«A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education in the Graduate Division of ...»
“Do they understand ‘Hola, señorita. ¿Cómo te llamas? Me llamo Mike, me llamo Mike.’” Do you know this song? Look up “One semester Spanish, Spanish Love Song” on YouTube. It is genius because it is Spanish 1. […] “Me llamo Mike. Mi casa es muy blanco. Vivo en la casa roja. Mi gato es muy blanco.” It is hilarious, but it's these basic intercommunication skills that you need to have to start functioning and have an end to that language, but are you really concerned about teaching them about this science topic or that? No, not really. You're more interested in teaching them about the culture. So read about Teotihuacan in Mexico, and you use that so kids can learn about pyramids and such, but they're just learning something cultural that is associated with the language.
Ms. Gomez considered not only the bottom of the World Language continuum, but the top as well, as represented by Advanced Placement Language and Literature courses in which teachers and students “have the literature. We need to talk about the history of this literature and the context and cultural background and such and why these things are expressed this way so that just seems more history related, but--and social studies related.” She saw the AP courses as the place within the World Language model where content mattered in language learning. Otherwise, she said students are “going to get a lot of interactive skills and not so much content.” She described the orientations of TWI and World Language models as representing a “total 180-degree [turn], one from the other.” It is perhaps not surprising, given her view that World Language teachers have as their goal “getting that language into people,” that Ms. Gomez would see significant differences in student attitudes and orientations toward language use and learning in each context. She viewed Spanish Immersion students as, generally, “willing to try and make mistakes and figure out how to use language while making mistakes, while not doing the most--without being absolutely perfect with their language usage, but they want to express themselves, they know that the boundary or the expectation is that they do this in Spanish and even though they may not have all the skills, they're still gonna try.” She explained that they had been trained into this orientation from the beginning of their time in the program.
So they're just used to it. It's just what we do here. It's an expectation. So that is great, that they function naturally with that expectation. So they're kind of eased into that in that kinder first--actually just kinder, into that kinder situation. In first grade there's more of that expectation “You need to speak to me in Spanish. I mean, you know how to do it. You can repeat after me.” By second grade, it's like, “Why are you speaking English?” She viewed this attitudinal difference as “probably the biggest thing that I compare with language classes later on,” something that is indicative of both adult and adolescent language learners. These older learners (and by extension, their teachers) struggle with the difficulty of learning a language and the lack of time necessary to learn one. She contrasted language learning in World Language classes and their “focus on (correct) language usage,” with language learning in Two-Way Immersion settings, where students and teachers “use the language to ride the lesson to get into the content and expand your language sort of involuntarily because you're focusing on something else.” The beliefs and ideologies of language learning and use expressed by Mr. Foster and Ms. Gomez revealed an idealistic view of life-long, socially, academically and personally meaningful language learning and use. Neither of them expressed views of language learning and use that focused only on school forms or academic uses, pointing toward a model that escapes the problem of encapsulation (Engestrom, 1991). Both members of the Midville Spanish Immersion community emphasized the empowerment of students through the learning and use of language as a result of their involvement in the program. In the following section, I will consider the character of language learning and use in Ms. Gomez’s fifth grade classroom, and whether student empowerment through language learning and use was as characteristic of the classroom as these two leaders envisioned it to be.
Ms. Gomez’s Classroom, Winter/Spring 2009: Characteristics of Language Learning and Use Ms. Gomez’s commitment to students’ growing mastery of literacy in Spanish was evident from the wide range of literate activities the students took part in during the classroom visits I made in winter and spring 2009. These activities were frequently accompanied by regular practices the students had been introduced to early in the year, and which were aimed at providing them principles and procedures for reading and writing. Such practices afforded the students a great deal of autonomy in their own learning and language development, served to decentralize control over language use, resulting in both a mixture of Spanish and English use in the classroom, and an atmosphere of student empowerment in the accomplishment of academic tasks.
Classroom Structure and Activities: Flexible Predictability and Decentralized Control At our very first meeting, Ms. Gomez provided me with a weekly schedule of her classroom activities. I needed the schedule to be able to know when I could make my observations of the various curricular activities in her classroom. But the schedule served her as a way of accounting for time her students spent learning in Spanish, something that increased in importance as upper grade students participated in more activities outside her classroom (P.E., music, art, etc.) in English and she had to fulfill her own mandate to provide a certain amount of curricular input in each language. Her weekly schedule indicated not only when the students would be in her classroom, but what percentage of their time in certain curricular areas (language arts and science) would be conducted in English and in Spanish.
Figure 3.1: Daily and Weekly Schedule in Ms.
She also provided me with a model daily schedule for a day when her students would be in her classroom the whole day. Each time I visited her classroom, I observed a similar daily schedule on the board. While keeping a daily schedule on the board is a common practice in elementary classrooms, providing students a sense of predictability and routine, in Ms. Gomez’s classroom, it also served as a way of knowing when each of the target languages would be used and for what. On my first visit which coincided with the beginning of the school day, as the students entered the room chatting away in English, Ms. Gomez reminded them that that were now in the “Spanish Zone.” But at other times, that same space would be dominated by English, when Ms. Gomez needed to present material or conduct activities in English, to fulfill a curricular mandate, or because she had English-language materials for a particular activity. The daily schedule, then, served as a way of managing language use in the space.
