Rationale & Background

Why create a project like LINCDIRE? What are the reasons behind it? Who will benefit from this project?

Here are some of the reasons why the LINCDIRE project is timely and crucial:

  • North American cities are multilingual cities and deserve an education that better reflects their diverse composition. Appropriate curriculum, pedagogies, and policies need to be revised that better fit the current population of these cities.
  • Students, teachers, administrators, and communities are not fully aware of the rich linguistic and cultural capital they have and can build upon.
  • Appreciation of other languages and cultures is often merely superficial, remaining at the level of idiosyncratic events like festivals; this appreciation does not permeate community and family life or school and university activities. This is particularly evident when it comes to aboriginal languages and cultures. There is a need for all communities to connect in order to close this gap.
  • Languages are taught in several schools as separate subjects, something at odds with reality, where students use and mix languages in their classes, the community, and at home to make meaning.
  • Methodologies in language teaching have mainly focused on teaching the linguistic aspects of the languages and have forgotten the cultural, emotional, artistic ones, let alone the real life usage of languages and their connection to other languages. We strive for a more action-oriented approach that reflects the students’ reality and future possibilities.
  • Usually the main reason for language choice is demographics and economics, with very little attention to the intrinsic value of expanding individuals’ linguistic and cultural repertoires, in view of building more welcoming and diverse communities. Also, languages other than the official ones are taught as part of “extra” classes, heritage language classes, or after school programs and are therefore not included in the curriculum.
  • Knowledge of the difference between multiculturalism and plurilingualism is still in its infancy in the academic bodies in North America. There is still resistance against, or lack of interest in, the concept of plurilingualism and all its connotations among scholars. There has been little empirical evidence in North America with regards to the use of plurilingual approaches in the classroom.
  • There is no clear interface or tool that facilitates students’ language learning, effective and transparent assessment/self-assessment, nor a digital environment to help learners navigate their cultural and linguistic trajectories. Technological tools that support and engage students in the use of their diverse linguistic and cultural repertoires are necessary.
  • Knowledge of aboriginal pedagogies is not discussed in the formal schools in North America and effective methodologies for language education are not included systematically when it comes to the teaching of aboriginal languages. LINCDIRE strives to bridge this gap in languages/culture education and to provide the resources to accomplish this goal.
  • The role of emotions, empathy, personality, and identity has been underestimated in language education, yet they play a vital part in learning and can help or hinder academic commitment and success in school. LINCDIRE makes it easy for students to be motivated to develop projects where their personalities and identities can be recognized and valued.

BACKGROUND & AIMS

Click on a tab below to reveal information on different aspects of the project:

A digital environment to help learners navigate their trajectories is a partnership development grant (combination of Insight and Connection) among five universities, a public language institute, four co-applicants and three collaborators, and will support five graduate students during the tenure of the grant. The goal of this partnership is to formalize and solidify a network of collaboration through a focus on research on plurilingualism, and linguistic and cultural awareness. By adopting a plurilingual theoretical framework, the central aim of this research is to promote a new holistic view of languages, one which allows students to become aware of their linguistic and cultural resources and consequently be able to actively and mindfully use them on a daily basis.

The premise of the project is that in Canada and the United States, language classrooms fail to build on multilingual students’ existing linguistic and cultural capital as a resource to learn new languages. As a consequence, linguistic and cultural diversity is at risk, despite being as crucial to humankind as biodiversity is for the planet. In addition, as research shows, linguistic and cultural diversity bears valuable cognitive and social benefits; however, such research has not yet been translated into effective pedagogical practices. This means that measures for recognizing, preserving and enhancing this linguistic and cultural capital need to be taken urgently. Our proposition is to  introduce a pedagogical shift able to overcome the “monolingual disposition” (Gogolin, 1994) of North America.

This will be achieved by designing and implementing LITE (Language Integration Through E-portfolio), a digital environment that supports learners’ maintenance and appreciation of a plurality of languages and cultures. LITE will help students to:

1) recognize linguistic and cultural diversity at the individual and social level

2) validate their existing linguistic and cultural competences/capital

3) become aware of (and build on) the added cognitive and metalinguistic value of plurilingualism

4) develop a plurilingual attitude and acquire life-long learning skills

This research project aligns well with three Insight program objectives: first, the contextualized theoretical development, working on several languages in a comparative perspective will build interdisciplinary knowledge and understanding and provide a high-quality research training experience for graduate students; second, the implications and potential of plurilingualism and the creation of a tool appropriate to North American contexts address crucial societal challenges and opportunities for Aboriginal and Heritage language speakers as well as for speakers of official languages (English and French); third, the mobilized research knowledge can potentially lead to intellectual, cultural, social and economic benefit, both for academic and non-academic audiences.

