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Ignacio’s freewheeling style and the subject matter’s interdisciplinary nature required students to follow a complex web of language use, some technical, some hypothetical, some imaginative. This taller provided students with a challenging mix of domains, one which the group I observed very willingly followed. Further, several students in the Spanish Language AP focus group that spring reported Ignacio’s taller to have been the highlight of their El Molino experience. While the taller was challenging from a language use perspective, it was also clearly engaging to students.
Alebrijes. Unlike the talleres focusing on deshilado (needlework) and sombreros (hat weaving), in which talk was not encouraged for the sake of completing the manual project, the taller on Alebrijes taught by Victor, involved a good deal of talk by both Victor and the student participants. Alebrijes is a local art form, sculptures of mythical lizard-like creatures, woven from reeds, adorned with clay and paper maché, and painted bright colors. By Day 3 (2/4/09), when I observed that day’s session, the students had already done the work of weaving reeds into a figure, and were working on adorning and painting them. Victor gave instructions that day on how to apply the decorative elements, the best ways of applying glue or paper maché, and made sure students had access to all the paint colors, colored pencils and brushes needed. But as the students worked, he also allowed them to bring up topics for conversation, and seemed inclined to engage in openended talk about a variety of topics.
One of the focal Midville students, Jacob, was particularly interested in themes of battle and warfare (later in the spring he would write his final fiction piece about a medieval battle), and drew Victor’s attention to armor he wanted to apply to his dragonlike creature. He and Victor discussed the behavior of dragons in battle, and the vulnerability of the throat area. This brief conversation seemed to open up Victor’s thinking about human warfare and politics, and between giving instructions to the group on how to adorn their creatures, and explaining the source of certain paint colors and the properties of clay and mud, Victor opened up a discussion of how nations might resolve global conflicts by requiring the leaders of those nations involved to compete in Olympic-like sports competitions. He suggested that the students imagine what it would be like if President Obama had to resolve the Iraq or Afghanistan wars through such competition. Through an imaginary situation, much as Ignacio had during his taller, Victor moved from focusing on the activity at hand to thinking aloud about larger social issues and a philosophical stance on them. Both of these two teachers engaged students in language use that went far beyond the instruction necessary for the activities of their talleres.
Some of the language domains involved in these four talleres overlapped with domains the students might already have been familiar with from their classroom in California (i.e., Biología and Producción de radio [technology]); however, others introduced them to completely new domains (Alebrijes and Cuidado de animales). These talleres also illustrated the way domains of language use are connected both to specific activities, and to the social questions that will often naturally arise as we are engaged in activity with peers and adult mentors. The talleres, because of their association with learning how to engage in real human activity, with specific semiotic domains (Gee,
2003) into which the students were introduced, provided an interesting hybrid language use experience, at once something like language use in classroom curricular areas, and like language use in social settings outside the classroom. Once again, as in Ms.
Gomez’s classroom, they presented the students with language use that escaped school forms of encapsulation, revealing how people use language in the world.
Conclusion: How Language Ideologies Work in Classrooms
In this chapter, I have attempted to provide a clear portrait of the language ideologies and practices that characterize Spanish Immersion 5th grade classrooms at Midville Elementary School. Mr. Foster, as principal, led his teachers in a concern for the life-long love of language learning, a valuing of biliteracy as a fundamental part of bilingualism, and defended his elementary students against what he saw as a devaluing of their bilingual experience by secondary Spanish Language teachers. Ms. Gomez provided a nuanced way of understanding what biliteracy meant for students at the end of their elementary Spanish Immersion experience. Most remarkable was her commitment to providing her students both guidance and autonomy in the literacy practices in her classroom, and to encouraging them to learn to use Spanish for many different purposes, including those associated with social justice and change. Her students seemed happy and productive and grew in their knowledge and use of Spanish as they engaged in regular reading and writing in Spanish. Ms. Gomez was also committed to providing direct instruction in Spanish grammar, orthography, and domain related aspects of language use, such as how to use interjections in writing fictional dialogue. The students’ classroom experience illustrated the many ways language learning and use are connected to specific activities and academic domains, and that illustration was extended to their experience in Mexico at El Molino. There they encountered many different social and activity systems in which language use differed, presenting complex relationships between language from specific semiotic and social domains. Ms. Gomez’s students spent their last year of elementary Spanish Immersion education immersed in a rich and challenging language environment in which they developed confidence and competence with the language they were learning.
Chapter 4: “There’s no reading of books”: Language Learning and Use in Midville’s Spanish Language AP Class
On May 5, 2009, over 100 Midville High School students stand in the early morning rain, waiting anxiously for high school staff to open the doors to the library where they will spend the next four hours taking the 2009 version of the Spanish Language Advanced Placement exam. At 7:30 sharp, the head proctor, an energetic middle-aged woman, ushers the students in from the breezeway, reminding them to visit the bathroom one last time, get out their ID cards, #2 pencils, and turn off their cell phones before they find a place among the evenly spaced seats at the rows of tables prepared for them. Among the many students that day are 23 former Spanish Immersion students, 21 from the Midville Spanish Immersion program.11 They seem just as jittery as all the other students there, and later in the day will express bemusement and some under-confidence as they reflect on the nature of and their performance on this exam. In July, when their scores are released to them, they will discover that each of them has passed the exam, most with the highest score of 5.
