Fostering linguistically sensitive teaching in teacher education

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Photo: NeONBRAND/Unsplash

Authors: Siv Björklund and Linda Storås

Linguistic and cultural diversity is rapidly increasing in schools in Europe. Research-based tools are needed to make schools better equipped to accommodate to the changes resulting from it. The Listiac project (Linguistically Sensitive Teaching in All Classrooms) intends to increase linguistically sensitive teaching by targeting the cognitions, education and professional development of teachers.

According to OECD’s PISA (2015), an average of around one in ten (9 %) 15-year-olds across EU member states speaks a different language at home than the language of schooling. Yet, linguistic diversity is often considered a threat or a burden instead of a resource for learning and teaching in school. It is important to give all students the support they need to become proficient language users at the conversational and academic levels in all subjects. Therefore, understanding linguistically sensitive teaching concerns all teachers.

By assuring equal conditions to all students, they can achieve educational success, regardless of their first language, culture, social background, origin and age. This is the aim of the Listiac project; we believe in supporting teachers in becoming more linguistically sensitive to enable opportunities for equally successful schooling for all students in Europe. An important part of the process is to influence European initial teacher education curricula; we believe that reflection about and awareness of linguistically sensitive teaching is to be better integrated during all stages of initial teacher education.

Reflection is a key to linguistically sensitive teaching

Listiac is a policy experimentation project co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. This action research project targets teachers and teacher educators who do not have previous experience in mainstreaming multilingual pedagogies. Five researchers from five European universities work full-time during the project period (2019-2022) to develop, test and evaluate a reflection tool to help future and in-service teachers become more linguistically sensitive in their teaching, thoughts and attitudes.

The vision is that this reflection toolkit will be a systematic part of the progression of teacher studies. The reflection should be done by teacher educators when planning individual courses, practice periods and visions and profile, student teachers when doing their practice periods and obligatory courses) and in-service teachers when supervising student teachers alike.

Mapping the most effective tools for reflection

Having collected existing reflection tools from all over Europe, we know that there are already many good tools for teachers out there. However, they do not seem to be easily integrated in initial teacher education courses. They might be too time-consuming, too extensive or require extra training and/or funding. The Listiac project aims to figure out what kind of toolkit is the most helpful without requiring extra training or extra resources.

Besides making a model for renewed initial teacher education curriculum and a pedagogical reflection tool, the project will also publish an open access research report and language sensitive teaching recommendations for policy makers, teacher trainers and pedagogical counsellors. Active participation in this project is an excellent opportunity for teacher educators to evaluate and change their beliefs. It enables teacher educators to critically reflect on the monolingual ideologies that inform current policies and practices in schools and encourages them to foster language sensitive teaching which is based on recognising the multilingual resources of students.

Listiac is led by ÅAU Professor Siv Björklund and Associate Professor Mari Bergroth. There are nine European partner universities altogether, and the project is carried out in collaboration with the ministries in Finland, Portugal and Slovenia. Read more about the project on www.listiac.org and on Facebook.

This blog post is part of the Minority Studies series authored and facilitated by researchers from the Åbo Akademi Minority Research profile.