How to build your own world

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Page 1 ... These children are involved in a project to build their own country. ... How to build your own country was one of dozens of class projects that were ...

GURT 2015: Multilingual learners in multilingual contexts Conveners: Katja Mäntylä & Anne Pitkänen-Huhta

How to build your own world: Language, identity and learning in a superdiverse elementary classroom Heather Lotherington York University Toronto [email protected]


Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The macro-context of the study I will report on is Toronto, Canada, but the essence of the work we have done at one school in northwest Toronto is relevant to cosmopolitan urban centres in other countries where teachers are struggling to accommodate linguistically diverse populations in their classes.

Joyce Public School, northwest Toronto

Joyce Public School is in northwest Toronto. The children attending JPS are drawn largely from a community pressed into a large apartment complex on the nearby main drag, which is a conduit to popular discount outlets. Most of the children living on Joyce Parkway attend the Catholic school around the corner, being of Portuguese and Italian descent.

Children entering JPS literally represent the world. Though some children were born in another country, most are generation 1.5 immigrants (cf: Ima & Rumbaut, 1988): children born in Canada to parents who are recent first generation immigrants, and, as such, have limited cultural or linguistic capital in Canada. These children are not eligible for English as a second language pull-out classes because they were born in Canada. Generation 1.5 kids’ credible oral skills mask wobbly grounding in academic English which puts them at risk of successful academic achievement (Harklau, 2003; Roessingh & Douglas, 2011; Schecter, 2012).

The children participating in this novel cross-curricular project are the face of Toronto. Despite mostly being what is all too easily labelled visible minorities (what about audible minorities?), these children form the majority of children entering schools in the Toronto District School Board: those who speak a language other than English at home (TDSB, 2013).

These children are involved in a project to build their own country. Their project, which was launched from a book of the same name, was elemental in a long-term collaborative action research project involving researchers at York University and teachers at Joyce Public School with the participation of grad students, student teachers, administrators, consultants, and educational assistants.

Researching new literacies in the multicultural classroom: Developing a ludic approach to linguistic challenges in elementary education

Heather Lotherington, Professor, YU: Aim: to merge theory Aim: to build a and practice in learning community at designing plurilingual Joyce Public School multimodal literacies Cheryl Paige, Principal, JPS:

Jennifer Jenson, Professor, YU:

Aim: to develop ludic, digitally playful learning


How to build your own country was one of dozens of class projects that were undertaken as part of a collaborative action research project that spanned a decade from 2002 to 2012, and changed the culture of Joyce Public School. We built a learning community to develop pedagogies responsive to social literacy needs and practices while fulfilling curricular requirements. My particular interest was in developing plurilingual designs for learning.

Grateful acknowledgement to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding this project to Heather Lotherington and Jennifer Jenson of York University.

Spaces for languages in the Ontario curriculum Language is a right if you have the right background Language is a problem if you don’t. Most don’t.

A yawning gap faces newcomers to Toronto whose children speak the languages of the world at home but are expected to drop them on entering school and conveniently pick up English and French. Rationalist orientations towards mowing down diversity, and substituting English (and French) ignore our multiculturalism charter, and constitute ostrich solutions to our otherwise much touted cultural diversity. Welcoming cultural diversity means making spaces for languages in the classroom. Children have global roots; why strip them of global vistas?

Spaces for languages in the Ontario curriculum have clearly demarcated borders: the official languages, English and French, receive attention, time and money. International languages, formerly called heritage languages, are marginalized, and taught mostly in after school classes that are well established in Ontario’s educational history, but do not get the same resources as official languages. A handful of programs offer international language study during an extended school day, most common being: Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Ukrainian, and Pilipino (TCDSB, 2012; TDSB, 2014). This is a small fraction of the 140 or so languages spoken in Toronto (

Language in our educational system is a right (cf: Ruiz, 1984) only if you are working with the colonial languages: English and French. Aboriginal languages are marginalized and localized; international languages (that are spoken in the community) are taught mostly in extracurricular spaces. Given that all classes in the GTA are linguistically plural, picking one extra language for extended study does not answer to every teacher’s problem: how to teach in the linguistically diverse classroom.

We are working with these children, not some romantic picture of Canadian classrooms way back when most children were at least thought to come from homes where either English or French was spoken (which would have been mistaken in Toronto even then). Children’s complex cultural affiliations are a shared element in classes; this also holds for teachers in Toronto.