Furthermore, the proposed program addresses Connection goals through:

1) the multidirectional flow of knowledge among researchers coming from different academic and educational settings and traditions

2) collaboration between the campus and the larger community

3) increased accessibility and use of language-related research knowledge among non-academic audiences through a multilingual, user-friendly and customizable tool (LITE)

LITE content will be based on the action-oriented approach: learners are social agents who must be aware of both the nature of tasks and what the accomplishments of such tasks entail in terms of language and non-language activities. Tasks are no longer seen as the equivalent of exercises.

Learners must:

1) be aware of their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses with respect to the tasks

2) make choices; negotiate and co-construct meanings

3) understand the objectives, the knowledge and the competences that need to be developed

As the user/learner is not alone in this process, the CEFR emphasizes the social nature of actions and the value of the mediated process that language learners engage in to raise awareness of languages, cultures and learning process, thus leading to increased learner autonomy.

In the action-oriented approach, learners become agents in their learning. Autonomy is at the core of both the CEFR and the European Language Portfolio (ELP), a pedagogical tool that relates the CEFR to classroom use and promotes respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, thus fostering the COE’s commitment to education for democratic citizenship and lifelong learning (Little, 2011; Little, Goullier & Hughes, 2011).

LITE will encompass and go beyond the ELP with a specific focus on plurilingualism, rather than multilingualism, and on action-oriented tasks rather than on recording, building and assessing levels of proficiency in different languages.

The importance of noticing in language learning and of linguistic and cognitive awareness is becoming increasingly crucial and documented in the scientific literature (Spada & Lightbown, 2008; Ammar, Lightbown & Spada, 2010) and supported by prominent educational theories (Kohonen, 2009). In particular, Kolb’s (1984) model of experiential learning and Dewey’s (1938) notion of reflecting on learning stress how looking back on one’s own experiences and drawing meaningful conclusions assist with future learning.

LITE emphasizes reflection on the learning process of any language, rather than solely on learning outcomes in one specific language. It aims to enhance awareness of individual learning preferences, practices and strategies, as well as identification of factors that foster or hinder students’ learning and motivation.

LITE supports broader pedagogical and practical objectives by:

1) assisting students to better monitor their learning progress, and skill development

2) validating students’ first languages and plurilingualism while cultivating the recognition of transferable skills acquired through language learning, (i.e. flexibility, adaptability, problem-solving and creativity)

3) developing the meta-communicative tools to utilize and describe their competences to prospective employers (Vandegrift, 2005; Bompolou, 2012)

4) the increased language awareness and desire to further one’s own linguistic and cultural competencies can support all languages and greatly contribute to Aboriginal language revitalisation efforts.

The proposed research will produce a collaboration of knowledge in languages, language education, plurilingualism, and pedagogical innovation. The practical tool we will design aims to solve complex real-life problems that require perspectives and collective knowledge from a range of disciplines.

Figure 1 summarizes the LINCDIRE framework: 1) the triangle contains the four interrelated objectives underpinning this research program; 2) the external circle emphasizes the three broader aims and anticipated outcomes of the project. A description of these seven concepts follows Figure 1.

Conceptualizing LINCDIRE

Figure 1: Conceptualizing the LINCDIRE Project

Plurilingualism understands linguistic competences not as compartmentalized, but rather forming a dynamic and composite competence from which the social agent may draw (Coste, Moore & Zarate, 1997, 2009). It is a holistic process in which all languages are interrelated and in an ongoing process of modification (Wandruszka, 1979). It treats proficiency as highly individualized, dependent on life paths, and subject to evolution and change, recognizing that the nature of language, identity and culture are interconnected (Coste et al. 2009; Canagarajah & Liynage, 2012).

Plurilingualism is a fundamental trait of a world characterized by mobility and change (Piccardo, 2013), but we are often unaware of plurilingual competences in ourselves and others due to our monolingual social conditioning, our “monolingual disposition” (Gogolin, 1994). Bi- and multilingual educational approaches still tend to be “a pluralization of monolingualism” (Makoni & Pennycook, 2005, p. 147).

