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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Project 40: Video 4 — Literacy as diversity and equity

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When we talk about language and literacy education

in Australia we are always talking about English language

and English literacy education, and of course PETAA is

a key organisation in this field.

However, it occurs to me theres a very complex backstory

to this situation and I was wondering if you might tell us

a little of that backstory today please, Joe?

Well, the backstory is the most important foundation

that I think teachers need to discuss and come to grips with

and the backstory is about what I would call the communication

ecology of the nation.

What I mean by that term is the complex of languages

that students bring to schools.

And I dont mean even just languages but forms of language,

forms of reasoning in language and the practices of

thinking through language which is increasingly coming

to be calledtranslanguaging’.

And in Australia we have one of the most complex varieties

of this on Earth.

Basically, we have the worlds dominant language,

English as our national language and unlike other

English speaking countries English in Australia is mostly

geographically uniform.

Weve got a pretty standard kind of English across the nation

at the level of the state distribution of the language,

but weve got a highly variegated language when it comes to

social class and also to ethnicity, for example a very large

number of varieties of English spoken by Aboriginal people.

And the mixture of English and Englishes as with other languages.

So, the English backstory is itself very complex,

and then we know that schooling language and schooling English

specifically here, is a particular selection from whats

available in the wider community: its a register of educated,

literate speech which is quite different from spoken language

and the kind of literacy that we see in the wider community.

So, both the literacy and the spoken language forms that

are favoured in schooling are highly selected from

whats available in the community, which is what

students encounter.

But, thats only a small part of the backstory because

then we have the multiple number of other languages,

which are nearly two hundred and fifty non-English,

non-Aboriginal languages from all parts of the world,

and these are as different from each other as it would

be possible for languages to be.

Weve got languages and communities that are highly literate

among themselves, others that are not, some that come from

marked varieties of national languages, etc.

So, theres a very, very wide array of languages.

And then we know that the communities in Australia

who are connected to those languages are at different stages

and in different relationships with those languages.

Some of them are losing them so theyre involved in

what we would callsubtractive bilingualism’,

losing those languages as theyre replaced by English;

whereas others are involved in additive bilingualism,

theyre retaining their first language as they acquire English.

And then we have the complexity of the Aboriginal languages,

of which fifty are still spoken by children and we have

some hundred or so that communities identify with.

So, we have a very highly diverse communication ecology

as the backstory and of course this is the foundation

from which learners learn, I mean we cant anymore sustain

the fiction that learning begins at school and that

the primary vehicle of that is the teaching language.

In fact students in translanguaging bring to the task

of learning all their language resources.

There might be a fading first language or a variety of English

or a strong language other than English.

And in PETAAs own production of works in the past

I think there have been some very important PENs and books

that have been written by scholars and this is a great role

that PETAA plays mediating between the academic world

and the world of teaching practice.

Im thinking of Diana Eadeswork introducing questions

of Aboriginal English to regular teachers in schools,

even ones that dont teach Aboriginal children.

I think its very important for everyone to know this

because language is highly variable and its an important fact

of teaching and learning that we acknowledge that.

So, Diana EadesPEN is a very important one.

And there was also a later one on tracking language,

it was calledAboriginal English in regular classrooms’,

which I think is also a very important document that teachers

should be aware of and PETAA should be commended for producing.

.

PETAA was established when a group of educators

came together in 1972 and I think has provided some

clear direction to the development of English language education

in this country.

Can you comment on this for us please Joe?

Well, I think theres a fascinating and very important

coincidence here because the beginning of the diversity agenda

in Australia coincides with the foundation of PETAA around 1972.

I think the symmetry of these two things is really interesting

and important because in the early 1970s in Australia

we had the beginnings of the idea of community languages,

the idea that languages could be associated with a community

that they dont have to be foreign.

Remember thats how we used to talk about languages

as being foreign, so the terminology that starts to enter

the discourse at the time is of community languages

to replace this idea of foreignness.

So, if a community language is there it means that its

part of the community that a child, an environment that a child

is part of, so it might be in their homes, it might be in

the shopping district that they attend with their parents

on the weekend.

Its part of the wider context of literacy and communication

that the child is part of; its part of the shared knowledge

that they have with their families and that not always

is shared with the teachers.

And this is a really important point of dissymmetry

that might exist.

