Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Multilingualism as Policy and Practices in Elementary School: Powerful Tools for Inclusion of Newly Arrived Pupils

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Multilingualism as Policy and Practices in Elementary School: Powerful Tools for Inclusion of Newly Arrived Pupils

Article excerpt


In this article, relations between language policy and language practices in elementary school will be analysed, building on empirical material created through an action research project and documentation of local school development. The action research project was carried out in 2013-2016, when local school development had already commenced. The article takes a critical perspective, highlighting questions concerning multilingual work in a local school context with the aim of analysing multilingual work in school as policy and practice. In the article, we argue that when educational practices create space for students' diverse linguistic resources, there is an effect on who gets to be heard and on how power and roles among teachers and students are distributed in ways that increase students' engagement and their ability to secure an identity position.

The action project was developed through collaboration between the researcher, school administrators and teachers in one Swedish elementary school that will here be called Forest School. In 2012, changes in Swedish law on family immigration resulted in a high number of newly arrived students. Administrators at the municipal level were anxious to create good conditions for the integration and inclusion of these students that would facilitate positive development for all students in the municipality. The action project and the local school development that aimed to develop education at Forest School were part of their plans. Here, material from a language workshop for newly arrived students in grades 3 to 6 that was held at Forest School, along with material from grades 4 and 5, will be used, with a focus on language norms for multilingual educational practices. The material from the workshop was created by the teacher, while the researcher created material from grades 4 and 5.

Research on education in contexts where students have varied linguistic backgrounds has over recent decades stressed the importance of developing educational forms that include and stimulate students' whole linguistic repertoire (see, for example, Thomas & Collier, 1997, 2002; Cummins, 2000, 2001; García, 2009; Giampapa, 2010; Cummins & Early, 2011). When both the experiences of students in the dominant language (in this case Swedish) and their linguistic resources have a place in school, then their involvement and chances of academic success are enhanced. In Sweden, research on and experiences with multilingual educational programmes have been somewhat limited (see, for example, Svensson 2015; Torpsten & Svensson, 2017; Wedin 2017a, Wessman, 2016; 2017). Furthermore, at an international level, research is limited, but important contributions to the field have been presented by, among others, García (2009), Cummins et al. (2015), Hélot & Young (2005), Vesteraas Danbolt & Iversen Kulbrandstad (2013), Hopewell (2017), Mary & Young (2017) and Slotte & Ahlbom (2017).

Elementary school in Sweden today offers different opportunities for the use of different languages in education, and multilingual students have the right to mother tongue education (under certain conditions) as well as to study guidance in their mother tongue through assistants when necessary (SFS 1994:1194). At the same time, research and reports show that school administrators and teachers have difficulty creating educational forms that are inclusive of students' varied linguistic repertoires (see, for example, Bunar (2010), Axelsson & Magnusson (2012), and Skolinspektionen (2014). Also difficulties concerning the adaptation of subject-specific education as a means to support multilingual students in their learning have been reported (Axelsson & Jacobsson, 2010), as have practical and organisational problems related to study guidance and mother tongue education (Reath Warren, 2016; Rosén, Straszer & Wedin, 2017).

Creating language policies at the local level where language use and language choice in educational practices are made visible is one way to make those involved aware of policies that otherwise tend to be implicit. …

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