These approaches often perpetuate the notion that language can exist independently from the social world (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007) and often correspond to the valorization of a “symmetric” version of bilingualism, which positions equal competency in the first and target languages as the primary goal for learners (Piccardo, 2013). This rather unrealistic goal often creates feelings of inadequacy in learners, diminishes their self-esteem (Puozzo, 2009) and can even create feelings of animosity towards the new language (Piccardo, 2013). Thus, a plurilingual approach to language learning is timely and appropriate.

The theory of plurilingualism is also at the core of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR, 2001), a comprehensive document of the Council of Europe (COE) designed to bring transparency and coherence in language teaching, assessment, education policies and curriculum design, and to promote an action-oriented approach. Translated in 40 languages since its publication, the CEFR is having a crucial impact in language education across the five continents, including North America, and particularly Canada.

LINCDIRE will build on the CEFR vision of plurilingualism and on the core concepts of learner autonomy and action-oriented approach for the design of LITE, thus opening new venues for the implementation of the CEFR in North America.

Canada and the US are home to a linguistically diverse population. Almost 6.6 million Canadians speak a language other than English and French at home and 55.4 million Americans speak a language other than English at home (Statistics Canada, 2012; US Census Bureau, 2010). In addition to the official languages, approximately 60 Aboriginal languages (Norris, 1998), and a multitude of heritage languages are spoken in Canada, and 303 different languages in the US, 134 of which are Native American languages.

In both countries, Heritage and Aboriginal languages are not frequently recognized and are undervalued in both mainstream society and education (Wiley & Lukes, 1996; Hornberger, 2001). Educational institutes are unprepared to take advantage of the rich linguistic and cultural understandings students bring with them, perpetuating inequalities in education for multilingual students (García & Kleifgen, 2010; Nieto, 2010). This problem contributes to widespread language attrition which affects students, their families, their associated linguistic or cultural communit(ies), as well as North American society. The problem is even more serious for Aboriginal languages.

Canada and the US are both linguistic ‘hotspots’ (Battiste 2000; Harrison, 2007; Norris 2007, 2011; Anderson, 2010, 2011), wherein languages are vanishing more rapidly than in other parts of the world. Thus, there is a dire need for ideological and pedagogical change in relation to language learning and use as a whole. LINCDIRE represents a paradigm shift in language education based on the theory of plurilingualism, which integrates official, international, Heritage and Aboriginal languages.

The action-oriented approach stresses the link between linguistic competences and general competences that are related to learners’ life experiences and personalities. Learners act and accomplish tasks in order to learn, rather than learning in order to act, by drawing on personal experiences, thus building up competences. Among the general competences, the ability to learn makes it possible to situate any action or learning along a trajectory that develops over time and includes formal and informal learning.

Formal learning:

1) occurs in an organized and structured environment (e.g. education institution and/or workplace)

2) is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or resources)

3) is intentional from the learner’s point of view

Informal learning:

1) results from daily activities related to work, family or leisure

2) is not organized or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support

3) is mostly unintentional from the learner’s perspective (CEDEFOP, 2009)

LITE will be crucial in fostering life-wide learning that spans from formal to informal learning and takes place across the full range of life activities (personal, social or professional) and at all stages.

We will develop content-based on extensive theoretical research as well as on-site empirical research with students and educators. Rather than a prescriptive, top-down pedagogical approach, the foundation of this project will lie on teacher and student input: LITE content will be fundamentally shaped by the articulated “needs” of practitioners (teachers and students) related to maintaining and promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.

Research participants’ involvement in shaping the content of LITE will also provide opportunities for their own professional development in the form of communities of practice. Research participants’ involvement in shaping the content of LITE will also provide opportunities for their own professional development in the form of communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). The presence of content in Ojibwe and related cultural implications (Makoons Geniusz, 2009) will call for First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) community consultation and theoretical frameworks such as Multiliteracies Pedagogy (Lavoie, Sarkar, Mark & Jenniss, 2012; Patrick, Budach & Muckpaloo, 2013), responsive to diverse local realities.

LITE will help bridge the gap between official discourse which appears to value linguistic diversity and first language maintenance for minority language students (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005, 2006; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2009; Alberta Education, 2010), valuing life experiences and a multiplicity of discourses, language registers, languages, and cultures.

