Fuelling Discursive Change

One of the biggest criticisms you can level at a researcher is the accusation that they and their work live in an ivory tower–that their work has no effect on society. Critical discourse studies (and other areas of applied linguistics) may be criticized for being nothing more butterfly collecting if there is no application of findings to some area of applied linguistics practice. So you’ve mapped and discussed in detail all these discourses in policies or education or the media or society: but so what? What should be done with that information?

My goal as a practitioner-researcher has always been to bridge the theory-practice gap. My doctoral thesis had a large section devoted to recommendations and suggestions for practice: how language and literacy stakeholders in Anglophone higher education contexts might use my findings of what discourses are prominent and influential in Canadian higher ed to effect change. This change might be to policy, curriculum or practices. How do we get to that change? Critical linguistic and discursive awareness-raising in the context of a professional development course is one route.

So this what my colleague Dr. Erin Careless and I did recently. We designed and delivered a workshop called Tools and Techniques to Support Linguistic Diversity to an group of adult educators: teachers, trainers and facilitators from the health, education and government sectors. Here’s the description:

Here’s the description:

Adult learning environments in Canada have become increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse over the last decade. Linguistic diversity in the classroom—whether that means different languages, dialects, and/or levels of comprehension across the same language—can pose new challenges to the way we serve learners and also open new educational horizons and possibilities. In this interactive workshop, you will learn a range of techniques, strategies and tools to support linguistic diversity in your teaching, training or facilitation context, and more effectively achieve learning outcomes for learners of all linguistic backgrounds.

We covered a lot of ground in the workshop, focusing in on the language-related aspects of Universal Design for Learning and Culturally-Responsive Pedagogy, talking about Plain Language and a variety of common tech tools. But overarching the workshop were the three orientations in language planning language Ruiz (1984). One of the strengths of this framework which accounts for its enduring popularity is that the orientations of Language as Problem and Language as Resource are quite straightforward and easy to understand without any background in applied linguistics.

So I introduced the concept of language ideologies/discourses (no, I didn’t get into the distinction between the two in a short workshop for non-linguists 😉) and how they influence how our attitudes, behaviours and values around languages, language users and language use in our institutions. Then I presented an abridged version of Language as Problem and Language as Resource, and we set as an objective for the workshop to look for areas in each of our realms of professional practice where we might “shift the frame” around language from problem to resource. I connected the various sections of the workshop and learning activities we did back to this discursive shift.

Feedback on the workshop overall was positive, and the workshop participants seemed to grasp these concepts and contributed lots of discussion and ideas throughout the workshop about shifting these discourses. For me, it was really fun and fulfilling to bring such as central aspect of my doctoral research into the classroom in this way.

One thought on “Fuelling Discursive Change

  1. That sounds like a fascinating workshop Jen, and one that would be applicable at all levels of education, for example for teachers working with EAL (English as an Additional Language) pupils in UK schools.

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