Exploring Engagement through Cultural Inquiry

Grant program: Multilingual Classroom

Grant recipient: Sonja Luehrmann, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Project team: Marina Khonina and Marina Mikhaylova-Kadriu, research assistants

Timeframe: September 2018 to July 2019

Funding: $5180

Course addressed: SA 386 - Ethnography of Politics

Description: This project tests the effectiveness of a translanguaging (Canagarajah 2011) and personal storytelling approach for teaching social scientific writing to students from diverse social and linguistic backgrounds. In the spring 2019 offering of SA 386, I will replace the previous research paper with a cultural inquiry portfolio assignment. The assignment will be structured to allow students to make connections between course readings and personal experiences of community/political engagement in the sociocultural context that is most familiar to them. It will also allow for communication in a variety of genres and registers. Building on insights from creative writing programs that found that personal and literary expression can encourage students to enhance literacy and language skills and build a professional persona (Achugar, 2009) my hope is that the portfolio assignment will encourage greater diversity of expression and confidence among multilingual students. Through inbuilt presentations and peer discussion, it will also facilitate the exchange of cultural knowledge among class participants. Analysis of student assignments and focus group interviews will show if students can transfer skills from personal linguistic repertoires to the conventions of academic writing.

Mariana Achugar, Building a Professional Identity in a Graduate Classroom. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 8(2-3), 2009: 65-87.

Suresh Canagarajah, Translanguaging in the Classroom: Emerging Issues for Research and Pedagogy. Applied Linguistics Review 2011(1): 1-28.

Questions addressed: 

  • Does experience-near writing help students engage with social science concepts?
  • Does experience-near writing help EAL students achieve greater semantic depth, ability to explain and justify an argument, and more conscious writing choices over the course of a semester?
  • Does experience-near writing enable students to relate concepts from their own cultural background to the class materials?
  • How can individual components of the portfolio assignment be improved/changed to facilitate transfer of skills from informal expression to academic writing?


  • The photo essays and videos of those students who consent to it will be made available on a section of the Sociology and Anthropology department’s website, for use in future offerings of this course or in introductory courses.
  • I will request the opportunity to present a brief report at a department meeting and, together with participating students, at a SASU (Sociology and Anthropology Student Union) meeting.
  • I will co-present on the project with the RA at one of SFU’s annual Teaching and Learning Symposia (either in 2019 or 2020). Retention and engagement of international students as well as experiential learning are priorities for FASS and the university as a whole; this project addresses both objectives.