Margaret Early

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Digital multimodal composing with youth from refugee and immigrant backgrounds in a Metro Vancouver secondary school (2023)

Canadian schools welcome increasing numbers of emergent multilingual newcomer youth. However, studies examining graduation data have shown that schools have not been very successful in keeping youth from refugee and socio-economically marginalized backgrounds invested in school learning. There is thus an urgent need to understand how these youth can be better supported in Canadian schools to achieve their potential. This qualitative, multi-year, ethnographic case-study research addresses this need, involving nine emergent multilingual adolescent newcomers from refugee and immigrant backgrounds in a Metro Vancouver secondary school. The study explored possibilities for language and literacy learning among these youth through in-school digital multimodal composing (DMC), the use of digital tools to make meaning with multiple modes (e.g., languages, visuals, gestures). Youth inquired, and later shared, about issues of interest and concern to them in DMC activities, specifically video productions, that I facilitated during class time in popular new media genres (e.g., reaction videos, video podcasts). The activities were designed with a role-play-based, dramaturgical pedagogy, and were anchored in curriculum goals. Reflexive thematic analysis of text, audio, and video data collected from youth and their teachers was conducted inductively in ATLAS.ti, with a multimodal ethnographic approach. Findings revealed three patterns presented in three manuscripts: (1) a focus on the role-play-based, dramaturgical pedagogy of the project as a case showed how this pedagogical structuring of DMC processes facilitated the nine newcomer students’ investment in classroom learning; (2) a focus on the reaction videos production as a case showed how six youth from refugee backgrounds took ownership of how they were to be perceived by their classmates and teachers; and (3) a focus, as a case, on one emergent multilingual refugee-background learner with significantly interrupted schooling who had come late to literacy, showed how DMC processes helped him overcome the language barrier, showcase English proficiency, and counter deficit perceptions. The study helps researchers, educators, and teacher-educators better understand how DMC can foster these youth’s investment in school learning.

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Mobilizing knowledge processes and lifeworld practices across learning spaces: exploring grade 6 English language learners' inquiry-based learning experiences in a technology-enhanced classroom (2021)

Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) diverse students, including English Language Learners (ELLs), use digital technologies both in school-sanctioned learning spaces (e.g., Cummins & Early, 2011; Cummins et al., 2015; Lotherington, 2008, 2011; Lotherington & Jensen, 2011; Marshall & Toohey, 2010; Rothoni, 2017; Toohey et al., 2015) and out-of-school learning spaces (e.g., Abrams, 2016; Lange, 2014; Lam, 2009; Black, 2008). Boundaries between these learning spaces are increasingly blurred, supported by the affordances of digital technologies (New London Group, 1996), as students bring their learning experiences and corresponding language, discourses, and registers from one realm of their lives to another. To address these changes in global and linguistic landscapes, provinces across Canada, have shifted curricular focus to developing 21st century competencies (see Alberta Education, 2011a; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016) and placing a greater emphasis on utilizing inquiry-based learning approaches (see Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013a; Province of British Columbia, 2020b). Hence, many educators are reconsidering how they design pedagogical tasks that support their students in bridging their multiple lifeworld practices. The following ethnographic case study explored the learning processes of Grade 6 ELL students in a technology-enhanced classroom and through this lens considered what the teacher did to foster these processes. It draws from multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996), multimodality (Kress, 2000) and learning by design (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015) theoretical frameworks to better understand the learning processes in the tasks in which students engaged. The data generated included artifacts/student work, monthly participant literacy activities journals, field observations and student interviews. Additional interviews with teachers and the administrator provided further contextual clarity. A thematic analysis (Saldaña, 2016) and deductive analysis of the data occurred. Results revealed that inquiry-based learning experiences, influenced by the current school context, were prevalent. Knowledge processes ELL students activated suggested that teachers targeted a range of knowledge processes in their task design. Additionally, these tasks afforded ELLs opportunities to mobilize their lifeworld practices from one learning space to another. Findings from this study will be of great significance to K-12 educators, teacher-educators and researchers.