Our project includes a 3-phase cyclical process of designing, evaluating, and piloting LITE. This process aligns with “Type 1 developmental” research, which focuses on both the design and evaluation of the tool (Richey & Klein, 2005). Developmental research is characterized as a balanced approach “between development and research” (van den Akker, 1999, p. 6), two aspects that are integral to our project.

Our project will include three interconnected themes and six research questions:

Pluralingualism:

1) How will students’ awareness of (own) linguistic and cultural resources make them become more effective (language) learners and more engaged and culturally-sensitive citizens?

2) How will the interconnection of students’ multiple linguistic and cultural resources contribute to their cognitive development?

Language innovation:

1) How do digital technologies support language innovation and linguistic and cultural diversity at a national/international level?

2) How does the customization of LITE address and support needs of different communities?

Language education:

1) How will pedagogical support be offered by LITE to help educators to effectively deal with linguistic and cultural diversity in their classrooms?

2) How will LITE foster an action-oriented approach to language teaching?


In order to answer these research questions, the partnership will implement a 3-year program of research activities:

Year 1:

Development of LITE matrix, i.e. a digital environment which can be further customized and adapted to different contexts, and make it available (along with related resources) to language students and educators, and in the future, to the general public;

Year 2:

Development of LITE content in the form of action-oriented tasks, scenarios and resources in each of the different languages best suited to the linguistic and intercultural competences and needs of diverse student audiences in upper secondary and post-secondary institutions;

Year 3:

Investigation of potential benefits this tool may have on language maintenance and language education, particularly Aboriginal and Heritage languages in North America.


The research activities will be organized into three hubs and the research undertaken at each hub will interconnect with the research themes discussed above.

Hub 1: Canada

This hub will focus on all three research activities. The OISE team will be in charge of Activity 1. Informed by the results of a previous feasibility study, the OISE team will produce a detailed description (Statement of Work – SOW) of all the phases required to create the LITE matrix, and the guidelines for the technical development and organization of the Content and Management System (CMS) of LITE itself.

Activity 2 will be performed by all the members of this hub: the York University team and the IISLE team will develop LITE content in ESL and German as a foreign language, respectively. Such content will then be shared with the OISE team and used as a basis for developing Ojibwe content that is compatible with this Aboriginal language and culture. Hub 1 will support three research assistants (one PhD student, two MA students) and one consultant expert in Ojibwe across the three years.

Hub 2: United States

Following the LITE matrix developed by the OISE team, Germain-Rutherford and Barbara Spinelli will be in charge of Activity 2by developing FSL and Italian content, respectively. Similarly to Hub 1, the members of this hub will collaborate closely, exchange ideas and follow a consistent line of work both within their hub and across hubs. This hub will supervise two Master students across the three years.

Hub 3: France

Dr. Masperi and her technical team will focus on the development of LITE by creating and hosting the CMS for LITE. Consistency with activity 1 will be ensured by the implementation of the SOW by Hub 3. Considering their expertise in plurilingual education, the French partner will also act as a consultant for the design of LITE content created by the other hubs.


All three hubs will be involved in Activity 3, which will consist in: collaborating with both language teachers and university students to collect information/data to design LITE content; discussing drafts of such content; and finally piloting LITE with upper secondary and university students.

All three hubs will contribute to the dissemination of LITE through a website, social media pages (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.) as well as academic publications and conference presentations. During year 2 of the project, workshops and professional development sessions will be organized in each hub to involve teachers in the design process of LITE content, gather their feedback and suggestions, and to check appropriateness and feasibility. In year 3 of the grant Hub 1 will host a symposium for launching LITE as a culminating knowledge-mobilization event.

Our vision of LITE specifically targeting the Canadian and US settings aligns with a document published by the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC), which stresses the potential role of the CEFR to improve language education and value cultural diversity in Canada (CMEC, 2010). LITE will aim at overcoming the “monolingual disposition” of North America and value existing linguistic and cultural diversity. While we recognize the vast political, economic, and linguistic differences between the old and the new continent, we believe that the North American contexts can greatly benefit from the COE aims: plurilingualism, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, increased awareness of linguistic and cultural resources. LITE will provide students access to their own and others’ linguistic and cultural resources and engage in a digital social environment.