And I think PETAA was founded at exactly the time

that this kind of realisation gets going, not just in Australia

but also in the United States where we had an interchange

during the 1970s.

But in the early 1970s we also had the beginning of

federal intervention in education, with the creation of

the schoolscommission, the disadvantaged schoolsprogram.

Really important, in fact foundational programs that started

to direct attention to the fact that schools could change

the life chances of students.

People didnt really believe that before then,

we need to keep in mind that up until that period of time

the selective nature of schooling was almost taken for granted

by everybody, and people just assumed that the kind

of background you brought to school was really your destiny.

Whereas after this really dynamic, productive period

of turbulence of the 1970s we start to think about education

in a different way.

And teachers and primary teachers in particular are central

to this new project as it were of trying to equalise

educational opportunity and here language education

and access to educated English, to the standard forms

of English that are powerful in education,

powerful in the labour market, come to the fore,

and bridging to those from the background languages

and varieties of languages that students have and literacies

that students have is the role of teachers and of course

the mediating function of PETAA.

And I think that that coincidence is incredibly suggestive

because what it tells us is that the two things

must have hadit would be interesting to look into

the history of thismust have had some kind of

intercommunication between them.

And this develops through the 1970s into the 80s and 90s

with PETAA producing a regular stream of publications

that informed teachers about thinking and scholarship

and research thats being done to inform and improve practice.

Even mainstream teachers who dont teach minority students

just to think about the new ways that language is

being conceived.

Because even in completely monolingual situations

language is always highly differentiated according to

the backgrounds of learners in social class,

the opportunities that individual students have to read

literature at home.

All of these differences make a difference to

the opportunities for individuals.

So, I think the birth of PETAA and the birth of the

equity agenda in Australia is really a resonant coincidence.

.

How might the development of English-as-a second-language

teaching in this country exemplify PETAAs leadership

in this field?

This question opens up a really interesting

historical issue as well as a contemporary one.

Australias been a world leader in some areas of English

as an additional language, both for adults and children

a primacy that unfortunately we have lost in recent years

and that I think that PETAA has an important role in

trying to recover.

In 1947 with the mass migration program that was commenced

by the government at the time, the purpose was to bring

to Australia a large number of people who would support

the creation of a labour market that would be more productive

and a bigger population.

That was the express purpose.

And as people have said, what Australia was recruiting

was workers but it actually got people; people with families

and children and so on.

In response to this the governments at the time created

the adult migrant, what became the adult migrant

English program, the largest adult English language

education initiative in the world.

And that was a concession that you needed to assist people

to fit in and integrate, which is a very pragmatic kind of

public policy that I think Australia has excelled at,

not currently but has excelled at in the past.

But it wasnt until 1972 that that initiative was extended

to children in the child migrant education program,

which was about the time that PETAA is created.

And we kept this leadership going really until

the middle of the 1990s.

And we can see it in the different names that

were used for the area.

First we talked about migrant English or migrant literacy

or Aboriginal English or Aboriginal literacy,

which was seen to be a kind of deficit or defective

kind of standard English or literacy.

And over time it was extended to English as a second language,

which acknowledges in the term that children already have

a language and that English adds to it.

And we now have the term that prevails which is English

as an additional language which also acknowledges

that there is already an existing language and that

that language is a source of learning and socialisation,

an identity for the child, and really should be acknowledged

and brought into the learning process in

translanguaging activities that we know we can do.

What happened was in the middle of the 1990s unfortunately

Australia decided to have a big literacy crisis,

because we looked at the figures and governments applied

rigid normalisation to those figures.

In other words saying that certain kinds of

literacy performance were unacceptably low and that

what should happen was that resources should be devoted to

explicit teaching of literacy.

Of course I support that very strongly.

But unfortunately one of the things that went along

with that was to mainstream EAL programs into

literacy programs, that is to submerge them under literacy.

And I dont think that thats right, its clearly

closely connected with literacy education, but spoken language

is a separate developmental process that needs to be

encouraged by mainstream generalist teachers in

primary schooling and in secondary schooling.

All teachers are teachers of language in their

disciplinary areas and right across the curriculum.

All teachers even secondary school teachers are

teachers of literacy, theyre teaching the kinds of

literate practices associated with particular subject areas.

So, it was that kind of realisation that I think PETAA made

a big contribution to developing through the 1980s and 1990s.

