«Available online at Linguistics and Education 21 (2010) 257–281 Positioning proﬁciency: How students and teachers ...»
Although similar discursive practices about perceived proﬁciencies occur everyday in classrooms, educators and researchers have not often paused to theorize or analyze the processes and consequences of these practices. The power to shape language learning does not lie in a single declaration or in words alone, but in the way these declarations are connected across personal, interpersonal, and institutional levels to future opportunities to speak and to be spoken to as participants in the target language community. Findings from this study demonstrated how students enacted their attributed proﬁciencies and how they replicated practices of exclusion and accommodation that they themselves had experienced. This cyclical process was likely to continue to constrain future participation in the target language unless another participant, particularly a person in a position of power, i.e. a teacher, interrupted and redirected the construction of perceived proﬁciency to offer new possibilities for language learning. Building upon previous research (Goldstein, 1996; Norton, 2000) that has discussed the challenges of naturalistic settings where target language communities can create undesired constraints for language learning, this study demonstrates the importance of teacher awareness and re-direction of discursive practices.
During interaction, speakers are evaluating and forming perceptions of their interlocutor’s competence, which this study named the learner’s perceived proﬁciency. In light of these perceptions, speakers develop certain norms for speaking with this interlocutor which involve modiﬁcations, clariﬁcations, accommodations, code-switching, or avoidance. In this context, I found that target language speakers not only modiﬁed the kind of language they used with more novice speakers, they also excluded them from language learning affordances all together based on the social construction of perceived proﬁciency. This study makes a unique contribution to the ﬁeld of SLA because the data analysis (including close analysis of transcripts and participation patterns in event maps) revealed how perceptions and consequent speaking norms were built in moment-to-moment talk and over time within the classroom culture.
Although the idea of perceived proﬁciency is implicit in much SLA work, these perceptions have been unexamined in studies that assume that target-language experts and novices will learn from one another as they interact. Findings from this study suggest that any research examining interaction and proﬁciency in a social context needs to supplement individual, self-reported data with the notion of socially situated, perceived proﬁciencies. Many SLA researchers and language educators have focused on measures of proﬁciency according to individual performance of certain competencies (Gass & Selinker, 2001; Thomas, 1994), but in a social setting like a school – where students are constantly playing with boundaries of identity and community – this study makes the case that perceived proﬁciency is more relevant to explain the ways that participants are co-constructing terms for language learning. Although a learner’s perceived proﬁciency is not necessarily an accurate representation of language competence, such perceptions are reiﬁed and enacted through everyday interactions that are an important part of the learning environment.
On the classroom level this study called attention to: (1) teacher and student discursive practices that work together to construct perceived proﬁciencies as part of classroom culture, (2) the power of these discursive practices to constrain, afford and change opportunities to participate in target languages, and (3) the ways that perceived proﬁciencies shift across situations. With this awareness, what can educators across diverse contexts incorporate into their classroom practices? First, it is my hope that teachers and fellow language learners will examine their own public declarations or naming of learners’ proﬁciencies. Teachers are in a position to strategically empower learners by publicly declaring 274 M. Martin-Beltrán / Linguistics and Education 21 (2010) 257–281 and reifying their proﬁciency and to remind learners of what they can do to participate in the classroom discourse communities.
Another discursive practice that needs to be reexamined is that of translation or speech accommodation for others who are perceived to have limited language proﬁciency. In this context I found that reliance on translation was a powerful constraint not only because of translator’s limited access to target language input, but also because this discursive practice perpetuated the positioning of students as non-legitimate participants. When translation practices became the norm during regular classroom activities, a student’s perceived proﬁciency in the target language was viewed as static or unchanging, despite continuous language development.
This study also suggests that educators need to change the way they think about placement and proﬁciency levels of students that suggest inactive placement instead of movement and growth. In contrast to static labels, this study found that students’ (perceived) proﬁciencies could shift quickly across different situations where activities, participants and their positioning relative to each other changed. Instead of allowing students to get tracked by institutional designations, teachers can take advantage of the shifting notions of proﬁciency by orchestrating different situations that allow students to take on alternating roles as proﬁcient speakers and sources of language expertise. Finally, by understanding the discursive practices that may impact language learning in the classroom, teachers can actively create new language learning affordances for students who might otherwise be marginalized.
This study opens up new questions for further research in order to understand the impact that perceived proﬁciency may have on language acquisition. For example, one might ask what cues people use during interactions to form perceptions and to adapt language. How might affordances and interactions vary among speakers who have different perceptions of their interlocutors’ proﬁciencies? For the purposes of this paper, I have not focused on larger sociopolitical issues nor have I teased apart issues of race, class, or ethnicity; although I recognize these issues are ultimately part of how students are positioned as legitimate proﬁcient speakers. In future research the conﬂuence of identity markers of race, social class and ethnic afﬁliation (Leung et al., 1997) must be investigated to further understand the construction of language identities and perceived proﬁciencies.
With a better understanding of how perceived proﬁciency is socially constructed, we can look more closely at what educators can do in order to improve language learning contexts. Ultimately this research has implications for teacher education as we prepare teachers to question and redirect discursive practices in their classrooms. This is not to suggest that teachers alone can sustain relationships or resolve conﬂicts between communities that have a history of segregation and social inequalities. However, teacher educators can ensure that teachers are aware of the classroom practices that reify learners’ perceived proﬁciencies and language identities, which in turn, inspire or discourage future opportunities for language learning.