The introduction of LITE designed specifically to address the diversity of the Canadian and US linguistic and cultural landscape could function as a catalyst for introducing change. LITE will facilitate a process of increased language awareness, as students will be provided with a medium to engage with and reflect upon both their home/Heritage language as well as a foreign language being learned. This process will increase attention to minoritized languages and cultures in the community, and foster interaction with speakers of non-dominant languages, helping students realize that their linguistic and cultural experiences are important sources of linguistic, cultural and self-knowledge.

Over time, this process will foster students’ interest in learning languages that they had previously dismissed or been unaware of, and to engage in self-directed language learning. LITE in the North American context has the potential to shift entrenched language hierarchies and thereby empower linguistic minorities by changing attitudes towards all languages and cultures. Schools and universities need to better educate future plurilingual global citizens ready for a professional career or post-graduate studies at home or abroad; thus, LITE can facilitate a plurilingual paradigm shift (Kramsch, Levy & Zarate, 2008) by recognizing learners’ diverse linguistic and cultural competencies, and acknowledging the interconnectedness of language, culture, lived experiences and identity negotiation.

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+ LINguistic and Cultural DIversity REinvented (LINCDIRE)

A digital environment to help learners navigate their trajectories is a partnership development grant (combination of Insight and Connection) among five universities, a public language institute, four co-applicants and three collaborators, and will support five graduate students during the tenure of the grant. The goal of this partnership is to formalize and solidify a network of collaboration through a focus on research on plurilingualism, and linguistic and cultural awareness. By adopting a plurilingual theoretical framework, the central aim of this research is to promote a new holistic view of languages, one which allows students to become aware of their linguistic and cultural resources and consequently be able to actively and mindfully use them on a daily basis.

The premise of the project is that in Canada and the United States, language classrooms fail to build on multilingual students’ existing linguistic and cultural capital as a resource to learn new languages. As a consequence, linguistic and cultural diversity is at risk, despite being as crucial to humankind as biodiversity is for the planet. In addition, as research shows, linguistic and cultural diversity bears valuable cognitive and social benefits; however, such research has not yet been translated into effective pedagogical practices. This means that measures for recognizing, preserving and enhancing this linguistic and cultural capital need to be taken urgently. Our proposition is to  introduce a pedagogical shift able to overcome the “monolingual disposition” (Gogolin, 1994) of North America.

This will be achieved by designing and implementing LITE (Language Integration Through E-portfolio), a digital environment that supports learners’ maintenance and appreciation of a plurality of languages and cultures. LITE will help students to:

1) recognize linguistic and cultural diversity at the individual and social level

2) validate their existing linguistic and cultural competences/capital

3) become aware of (and build on) the added cognitive and metalinguistic value of plurilingualism

4) develop a plurilingual attitude and acquire life-long learning skills

+ Contributions to Insight and Connection program objectives

This research project aligns well with three Insight program objectives: first, the contextualized theoretical development, working on several languages in a comparative perspective will build interdisciplinary knowledge and understanding and provide a high-quality research training experience for graduate students; second, the implications and potential of plurilingualism and the creation of a tool appropriate to North American contexts address crucial societal challenges and opportunities for Aboriginal and Heritage language speakers as well as for speakers of official languages (English and French); third, the mobilized research knowledge can potentially lead to intellectual, cultural, social and economic benefit, both for academic and non-academic audiences.

Furthermore, the proposed program addresses Connection goals through:

1) the multidirectional flow of knowledge among researchers coming from different academic and educational settings and traditions

2) collaboration between the campus and the larger community

3) increased accessibility and use of language-related research knowledge among non-academic audiences through a multilingual, user-friendly and customizable tool (LITE)

+ Action-oriented Tasks and Autonomy

LITE content will be based on the action-oriented approach: learners are social agents who must be aware of both the nature of tasks and what the accomplishments of such tasks entail in terms of language and non-language activities. Tasks are no longer seen as the equivalent of exercises.

Learners must:

1) be aware of their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses with respect to the tasks

2) make choices; negotiate and co-construct meanings

3) understand the objectives, the knowledge and the competences that need to be developed

As the user/learner is not alone in this process, the CEFR emphasizes the social nature of actions and the value of the mediated process that language learners engage in to raise awareness of languages, cultures and learning process, thus leading to increased learner autonomy.