Im thinking now of the scaffolding work done by

Jennifer Hammond and Pauline Gibbons and Margery Hertzberg.

That was very, very important work on English across

the curriculum and the learning of content through language.

And this must mean that all the languages that a child

has at his or her disposal.

In the 1990s wed lost a lot of this way because we decided

to think of literacy in a kind of narrower way,

in a more problem-based way.

And I think that this forced policy makers to combine

specialist programs that had been intended for immigrant

and Aboriginal programs into literacy mode.

And I think that that was unfortunate.

We need to recover that.

And I think that PETAA can play an important role

in recovering a special role for specialist English.

By specialist English I mean supporting teachers who can

either be direct teachers of English as an additional language,

or who can be resource teachers helping the mainstream

generalist teacher to include particular kinds of responses

to children with learning difficulties or with

English language background, or who are growing into

being bilinguals and need to learn English as a

language of learning.

These kind of processes we were very much more attune

to up until the middle of the 1990s and I think weve lost

our way a little bit.

.

Can you consider the future of teaching of

English language and literacy in Australia particularly

in light of recent curriculum developments for us please Joe?

I think were on the cusp of some very major

new developments and one of them is what looks like

now to have been a successful attempt to introduce

a national approach to curriculum.

There have been attempts to do this really going back

thirty years, but all of them have founded on state interests,

but this time it appears to have succeeded.

And what weve got is a curriculum which of course

will evolve and develop over time, but its got some features

that I think will remain.

And the first one is that there is an acknowledgement

centrally within the curriculum that learners come from

multiple language backgrounds.

And its important to be aware of a simple fact about this

and that it will never change, it is never going to go back

to homogeneity of language backgrounds,

the world is getting more intensely diverse,

more profoundly diverse, more rapidly diverse every single year,

more countries are becoming multilingual, multicultural,

theres a much higher rate of mobility of populations

than theres ever been, globalisation is producing

instantaneous communications across the world.

Englishes have been adopted in all parts of the world.

And so the form thats our main national language

that is English is already no longer the possession of

English mother tongue countries.

Its a kind of worldwide basic skill to some extent.

And so in the context of this, with languages other than English

which remain essential weve got a basis for seeing that

what PETAA has been involved in for some years

alerting teachers to the new communicative ecology

of the nation, is actually going to intensify,

its not going to lessen up.

The national curriculum is an opportunity and is

a good instalment in establishing this.

And we have this through the English curriculum which I think

really opens up a good way to link up literacy, language

and literature in the way that it does,

and with the support material for English as an additional

language dialect which brings into play the diversity

within English that we know is there and that all teachers

have to deal with and will be increasingly dealing with.

But its important to also keep in mindeven English teachers

should do thisthat the national curriculum makes compulsory

for the first time in Australian curriculum history the study of

a second language.

Its no longer an option, it is actually compulsory.

There are designated hours all through the curriculum

for different pathways.

So, there are pathways of learners who start say Chinese

from a Chinese speaking background,

those who start Chinese from an English speaking background

and those who might start Chinese from a dialect

Chinese background.

So, already you see within the languages-other-than-

English curriculumthis is true for languages

other than Chinesethat there is an acknowledgement

of diversity of learners within those languages,

so its equally true and even more so with English.

So the national curriculum is a great opportunity for PETAA

to continue the innovative work that its done in the past

in linking learning and language according to diversity

of background, as resources that students bring to learning,

because this is the most important way we can think about it.

Outside of schooling people can argue about whether languages

are a problem or a right, but in schooling I think

weve only got one way to think about it and that is learning

and languages are resources that learners already have

within their repertoire, that students and teachers

should collectively develop.

Our job collectively is enhancing learning, and

enhancing learning means understanding the relationships

between language which is the main mechanism for the

production of learning, the shared production of learning

between teachers and learners and learning itself.

So language and learning: multiple languages and

multiple ways to learn within different subject areas.

Thank you for your time, Joe.

So pleased youve told us so much about this complex field.

Thank you Robyn, its been a pleasure.

I think its been interesting to reflect on the important role

that PETAA has played over the past forty years,

but I dont think it lessens the future role that PETAA

has to play because it actually will be just as intense

because the equality agenda is going to be played out

within public education, within mainstream schooling

and thats where PETAAs central role mediating between

research and practice is going to continue.

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