Appendix A. Example event map of daily round/school day of focal student Iliana (January 25, 2005) Time and place Situation Activities Participants Participation framework Languages used Languages used by Grouping Participants who are recorded and/or Who is included and excluded or ratiﬁed? by focal student others addressing focal Ofﬁcial language of instruction observed in close proximity to focal How are participants named? student (LOI) student *Interaction with target language-dominant speakers noted 8:40 school yard Walking in pairs from bus Iliana arrives to school by Other students arriving on bus and at Active vocal participant (ratiﬁed speaker and All Spanish All Spanish cafeteria Grouped with 4 girls around large bus breakfast are mostly Spanish listener) lunch tables Eats school breakfast dominant (I’s sister, cousin, Estela, Free choice for language (LOI Plays in school yard Veronica, Javier) n/a) Line up at classroom *NO interaction with English door dominant students
References Anderson, K. T. (2009). Applying positioning theory to the analysis of classroom interactions: Mediating micro-identities, macro-kinds, and ideologies of knowing. Linguistics & Education, 20(4), 291–310.
Bakhtin, M. (1981). Discourse in the novel. In M. Holquist (Ed.), The dialogic imagination (pp. 259–422). Austin: University of Texas Press.
Block, D. (2003). The social turn in second language acquisition. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Block, D. (2007). The rise of identity in SLA research, post Firth and Wagner (1997). Modern Language Journal, 91(5), 863–876.
Bloome, D., Carter, S. P., Christian, B. M., Otto, S., & Shurat-Faris, N. (2005). Discourse analysis and the study of classroom language and literacy events. A microethnographic perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Canale, M. (1983). From communicative competence to communicative language pedagogy. In J. C. Richards, & R. W. Schmidt (Eds.), Language and communication (pp. 2–27). London: Longman.
Canale, M., & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics, 1(1), 1–47.
Castanheira, M. L., Crawford, T., Dixon, C. N., & Green, J. L. (2001). Interactional ethnography: An approach to studying the social construction of literate practices. Linguistics and Education, 11(4), 353–400.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Christian, D., Howard, E. R., & Loeb, M. I. (2000). Bilingualism for all: Two-way immersion education in the United States. Theory Into Practice, 39(4), 258–266.
Corbin, A., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). London: Sage Publications.
Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among ﬁve approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1), 43–63.
Dooly, M. (2007). Constructing differences: A qualitative analysis of teachers’ perspectives on linguistic and cultural diversity. Linguistics and Education: An International Research Journal, 18(2), 142.
Duranti, A., & Goodwin, C. (Eds.). (1992). Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Edelsky, C. (1981). Who’s got the ﬂoor? Language in Society, 10(3), 383–421.
Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing ethnographic ﬁeldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Erickson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In M. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 119–161). New York:
Erikson, F., & Schultz, J. (1981). When is a context? Some issues and methods in the analysis of social competence. In J. Green, & C. Wallat (Eds.), Ethnography and language in educational settings (pp. 147–150). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Farhady, H. (1982). Measures of language proﬁciency from the learner’s perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 16(1), 43–59.
Ferguson, C. A. (1971). Absence of copula and the notion of simplicity: A study of normal speech, baby talk, foreigner talk and pidgins. In D.
Hymes (Ed.), Pidginization and creolization of languages (pp. 141–150). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81(3), 285–300.
Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (2007). Second/foreign language learning as a social accomplishment: Elaborations on a reconceptualized SLA. Modern Language Journal, 91(5), 800–819.
Freeman, R. (1996). Dual language planning at oyster bilingual school: “It’s much more than language”. TESOL Quarterly, 30(3), 557–582.
Freeman, R. (1998). Bilingual education and social change. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Garﬁnkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Gass, S., & Selinker, L. (2001). Second language acquisition: An introductory course. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Gass, S. M., & Varonis, E. M. (1985). Variation in native speaker speech modiﬁcation to non-native speakers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 7(1), 37–57.
Gebhard, M. (1999). Debates in SLA studies: Redeﬁning classroom SLA as an institutional phenomenon. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 544–557.
Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Giles, H. (1979). Ethnicity markers in speech. In K. R. Scherer, & H. Giles (Eds.), Social markers in speech (pp. 251–289). London: Cambridge.
Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of talk. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goldstein, T. (1996). Two languages at work: Bilingual life on the production ﬂoor. New York: Mouten de Gruyter.
Green, J., & Bloome, D. (1997). Ethnography and ethnographers of and in education: A situated perspective. In J. Flood, S. Heath, & D. Lapp (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching literacy through the communicative and visual arts (pp. 181–202). New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.
Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (1995). Ethnography. Principles in practice (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Haneda, M. (2008). Contexts for learning: English language learners in a US middle school. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 11(1), 57–74.
Harklau, L. (1994). Tracking and linguistic minority students: Consequences of ability grouping for second language learners. Linguistics in Education, 6(3), 217–244.
Harklau, L. (2000). From the “good kids” to the “worst”: Representations of English language learners across educational settings. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 35–67.