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UiL-OTS Colloquium


18 June 2015
15:30 - 17:00
Drift 21, Sweelinckzaal

Piet Van Avermaet

Functional multilingual learning: The cognitive and non-cognitive impact of exploiting children’s multilingual repertoires in mainstream classrooms

Ghent University, Linguistics Department, Centre for Diversity & Learning

Although migration is not a new phenomenon, it cannot be ignored that European societies have become more diverse still over the last twenty years. This ‘superdiversity’ has led to a renewed debate about multilingualism, with a strong emphasis on the role of education. Multilingualism is celebrated as an asset for European students – and the EU and its nation states encourage policies for multilingual education. On the other hand, multilingualism is perceived as an obstacle in processes of integration of immigrants. Dominated by monolingual ideologies, most European nation states have, since the turn of the era, reinforced monolingual education policies that form the basis for practice and are echoed in local school policy. It has become a deeply rooted belief that submersion in the dominant language in schools – and thus denying children’s mother tongues – is  the fastest route to pupils’ well-being, school success and socio-economic integration. Yet the evidence for this monolingual approach in European education contexts can hardly be called strong. In order to enrich the ongoing debate we need to build up empirical evidence, with an emphasis on data gathered through intervention studies into innovative approaches.

A longitudinal multi-method study (2008-2013) was conducted on the use of children’s multilingual repertoires as a tool for learning in mainstream classrooms in the lower grades (children aged 5-8) of four elementary schools in Ghent (Belgium). In all four schools teachers were trained in exploiting the multilingual resources of children in their daily classroom practice. In this paper we will report on the cognitive and non-cognitive effects of these interventions of ‘functional multilingual learning’ on children. Data were gathered through a pre-test/post-test quasi-experiment-control group design, including both quantitative (tests, questionnaires) and qualitative methods (observations, semi-structured interviews).