As the previous chapter examined the language ideologies and practices associated with the 5th grade Spanish Immersion class, the culmination of the whole of the Spanish Immersion elementary school program, this chapter will examine the language beliefs and ideologies of one of the Spanish Language AP teachers and Department Administrator, Mr. Mann. As a veteran teacher of Spanish, who regularly taught the Spanish Language AP class, and participated in professional development and the reading of AP exam essays, Mr. Mann’s view of the Spanish Immersion students had been informed by the language ideologies and beliefs of World Language teachers in his department and the district as a whole in the 2008-2009 school year. Further this chapter will consider some of the practices Mr. Mann engaged in to help students fulfill the goals of this course and to prepare for the exam which represented for many its culminating experience. These practices reflected the character of language learning and use in this educational context, and were the outworking of his language ideologies and beliefs. I will use the reflections of ten former Spanish Immersion students, four from Mr. Mann’s courses, gathered during a focus group conducted the afternoon of the exam, to further illuminate the experience of former Spanish Immersion students in Spanish Language AP courses at Midville High School. Finally, I will present the range of social and academic language domains or “spheres of human activity” (Bakhtin, 1986) that obtain in this classroom and the Spanish Language AP exams from 2007-2011 to consider how the experience of students in the Spanish Immersion program may have prepared them for this culminating experience.
Teacher Conceptions of Language Learning and Use: Beliefs and Ideologies Mr. Mann was a well-liked teacher among students, who described him as “relaxed” (Focus group, 5/5/09), and compared him very favorably with his colleague who taught other sections of Spanish 4AP. He frequently demonstrated interest in students in class, and revealed a somewhat indulgent attitude toward them, inquiring about their early morning sleepy unresponsiveness in class, urging them to try to get more sleep (Fieldnotes, 4/16/06). At the time of our interview, he had been teaching at Midville High School in the World Language department for 12 years, having taught at Midville Middle School for the previous 4 years. He had taught every level of Spanish offered in the district, except for the AP Spanish Literature course, along with two levels of German, something he never envisioned teaching when he took courses in it as a requirement for his Spanish major at a Northern California public university. As a Spanish Language AP teacher, Mr. Mann was well connected to his professional communities, attended professional development events for AP teachers in and outside the district, and was beginning to serve regularly as an AP exam reader. Though he expressed language beliefs and ideologies that sometimes dovetailed with those of Ms.
Gomez and Mr. Foster, that might have contributed to his awareness of the experiences and capacities of former Spanish Immersion students, his focus and practices had been formed and were more consisted with those prevalent in the community of World Language teachers, promoting various ideologies of the World Language model of education, and the unexamined beliefs about the deficits of the Spanish Immersion program, and by extension, its students.
Mr. Mann: Language Ideologies and Beliefs of a Spanish Language Teacher
Mr. Mann held beliefs about bilingualism that dovetailed with some of the ideologies characteristic of the Spanish Immersion program, seeing bilingualism and biliteracy as essentially connected, that language learning and becoming bilingual were highly pleasurable experiences. He demonstrated that he understood the goals of TWI education, and that his students had achieved a certain level of bilingualism by the time they reached 5th grade. However, even though he recognized that former Spanish Immersion students brought significant language learning and use experiences with them to high school, his positive language beliefs did not seem to function to create a sense of what those students’ experiences might mean for his own teaching. Instead he held a predominantly deficit view of the students who came to him out of the Spanish Immersion program, and of the program itself, as evidenced by his determination that “they don’t really fit that well” into World Language classrooms, that parental and student expectations had to be reduced when they entered high school, by his focus on patterns of error in the writing of 5th grade Spanish Immersion students, and his assumption that their deficits had to be explained by some deficit in teaching and learning in the Spanish Immersion elementary program.
Biliteracy: Being “truly” bilingual means being biliterate.
Some of Mr. Mann’s language ideologies seemed to favor the Spanish Immersion students in his courses. For instance, when asked to provide a definition of what it meant to be bilingual, Mr. Mann could not separate it from biliteracy, a perspective he shared in common with both Mr. Foster and Ms. Gomez of the Spanish Immersion program.
Mann: When I think of truly bilingual I also think of biliterate.
Merritt: OK Mann: Um so not only being able to uh speak a lang--two languages at a very high level but also being able to read and write and uh and understand um Merritt: umhm Mann: So that--I mean I know they have a separate category for that and that's why they say biliterate too, but for me bilingual is not just the oral component Merritt: umhm Mann: but reading and writing as well.
This definition of “true” bilingualism as biliteracy seemed to proceed as much from Mr.
Mann’s own experience of language learning as from his role as a teacher of the AP Spanish Language course, in which reading and writing featured so prominently. Mr.
Mann only began his learning of Spanish in 9th grade, and it almost immediately involved both reading and writing. His early experience of learning Spanish took place in the context of a school-based exchange program with a community in Mexico, through which he participated in a homestay exchange, and made friends with whom he wanted to communicate when he returned home.
Mann: …it was just-just great, got me so excited. I wrote letters, pre-email days of course. I would just keep up with—I would have all these pen pals—of kids that I would meet in the school and then they—the families that I would stay with—and so I was constantly badgering my mother for more stamps because I was always just constantly writing letters. And, of course, I was writing and writing and writing and reading and reading and reading and watching telev—just immersing myself as much as I—without really being consciously aware of what I was doing. It was just interesting to me so I was watching television, I was reading newspapers, I was writing letters.
Even in explaining what he meant by achieving a “high level of language” in defining bilingualism, reading and writing took a prominent role.