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"We speak the language of changemakers": critical pedagogies and transformative multiliteracies in a community of practice beyond ESL (2014)

As educators face the challenge of preparing students for local and global citizenship in societies marked by such cultural and linguistic complexity that researchers have labeled them “super-diverse” (Blommaert & Rampton, 2011; Vertovec, 2007), older models of English as a Second Language instruction that aimed at the assimilation of non-English speakers into English-dominant societies are giving way to a new wave of pedagogical approaches including multiliteracies (New London Group, 2000) and pluriliteracies (Lin, 2013; Taylor & Snoddon, 2013) that recognize—and create citizens who recognize—the value of linguistic diversity, the necessity of critical linguistic awareness, and the possibility for linguistic inclusion and transformative change. My research investigates the meaning-making practices and identities of linguistically-diverse youth engaged in transformative multiliteracies pedagogies (Cummins, 2009) at an international seminar on youth leadership for social change. In an alternative international education setting, this study explores what is possible in terms of pedagogy, practice, and policy when we move beyond “ESL”/ “Native English Speaker” to include the plurilingual and multimodal resources, identities and practices of all participants.This study takes a critical approach to language and literacy pedagogy (Morgan & Ramanathan, 2005; Janks, 2010; Norton & Toohey, 2011), multilingualism (Blackledge & Creese, 2010; Alim 2010), plurilingualism (Lin, 2013), and language learning (Norton & Toohey, 2004). In addition, this investigation takes a community of practice approach to learning and competency (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1999) and a social practice approach to identity (Norton, 2000, 2013) and language (Pennycook, 2010a; Blackledge & Creese, 2010). This critical ethnography (Anderson, 1989; Carspecken, 2001; Talmy, 2010a) draws on a small stories (Bamberg & Georgakopoulou, 2008) narrative approach and a Bakhtinian (1981) discourse analysis to investigate the communicative practices and identity positionings of linguistically diverse youth. Video ethnography (Heath, Hindmarsh, & Luff, 2010) and interview as a social practice (Talmy, 2010c) were used to approach the rich discursive practices of the community as the participants engaged in activities that encourage and explore diversity, access, power, and design—the four interconnected elements of Janks’ (2009) critical literacy framework.

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Promoting Digital Literacy in African Education: ICT Innovations in a Ugandan Primary Teachers' College (2014)

This research entitled “Promoting digital literacy in African education: ICT innovations in a Ugandan primary teachers’ college” was guided by two research questions: (1) What role can digital technology and digital literacy play in improving teacher education in a rural Ugandan primary teacher’s college? (2) How has ICT policy impacted curriculum development in Ugandan education and classroom practice in two rural Ugandan primary schools? It took the form of a qualitative case study in which data were collected using classroom observations, individual interviews, focus group discussions, semi-structured questionnaires, artefacts and document analyses. Findings of the study suggest that technology has a major role to play in improving teacher education in a rural Ugandan primary teachers’ college. These included: enhancing the tutors’ identities; increasing the tutors’ resourcefulness; promoting team work among the tutors; promoting the integration of the local with the global to facilitate teaching and learning; and promoting teamwork and team spirit among the tutors. Further, the study found that the ICT policy had positively impacted curriculum development and classroom practices in the two rural Ugandan primary schools. However, the study revealed that the positive impact of ICT policy on curriculum development and classroom practices were being undermined by multiple factors, including: fragile ICT infrastructure in the villages; inadequate supply of electricity; lack of access to the Internet; and inadequate digital literacy skills among teachers. It therefore concludes that government should take appropriate measures to address these challenges for digital literacy to sustainably take root in Ugandan education. Further studies will need to be carried out to identify appropriate strategies through which these challenges can be addressed in order to achieve meaningful educational change in Uganda.

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Knowledge mobilization, multilingual students and democratic accountability (2009)

