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  • Dublin Institute of TechnologyARROW@DIT

    Doctoral Applied Arts


    Teachers and Language Learning in PrimarySchools: the Acquisition of Additional Languagesin the Early YearsAnna Dillon (Thesis)Dublin Institute of Technology

    Follow this and additional works at: http://arrow.dit.ie/appadocPart of the Elementary Education and Teaching Commons, and the Reading and Language


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    Recommended CitationDillon, A.: Teachers and Language Learning in Primary Schools: the Acquisition of Additional Languages in the Early Years. DoctoralThesis. Dublin Institute of Technology, 2011.

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    Teachers and Language Learning in Primary Schools:

    The Acquisition of Additional Languages in the Early


    Anna Marie Dillon, B.Ed., M.A. (Ed.)

    Submitted for the award of PhD to Dublin Institute of Technology

    Supervisors: Dr. Mire Mhic Mhathna and Dr. Brian ONeill

    School of Social Sciences and Law

    September 2011

  • ii


    This study set out to explore teachers attitudes towards home language maintenance

    among children acquiring English and Irish as additional languages in the early years of

    primary school and to explore the experiences of mainstream teachers who are working

    with these children. The study includes a consideration of the pedagogical issues

    involved in teaching young English and Irish language learners and an examination of the

    support that the whole school community provides for the teachers and the children. Data

    were gathered using a mixed methods approach, bearing in mind the rights of children to

    use their home languages and learn additional languages in an age-appropriate manner

    and the complex linguistic ecologies that form part of the environment of these children.

    Phase I of the research involved four focus group interviews carried out with teachers of

    Junior and Senior Infant classes. This served to inform parts of Phase II of the research, a

    nationwide postal questionnaire administered to teachers of Junior Infants. It was found

    that teachers do have positive attitudes towards the maintenance of home languages

    among these newcomer children, and that while attitudes inform practice, practical

    application of home language inclusion was rare. It was also found that while documents

    exist to support teachers in this endeavour, they are most often not consulted due to lack

    of training and lack of awareness.

    Classroom observation which focussed on teacher interaction with three newcomer

    children in one Junior Infant classroom was carried out during Phase III. This observation

    highlighted not only a variety of strategies for interactional scaffolding appropriate to

    facilitating newcomer children in the mainstream classroom but also the importance of

    environmental scaffolding. Positive results regarding childrens English and Irish

    language skills were found during all phases of the research.

    Overall the study has shown many positive aspects of an education system that advocates

    for children speaking home languages other than English in the early years of primary

    school. However, this system requires a more consistent approach to support and training

    for the mainstream class teacher who is ultimately responsible for implementing policies

    and practices at the micro level.

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    I certify that this thesis which I now submit for examination for the award of PhD is

    entirely my own work and has not been taken from the work of others, save and to the

    extent that such work has been cited and acknowledged within the text of my work.

    This thesis was prepared according to the regulations for postgraduate study by research

    of the Dublin Institute of Technology and has not been submitted in whole or in part for

    another award in any Institute.

    The work reported on in this thesis conforms to the principles and requirements of the

    Institute's guidelines for ethics in research.

    The Institute has permission to keep, lend or copy this thesis in whole or in part, on

    condition that any such use of the material of the thesis be duly acknowledged.

    Signature __________________________________ Date _________________________

  • iv


    It is a pleasure to thank the many people who have made this thesis possible.

    My supervisor, Dr. Mire Mhic Mhathna, has been a constant source of tremendous

    advice and encouragement. I was very lucky to have had such a mentor over the last three

    and a half years. I am also very grateful to my advisory supervisor, Dr. Brian ONeill, for

    his input along the way and to Dr. Ann Marie Halpenny who shared her wisdom and

    advice with me.

    The research would not have been possible without the co-operation of the teachers and

    children who facilitated me. Teachers gave of their precious time to participate in focus

    group interviews and complete questionnaires and the school where classroom

    observation was carried out welcomed me with open arms.

