demanding alternative ways of understanding the principles, perceptions and practices of multilingual education. Moreover, the realities of increasingly diverse classrooms in increasingly diverse contexts have required stakeholders to listen to teachers, learners, families and communities in order to rethink how challenges can become opportunities for enriching social and linguistic capital. The rhetoric is grand, the canvass is complex and the research is hybrid.

More recent discourses in language education have increasingly embraced issues of inclusion and social justice in line with principles outlined in the UNESCO report (2013:4).

The ever-fast evolving cultural landscape is characterised by an intensified diversity of peoples, communities and individuals, who live more and more closely. The increasing diversity of cultures, which is fluid, dynamic and transformative, implies specific competences and capacities for individuals and societies to learn, re-learn, and unlearn so as to meet personal fulfilment and social harmony.

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Yet, transforming such underpinning values into regular classroom practices demands changes in the way that bilingual education is designed and understood, context-embedded and sustained at many different levels. A more holistic view not only of language education per se but also the roles of language in school learning in general are urgently required (Schleppergrell, 2004: 1).

It is through language that school subjects are taught and through language that students´ understanding of concepts is displayed and evaluated in school contexts. In addition, knowledge about language itself is part of the content of schooling, as children are asked to adopt the word-, sentence-, and rhetorical-level conventions of writing, to define words, and in other ways to focus on language as language. In other words, the content, as well as the medium, of schooling is, to a large extent, language. (2004:1–2)

Increasing amounts of research have focused on the nature of ‘integration’ leading to different interpretations of integrated learning in bilingual education especially content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Pendulum swings and pedagogic trends tend to identify and focus on specific elements of what integrated learning entails – typically knowledge-based versus skills-based learning; disciplinary focus versus interdisciplinary learning; language learning versus language using; focus on form versus focus on meaning; target language versus translanguaging; generalisable study skills versus language strategies and so on. Yet these debates are problematic since, whilst there is agreement about the importance of language for learning, there is less consensus concerning the underpinning theoretical constructs, which focus on conceptual development and its profound interrelationship with meaning making and knowledge building. Leung (2005: 240) notes that curriculum and content learning and language learning are still seen as ‘two separate pedagogic issues’. And Mohan, Leung and Slater (2010: 220) call for a ‘language-based theory of knowing and learning that addresses characteristics of literate language use in all modalities’. Moving thinking forwards, Nikula, Dafouz, Moore and Smit (2016) in their volume dedicated to integration in CLIL and multilingual education, identified three fundamental perspectives requiring urgent attention: curriculum and pedagogy planning, participant perspectives and classroom practices. Focussing on the latter, Scarino and Liddicoat, (2016: 33) emphasise the need for a strong steer towards interdisciplinary approaches required to understand the dynamic complexities of pedagogies and classroom practices. Increasingly diverse and multilingual in nature, neither the theorising of learning nor language is sufficient to realise the potential and address the challenges of the role of languages in bilingual learning. They draw attention to

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the capacity to ‘move between’ linguistic, cultural and knowledge systems; participating in and understanding communication as an act that involves reciprocal exchange of meanings; and using processes of reflectivity and reflexivity to develop consciousness and self-awareness about what is entailed in interpreting, creating, and exchanging meaning in diversity.

The current trend emphasising opportunities created through interdisciplinarity suggests greater attention needs to be paid to the development of subject-specific discourse and literacies especially in writing and to greater understanding of teaching through another language (Vollmer, 2008; Dalton-Puffer, 2013; Bruton, 2013). As Morton (2018: 57) suggests literacy-based approaches embrace deeper integration through focussing more on meaning-making in different subjects rather than balancing content and language. This current phase takes account of the above by working towards theory-related practices of language, resonating with interest in literacies across languages (i.e. Plurilteracies) and thereby positions CLIL in a much broader educational arena. It signifies a shift from CLIL being very much a language-related phenomenon to one which connects to pedagogic movements where language and literacies, especially subject literacies, are seen as core to all learning in any language at any level. The implications of this re-positioning are far reaching.

In what Kumaravadivelu (2012) describes as the postnational, postmodern, postcolonial, posttransmission and postmethod era, there is little wonder when language education research adopts the broader perspective of education and subject disciplinary learning that different epistemologies or lineages – coined by Dale, Oostdam and Verspoor (2017) – are brought into the frame. As referred to previously, as current societal and economic global moves shift educational agendas so too the power of connecting first language and other language perspectives with pedagogic understanding indicates that the boundaries described by Becher and Trowler’s (2001) academic tribes and their territories are beginning to merge through transdisciplinary exigencies. Whilst this chapter focusses on schooling, the rapid increase of English-medium programmes in higher education is drawing increasing attention and thus far I contend that, despite growing evidence from research (Block and Moncada-Comas, 2019; Dafouz, 2014), in practice, these currently remain below the surface.

