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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Accessing academic literacy for diverse learners : a case study of an elementary Social Studies classroom McMillan, Daphne Diana


This study explored one classroom teacher's attempt to bridge young learners' access to the academic content of Social Studies in an elementary, multilingual, multicultural, mainstream classroom. To this end, it examined both the planning and enacting of a Grade Five/Six Social Studies unit: Immigration In Canada. The unit was designed to draw on the teacher's and learners' social and cultural identities as a resource and afford students multiple ways to access and demonstrate understandings. In the complex, and dynamic environment of the mainstream classroom, the subject of Social Studies presents a linguistically demanding academic discipline for native English speakers and often an even more formidable challenge for students who are in the process of acquiring English as a second or an additional language Simultaneously, the subject matter of Social Studies can provide a useful venue to share experiences related to language, culture and personal histories. This study provided a rich and holistic account of the everyday classroom life of students' and their teacher's experiences over a three month time span during Social Studies lessons. Through qualitative research methods, data were drawn from reflective notes of planning sessions, field notes of classroom observations, audio-recorded interviews of the students, and an audio-recorded interview of the teacher, a survey and student work samples. Two, one hour after school planning sessions and seventeen (usually forty-five minute) classroom lessons were observed over a three-month period. The data was analyzed and systematized around my research questions in order to explore how the Social Studies unit was enacted in a mainstream setting. The qualitative analysis of the data suggested that there were positive connection between the curriculum as planned and the curriculum as experienced in the classroom. The study demonstrated that a Social Studies unit that encompassed a multiliterate pedagogy where particular attention was paid to drawing on students' social and cultural identities had very positive outcomes. The study also highlighted that the teacher's own professional identity played a key factor in affirming student identity and promoting student engagement. There was a strong link between investment of the learner and the relationship between the teacher and the students. The students were more deeply invested in the lessons than they might otherwise have been because the learning environment that the teacher constructed, valued students as members of a learning community, each with a personal history that was respected. The findings also suggest that the narrative genre of storytelling was a preferred activity for students and bridged a connection between both home and school environments. Within the Social Studies lessons the teacher continually emphasized and fore-grounded the role of relationship between student and teacher and student to student as means to an effective learning environment. The study also highlighted the need for further research in diverse, elementary mainstream, classroom settings and the need to further examine literacy practices that encompass a more linguistically and culturally responsive pedagogy.

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