«A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education in the Graduate Division of ...»
On February 4, the third day of the seven day camp, during one of the students’ breaks, I had a conversation with Ms. Gomez regarding her frustration with some of the Midville students who persisted in speaking English to each other while they played soccer against teams of Mexican students from the Montessori school they shared the camp with that week. That day she had witnessed her students using English during a game, and clearly alienating some of the Mexican students as they did so. While we felt certain that most, if not all, of the Midville students were well versed in playing soccer, I wondered whether any of them had ever played against Spanish-speaking students, whether they had ever played “in Spanish,” and I asked Ms. Gomez whether she knew the answer to that question. We discussed the fact that soccer has its own set of vocabulary and frases hechas (idiomatic expressions), and that perhaps her students had never learned or practiced any of them, but had only played in English. The heat and emotion of play might have added as well to their turning to English to communicate quickly with each other. She admitted that she did not know the answer to either question, but went away with an idea for her students.
Later that day, she approached me to tell the story of her response to our conversation. She had seen some of the soccer-playing students and asked them why they used English when they played with Spanish speaking students, and whether they knew some of the common phrases used on the field. They said they did not, so she suggested their asking the other team how to say some of the things (to choose five things) they would want to say on the field, so they could practice using the terms while they played, to demonstrate good will and to learn some new Spanish usages. The kids followed through on her suggestion, and the next time she watched them playing soccer, she reported noticing an increase in their use of Spanish during the game. In part, this change might be explained by their paying more attention to their language use on the field, but they did not know some of the important terms associated with the domain of playing soccer before asking their Mexican counterparts, so at least part of the change could be attributed to their having acquired new knowledge about how language was used on the field. While these students had been exposed to a wide range of both social and academic uses of language in their classrooms, many of their non-academic activities were consistently conducted in English, both at school and at home.
While Potowski’s (2002) study may help us understand that students use English for some purposes (mostly social), and Spanish for others (mostly academic), it is important to understand the reasons for their use of one or the other to be able to refine Two-Way Immersion pedagogy, and to expand curriculum and language use opportunities for students. An examination of the domains associated with the language use of Midville students must begin with those associated with their classroom. I will first consider school and curricular domains, but will continue on to examine the various domains they encountered at El Molino, and will describe the qualities of language use within the varied domains they encountered there.
Language domains in 5th grade classroom: Curricular, social, literary.
The obvious place to begin in considering language use connected to domains of activity is with the traditional curricular material of the 5th grade classroom. While the theoretical model of a 90/10 Two-Way Immersion program would suggest that by 5th grade, students are using English and Spanish in equal proportions in their classrooms, according to Ms. Gomez’s outline of the classroom activity for a typical week, most of the curriculum within her class was delivered in Spanish. Her use of Spanish can be explained in part by the fact that 5th grade students are pulled out of class for several curricular areas and experiences, including physical education, music, art, and library sessions. According to the schedule Ms. Gomez provided me for a typical day with a 2:45 release time, when student were not pulled out for activities outside the classroom, her class would have spent approximately 241 instructional minutes working in Spanish out of a total of 330 total instructional minutes. Ms. Gomez reported providing both Spanish and English Language Arts (110 minutes in Spanish, 45 minutes in English), math (80% Spanish/20% English), and science (70% Spanish/30% English) for her class. While Ms.
Gomez taught science to all the 5th graders, Ms. Flores taught Social Studies, that is California and American History, for all of them. Math, science and social studies all followed the California curricular standards for these subjects, and the teachers utilized approved materials, including Spanish translation state textbooks, for their teaching.
During my observations, Ms. Gomez taught a science lesson on saturation of solids in liquids, including both a review of concepts and vocabulary, and a student-conducted experiment, as I have already reported. She also led the class in a supplementary social studies activity related to early American history, an embroidery project in which the students learned various typical stitches, and used all the terminology necessary to that domain. Ms. Flores’s class was just finishing up a multimodal report on Native American tribes in five regions of the U.S., and had her students engaged in the process of finding appropriate visuals for them. All of these curricular activities took place in Spanish, and were typical for these classrooms.
Social domains: School culture and social issues. As I have indicated earlier in this chapter, Ms. Gomez demonstrated considerable concern that her students learn to use Spanish for important social purposes, including bridging cultural differences, and service to others. During the timeframe of my study, she incorporated such language use into her classroom in at least three ways. First, early in my observations, her students were engaged in writing an argumentative/persuasive essays focused on issues of school culture, that is things they observed on campus that needed changing or reinforcing to improve the school experience for kids. As I observed her students work in pairs and as a whole class to generate ideas for their essays, they sometimes struggled to know what various features of their surroundings were called in Spanish. As they returned from a campus reconnaissance they did in pairs to generate ideas to write about, nearly all the pairs returned speaking English. Playground equipment they had only named in English had to be renamed in Spanish. Several of the boys had to find the appropriate language to discuss the sports they played on the playground, and the problems associated with those sports (Fieldnotes, date). The assignment seemed from the very outset to stretch their language into new contexts and domains.
The second way in which Ms. Gomez connected language use to social issues involved the kids’ reading of La gran Gilly Hopkins. Ms. Gomez made a concerted effort to help the kids see the book as having relevance for them in how they treated social differences among students on campus. She further connected their reading to the anti-bullying program the whole campus was participating in that spring (Fieldnotes, date). She presented this model of literacy to the middle school teachers during their curriculum development meeting that May, as I have indicated earlier in the chapter.
