In multilingual Australian classrooms, one of the biggest challenges for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) learners is mastering the academic language they need to succeed at school. Unlike everyday language, academic language refers to the abstract, complex and challenging language that students need to understand, evaluate, synthesise and report on ideas that they learn in the classroom. It may include, for example, discipline-specific vocabulary, or textual conventions typical for a content area. As Goldenberg (2008) says: “If we want students to think like mathematicians, read like historians, write like scientists, we need to teach them these ways of thinking reading and writing” (p. 9). For CALD students in Australian mainstream classrooms, who learn subject content through English, mastery of academic language can prove particularly challenging if they are restricted to “English only” approaches to show what they know and can do. In contrast, a translanguaging approach can enable students to utilize any of the features in their full linguistic repertoires to demonstrate what they know and can do in relation to classroom content (Garcia, Johnson & Seltzer, 2017). This paper reports on an empirical research project that investigated the role of translanguaging (Garcia, 2009) in teaching academic language to CALD students, by setting up collaborative activities in which students worked together to draw upon all of their language and cultural knowledge. During this project, the first author, an academic researcher, collaborated with two classroom teachers (both of whom co-authored this paper) to explore various ways in which teachers could mobilise multilingual teaching pedagogies to support the students’ access to and engagement with language and literacy learning. In providing a finely grained account of how a translanguaging approach was applied to literacy and oracy work in a Health Sciences unit, this article demonstrates clearly how CALD students’ linguistic resources are fundamental to their cultural identities, and that enabling students to access all of these resources can lead to deeper and richer learning experiences.
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