Bonny Norton


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


I am privileged to be coming to know such an amazing person like Dr. Bonny Norton. She is not only a #GreatSupervisor, but she is also a great human being who is always dedicated to supporting her students in every possible way. I will forever be grateful to her for her incredible support when I lost my most beloved person, my mom. Bonny's belief in me greatly inspired me to move forward and to continue pursuing my dream. She challenges me to reach new heights and supports me whenever I need any guidance. Her scholarly knowledge, inspirational leadership, invaluable experience, and innovative ideas never cease to amaze me. I am truly fortunate to have such a #GreatSupervisor.

Asma Afreen (2019)


Bonny Norton is not only a #GreatSupervisor, she is the #BestSupervisor. Bonny is not only my supervisor, she is a mentor, friend and role model. She cares deeply about her students and is ALWAYS willing to take the time whether it's help with a school-related task, frustration, advice or personal issues. Bonny has made me believe I am capable of more than I knew was possible; she sets the bar high and is available to help every step of the way. Bonny's brilliance is matched only by her warm and caring heart. I feel so lucky and grateful that I have the privilege of working with Bonny for she is without a doubt a #GreatSupervisor.

Michelle Gilman (2019)


Such a great way to show our gratitude @youbc thank you Dr. Ryuko Kubota and Dr. Bonny Norton for being the #GREATsupervisor


I send Bonny Norton of @UBC_LLED a draft at 2pm and by 3 she's giving me feedback, then talks to me for two hours. Best #GreatSupervisor of #UBC.

Ron Darvin (2017)


In the first 2 years of my PhD, Bonny Norton @UBC_LLED let me coauthor 4 journal articles and 4 book chapters as 1st author. #GreatSupervisor of #UBC.

Ron Darvin (2017)


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.

Transcultural identity and Bangla heritage language teaching (2023)

The new waves of immigrants in Canada have exciting linguistic resources that need to be harnessed for personal, professional, and national interests. While prior studies have investigated the opportunities and challenges of heritage language (HL) community programs, few have explored the negotiation of transcultural identity in HL teaching, particularly with reference to the growing Bangladeshi community. Drawing on a two-year qualitative case study from September 2020 to December 2022, at the community-based Vancouver Bangla School (VBS), this research sought to address this gap by investigating a broad research question: How did Bangla HL teachers navigate their transcultural identity to promote student investment in the learning of Bangla? The study conceptualizes HL teachers’ transcultural identity using four key constructs: identity and investment (Darvin & Norton, 2015), translingual practices (Garcia & Li Wei, 2014), multimodal practices (Kress, 2014), and emotion labor (Benesch & Prior, 2023). The broad research question gave rise to three central research questions: (i) What is the identity of the Bangla HL teacher? (ii) How did VBS teachers leverage show-and-tell tasks to promote student investment in online Bangla HL learning? and (iii) How did volunteer teachers navigate emotion labor, identity, and investment in Bangla HL teaching? Data sources included participant classroom observations, field notes, interviews, a focus group discussion, questionnaires, and educational resources, which were analyzed using thematic analysis. Seven volunteer teachers participated in the study. Findings indicate that teachers were deeply invested in promoting Bangla as a mother tongue in multicultural Canada, with a strong ideological belief in the importance of HL maintenance for cultural continuity. They also embraced the transcultural relationship between Bangladeshi and Canadian culture. Teachers leveraged students’ translingual and multimodal resources using innovative activities like show-and-tell tasks to help students negotiate their transcultural identities. Teachers’ investment in promoting students’ transcultural identities was powerful, enabling them to navigate and manage the emotion labor associated with volunteer teaching and limited resources. The study found that the conceptualization of transcultural identity resists binaries and embraces hybridity. The research contributes to a growing body of literature exploring the complexity of teacher identity and transculturalism in heritage language education.

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Rethinking "family" in a family literacy program: a Canadian case study (2021)

