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Language mapping process and analysis

The study involved training two teachers and the deputy principal to become co-researchers and to learn how to do the mapping with the children. The teachers, with the support of the deputy principal, then implemented the mapping process with the students in their classes, training them in turn to become ethnographers of their everyday language practice. The two classroom teachers and the music and drama teachers returned to the university to analyse the maps some months later.

The teachers described the process of making the maps with the children in their Grade 3/4 and 5/6 classes respectively. They began by talking with their classes about their everyday language practices, an activity the children were very engaged in: 'they don't get opportunities just to sit there and talk about themselves in the class, they just loved talking about themselves'. Once they started, 'they just kept going and going with it. They actually wanted to just keep sitting on the floor and talking about their language at home'. Some children were able to talk more easily about their home language practices than others: 'I've got a lot of students who are Aboriginal in my class but they didn't want to bring that up. They just wanted to talk about them speaking in English'. One Aboriginal student who 'gets picked up and taken back to country all the time, we were trying to encourage him but he was too shy - didn't want to let us know'. On the other hand, they learned about the multiple home languages of children whose families had migrated from other countries in these conversations:

There was one girl who I never would have picked it, but she has four languages at home. And that was a real eye opener and then through discussion with her a lot of that was brought into the house. So there was one from her real dad, then there was one from her step dad and then there was a language from her other step dad and it's just all these people that are coming into the house and speaking languages.

Other children knew that they spoke different languages at home but did not know how to name the language, it was simply their everyday life: 'Like Denmark - so what do you call Denmark language, they didn't know, and the Arabic - there was a Persian type of language and she didn't quite get the name of it right - because I was trying to write it down'. The teacher began to realise that each time a child speaks in school they confront questions of: 'Who am I in this setting? What identity do I have here? What words am I going to use? What accent will I speak in?'

The deputy principal introduced the mapping task to each of the classes while the teachers made notes and gave examples on the whiteboard of how the children could make a map of their language practice. The children were initially challenged by the size and blankness of the A3 sheet with no lines: 'So just the fact that they had a big piece of paper, oh I can't fill that. Some of them panicked. It's a lot to fill so we had to talk about those'. The A3 sheet required the children to enter a visual and spatial field of representation. Once they had put something on the paper they were fine, becoming very attached to their language maps which we returned to later on a classroom visit.

The team of seven, three university researchers and four teachers, began the collaborative analysis of the maps by spreading them out on two large flat surfaces so that we could view the maps from one class at a time. We began with the Grade 3 maps, then moved to the Grade 5/6 maps. As we viewed the maps we noticed the ways that the space of the A3 sheets was used by the children to map the nature and locations of their language practices. With the Grade 3 maps, the first thing we observed was that all of the maps included a central human figure: 'I hadn't noticed before that there was a person in - pretty much in the middle of every single one, even though they're very different sizes'. The use of colour, the use of space, and the extent to which connections were represented were all significant differences:

I looked at the connections that some of them made, like the one over there really jumps out at me because it feels like this pizazz and those arrows going around everywhere. And then some children have obviously separated everything and they haven't drawn any lines between the things, so they're just choices that I, I found that quite interesting, like the depiction of where they fit in to those groups.

We decided that we could group the maps into those that indicated connections and those where no connections were evident between the different spatial domains of language practice. We also noticed the ones that stood out as different from all of the rest and we called them the outliers: 'This is another one that stood out. He's a reluctant writer, will not write and that's why he's - I can pick up a few things just by looking at the picture that he's drawn'. Once the maps were grouped into the categories of separation, connection and outliers for each class, the teachers chose one from each group for the focus of our analysis.

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