Over ten years ago, a paper in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (Coyle, 2007: 543–558) entitled Content and Language Integrated Learning: Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies, sought to provide a forum for openly discussion and trigger debate and critique. The tenet of this piece stated that future research agendas for CLIL should ‘embrace a holistic approach’, in order to continue ‘mapping ←199 | 200→the terrain’ and to respond to rapid societal change and thereby ‘connect’ and ‘be connected’ within a range of research communities. Seven key points were raised in terms of creating a pathway for future research. These are presented visually in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Mapping the future research agenda (Coyle 2007).

Reviewing a projected CLIL research agenda more than a decade later provides a temporal perspective on paradigmatic trends and pedagogic positioning. It is of course useful to note the extent to which the same issues continue to be priorities. Figure 1 encapsulates research demands which straddle the development of CLIL driven by research, policy and professional learning and practices throughout the last decade. In tracing these trajectories three phases discussed in detail in Coyle (2018) can be described as follows: first, the content and language stage; second, the integration of content and language and third, the focus on inclusive learning and the quality of learning experiences.

In the earlier phases of CLIL research, debates centred around the importance and balance of a focus on content and/or a focus on language emphasising the need for new and shared pedagogic practices in CLIL classrooms – not only of strategies and techniques drawing on both subject and language areas of expertise, but more fundamentally on the need to create new ways of conceptualising learning. The focus was on language extended to subject disciplines and on the linguistic demands of learning subject knowledge at an appropriate cognitive level. The next phase emphasised different interpretations of integration across ←200 | 201→very diverse settings. Now often referred to as an ‘umbrella term’, different models of CLIL emerged in what Pérez-Cañado (2015) describes as a ‘heterogeneous panorama’ – some more subject-oriented and others more language-oriented depending on the school context. Such complexity led to constant debate about the distinctive nature of CLIL, its definitions or interpretations and different enactments across national and regional boundaries (Cenoz, Genesee and Gorter, 2014). Whilst CLIL is context-embedded and cannot or should not be distilled into a single prescribed approach, the need to accrue, critique and refine theory-driven pedagogic principles applied and adapted across linguistic and cultural boundaries is critical for assuring quality learning outcomes (Coyle, Hood and Marsh, 2010).

So where are we now and where are we going?

The current phase embraces broader curriculum agendas, taking a more holistic view of learning in terms of global issues, diversity and multilingual, multicultural classrooms. Viewing classroom learning through an ecological lens has led to a much wider and deeper analysis of the conditions for learning which are conducive to successful or deeper bilingual learning. Increasingly, pedagogic framing built on social justice and inclusive practices is gaining momentum as a realisation of our rapidly changing demographic. This has shifted significantly the emphasis from language learning and content learning to bilingual education in the broadest sense at the macro level, and provided a focus on learning design and inclusive pedagogies at the micro level of classroom being, knowing, doing and working together (UNESCO, 1996). Here I use bilingual education to describe dynamic ways of being and behaving in classrooms underpinned by values outlined previously, and not as a label or description of schooling in more than one language. Embracing education in this sense requires critical reflection on emergent epistemological and ontological principles of what CLIL is and could be. Such positioning embraces both the macro and micro and as such impacts significantly on constructing a research agenda. Hence, the mapping of future research for CLIL focussing on classroom pedagogies begins to take shape – as an example see Figure 2.

Figure 2: Mapping a CLIL pedagogic research agenda.

However, each one of the suggested areas for research in CLIL contexts uncovers a plethora of variables, factors and issues which not only impact on learning but are themselves the subject of extensive research involving different fields of enquiry. There is logic in using an ecological lens through which to see classroom learning and teaching in bilingual contexts from a more holistic, interconnected perspective. Yet what is prioritised or even brought into the frame is open to wide debate and sometime contentious argument – readers may well identify omissions in Figure 2. Yet herein lies the nub of the issue. Pedagogies ←201 | 202→do not exist in a vacuum and the implications of transformational change in CLIL classrooms impact on bilingual education as a broad inclusive phenomenon alongside political and educational agendas (macro level) and the contexts in which learning happens, and the learners and teachers who together make it happen (micro level). It is not surprising, therefore, that most recent studies conclude with an urgent need for further research especially in terms of a paucity of hard-to-reach classroom data, longitudinal studies and scientific data. However, if the argument that CLIL is context-embedded holds, challenging questions are raised about who constructs research agendas, how and why – in other words who ‘owns’ the research?