In the action-oriented approach, learners become agents in their learning. Autonomy is at the core of both the CEFR and the European Language Portfolio (ELP), a pedagogical tool that relates the CEFR to classroom use and promotes respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, thus fostering the COE’s commitment to education for democratic citizenship and lifelong learning (Little, 2011; Little, Goullier & Hughes, 2011).

LITE will encompass and go beyond the ELP with a specific focus on plurilingualism, rather than multilingualism, and on action-oriented tasks rather than on recording, building and assessing levels of proficiency in different languages.

+ Language and cognition awareness

The importance of noticing in language learning and of linguistic and cognitive awareness is becoming increasingly crucial and documented in the scientific literature (Spada & Lightbown, 2008; Ammar, Lightbown & Spada, 2010) and supported by prominent educational theories (Kohonen, 2009). In particular, Kolb’s (1984) model of experiential learning and Dewey’s (1938) notion of reflecting on learning stress how looking back on one’s own experiences and drawing meaningful conclusions assist with future learning.

LITE emphasizes reflection on the learning process of any language, rather than solely on learning outcomes in one specific language. It aims to enhance awareness of individual learning preferences, practices and strategies, as well as identification of factors that foster or hinder students’ learning and motivation.

LITE supports broader pedagogical and practical objectives by:

1) assisting students to better monitor their learning progress, and skill development

2) validating students’ first languages and plurilingualism while cultivating the recognition of transferable skills acquired through language learning, (i.e. flexibility, adaptability, problem-solving and creativity)

3) developing the meta-communicative tools to utilize and describe their competences to prospective employers (Vandegrift, 2005; Bompolou, 2012)

4) the increased language awareness and desire to further one’s own linguistic and cultural competencies can support all languages and greatly contribute to Aboriginal language revitalisation efforts.

+ Conceptual Dimensions of LINCDIRE

The proposed research will produce a collaboration of knowledge in languages, language education, plurilingualism, and pedagogical innovation. The practical tool we will design aims to solve complex real-life problems that require perspectives and collective knowledge from a range of disciplines.

Figure 1 summarizes the LINCDIRE framework: 1) the triangle contains the four interrelated objectives underpinning this research program; 2) the external circle emphasizes the three broader aims and anticipated outcomes of the project. A description of these seven concepts follows Figure 1.

Conceptualizing LINCDIRE

Figure 1: Conceptualizing the LINCDIRE Project

+ Plurilingualism

Plurilingualism understands linguistic competences not as compartmentalized, but rather forming a dynamic and composite competence from which the social agent may draw (Coste, Moore & Zarate, 1997, 2009). It is a holistic process in which all languages are interrelated and in an ongoing process of modification (Wandruszka, 1979). It treats proficiency as highly individualized, dependent on life paths, and subject to evolution and change, recognizing that the nature of language, identity and culture are interconnected (Coste et al. 2009; Canagarajah & Liynage, 2012).

Plurilingualism is a fundamental trait of a world characterized by mobility and change (Piccardo, 2013), but we are often unaware of plurilingual competences in ourselves and others due to our monolingual social conditioning, our “monolingual disposition” (Gogolin, 1994). Bi- and multilingual educational approaches still tend to be “a pluralization of monolingualism” (Makoni & Pennycook, 2005, p. 147).

These approaches often perpetuate the notion that language can exist independently from the social world (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007) and often correspond to the valorization of a “symmetric” version of bilingualism, which positions equal competency in the first and target languages as the primary goal for learners (Piccardo, 2013). This rather unrealistic goal often creates feelings of inadequacy in learners, diminishes their self-esteem (Puozzo, 2009) and can even create feelings of animosity towards the new language (Piccardo, 2013). Thus, a plurilingual approach to language learning is timely and appropriate.

The theory of plurilingualism is also at the core of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR, 2001), a comprehensive document of the Council of Europe (COE) designed to bring transparency and coherence in language teaching, assessment, education policies and curriculum design, and to promote an action-oriented approach. Translated in 40 languages since its publication, the CEFR is having a crucial impact in language education across the five continents, including North America, and particularly Canada.

LINCDIRE will build on the CEFR vision of plurilingualism and on the core concepts of learner autonomy and action-oriented approach for the design of LITE, thus opening new venues for the implementation of the CEFR in North America.

