Actions and Words: Meaning Making in a Bilingual Arabic/English Kindergarten

Swanborough-Nilson, Christine Ann (2020). Actions and Words: Meaning Making in a Bilingual Arabic/English Kindergarten. EdD thesis The Open University.



Much research relating to bilingual education in the early years has focused on how young children are learning a new language, viewed from a monolingual paradigm of language use (Tabors 1997, Clarke 1999, Cummins 2001, Drury 2007, Genesee 2008). Recent sociocultural research on meaning-making in communities (García and Sylvan 2011, Gort and Sembiante 2015, Wei 2018, Creese and Blackledge 2019) reveals a less rigid boundary between named languages, and an emerging theory of translanguaging. This theory offers a new perspective from which to view pedagogical practices in bilingual classrooms.
The multimodal nature of young children’s meaning-making has long been acknowledged, founded on the work of Vygotsky in the 1920s, and is evident in the variety of pedagogical practices used by early years teachers to support meaning-making (Rogoff 1990, Siraj-Blatchford et al 2002). More recently, multimodal meaning-making has been explored in different communities (Kress 2000, Flewitt 2013, Bezemer and Kress 2014), revealing the many different modes of communication regularly employed to share meaning. However, in studies of early bilingual education, the significance of non-verbal behaviours has often been overlooked.
This thesis therefore sets out to explore the significance of multimodal meaning-making and a pedagogy for translingual practice (Canagarajah 2013) in an early years bilingual context. Using ethnographic tools, it analyses the pedagogical practices of two teachers working in a co-teaching situation in a kindergarten in Abu Dhabi. By an iterative process of data analysis, it explores how those practices contribute to children’s development as confident bilingual learners.
The findings indicate that, as teachers create new spaces for learning using action and gesture as well as speech, children are empowered to draw on both verbal and non-verbal modes of meaning-making in a fluid process of bilingual and multimodal languaging.
Emergent bilingualism, translanguaging, multimodality, sociocultural theory, early years, co-teaching, Arabian Gulf.

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