Finally, she taught the students how to use Spanish interjections in socially appropriate ways in their fiction writing. While this lesson was not directly connected to the resolution of social issues or conflict, it did represent how to engaged in socially appropriate conversation, how individuals in another Spanish-speaking culture would talk to and position each other.
Taller de lectura/Libreta de lectura: Literary domains. As Ms. Gomez had intended when she included the sheet Génaros de mirada in each student’s Libreta de lectura, three focal students, Betsy (Appendix I), Marta (Appendix J), and Michael (Appendix K), made concerted efforts to include a variety of genres of books in their year’s reading goals. While they did not all meet their stated goals, they read books from all but one genre (Betsy did not read any biographies in Spanish and Michael did not select any informative books to read. Marta, however, read from each genre). Some books on their lists could have been assigned to more than one genre; for instance, Jules Verne’s La vuelta al mundo en 80 días showed up on Betsy’s list as Traditional Literature, but on Michael’s as Science Fiction.
The students were exposed to a variety of domains or “spheres of human activity” through both non-fiction and fiction genres. Non-fiction genres were clearly classified according to specific domains. The informative genre included books about science, music, insects, and inventions; biographies covered the lives of sports figures (Derek Jeter and Alex Rodrigues, both Major League Baseball players), figures from American history (David Crockett), and the story of an individual who had lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fiction genres, including Realistic, Historical, Fantasy, and Science fiction, involved a much more complex constellation of domains, since they all included an emphasis on relationships (i.e., family, work, social), life during particular periods of time (i.e., 17th-19th Century America, World War Two, the Renaissance, Middle Ages, Pre-Columbian Latin America), specific social problems (i.e., the Holocaust, relations between pioneers and Native Americans, race/racism, wars, intergenerational conflict, youth culture and school). In the category of Fantasy, these three read about witches and wizards, vampires, ghosts, dragons and other talking/magical animals. Betsy and Marta tended to read more fiction books with romantic themes, while Michael read more biographies and sports themed books. For the purposes of this study, I have not examined each book in detail, so I will not comment on all the possible domains involved in the nearly 30 books each student read. However, I would argue that through reading full-length books, in particular novels, these students were exposed to primary genres Bakhtin (1986) associated with individual characters from a variety of “spheres of human activity,” professions, social classes, generations, which provided them with an introduction to language differences and the generic features of language associated with these different domains and identities.
Domains in final fiction writing. The final fiction writing project the students participated in during the spring also provides another source of information about the language domains in which they were engaged. A review of writing of 12 of the 18 students in Ms. Gomez’s class revealed a balance of subgenres of fiction: five wrote about themes related to Realistic Fiction, four wrote Fantasy pieces, and four wrote pieces of Magical Realism (magic entering into a realistic setting and situation). In their Realistic Fiction and Magical Realism pieces, students focused on warfare/combat (Medieval, Revolutionary War), family and friendship, ethics (honesty, theft), illness and loss (death/funerals, cancer, sports injury), school and teachers, and sports (baseball). In their Fantasy and Magical Realism pieces they wrote about creatures from Greek Mythology (Cyclops, hydra) and other planets (Mercury), magical animals (serpents), magical objects (rocks, pencils), traditional fairytale characters (giants, miniature people), animals with human characteristics (penguins who want to change colors), magical lands (Candy Island). Some of the students may have drawn material from their reading; for instance, Marta wrote about creatures from Greek Mythology, and had read several books on that subject for her Libreta; books about sports (baseball and soccer) had made their way around the classroom; and several students had read books from the Harry Potter and Twilight series, both of which focus on friendship, ethics and magic. The students had freedom to choose their themes for these fictional pieces, and their choices reflected a very wide range of domains of language use.
This brief categorical overview of the domains of language learning and use obtained in Ms. Gomez’s classroom (from observing language use in the traditional curricular areas, a socially-oriented writing project, and focal students’ literacy practices) reveals the complexity of what it meant to learn to use Spanish in this TWI program. It demonstrates the great reserve of language resources that students have been exposed to and have built up over the course of their years in a TWI program, and adds further texture to our understanding of their language competency and autonomy as language learners. I will now add to that reserve of language domains some of the domains the students participated in through their activities at El Molino in February 2009.
Language domains at El Molino: The role of language in specific activities.
During their week at El Molino, Ms. Gomez’s class participated in a wide variety of activities, both on their own with their teachers, and alongside their Mexican counterparts from the Montessori school in Cuernavaca. Early and late in the week, students had the opportunity to engage in purely touristic activities such as sightseeing and shopping for gifts. During the course of the week at the camp, portions of each day were dedicated to social activities, such as storytelling around a campfire, sports (soccer, primarily), dancing and a farewell party. They also prepared songs in Spanish to share with their Mexican friends as part of that farewell. Each of these activities implied some differences in language use, depending on the social domains involved in each. Polite or socially appropriate language varied from situation to situation: asking for help in buying a gift, knowing how to take a turn at storytelling, asking a peer to dance, expressing appreciation for friends newly made. Each situation implied different language forms and registers.