+ Integrating all languages

Canada and the US are home to a linguistically diverse population. Almost 6.6 million Canadians speak a language other than English and French at home and 55.4 million Americans speak a language other than English at home (Statistics Canada, 2012; US Census Bureau, 2010). In addition to the official languages, approximately 60 Aboriginal languages (Norris, 1998), and a multitude of heritage languages are spoken in Canada, and 303 different languages in the US, 134 of which are Native American languages.

In both countries, Heritage and Aboriginal languages are not frequently recognized and are undervalued in both mainstream society and education (Wiley & Lukes, 1996; Hornberger, 2001). Educational institutes are unprepared to take advantage of the rich linguistic and cultural understandings students bring with them, perpetuating inequalities in education for multilingual students (García & Kleifgen, 2010; Nieto, 2010). This problem contributes to widespread language attrition which affects students, their families, their associated linguistic or cultural communit(ies), as well as North American society. The problem is even more serious for Aboriginal languages.

Canada and the US are both linguistic ‘hotspots’ (Battiste 2000; Harrison, 2007; Norris 2007, 2011; Anderson, 2010, 2011), wherein languages are vanishing more rapidly than in other parts of the world. Thus, there is a dire need for ideological and pedagogical change in relation to language learning and use as a whole. LINCDIRE represents a paradigm shift in language education based on the theory of plurilingualism, which integrates official, international, Heritage and Aboriginal languages.

+ Bridging the gap between formal learning and informal learning

The action-oriented approach stresses the link between linguistic competences and general competences that are related to learners’ life experiences and personalities. Learners act and accomplish tasks in order to learn, rather than learning in order to act, by drawing on personal experiences, thus building up competences. Among the general competences, the ability to learn makes it possible to situate any action or learning along a trajectory that develops over time and includes formal and informal learning.

Formal learning:

1) occurs in an organized and structured environment (e.g. education institution and/or workplace)

2) is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or resources)

3) is intentional from the learner’s point of view

Informal learning:

1) results from daily activities related to work, family or leisure

2) is not organized or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support

3) is mostly unintentional from the learner’s perspective (CEDEFOP, 2009)

LITE will be crucial in fostering life-wide learning that spans from formal to informal learning and takes place across the full range of life activities (personal, social or professional) and at all stages.

+ Building and sustaining research and language teaching in North America

We will develop content-based on extensive theoretical research as well as on-site empirical research with students and educators. Rather than a prescriptive, top-down pedagogical approach, the foundation of this project will lie on teacher and student input: LITE content will be fundamentally shaped by the articulated “needs” of practitioners (teachers and students) related to maintaining and promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.

Research participants’ involvement in shaping the content of LITE will also provide opportunities for their own professional development in the form of communities of practice. Research participants’ involvement in shaping the content of LITE will also provide opportunities for their own professional development in the form of communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). The presence of content in Ojibwe and related cultural implications (Makoons Geniusz, 2009) will call for First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) community consultation and theoretical frameworks such as Multiliteracies Pedagogy (Lavoie, Sarkar, Mark & Jenniss, 2012; Patrick, Budach & Muckpaloo, 2013), responsive to diverse local realities.

LITE will help bridge the gap between official discourse which appears to value linguistic diversity and first language maintenance for minority language students (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005, 2006; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2009; Alberta Education, 2010), valuing life experiences and a multiplicity of discourses, language registers, languages, and cultures.

+ Program of Research & Methodological Approach

Our project includes a 3-phase cyclical process of designing, evaluating, and piloting LITE. This process aligns with “Type 1 developmental” research, which focuses on both the design and evaluation of the tool (Richey & Klein, 2005). Developmental research is characterized as a balanced approach “between development and research” (van den Akker, 1999, p. 6), two aspects that are integral to our project.

Our project will include three interconnected themes and six research questions:

Pluralingualism:

1) How will students’ awareness of (own) linguistic and cultural resources make them become more effective (language) learners and more engaged and culturally-sensitive citizens?

2) How will the interconnection of students’ multiple linguistic and cultural resources contribute to their cognitive development?

Language innovation:

1) How do digital technologies support language innovation and linguistic and cultural diversity at a national/international level?

2) How does the customization of LITE address and support needs of different communities?

Language education:

1) How will pedagogical support be offered by LITE to help educators to effectively deal with linguistic and cultural diversity in their classrooms?

2) How will LITE foster an action-oriented approach to language teaching?


