Teaching Interculturality: Developing and Engaging in Pluralistic Discourses in English Language Teaching

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    Abstract

    Summary
    Teaching Interculturality: Developing and Engaging in Pluralistic Discourses in English Language Teaching
    Lone Krogsgaard Svarstad, Aarhus University, Denmark
    The purpose of this study is to explore and develop a theoretical and pedagogical foundation for the teaching of interculturality in English as a foreign language in lower secondary school. The study is situated in the field of language and culture pedagogy and it explores the knowledge dimension and skills dimension of teaching interculturality.
    The aim of the study is dual: the empirical aim is to identify teachers’ perceptions and practices of interculturality in comparison to students’ perceptions and engagement in interculturality before, during and after two explorative interventions in two Danish schools. The theoretical aim is to re-interpret the knowledge- and skills dimensions of teaching interculturality. The reason for the study is the increasing Danish and international orientation of the curriculum towards intercultural competence and interculturality as a central part of the field of language and culture pedagogy. Very little collaborative research has been conducted between researchers and teacher participants in the teaching of interculturality in lower secondary school, and there is also a lack of research into teachers’ perceptions and practices in comparison to students’ perceptions and engagement in interculturality. There is also a need for exploration of the theoretical foundation of the knowledge- and skills dimensions of teaching interculturality.

    The empirical study employs a critical participatory action research methodology, in which three teachers’ perceptions and practices of interculturality were explored throughout the school year 2013/2014 in a pre-intervention phase, two explorative interventions and a post-intervention phase. For comparison, students’ perceptions and engagement in interculturality were also explored. The empirical data is comprised of three teachers of English and three year 8 classes of 20-23 students in each class in two Danish schools, one North and one West of Copenhagen. The study comprises 66 observations of English lessons, two professional development seminars, six interviews with teacher participants and two reflection meetings. It also comprises focus group interviews with four students from each class prior to the explorative interventions, and follow-up interviews after the explorative interventions. Finally, the study investigates students’ productions, such as notes in Autobiographies of Intercultural Encounters, blogs and essays. The analytical framework is based on Critical Theory: Cultural Studies, Critical intercultural communication and critical media literacy.

    The study reveals that teachers’ perceptions and practices of interculturality evolved in the course of the explorative work. Initially, teachers’ perceptions and practices demonstrated examples of essentialism, culturalism and culture as explanation. There was a marked lack of a conceptualisation and meta-language of interculturality, and the teaching of culture was primarily based on intuition and assumptions of what would be good for the students to learn. The teaching was based on a communicative competence approach, which favours variety in activities over cultural content. The 12 students from the initial focus group interviews reported that they did not experience culture texts and media used in class as ‘culture learning’, but as a means to learn the language. They expressed a desire to “think more” about films and texts they use in class.

    The explorative interventions demonstrated that knowledge about Cultural Studies and an intersectional lens can support the teachers’ conceptualisation and development of a meta-language, which qualifies teacher decisions about knowledge potentials, learning objectives and selection criteria for texts and media. It also qualifies the meaning-making between texts and media and between lessons. At times, classroom dialogue is caught between learning objectives about global and local processes of Othering in social media and the local processes of Othering in classroom dialogue. The teachers emphasised that learning about Cultural Studies made them feel “knowledgeable” and provided a sense of ownership of their teaching, which they did not feel when they used textbook material. The most striking challenges for the teacher participants were to reduce the number of activities in their lessons, and to focus on interculturality and content. In the explorative interventions, the teachers developed criticality and understandings of subtextuality in order to initiate interpretative possibilities of, for example, identity, diversity, celebrities, fame, media representation and power.

    Students’ perceptions and engagement in interculturality during the explorative interventions revealed their competences with intertextuality and social media. Students were highly articulate about individual experiences and individual perceptions and contextualisation of cultural phenomena. Students demonstrate an emerging reflexivity, criticality and engagement in interculturality, and students from both schools relied on their knowledge and language acquisition outside the classroom, when they engaged in interculturality. The explorative interventions also demonstrated students’ capabilities of transforming pluralistic classroom discourses about diversity, Othering, media representation and power into their written work. Some of these works demonstrate that students overcame culture as explanation.

    The study is based on a cultural theory inspired by Critical Theory, which encompasses social-constructivism and a discursive point of view. I argue for a knowledge dimension based on a combination of Cultural Studies and critical intercultural communication, and for a skills dimension based on critical media literacy. Three key concepts emerged from the participatory action research and the subsequent analysis: Intersectionality, seen as an aspect of Cultural Studies, Othering, seen as an aspect of critical intercultural communication and Subtextuality, seen as an aspect of critical media literacy.
    Finally, the study reveals that developing and engaging in pluralistic discourses is a means for teachers and students to overcome essentialism, culturalism and culture as explanation. Developing and engaging in pluralistic discourses support students’ capabilities of reading the world critically and empower students to engage in an increasingly globalised world.
    OriginalsprogEngelsk
    UdgivelsesstedKøbenhavn
    ForlagAarhus Universitetsforlag
    Antal sider238
    ISBN (Trykt)9788776847012
    StatusUdgivet - 13 sep. 2016

    Emneord

    • Læring, pædagogik og undervisning

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