Multiple Dimensions of Academic Language and Literacy Development


  • Transcription conventions in this article follow conventional punctuation except that phrases in quotation marks are text that students have written, or phrases they are considering as candidates for written text, and italicized words were spoken in the first language. All names cited in data extracts are pseudonyms. Funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is gratefully acknowledged for the studies reported in Cumming (1989, 1990a), fellowships 452–86-1050 and 453–87-0109; in Cumming (2006), grant 410–2001-0791, and in Cumming (2012), grant 41–2006-2442.

Alister Cumming, Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1V6. E-mail:


Language, literacy, and culture intersect almost everywhere, of course. I analyze three phenomena where intersections occur between cognitive skills, personal attitudes, social practices, and macro-societal structures in ways that are salient, puzzling, and also illuminating about the multiple dimensions of learning literacy in situations of cultural and linguistic diversity: (a) heuristic search strategies involving language switching for choices of words and phrases while composing, (b) expressions of personal identity when writing for specific discourse communities, and (c) reciprocal modeling during dynamic assessments of writing and reading. Examples are drawn from research in Toronto with multilingual students entering university programs and with “at-risk” adolescents in a community-based, after-school tutoring program. The analyses set an agenda for future research and educational practices to help develop the multifaceted dimensions of developing academic literacy among culturally diverse learners.