Drawing on theories of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996), identity and investment (Norton, 2013) and transformative learning (Mezirow, 1978), this qualitative case study explored the outcomes of a family literacy program in Vancouver, BC, on the identities of 12 immigrant and refugee background mothers for whom English was an additional language. The research questions addressed why these mothers became involved in the program, how their own investment was integrated into the program, and how involvement in the program influenced their identities and imagined communities (Kanno & Norton, 2003). Data were collected through participation in a six-month family literacy program and additional follow up for six-months post-program completion. Findings demonstrate how learner investment enhanced the range of possibilities available to the participants both socially and academically, which were predicated on dialogue and instruction that validated their life-worlds (Auerbach, 2001; Freire, 1981). In addition to learning literacy skills, the participants shared ideas, hopes, and advice during the program. Motherhood unified this diverse group and drew them to the program in order to become adult learners (Duckworth & Smith, 2018).The participants expressed the view that immigrant and refugee background parents need to acquire new parenting skills when they arrive in a new country by ascribing meaning to new practices through active, situated, and reflective approaches to learning (Mezirow, 1991; New London Group, 1996). In supporting these parents, the family literacy program paid particular attention to the dilemmas the participants faced in their new society, resulting in expanded and positive mothering identities (Rizk, 2019). In particular, the study revealed that the program offered the mothers a space to network with facilitators and other mothers, creating a “family” outside of their traditional families. The study concluded that a three-way model of family literacy has the potential for highly positive outcomes for immigrant and refugee background mothers. This model includes (i) a home-to-program feature, generated by the mothers’ experiences and needs, (ii) a program-to-home feature, which includes elements of the curriculum and material for home use, and (iii) a family-to-family feature, whereby the mothers build relationships and share resources in a safe and caring space.

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Digital identities, educational inequities: Investigating social class and new literacies of migrant Filipino youth in the knowledge economy (2019)

Drawing on data from an 18-month case study of migrant Filipino youth of various social class positions, this dissertation examines the socialization of L2 learners into different digital practices, and the implications of these differences in educational contexts where digital literacies are unequally valued. Through interviews of 18 focal participants from three high schools in Vancouver, teachers and parents, and observations of digitally-mediated interactions, the study investigated how the volume and composition of the learners’ economic, cultural, and social capital (Bourdieu, 1986) shaped the material conditions of these interactions, and the ways learners were positioned in online and offline spaces (Darvin & Norton, 2015). Findings demonstrated how material conditions of migration, home environments, spatial configurations and access to tools and social resources can shape diverse digital dispositions and investment in relational, informational, expressive, recreational, and operational digital practices. As learners moved across online spaces of language acquisition, power operated not only through human actors, but also through the non-human interactants of physical and digital contexts. Digital repertoires, cultures-of-use (Thorne, 2003), sociotechnical structures and algorithmic processes had power to shape the distribution of knowledge, compartmentalize identities, and segregate social networks, constructing modes of exclusion online. Uncritical interpretations of what constitutes digital literacy, perpetuated by educational policies and teacher beliefs, can also contribute to a neoliberal agenda in learning that reproduces social inequalities. By establishing connections between learners, tools, and contexts of use, this dissertation demonstrates how social class is an increasingly germane construct to examine these inequalities, particularly if understood as fluid, relational, and subjectively experienced. Drawing on these findings, the dissertation concludes that as learners move across linguistically diverse online spaces, the way they strategically negotiate relations of power shapes how they assert their identities as legitimate speakers, and invest in and divest from these spaces and their corresponding communicative practices (Norton, 2013). By shifting the focus from the integration of educational technologies to the teaching of an online communicative competence, language educators can empower L2 learners to navigate digital spaces more strategically, to imagine more equitable futures, and to transform the knowledge economy.

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The African Storybook and teacher identity (2018)

The African Storybook (ASb) is a digital initiative that promotes multilingual literacy for African children by providing openly licenced children’s stories in multiple African languages, as well as English, French, and Portuguese. One of the ASb pilot sites, a primary school in Uganda, served as the focal case in this research, while two other schools and libraries were also included. Data was collected from June to December 2014 in the form of field notes, classroom observations, interview transcripts, and questionnaires, which were coded using retroductive coding. Based on Darvin and Norton’s (2015) model of identity and investment, and drawing on the Douglas Fir Group’s (2016) framework for second language acquisition, this study investigates Ugandan primary school teachers’ investment in the ASb and how their identities change through the process of using the stories and technology provided by the ASb. The findings indicate that the use of stories expands the repertoire of teaching methods and topics, and that this use is influenced by teachers’ social capital as well as financial factors and policies. Through the ASb initiative and its stories, the teachers began to imagine themselves as writers and translators; change agents; multimodal, multiliterate educators; and digital educators, reframing what it means to be a reading teacher. Teachers’ shifts of identity were indexical of their enhanced social and cultural capital as they engaged with the ASb, notwithstanding ideological constraints associated with mother tongue usage, assessment practices, and teacher supervision. This exploration of teachers’ resourcefulness, needs, and realities provides a foundation for enhancing existing practices.