I am concerned that children’s fragmented and imperfect knowledge of languages not be stamped out, but supported as a useful and renewable resource, beneficial cognitively, culturally, socially, and potentially, economically. Teachers cannot maintain a plurality of languages in every classroom; we are limited in how many languages can be taught. However, we can welcome multilingual inclusion into customized spaces meaningful in specified combinations to particular families. What we have done is to teach towards the importance of not throwing out useful language knowledge, even if it is partial. This is an important lesson for parents, many of whom think the faster they can ditch their ancestral language the better. Not so.

Plurilingual designs for learning Project-based learning Collaborative opportunities in the learning process Fostering anti-racism by including and learning about linguistic diversity

Over the years we have developed something much larger than spaces for language inclusion in the classroom. Teachers infused the languages of the community into project-based learning creating customized bilingual, and multilingual as well as plurilingual resources. Multimodal narration unlocks spaces for multiple languages—in soundtracks, subtitles, bilingual, multilingual, and plurilingual text… Teachers have learned to work collaboratively, to share resources and to mine them from the community both locally and online. Language inclusion is antiracist: children tend to trade and compare what they do know (Turkish, Lao, Albanian, Somali) rather than bully each other about what they don’t know (English).

School walls are porous; educational policy is not

Infusing plurilingual spaces through political structures? Educating parents to support home languages

But language inclusion can also run the risk of being tokenistic if it does not reach out to further avenues for supporting language education. We need to think deeply about how to share plurilingual designs and the purposes for having them to politicians and functionaries who see complexity as bothersome. And we need to communicate the importance of valuing language maintenance to parents.

Reflection on building your own country 1.

Why did you pick the name of your country?


What was the most challenging thing to do when making your country?


Was it easy to make your flag? Why?


What do the colours and symbols represent on your flag? (or for your country).


Explain your rights for the citizens of your country.


Explain how you have incorporated your culture, beliefs, language into your country.


Was including your language a challenge? Why? Why not?


Explain your national anthem.


Explain how you have incorporated one of the UN Millennium goals.

10. Why did you create your country the way you did? Compare it to the rest of the world. 11. Include a connection to your country, the world, Canada that will show people what you know about the world and Canada.

The worlds they built were questionable: dictatorships, lottery land; romantic kingdoms. But it was a great project for kids really coming to grips with the politics of nationalism.

The class project reflection is a moment for reflection about the worlds we live in. In Canada, we do a poor job of peering beneath the skin of cultural diversity, despite our entrenched multiculturalism policy. In increasingly global times, we are overlooking the resources in our population. Part of my mission is to change that mentality, and to look at languages as renewable resources.

Our collaborative learning community has disintegrated with the retirement of the principal and the end of our university input to the collaboration. This was not a question of money as the teachers had learned to work without researchers and research funds by reorganizing their prep time to make collaborative planning workshops. But the new principal was not keen to relegate control to the teachers, so some teachers have moved to other schools. In post-research interviews, teachers were keen to work towards building project-based, language rich, digitally playful projects in new educational circumstances, and perhaps this is what sustainability is. Or perhaps you will try it?

The world we built

The world we built at Joyce Public School on the other hand, still gives me a great deal of pride and satisfaction.

References Harklau, L. (2003). Generation 1.5 students and college writing. ERIC Digest ED482491. Retrieved from Lotherington, H. (2011). Pedagogy of multiliteracies: Rewriting Goldilocks. New York, N.Y: Routledge. Roessingh, H. & Douglas, S. (2011). English language learners’ transitional needs from high school to university: An exploratory study. International Migration and Integration, 13: 285-301. Rumbaut, R. G., & Ima, K. (1988). The Adaptation of Southeast Asian Refugee Youth: A Comparative Study (1987). Final Report, Washington, D.C., U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Retrieved from: SSRN: Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8 (2), 15-34. Schecter, S. (2012). The predicament of generation 1.5 English language learners: Three disjunctures and a way forward. Canadian Journal of Education, 35(4): 308-340. TCDSB (2012). Student achievement and well-being. Report to the Catholic education and human resources committee. Retrieved from: TDSB (2014). Integrated day program. Retrieved from: BeyondtheClassroom/InternationalLanguageHeritage/IntegratedDayProgram.aspx TDSB (2013). Facts: 2011-2012 Student & Parent Census. Issue 1. Retrieved from: Portals/0/AboutUs/Research/2011-12CensusFactSheet1-Demographics-17June2013.pdf