Information societies, characterized by mobile populations, cross-border collaborations, and an emphasis on knowledge creation, increasingly value individuals’ ability to move knowledge across contexts. Yet, despite the privilege conferred on such practices, knowledge mobilization as semiotic practices remains relatively unexamined, its theorization lagging behind scholarly and public interest.This inquiry takes up the challenges of theorizing knowledge mobilization, testing the explanatory potential of Bernstein’s sociology of pedagogy and the pedagogic device as it relates to knowledge movement in and about classrooms (Bernstein 1977a, 1990, 2000, 2001). Its specific interest lies in: a) the potential contribution of students’ quotidian (particularly multilingual) knowledge to students’ apprenticeship in knowledge mobilization skills, and b) the circulation of knowledge regarding such practices among educational stakeholders. Theorizing knowledge mobilization as a practice of recontextualization, and capitalizing on well-established exotropic relations between Bernstein’s work and social semiotics, particularly systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and development of a visual grammar (Halliday, 1978, 2004; Hasan, 1999a; Kress, 2000c; Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996/2006), three propositions focused on multimodality, student voice and register are used to test Bernstein’s theories against students’ and teachers’ hypermodal texts (see analysis reveals the complexity of the recontextualization tasks and the pertinence of Bernstein’s theories. Affordance of a range of semiotic resources facilitates recontextualization of quotidian knowledge within an academic register; enables drawing on multilingual capabilities to support a position as knower among parents and peers; and allows a student’s substantial design skills to be employed in the interpretation of a Shakespearean sonnet. But multimodality confounds as well as supports recontextualization of pedagogic texts and practices for purposes of public accountability: the dissolution of the textual boundaries integral to hypermodal texts simultaneously dissipates the teacher’s presence as author and knower. Here, Bernstein’s theories explain how stakeholders’ position as co-author of hypermodal texts combines with the texts’ predominant register to impede mobilization of teachers’ knowledge. The relevance of Bernstein’s theories to explanations of reversals of dominant knowledge flows and to pedagogic practices of knowledge mobilization are highlighted.The inquiry was supported by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Language and literacies pedagogies in a language introduction program in Sweden: lessons from teachers and youths (2022)

In 2015, 39,000 youths between the ages of 16 to 18 years arrived in Sweden, primarily from Syria, and Afghanistan, but also Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea (Migrationsverket, 2015). The Swedish National Agency for Education (i.e., Skolverket) reported that enrollment in Language Introduction Programs (LIPs) of youth seeking asylum and refuge climbed from 10,200 in 2014 to 23,100 in 2016 (Skolverket, 2014, 2016). Challenges to meet the mandated requirements to exit the Language Introduction Program and successfully graduate before youth age-out of upper secondary school at age 20 are immense, particularly for those students from refugee backgrounds with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE). This qualitative study sought to understand what four experienced language teachers in a Language Introduction Program perceived as the needs and challenges (particularly in English) of SLIFE and the most promising pedagogical responses. The study also explored the potential of a translanguaging/semiotic pedagogy in an identity-text project (two units of study) to draw on the everyday literacies, experiences, and interests of the youths (n=7) for identity affirmation and investment in language and literacy learning. The theoretical frameworks draw from Crosslinguistic Translanguaging Theory (CTT) (Cummins, 2021), the Academic Expertise Framework (Cummins, 2001), and conceptions of identity and investment (Darvin & Norton, 2015), plus related translanguaging/semiotic pedagogies (Cummins, 2021; Cummins & Early, 2011). Data were gathered through field notes, focus group interviews with the teachers, student artifacts and texts, recordings of classroom interactions, and exit-interviews with the youths. The data were analyzed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2012). Findings from educators’ perceptions of the challenges of working with SLIFE suggest three interrelated themes: educational challenges (predominant), structural (organizational and legal) stresses, and social-emotional challenges. Upon reanalysis, educators’ dilemmas around “what” to teach and “how” to teach SLIFE are also reported. The findings from the study of the identity-text project contributed to better understandings about the potential of translanguaging/semiotic pedagogies with youth from refugee backgrounds to support identity affirmation and investment in language and literacies learning, including the youths’ dilemmatic perceptions. Implications for pedagogical practices are discussed, plus limitations of the study, and directions for future research.

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Supporting refugee- and migrant-background students in a Canadian elementary classroom: challenges and promising teaching practices (2021)

