Valuing multilingual students’ skills

Long read feature in Teacher Magazine by Rebecca Vukovic

Having a deep understanding of multilingual students’ interests, skills, and experiences can be a challenge for any teacher in a busy classroom, but new research is proving how important it is to do so.

Dr Jacqueline D’warte from the School of Education at Western Sydney University has undertaken research into multilingualism in schools by actively involving teachers and students as co-researchers. The research focuses on how language and literacy practices improve student confidence and enhance learning outcomes.

Funded by the New South Wales Department of Education, this study was borne out of D’warte’s desire to understand what each student brings to the classroom, and to draw out how teachers can build on that knowledge.

‘Some of the teachers in those classrooms are thinking, “Well I have all these students who come from lots of different places and often speak different languages, how do I build on that knowledge that they’re bringing to school?”’ D’warte says.

The project is now in its fourth iteration. To date, there have been 13 schools, 28 teachers and approximately 800 students in Years 1-6 (aged 6-14) involved across the four projects.

A significant proportion of students were identified as learning English as an Additional Language/Dialect, and between 76 and 99 per cent of students were from Language Backgrounds Other Than English. Nine to 17 languages were spoken by students in each classroom. D’warte says she worked in each school for around two or three terms.