    I am indebted to the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, the

    organisation which initially funded this research through a PhD studentship. After the

    CECDE ceased business in November 2008, DIT continued to fund the research and for

    this I am extremely grateful.

    I completed most of this thesis while working in Mary Immaculate College and would

    like to thank my colleagues and students there for their input and advice, given so

    generously and freely. I would also like to thank the BoM of Ballyshannon NS, who

    facilitated my secondment during this time. I thank my friends, old and new, for their

    continued support.

    As the youngest of a large family I have always been inspired by my brothers and sisters

    Antoinette, Pauline, Patrick and David to continue my education as far as possible. They

    supported me in many ways through the early years at college and all through this

    research. My mother Marie and father Joe always valued education and I know my father

    would have been very proud of my achievement.

    It would have been impossible for me to complete this PhD without my mothers help in

    taking care of my lovely baby boy Jack who was almost one year old at the time of

    submission. My husband Shane was wonderfully supportive during the whole process

    and especially around the birth of my beautiful baby girl Laila, who was born around the

    same time as the thesis. I dedicate this thesis to my family.

  • v


    BICS Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills

    CALP Cognitive/ Academic Language Proficiency

    CEF Common European Framework (of Reference for Languages)

    CLBT Content and Language Based Teaching

    CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning

    CPD Continuing Professional Development

    CPH Critical Period Hypothesis

    CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child

    CUP Common Underlying Proficiency

    DES Department of Education and Science (pre 2009)

    DES Department of Education and Skills (post 2009)

    DICE Development and Intercultural Education

    EAL English as an Additional Language

    EFL English as a Foreign Language

    ELL Early Language Learner

    ELP European Language Portfolio

    ESL English as a Second Language

    FCPMN Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

    FL Foreign Language

    HL Home language/ Heritage language (used interchangeably)

    HLOTE Home Languages Other Than English

    IILT Integrate Ireland Learning and Training

    INTO Irish National Teachers Organisation

    ITE Initial Teacher Education

    JRS Jesuit Refugee Service

    LEP Limited English Proficient

    LHRs Linguistic Human Rights

    LM Language Maintenance

    LOTE Languages Other Than English

    LS Language Shift

    NCCA National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

    PCSP Primary Curriculum Support Service

    RLSU Refugee Language Support Unit

    SCMP Schools Cultural Mediation Project

    SEVQ Subject Ethnolinguistic Vitality Questionnaire

    SDPS School Development Planning Service

    SLA Second Language Acquisition

    SUP Separate Underlying Proficiency

    TL Target Language

    TP Teaching Practice

    TPR Total Physical Response

    UDHR Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • vi


    Title Page i

    Abstract ii

    Declaration Page iii

    Acknowledgements iv

    Abbreviations v

    Table of Contents vi

    List of Figures xiii

    List of Tables xv

    List of Appendices xv


    1.1 Introduction 1 1.2 Aim of this Study 1 1.3 Rationale for the Study 3 1.4 Plurilingual Language Learners 8 1.5 Outline of Study 11



    2.1 Introduction 14

    2.2 Educational Language Policy 14 2.2.1 Neocolonialism 15 2.2.2 Language Policy 18

    2.2.3 Linguistic Human Rights 23 2.2.4 The Irish Language in the Education System 29

    2.3 Advantages of Plurilingualism 31 2.4 Language Maintenance and Language Shift 36 2.5 Language and Identity 44

    2.6 Ecological Linguistics 49

    2.7 Summary 53


    3.1 Introduction 55

    3.2 Language Acquisition 55

    3.2.1 Sociocultural Theory 57 3.2.2 Input and Interaction 62 3.2.3 Formulaic language 66 3.2.4 Interlanguage 68 3.2.5 Early Language Learning 71 3.3 Pedagogical Issues 76