Organization of space: Regular activities of pairs and small groups.
The daily schedule served as a central mechanism for controlling language use in the classroom space, but the physical organization of that space served to decentralize it, giving students control over their own use of language. (Appendix A). The spacious portable classroom was organized into zones, including a homey area with rug and sofa in one corner; several rectangular tables along the sides for storage and display of work;
several round tables set apart from the students’ desks to which kids could go when they were distracted from their work by other kids; a kidney-shaped table Ms. Gomez used with individuals and small groups for instruction; and in the main zone of the room, groups of four or five desks where students sat side-by-side and across from each other.
During my observations I saw students work in pairs at their table groups in sharing their writing at various stages of drafting and revision. During one of my early visits, Ms. Gomez asked students to share pre-writing they had done for an argumentative essay in Spanish on some aspect of school culture that needed attention, either to be preserved or changed (Fieldnotes, 1/13/09). Once they had read each other’s initial ideas, Ms. Gomez asked them to tell their partners something they had done that was fantástico.
Later in the spring semester, her students regularly shared the short stories, in both English and Spanish, they worked on at various stages of drafting and revision. They read and reread their stories to different partners to get feedback on them, and animatedly discussed each story after they finished reading. Those discussions took place in both English and Spanish, at their table in pairs.
Ms. Gomez also used the table groups in her science curriculum to allow students to conduct experiments, sometimes quite complex, using special equipment, involving multiple steps and requiring careful measurement. During the science lesson I observed, the class was studying the concept of saturation of liquids. After reviewing work they had done in preparation for the lesson with them, Ms. Gomez instructed the groups of four in using the materials for their experiment, previously assembled on their desks, designed to help them determine the amount of salt necessary to saturate a specific amount of water, and then set them to work on the experiment, with no further intervention. While the activity was loud and the possibility for failure in accomplishing the task seemed high, dependent as it was on careful focus and group coordination, the groups did manage to conduct their experiments and get results.
Reading, writing and learning practices: Guided autonomy.
Ms. Gomez’s classroom structure was designed to facilitate student autonomy both in small groups and for individual students, and, therefore, afforded her students a great deal of independence in their language use. However, the independent and grouporiented literacy and learning activities also provided clear guidance in those activities.
Ms. Gomez’s commitment to working to provide guidance through authentic contexts for language use was apparent from two practices in particular: Libretas de lectura and Club de libros.
Libretas de lectura: Conversations with the teacher. During regular days in class, when Ms. Gomez’s class time was not broken up by activities the students had outside of class (music, P.E., assemblies or library sessions), the school day began with a nearly two-hour block devoted to Language Arts in Spanish. Ms. Gomez used a short portion of that block for focused language awareness or grammar lessons (something I will discuss later in this chapter), but the bulk of the time was used for the practice of Taller de lectura (Reading Workshop) and writing in their Libretas de lectura (Reading Notebooks). During that period, individual students read silently books of their own choosing (occasionally, a book the whole class was working on together). This practice afforded students a chance to engage in frequent, regular, extended, pleasurable, meaningful reading of books in Spanish. By the time I began observations in January, the students seemed to know exactly how to participate in this practice, how to balance their time between silent reading and writing in their notebooks. A review of Betsy’s (one of the focal students) final libreta revealed many of the pages through which Ms.
Gomez had guided her students into this practice and how she balanced the pleasure of reading with the challenge of reading a wide range of types of books in an increasingly focused, critical way.
Guided autonomy in reading. Each student’s libreta consisted of a pre-bound notebook with pages for student records their reading goals, actual reading, and writing about their readings. The notebook included various pages prepared by Ms. Gomez to provide guidance in both reading and writing. Her pages related to reading included “Pautas para Taller de lectura,” the rules for participating effectively in the classroom practice of the Reading Workshop, which included the charge to use the time given to read and/or write, advice for how to behave, permission to select books that really interested them, and to abandon ones that they discovered did not, after having given them “una buena oportunidad” (a real chance). Others addressed their need to continue growing in their comprehension, providing them “Estrategias para Mejorar Comprensión” (Strategies for Better Comprehension), and suggestions for “Maneras de codificar texto,” how to code a text according to connections the made with the text, questions they had, ways they visualized it, and deductions or predictions they made.
Even more significant was the handout “Leer es Pensar,” which outlined a variety of ways a reader interacts with a text, including the ability to read the text aloud accurately, to “vivir en el cuento,” or connect with the text personally, visually or emotionally, to understand the text, to be able to analyze it in various ways, and to apply what one had read to new thinking or action (Appendix H). This handout outlined the tasks involved in writing about reading, and had its corresponding rubric sheet, attached to the writing students accomplished in their libretas. “Leer es Pensar” became both a byword of the classroom practice, and a way of evaluating student growth in reading. That this handout and the concepts therein stood at the heart of Ms. Gomez’s Spanish literacy practices was further evidenced when she provided it to the middle school teachers at their late spring meeting to plan the new curriculum for the reinstated middle school Spanish Immersion program (See Chapter 5).