Sociocultural Investigation of Literacy Instruction and Children’s Learning of ESL

Principal Investigator(s) Chercheur principal (Chercheurs principaux):

K. Toohey, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC

Co-Investigator(s) /Co-chercheurs:

Paul Neufeld ,Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.Rosamund Stooke, University of  Western ON, London, ON


SSHRC Standard Grant (Amount: $106,500)


 2006-2009 (Status/Statut: Ongoing)

Contact Information/Personne contact:

Tel: 788-782-4517 E-Mail: Office: Education Building 8635 SFU Burnaby


School instruction of child second language (L2) learners is a pressing educational issue globally. While they quickly develop oral interaction skills in the L2, most child learners often experience difficulty with academic and/or written aspects of school activities. During the intermediate grades (4-7), difficulties with literate uses of the L2 become especially consequential, and their negative consequences accumulate throughout school. Unfortunately, little Canadian research has examined the literacy learning of English language learners (ELLs), and internationally we lack research on how ELLs develop literacies at school or on how pedagogical interventions affect ELLs’ literacy learning. Our proposed 3-year project aimed to fill these lacunae.

Project Objectives/Objectifs du projet:

Building on our previous work (English language learning, sociocultural theory, literacy instruction, and ELLs’ reading development), core questions for this project are:

  • In what first language (L1) and English literacy practices do intermediate-grade ELLs participate at home and in school, and how do they participate in these activities?
  •  In what ways might school literacy instruction based on sociocultural learning theories provide these ELLs with access to school literacy practices?
  •  Are theoretical models of and practical research on sociocultural approaches to L2 literacy instruction helpful to teachers working in multilingual classrooms?

Research Plan/Plan de recherche:

We began by interviewing 18 intermediate-grade ELLs, 9 from each of two schools, and their parents about home literacy practices, and observed and documented the children’s school literacy activities during the 3-year project. Then we met and worked with the children’s classroom teachers to develop and document the implementation of team-designed instructional activities. Data included extensive samples of: classroom observations; video and audiotapes of classroom interactions; student work. In addition, we interviewed teachers and students, and documented the research group’s monthly meetings at which we examined classroom data, designed new kinds of instructional activities, made hypotheses about children’s learning in these environments, and collaboratively analyzed the usefulness of using sociocultural theory to create literacy instructional activities for child ELLs.

Significance /Importance:

In this project we have prepared and documented the implementation of literacy instructional activities for multilingual classrooms (rapidly becoming the norm in many Canadian cities). We generated comprehensive longitudinal data about the home and school literacy activities of two cohorts of ELLs, that enabled us to construct ELL literacy learning and teaching models that both respect the complexity of individual, social, cultural, linguistic and other variables, and incorporate the varying perspectives of the researchers, teachers, parents and children.