Canada has a long history of resettlement of refugee and protected persons, and between 2015 and 2019, over 225,000 were resettled (IRCC, 2020). Many refugee background newcomers to Canada (42%) are school-aged children and youth, including students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) (IRCC, 2017); many have experienced triple trauma due to forced migration, during transition, and upon resettlement in Canada (Stewart et al. 2019). This lack of opportunity to attend school and traumatic experiences presents daunting challenges for refugee-background students and their teachers who may lack resources and preparation to meet their complex needs (Stewart et al., 2019). This study seeks to contribute to better understandings in this area through its exploration of what an expert elementary school educator, together with her team-teaching colleagues, perceived as the challenges and successful approaches to language and literacy education for Grade 6/7 refugee-and-migrant background students (RMBS). The study also explored the potential of multiliteracies pedagogies to leverage the multimodal communicative repertoires of RMBS, as they engaged in a cross-curricular unit of study in their mainstream Grade 6/7 classroom. The theoretical frameworks drawn from were a socio-cultural perspective of literacy, multiliteracies pedagogy and learning by design, as well as conceptions of identity and investment. Data was gathered through field notes, participant observation, audio recording of classroom interactions, student artifacts and texts, and semi-structured focus groups and teacher interviews. The data collected was inductively and deductively thematically analyzed. Findings illuminated the teaching team of expert educators’ perceptions of the challenges of working with RMBS students, as well as successful educational approaches to support RMBS and enhance their achievement. The findings also contributed to a better understanding of the development of innovative pedagogical practices that engage and enhance these youths’ full communicative repertoires and identities towards academic achievement, social and emotional learning, and literacy engagement.

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Multimodal identity texts: Pictures of engagement for adult immigrant language learners (2013)

Studies with K-12 learners have identified benefits for language and content learning when students engage in multimodal pedagogical tasks that access students’ resources for learning, but few studies have examined how a multimodal pedagogical approach might benefit adult learners in non-academic contexts. This action research study was undertaken in a government-funded English language class for adult immigrants. It investigated, from student and teacher/researcher perspectives, the opportunities and challenges of a multimodal pedagogical approach for integrated content and language learning, as well as the level of students’ investment in the unit of learning. Theoretical frameworks that informed this research project included Norton and colleagues’ concepts of identity and investment, imagined communities (Anderson, 1991) and imagined identities, new literacies theory, Kress’s theory of multimodality, and the New London Group’s theoretical overview of a pedagogy of multiliteracies. Data were collected during a unit of study on the education system in Canada and consist of observations, focus group interviews, teacher and student reflection journals, and students’ projects. Data were coded using ATLAS.ti and analyzed iteratively to identify emergent themes. Both student and teacher perspectives were that the multimodal pedagogical approach enabled students’ meaning making in ways that supported longer-term learning and development of language beyond expectations for the officially designated level of the class. Participants were very invested in the topic, and the affordances of the multimodal project supported this investment by allowing them to make meaning in multiple modes, including but not limited to linguistic modes. Themes identified in the data include: exploration of identity issues, opportunities to design with their children, importance of authentic communicative experiences, accessing prior knowledge to learn, unique characteristics and needs of adult learners, and importance of the student-teacher relationship. Tentative implications are drawn for policy, practice, and further research.

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The multi-identities of Canadian high school students of South Asian heritage (2010)

This study examined the notions of culture and identity held by high school students, of mainly Punjabi descent, in a Punjabi 11 class as realized through their completion of a unit designed to allow them to learn about themselves and their attitudes and beliefs regarding what comprised their culture. Data was collected through a unit of study created to allow the students to explore their identities and included student journals, reflections and final projects and presentations. The findings suggest that while the students identified themselves as Canadian, a Canadian identity often appeared to be second to their ethnic or religious identity (such as being Punjabi or Sikh). What came to the forefront is that Punjabi students see themselves as having a unique cultural identity that they share with other students of similar backgrounds. For many, this essential group identity creates the foundation for their social networks. Two of the main factors that create this group identity appear to be religion and culture, both of which are taught at home by the family, supported by Punjabi media and validated by their friends at school. The expectations placed upon the participants by family are accepted and not often questioned and are instead considered to be duties that need to be fulfilled. Moreover, religion and culture are terms that appear, for some, to be interchangeable for many of the participants in this study and this does not pose a problem for them or their identities. There are also elements of being Punjabi and being Canadian that could be interpreted as being conflictual but are not perceived as such by the students, such as wanting to maintain traditional gender roles and marriage practices while also embracing the independence and freedom to choose your own path that comes with being Canadian.This study contributes to our understanding of adolescent Indo-Canadians by exploring what their notions of identity are and how they see themselves, within their social groups, school community and at home. Future research should be focused on a larger, more diverse population of Indo-Canadian teenagers to concretely substantiate the ideas presented in this study.

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