Institut für Deutsch als Fremdsprache




Specific needs in literacy and language learning of refugee children: A comparison of Germany and Canada.

PD Dr. Katrin Lindner
Prof. Dr. Claudia Maria Riehl

Mohcine Ait Ramdan
Jessica Lindner
Wadeea Zerkly

Dr. Becky Chen-Bumgardner, Prof.
Applied Psychology and Human Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

1. Research objective
Language and literacy acquisition of refugee students is shaped by multiple factors. Educational policies as well as refugee protection policies are assumed to influence the learning environments in schools and families. This pilot study aims to explore the family and school learning environments of Syrian refugee students in Canada and Germany through three family case studies in each country. Both Canada and Germany are a common destination for the settlement of refugees but vary widely in terms of population size, immigration history and geographical location. Integration trajectories of refugee students are shaped through contextual factors of host societies (Korntheuer, Pritchard & Maehler, 2017). In Germany, refugee status is usually requested through an in-country asylum claim.

In Canada, refugees gain permanent residency mainly through resettlement. This leads to considerable differences in the living situations of young refugee students. Additionally, the school system differs conspicuously: In Canada students are mostly integrated into the regular L2 classroom, while in some federal states in Germany students attend special preparation classes where they are taught in isolation from German L1 classmates.

The proposed study will serve as a pilot for a large-scale investigation on the cross-cultural and crosslinguisticcomparison in the development of refugee children in Canada and Germany. It will analyze the development of language and literacy skills, which are the most important prerequisites for successful integration into society. It will also address the impact of socio-emotional well-being and motivation. Thus, the project will explore how the specific needs of Syrian refugee children in terms of second language and literacy acquisition are met by the institutions in both countries. The comparison will include children’s performance at school as well as their family dynamics and wellbeing in their new environment.

The results will contribute to a base of knowledge that enables us to further develop research questions and refine the instruments for a broader study on the language and literacy acquisition of Syrian refugee students. Furthermore, our study will inform policy makers, educational institutions, and the wider public on the special needs of refugee children and their families, and help refugee children integrate successfully into main-stream society.

2. Research Questions

A Language and literacy skills and well-being
a. How do the participants perform in the language and literacy measures in English or German?
b. Are the measures appropriate to convey children’s skills?
c. How well-adjusted do these children feel in their new environment?

B School learning environment
a. If children are attending regular classes, are they able to follow?
b. Does attending regular classes accelerate the integration process of migrant children (compared to
special programs)?
c. What specific methods do teachers apply in assisting children’s development of language and
literacy skills in either country?

C Family learning environment
What impact on language and literature development do external factors have, e.g. parents’ attitude towards education and children’s integration into peer groups of L1 speakers of the national language?

3. Methodology

3.1 Participants
Three Syrian families will participate with children aged 6-7 and 14 years who arrived either in
Germany or in Canada about 1 year ago and have either just started school or are continuing school.

3.2. Design
The students’ needs will be assessed in two ways:

1. Their language and literacy skills will be examined by respective standardized measures in English or German. For German, expressive and receptive vocabulary (Glück 2011, Lenhard et al. 2015) as well as sentence production and reception (Klages & Kaltenbacher 2009, Fox 2016) will be tested. Furthermore, nonword and sentence repetition (Wagner et al. 2013, Grimm et al. 2014, Lindner et al. 2013, Hamann et al. 2013) are important to evaluate children’s phonological short term memory and knowledge of phonological structures (e.g. prosodic structures) as well as their knowledge of grammatical structures. There will be an extensive analysis of students’ text production and comprehension: storytelling and story comprehension will be checked with the Frog story (Mayer 1969), MAIN (Gagarina et al. 2012) and a subtest of the ADST (Steiner 2011). For predicting reading skills, the younger children will be given tasks of phonological awareness (rhyming, lexical decision, synthesizing sounds to words; Stadie & Schöppe 2013, Fricke & Schäfer 2011). Rapid naming of numbers will be administered to both age groups following Mayer (2013). As for their actual reading
skills, decoding of words (Schneider et al. 2011) and reading of nonwords (Wagner et al. 2013) will be tested. Reading comprehension will be examined on the word, sentence and text level (Lenhard & Schneider 2006). In the realm of writing skills orthographical strategies will be examined following May (2012) while narrative strategies will be observed in the narrations of picture stories (Gagarina et al. 2012, Ohser 1936). Another important aspect of children’s learning possibilities is their socioemotional well-being. This will be captured with the questionnaire by Harter (1983), embedded in a qualitative interview (see 2.)

2. A second source of information will be short questionnaires and qualitative interviews with the parents and the students as well as participant observation and field notes. The interviews will be conducted by a native Syrian Arabic speaker who will also translate the Arabic interviews into English or German respectively. During the course of the study children’s teachers as well as the families’ social workers will be interviewed qualitatively by a native English or German speaker. The Alberta Language Environment Questionnaire (ALEQ-4), translated into German and Syrian Arabic, will serve to gather general information about the families’ biographies and their language use. The qualitative interviews will be used to develop categories and factors which allow to capture the parents’ and the children’s needs.