Dalton-Puffer, in her postscriptum of the 2018 special issue of the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, refers to the ‘itinerary of ideas and the generation and appropriation of knowledge within the professional community’ (2018: 386) noting that transforming classroom practices is a complex process that not only demands time but an emergent shared understanding between researchers and teachers and between teachers and learners. The ←202 | 203→complexity of CLIL classrooms is a given. Yet the need for research to become normalised and thrive by those who teach and learn in classrooms is emphasised by Dudley (2018: 22) stating that ‘only through processes of problematisation – making the familiar strange and the over-familiar visible – can the enduring grip of present practice-knowledge be loosened enough to make change possible’.

These messages emphasise the continuous need for CLIL research to be rigorous in terms of its multiperspectival, participatory nature, especially with regard to collecting classroom data and involving teachers and learners as researchers. This stance promotes ‘close-to-practice’ research which connects and contextualises theory and policy defined by practitioners as ‘relevant to their practice, and often involves collaborative work between practitioners and researchers’ (Wyse, Browne, Oliver and Poblete, 2018: 14). Such collaboration can be instrumental in leading to a wider range of research, where an identified urgent need for more intervention studies is recognised in order to ‘drive forward the translation (or not) of theory/data-driven research results into pedagogical practice’ (Dalton-Puffer 2017: 385).

Whilst much has been written about research collaboration drawing on the relative strengths of academic research and practice-oriented enquiry, I would like to return to what for me has been the driver for classroom pedagogic research over several decades. It focusses on Van Lier’s (1996: 24) proposed ‘practical philosophy of education’ in a sense where theory, research and practice are ‘dynamic ingredients of the theory of practice’ so that the implicit theories we all have are made explicit. According to van Lier, constructing a Theory of Practice (I use capitals to highlight the interpretation and significance of these in the CLIL contexts) – envisions teacher development as pedagogic development:

a process of practicing, theorizing and researching. Our growing understanding of this process determines the relevance of information from different sources and disciplines [as] a mode of professional conduct which in some respects differs from traditional ways of doing theory, research or practice. In other respects, however, it is no different than any other thoughtful approach to work.

However, I suggest that when Theories of Practice and the research, reflection and exploratory practices inherent in their iteration and reiteration – referred to by Rodgers (2006) as small ‘t’ theories – are co-constructed alongside large ‘T’ theories – developed by ‘those who spend their time creating such theories,’ a potentially transformational dialectical relationship emerges which looks for meaning between them. This has powerful connectivity and echoes Lantolf and Poehners’ (2014, 27) view that practice is not predicated on the application of theory but rather is ‘drawn into the scientific enterprise in a profound way’. In ←203 | 204→other words, a case is made to develop trusting relationships where school-based researchers (teachers and learners) and academic researchers work together through ongoing dialogue, (dis)agreement and debate whilst building Research Partnerships. Kinpaisby-Hill (2010) describes these processes as: ‘messy’ – since society is complex and contradictory; collective – since theorizing is ‘done together’; and iterative – since development is not linear. I believe that defining pathways for growing shared understanding between scientific researchers and practitioner researchers is essential for the sustainability of quality-integrated learning. Using Theories of Practice as the trigger for discussion, as the bridge, as the connection for growing a genuinely co-constructed and shared understanding, facilitates ways in which theoretical constructs can be ‘translated’ into agreed principles, then can be ‘transformed’ into classroom practices – and crucially vice versa. This builds on Dalton-Puffer’s (2017) suggestion that we need to generate carefully constructed intervention studies, longitudinal and practice-oriented research.

One such example is the exploratory research carried out by the Graz Group1 using a holistic ‘growth model’ for integrated learning and exploring its potential to transform CLIL into plurilingual education for deeper learning. Pluriliteracies Teaching for Deeper Learning (PTL) (Meyer, Halbach & Coyle, 2015; Meyer & Coyle, 2017, brings together classroom practices that promote literacies for deeper (subject) learning and personal growth across languages, disciplines and cultures. It seeks to make transparent the interconnected and interdependent dimensions of learning which need to be activated and made explicit by learners and teachers together. This is an ambitious task. Our intention, therefore, was to explore how a convergence between building, expanding and ‘testing’ boundaries might lead to shared ownership of existing understanding alongside ‘new and different directions’ for integrated classroom teaching and learning. Mediated through the construction of a Theory of Practice and embedded in an epistemological position focussing on involvement with the wider community, a means of ‘validating’ the theory had to emerge. This required a paradigm shift which embraced a transformation of knowledge structures, conventions and rituals in order to integrate ‘information that comes from different sources, critical frameworks and academic disciplines’ so that new knowledge is constructed ‘in dialogue amongst disciplines, through practices of social negotiation and in creative collaboration with peers and experts’ (Balsamo, 2010: 430).

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The outcomes of this Research Partnership are documented (Coyle, Meyer and Schuck, 2017) in ‘Knowledge ecology for conceptual growth: teachers as active agents in developing a PluriLiteracies approach to Teaching for Learning (PTL)’.