  • vii

    3.3.1 Integrated Instruction 78 3.3.2 Instructional Practices 81 3.3.3 Using the L1 as a resource 84 3.3.4 Aistear 86

    3.3.5 Assessment 87

    3.3.6 Teacher Education 89 3.4 Teachers Attitudes towards Home Language

    Maintenance 92

    3.5 Summary 96


    4.1 Introduction 97

    4.2 Approaches to Educational Research 97

    4.2.1 Research Design 100

    4.2.2 Ethical Issues 102

    4.3 Phase I: Focus Group Interviews 104

    4.3.1 Purpose/ Rationale 105

    4.3.2 Administration 106

    4.3.3 Sampling 107

    4.3.4 Reliability 108

    4.3.5 Analysis 110 4.4 Phase II: Questionnaires 111

    4.4.1 Purpose/ Rationale 112 4.4.2 Layout of questionnaire/ Types of questionnaire items 112

    4.4.3 Administration of questionnaires 114

    4.4.4 Reliability and Validity 115

    4.4.5 Piloting 118

    4.4.6 The Sample 118

    4.4.7 Analysis of data 119

    4.5 Phase III: Classroom observation 120

    4.5.1 Purpose/ Rationale 120

    4.5.2 Sampling 121 4.5.3 Administration 122

    4.5.4 Reliability and Validity 124

    4.5.5 Analysis 125

    4.6 Summary 127



    5.1 Introduction 129 5.2 The Interviewees 130 5.3 Level of English 130 5.4 Level of Irish 133

  • viii

    5.5 Maintenance of L1 137 5.6 Home school links issues for consideration 143 5.7 Planning for inclusion of children with EAL 148 5.8 Training and Resources 150 5.9 Summary of findings from focus group interviews 153 5.9.1 What are teachers attitudes towards L1 maintenance among children with EAL? 153

    5.9.2 To what extent are speakers of EAL being supported by the Whole School Community? 153

    5.9.3 What are teachers' experiences of English language acquisition among children with

    EAL in Junior Infants? 154

    5.9.4 What are teachers' experiences of Irish language acquisition among children with

    EAL in Junior Infants? 155

    5.10 Conclusion 155



    6.1 Introduction 156

    6.2 Findings from Section A Part 1 156

    6.2.1 The schools 156

    6.2.2 The teachers 158

    6.2.3 Languages spoken in class and

    resources available 161

    6.2.4 Resources used by teachers 163

    6.2.5 Summary of Section A Part 1 165 6.3 Findings from Section A Part 2 and Section C 166 6.3.1 HLOTE and parents 167

    6.3.2 Culture, identity and the HL 168

    6.3.3 HL in relation to English and Gaeilge 170

    6.3.4 HL, school and society 177

    6.3.5 Section C Teachers personal attitudes

    towards languages 179

    6.3.6 Summary of Section A Part 2 and Section C 181 6.4 Section B: Individual Pupil Profiles 183 6.4.1 The Child and the First Language 183

    6.4.2 Individual language profiles by nationality 187 Speakers of Polish 187 Speakers of Lithuanian 187 Speakers of Romanian 188 Speakers of Chinese 188 Speakers of Indian Languages 189 Speakers of African Languages 189 Speakers of Latvian 189

  • ix Speakers of Russian 189

    6.5 The Child and the Second Language English 190

    6.5.1 Listening 190

    6.5.2 Spoken Interaction 191

    6.5.3 Spoken Production 192

    6.6 The Child and the Second Language - Irish 193

    6.6.1 Listening 193 6.6.2 Speaking 197 6.6.3 Summary of Section B 204 Summary of The Child and the First Language 204 Summary of The Child and the Second Language - English 205 Summary of The Child and the

    Second Language Irish 205

    6.7 Conclusion 207



    7.1 Introduction 208

    7.2 Class, Child and School Profile 209

    7.2.1 Class Profile 209 7.2.2 Child Profiles 209 7.2.3 School Profile 211 7.3 Analysis of Classroom Observation 213

    7.4 Analysis of Observation 1 214

    7.4.1 Interactional scaffolding 215 Starting slowly 215 Buttressing communication 215 Repetition 217 7.4...


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