The Multilingual Literacy Approach (MLL). Investigating the potential of an integrated approach to languages and literacy education driven by an iterative and adaptive process of teacher, curriculum and organisational change

Author: Peter Nielsen

Nielsen, Peter, 2021 The Multilingual Literacy Approach (MLL). Investigating the potential of an integrated approach to languages and literacy education driven by an iterative and adaptive process of teacher, curriculum and organisational change, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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There are many myths, false dichotomies and straw-man arguments in education. This study encountered and responded to several as it navigated a path from a problem of professional practice, both personal and general, to a novel response and successful replication and extension by a network of teacher-researchers. It shows how a distributed group of teachers became personal problem-solvers, formed into a network of research partners who contributed valuable, professional insights to the philosophic-analytic-scientific traditions of research, by demonstrating a communication-based research method.

The problem was a unifying force, asking how languages education could evolve so that learners in any context would be curious, motivated, engaged and positioned by instruction to cumulatively acquire and develop languages and the literate skills to use them. The aspiration was to do more, to do better. It aimed to dispense with the ‘Twin Solitudes’ paradigm that has separated languages educators and education from mainstream classrooms and the Science of Learning, Reading and Writing.

The first move was divergent, finding task-based messages from established scholarship that could be translated and implemented. The next move was convergent, coalescing these into a message complex about the performance of core tasks that would constitute the Multilingual Literacy Approach (MLL).

This Approach had three elements that needed to remain aligned for effective teaching and learning: axioms, methods and techniques. This was not about prescription but rather developing teachers’ professional judgments through curriculum-design principles that would guide and align their use of developmental boundaries, instructional imperatives, schedules and routines.

These principles provided an operative bridge from theory to practice and back in a recursive fashion. They follow from evidence that most human brains respond to linguistic input and the impulse for linguistic output by activating similar neuronal architecture and linguistic resources, irrespective of orthography or culture. This underlies the MLL’s cognitive and linguistic dimensions. The other important dimension was sociocultural. Together they form an imbricated schema for languages education that scholarship predicted could lead to the desired literacy outcomes. The key implication was integrative: encouraging the joint teaching of second languages and English literacy.

Certain considerations, dispositions and research formalities were necessary for an investigation into the MLL to emerge and develop as both a naturalistic inquiry and one that would produce replicable, trustworthy findings. The communication-based research vehicle was a two-year iterative and adaptive professional learning program (PLP).

Twenty-five classroom and languages teachers from ten government primary schools took part. They were encouraged to break with usual practice through co-planning and co-teaching, promoting literacy and languages by leveraging linguistic universals, guided by the MLL’s theories, principles, methods and task analytic use of the Science of Learning, Reading and Writing. They were encouraged to become teacher-researchers, investigating their own practice rather than being mere participants in a research exercise.

Summary messages from the data sources converged. The conditions established by the MLL PLP produced changes in teachers’ knowledge, practices, beliefs and the organisation of their sites that generated extremely encouraging outcomes in student learning, and a confirmation of the teacher-researcher role.

Keywords: mulitlingual, bilingual education, plurilingual, literacy, TESOL, professional learning, participatory action research, primary language education, languages learning, transfer, science of reading, science of learning, implementation science, coaching, organisational change

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Bernard Mageean