Figure 3: Processes involved in Research Partnerships.

The most challenging yet fundamental stage involved ‘growing by diffusing’ in the growth cycle (Figure 3) where, the voice of practitioners who wanted to dispel ‘meaningless rhetoric around what they should be doing in the classroom’ (teacher feedback TF3:2)2 led to translating and interpreting theoretical and academic discourse into a Theory of Practice based on ‘shared professional and pedagogic understanding of real learners in real classrooms’ (teacher feedback TF2.5)3. A wide range of significant research studies informed the early stages of the process e.g. the New London Group, 1996; Coffin, 2006; Coffin & Donohue, 2014; García, Bartlett & Kleifgen, 2007; Hornberger, 2003; Lantolf & Poehner, 2014; Mohan, Leung & Slater, 2010; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008 and 2012; Llinares, Morton & Whittaker, 2012; Jackson, 2011; Swain, 2006; Veel, 1997 and Gillis, 2014. Mindful of learning ecologies, these Theories (as defined by Rogers, 2006) informed the identification of four broad yet interconnected dimensions (Figure 4) for designing classroom learning in multilingual contexts: building knowledge and refining skills; demonstrating understanding; mentoring learning and personal growth; and generating and sustaining commitment and achievement.

Figure 4. Dimensions of the Pluriliteracies Framework for Teaching for Deeper learning.

Each dimension required detailed deconstruction by the Research Partnership. Key constructs based on research studies, readings, discussions and practices ←205 | 206→were discussed and debated. These included exploring and agreeing definitions of concepts such as deeper learning, subject literacies, languaging learning, cognitive discourse functions, ecologies, knowledge pathways, mentoring learning and growth mindsets. The shift moved us out of a ‘comfort zone’ of language education into less familiar fields – literacies, subject discipline thinking and behaving, using more than one language for learning and enabling very diverse learners linguistically and cognitively to achieve. Many of the key constructs were informed by the broader more inclusive notions of learning (across languages as well as in a first language) for promoting designing and teaching for deeper learning. New ideas and definitions needed not only to be unravelled but also needed reconstruction and adaptation into a coherent interconnected whole which we termed ‘pluriliteracies’. Moreover, the ‘Theories’ now needed to be informed by ‘theories’ (Rogers, 2006) involving practitioner enquiry and close-to-practice research fundamental to Theories of Practice.

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Building on a wealth of accumulative professional and academic understanding, the focus is increasingly on the quality of learning experiences for all learners i.e. deeper learning. Current pluriliteracies work includes a wide international community of teachers and learners as researchers ranging from those undertaking doctoral studies collecting classroom data to those engaged in enquiry carried out by learner-teacher Research Partnerships in schools – all experimenting, exploring, critiquing and evidencing what works and why. Throughout, there is emphasis on longitudinal data collection and innovative use of ‘intervention’ techniques and robust research design at all levels. This takes time and patience.

It was not my intention in this chapter to detail the PTDL Framework but rather to use its co-construction and ongoing development to underline the importance of Research Partnerships which I believe are required to change the direction of ‘the itinerary of ideas and the generation and appropriation of knowledge within the professional community’ described by Dalton-Puffer (2017: 386). Changing the ‘classic trajectory’ endemic in the research-practice divide is a challenge and one which I suggest should be prioritised in ongoing and future research. In 2007, a strong case was made for CLIL as a field of study in its own right, building up a research base ‘beyond the current boundaries so that new research questions evolve and existing ones are addressed’ (Coyle, 2007: 558). I contend that over ten years later, CLIL research has certainly shifted the boundaries and is positioning integrated learning within a much broader learning agenda. The question remains as to whether or not this broader agenda as yet prioritises or recognises fundamental issues to expand critical pedagogies – such as the importance of the role of language and languages in learning in ways which impact on: the quality of what happens in classrooms across languages (including first language and multilingual classrooms with tasks designed according to accessible and values-driven principles for deeper learning); across cultures (within and outwith the classroom, within and across subject disciplines); across curricula (focussing on specific subject literacies and behaviours); and across contexts (along the content-language-oriented continuum in diverse settings). The charting of how such multilingual challenges can lead to pluriliteracies practices is indeed all-encompassing and requires not only more robust research-focused planning and extensive critical literature reviews to bring together increasing numbers of studies, but also alternative research thinking, methodologies and purposes to embrace multilingual learning ecologies. CLIL research has a dynamic yet significant role to play – but we need the combined voices of our learner, practitioner, professional and academic research communities together to be heard.

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1 The Graz Group

2 Teacher Data is drawn from workshops in Austria, 2014 and in Italy, 2016.

3 Teacher Data is drawn from workshops in Austria, 2014 and in Italy, 2016.