Invited Symposium

Transdisciplinarity for Language Education in Contemporary Times

 Symposium Organizer:
Julie S. Byrd Clark, Western University

Presentation 1

Introduction to Symposium
Julie S. Byrd Clark, Associate Professor, Western University

There have been some interesting ‘turns’ as concerns language and intercultural education within the past ten years (May 2014; Pennycook, 2010), one of them being a shift in looking at language as something people do-in other words, people as complex language users and meaning makers rather than simply a focus on language use. With globalization, rapid technological advancement, increased mobility, and the continued rise of youth with complex transnational identities and discursive practices, this symposium expands upon Byrd Clark’s (2016) recent call for transdisciplinarity in language learning and teaching in transnational times. Transdisciplinarity refers to the “crossing between disciplines, literacies, modalities, languages, codes, contexts, and learning environments” (Byrd Clark, 2016: 4). Although there have been advancements made at the theoretical level as concerns transdisciplinarity and an openness to social variation (García & Wei, 2014), much of multilingual language education (whether L2, foreign, TESOL), continues to be dominated by Western Cartesian structuralist approaches to language learning and teaching (see for example, Kramsch & Zhang, 2018). Drawing upon longitudinal, reflexive, qualitative studies including multimodal and innovative techniques (e.g. translation) as well as their own transdisicplinary backgrounds and practices, the presenters in this symposium provide some rich examples taken from different contexts (K-12; international; French Immersion; language teacher bilingual education; spanning France, Canada, and the United States) in order to demonstrate some of the challenges and opportunities surrounding what language educators and learners are able ‘to do’ in today’s language classrooms.


Presentation 2

Beyond Bilingual Education in the United States: Developing Multilingual Allies and Activists through Cultural and Linguistic Collaboration in the Classroom
Gail Prasad, Assistant Professor, York University, Canada

Linguistic diversity is a defining feature of classrooms today. Developmental psychology research highlights that experiences of social and/or linguistic exclusion position children at risk of developing anxiety related to emotional distress, as well as lowering their engagement in school (Mulvey, Boswell & Niehaus, 2018). How then can schools leverage students’ diverse communicative repertoires to build ALL students’ multilingual language awareness and social understanding of diversity? In this paper, I discuss an on-going Research-Practice Partnership (Coburn & Penuel, 2016) with teachers, students and families of a US Midwest school district to investigate teaching for critical multilingual language awareness (Garcia, 2017; Hélot, Frijns, Gorp & Sierens, 2018).  Our goal has been to move beyond traditional approaches to bilingual education to help all students become multilingual allies and activists.

I conceptualize teaching for CMLA using James and Garrett’s (1992) language awareness domains: cognitive, affective, performance, social and power. Our classroom-based research demonstrates that by engaging students from different linguistic, cultural and social backgrounds in working collaboratively on creative and critical multilingual projects, all students can develop plurilingual competence both as speakers and listeners in dynamic multilingual interactions. Further, students become invested in supporting one another to accomplish multilingual work that they could not do alone. I discuss examples from practice to argue that given the diversification of school populations today, classrooms are privileged spaces in which to engage children in multilingual trans-disciplinary project-based learning as the context of the shared project draws students by design into authentic linguistic and cultural collaboration.


Presentation 3

From Orthographic Development to “Linguistic Relatability”: Repurposing Translation for Multilingual Students in Monolingual Schools
Emily Linares, Adjunct Professor, UC Berkeley

Once “relegated to the dungeons of language teaching history” as a punitive exercise (Pennycook, 2008, p. 35), translation is being resignified as a resource for language instruction (e.g., Katz Bourns et al., forthcoming; Kramsch & Huffmaster, 2008, 2015; McLaughlin, 2012). There is a need to better understand the challenges of implementation and the benefits that can devolve from translation activities in language classes (McLaughlin, forthcoming). To contribute to this gap, I explore the potential and limitations of translation for marginalized, multilingual students in monolingual school systems. The data is drawn from ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in classrooms in Perpignan, France exclusively attended by Roma learners who self-identify as “Gitan” and speak a Catalan variety (which they refer to as Gitan) as an L1. The analysis centers on an activity in a French language class that required students to translate a Catalan comic into French. The students, who had no formal literacy experience in Catalan, were able to sound their way into comprehension and identified the language of the original as “Gitan’s cousin,” a linguistic relative. While instructors approached the exercise with a dichotomous mindset (i.e., students could or could not comprehend the original; languages were or were not the same) and viewed the translation as an exercise in orthographic development, students demonstrated a recognition of what I term “linguistic relatability.” Students’ engagement with the activity informs recommendations for the use of translation as a practice of transdisciplinarity—with movement between related languages, codes, and media—in minority educational contexts.


Presentation 4

Multilingual Youth, Ideologies, and Translanguaging in French Immersion
Sylvie Roy, Professor, University of Calgary, Alberta  & Julie Byrd Clark, Associate Professor, Western University

Transdisciplinarity, as defined in this symposium, is looking at, for example, crossing between disciplines, contexts and learning environments in language teaching and learning. In order to give an example of how it could be lived, we propose to look at transdisciplinarity between two researchers and how they make sense of data collected with multilingual youth.  In this presentation, we examine what French immersion students do with languages in school settings and outside of the education system in two different provinces, Alberta and Ontario. Based on our own longitudinal and sociolinguistic studies, we discuss discourses (what people say) and practices (how they act) related to multilinguals as they use their languages every day in relation to our worldview and contexts. We will see that multilingual learners have complex linguistic and cultural practices and our understanding and analysis of those practices comes from our own views. However, our analysis and dialogue on the data collected can also be connected at the intersection (crossing) for a better and stronger understanding of the multilingual world. Our reflective interpretation of youth practices will help to guide educators, curriculum planning and language policies in schools and communities for a better inclusion of multilingualism in the world.