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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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ICT, Multilingual Primary Education and Classroom Pedagogy in Northern Uganda (2012)

The goal of achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) has found resonance throughout Africa as governments embark on ambitious development agendas, and in Uganda specifically. Yet, arguably the fundamental prerequisite for attaining quality UPE, literacy, has had limited success: one in three Ugandans cannot read or write in any language. Illiteracy is especially acute in post-conflict Gulu, in the north, illustrative of how closely intertwined human security is to the ability to offer relevant, culturally appropriate and high quality education. Some argue that the poor progress on raising literacy levels is a consequence of education systems’ disconnections from the cultures of their learners (Prah 2008), including quality multilingual education. The need to integrate the mother tongue into the classroom, including into second language learning is well established (Cummins 1981, 1993; 2000; Egbokhare 2004; Garcia, 2009). Identifying the best tools to accomplish this in African contexts, particularly where conflict is a factor, however, is much less well explored. This research seeks to understand how Gulu's primary teachers can use specific information communication technology (ICT) tools to support teachers who are struggling to teach the mother tongue with limited traditional literacy resources. It forms part of a larger project led by Dr. Bonny Norton, Dr. Maureen Kendrick and Dr. Margaret Early, to address language and literacy challenges in diverse African communities. In particular, this study serves as a response to the finding (Mutonyi & Norton, 2007) that ICTs offer untapped potential to raise learning outcomes.

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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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Health Literacy, HIV/AIDS, and Gender: A Ugandan Youth (2008)

No abstract available.

Language education policy and multilingual literacies in Ugandan primary schools (2008)

This thesis reports on a study on multilingual language policies conducted in two primaryschools in two communities in eastern Uganda, one rural and one urban, from 2005-2006. Thestudy focused on stakeholders' responses to the new Uganda language education policy, whichpromotes the teaching of local languages in the first four years of schooling. The policy statesthat the medium of instruction is the relevant local language for Primary 1-4 in rural schools, andthereafter it is English. In the urban schools, English is the medium of instruction in all theclasses and a local language is to be taught as a subject. The study was premised within theframework of literacy as a social practice. Accordingly, the context in which multilingualliteracy develops is important to the implementation of Uganda's new language education policy.The key stakeholders identified in the implementation process included: the ministryrepresentatives at the district level, the school administration, the teachers, and the community.The study used questionnaires, individual interviews, classroom observations, focus groupdiscussions, and document analysis to collect data from the two communities, each of which waslinked to a local primary school.Although the findings show that in both communities the participants were generallyaware of the new local language policy, they were ambivalent about its implementation in theirschools. While they recognized the importance of local languages in promoting identity andcultural maintenance, a higher priority was their children's upward mobility, and the desire to bepart of wider and more international communities. Further, while area languages like Lugandaand regional languages like Kiswahili were perceived to have some benefits as languages ofwider communication, it was English that received unequivocal support from both communities.The study concludes that parents and communities need to be better informed about thepedagogical advantages of instruction in the local language, and that communities needconvincing evidence that the promotion of local languages will not compromise desires forglobal citizenship. Therefore, drawing in particular on the work of Stein in South Africa, I arguethat we need to consider "re-sourcing resources" to create space in which teachers and otherstakeholders can enhance children's multilingual literacy development.

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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.

Imagined communities, symbolic capital, and the mobilization of individual linguistic resources (2015)

Critical research in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) involves a delicate balance between two paradigms. On the one hand, the researcher strives to unearth and explain processes of systemic inequality and perpetual marginalization, as English language learners worldwide strive to accumulate linguistic and cultural capital. On the other hand, the researcher must recognize that learners have the right to invest in English, imagine future identities, and conceptualize their journeys as language learners as connected to a “better life story” (Barkhuizen, 2010; Darvin & Norton, 2015). This study employs narrative inquiry in an attempt to reconcile the two paradigms and give a holistic account of students’ experiences. The narratives of eight international graduate students in Canada reveal that those who attended international schools and were immersed in Western popular and academic culture prior to their arrival were advantaged in academic, professional, and social contexts. Additionally, while all eight established social networks in Canada, only the one white student from Western Europe who majored in North American civilization had a social network comprised mainly of Canadians. Nevertheless, four students reported being well adjusted in Canada, personally and professionally – as each had used a set of strategies tailored to her/his individual situation to pursue an imagined future. Findings suggest that each international student must draw on her/his specific linguistic repertoire and intellectual resources to effectively navigate real and imagined communities.

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