In order to answer these research questions, the partnership will implement a 3-year program of research activities:

Year 1:

Development of LITE matrix, i.e. a digital environment which can be further customized and adapted to different contexts, and make it available (along with related resources) to language students and educators, and in the future, to the general public;

Year 2:

Development of LITE content in the form of action-oriented tasks, scenarios and resources in each of the different languages best suited to the linguistic and intercultural competences and needs of diverse student audiences in upper secondary and post-secondary institutions;

Year 3:

Investigation of potential benefits this tool may have on language maintenance and language education, particularly Aboriginal and Heritage languages in North America.


The research activities will be organized into three hubs and the research undertaken at each hub will interconnect with the research themes discussed above.

Hub 1: Canada

This hub will focus on all three research activities. The OISE team will be in charge of Activity 1. Informed by the results of a previous feasibility study, the OISE team will produce a detailed description (Statement of Work – SOW) of all the phases required to create the LITE matrix, and the guidelines for the technical development and organization of the Content and Management System (CMS) of LITE itself.

Activity 2 will be performed by all the members of this hub: the York University team and the IISLE team will develop LITE content in ESL and German as a foreign language, respectively. Such content will then be shared with the OISE team and used as a basis for developing Ojibwe content that is compatible with this Aboriginal language and culture. Hub 1 will support three research assistants (one PhD student, two MA students) and one consultant expert in Ojibwe across the three years.

Hub 2: United States

Following the LITE matrix developed by the OISE team, Germain-Rutherford and Barbara Spinelli will be in charge of Activity 2by developing FSL and Italian content, respectively. Similarly to Hub 1, the members of this hub will collaborate closely, exchange ideas and follow a consistent line of work both within their hub and across hubs. This hub will supervise two Master students across the three years.

Hub 3: France

Dr. Masperi and her technical team will focus on the development of LITE by creating and hosting the CMS for LITE. Consistency with activity 1 will be ensured by the implementation of the SOW by Hub 3. Considering their expertise in plurilingual education, the French partner will also act as a consultant for the design of LITE content created by the other hubs.


All three hubs will be involved in Activity 3, which will consist in: collaborating with both language teachers and university students to collect information/data to design LITE content; discussing drafts of such content; and finally piloting LITE with upper secondary and university students.

All three hubs will contribute to the dissemination of LITE through a website, social media pages (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.) as well as academic publications and conference presentations. During year 2 of the project, workshops and professional development sessions will be organized in each hub to involve teachers in the design process of LITE content, gather their feedback and suggestions, and to check appropriateness and feasibility. In year 3 of the grant Hub 1 will host a symposium for launching LITE as a culminating knowledge-mobilization event.

+ Originality, significance and contribution

Our vision of LITE specifically targeting the Canadian and US settings aligns with a document published by the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC), which stresses the potential role of the CEFR to improve language education and value cultural diversity in Canada (CMEC, 2010). LITE will aim at overcoming the “monolingual disposition” of North America and value existing linguistic and cultural diversity. While we recognize the vast political, economic, and linguistic differences between the old and the new continent, we believe that the North American contexts can greatly benefit from the COE aims: plurilingualism, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, increased awareness of linguistic and cultural resources. LITE will provide students access to their own and others’ linguistic and cultural resources and engage in a digital social environment.

The introduction of LITE designed specifically to address the diversity of the Canadian and US linguistic and cultural landscape could function as a catalyst for introducing change. LITE will facilitate a process of increased language awareness, as students will be provided with a medium to engage with and reflect upon both their home/Heritage language as well as a foreign language being learned. This process will increase attention to minoritized languages and cultures in the community, and foster interaction with speakers of non-dominant languages, helping students realize that their linguistic and cultural experiences are important sources of linguistic, cultural and self-knowledge.

Over time, this process will foster students’ interest in learning languages that they had previously dismissed or been unaware of, and to engage in self-directed language learning. LITE in the North American context has the potential to shift entrenched language hierarchies and thereby empower linguistic minorities by changing attitudes towards all languages and cultures. Schools and universities need to better educate future plurilingual global citizens ready for a professional career or post-graduate studies at home or abroad; thus, LITE can facilitate a plurilingual paradigm shift (Kramsch, Levy & Zarate, 2008) by recognizing learners’ diverse linguistic and cultural competencies, and acknowledging the interconnectedness of language, culture, lived experiences and identity negotiation.

+ References

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