Welcoming students who have not mastered the school language can pose challenges such as the inaccurate assessment of their true academic potential which can lead to diminished academic opportunities for them at school, and ultimately negative educational outcomes. In fact, in Canada and France as well as numerous other countries that have experienced an influx of newcomers, the dropout rate among language learners is high and newcomers are underrepresented in STEM pathways in education. Generally, teachers feel unprepared to cope with these high levels of linguistic diversity and the declining interest in sciences in the middle grades along with the reduced STEM practice opportunities outside of school hours. These circumstances have created an urgent need to improve our ability to provide appropriate support for the increased academic success of language learners in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Against this backdrop, computer-based tools have recently gained traction as promising strategies to assist teachers in fostering collaboration, problem-solving and procedural thinking among their diverse students, improving higher-order thinking of learners and increasing student engagement overall. Multilingual versions of digital tools are of particular interest as they remove the language barrier, thereby providing an unobstructed view of the skills of linguistically diverse students. However, the effectiveness of such tools has yet to be researched.
Our study aims to address these gaps by examining how middle-grade children and youth use the multilingual content of a digital learning tool to access STEM content. We are implementing and evaluating the impact of an online STEM-focused program that combines a highly engaging interface with a choice of several languages across Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and France, in regions where there is a greater than average number of language learners in schools. Our partnership seeks to elucidate 1) the students’ level of engagement in learning STEM content, 2) the extent to which the multilingual features promote academic progress, 3) the inclination of students to access academic content in French, and 4) the experiences of teachers with regards to using this technology. We also explore various strategies to support teachers in learning to integrate multilingual digital tools across the STEM curriculum including the collaborative development of resources.
The partnership includes 4 universities and 3 major community partners. A range of products including articles, conference presentations, workshops for teachers, policy briefs, multimedia products and professional development videos will stem from this research and be made available on various platforms. Our findings will contribute to the development of innovative teaching practices and new education policies to support linguistically diverse students in Canada and France.
Project: Plurilingual pedagogies and digital technologies to support learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics