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He described their writing as “very creative,” “very good,” “very nice,” “very typical,” “very cute,” “very fluid,” and “very rich.” His repetition of “very,” while it might serve to characterize their writing as above average, approaching excellent, could also lose some of its power in its overuse. This consistent and measured expression of affirmation stood in contrast with some of the language Mr. Mann used in relation to the students’ uneven use of accentuation. Almost immediately after he evaluated Jacob’s story as painting a “very clear picture of [a] medieval battle” which was “very nice,” he pointed out that “the other thing that I think is really striking is the almost complete lack of accentuation.” He used the word “striking,” a strong word 15. The strength of his response to Jacob’s accentuation was then confirmed by his next comment.
Mann: Um it's astounding because he--I-I found one or two examples of where he DID put an a- “habían sacado” This is in the fifth paragraph on the first page, “habían sacado sus espadas.” There's an accent on the “i,” and I think I saw one--he It was a strong word, but may have been suggested to him by my own language in our interview. I had suggested that he could comment on “anything that strikes you as-as worth commenting on” when he said “but um so I don’t know what aspect you’d like me to comment on” after he read Jacob’s essay.
put an accent on the “i” in “días” on the second page which is about the tenth line from the bottom, and that I believe is the only accent mark.
He described the lack of accentuation in Jacob’s writing as “astounding,” dramatically surprising. As he continued to evaluate Jacob’s command of written conventions, he contrasted his accentuation with his control of punctuation and paragraphs. While Jacob seemed to have better “control” over these elements, even better than some of Mr.
Mann’s heritage speakers, Mr. Mann repeated that his lack of accentuation was dramatic.
Mann: Um but I'm-I'm astounded, frankly, that he-he seems to have no clue of accents, none. But like I said, I mean it's, so he obviously has some deficiencies there. Um It would-it looks like writing, frankly, that I would see in my native speakers’ class in terms of the lack of accentuation.
Later he claimed that Jacob’s spelling was good, with very few errors, but repeated that accentuation seemed to be “the only convention that he really seems to have no clue of.” Even though Mr. Mann could point to cases where Jacob had used accents correctly, he presented his use of accents as dramatically deficient.
As Mr. Mann moved on to read Michael’s work, he began to explain the lack of accentuation as a lack of understanding.
Mann: (About Michael’s story): Uh big lack of understanding of conventions of accentuation. There's no--apart from one example I gave out-I don't think there's anythere are any accents.
By the time he finished reading Georgia’s story, he focused his very first response on the problem of accentuation, beginning to see a pattern.
Mann: Well, I think it's interesting. They all three--there doesn't seem to be anythere's no accents. So I mean, that's-there doesn't seem to be any instruction given to them about how to use accent marks.
After having seen what seemed to be a pattern of error, Mr. Mann then began to theorize that the students had not received any instruction in accentuation during their earlier years of language development, an unreasonable theory given the number of years that these students had been reading and writing in Spanish.
While I had not anticipated the strength of his response to this one language use feature, because I had been aware that the problem of accentuation had been one that World Language teachers had focused on in the past, I had observed carefully in Ms.
Gomez’s class what work she did with the students on the feature. She had given them systematic direct instruction (Fieldnotes, 1/13/09) involving categories of words (pronouns and words used in forming questions), provided rules for use (including the very categories of words Mr. Mann referred to in our conversation) (Fieldnotes, 4/28/09), and regularly responded to accent errors in comments on student writing. When I pointed out that I had observed “a lot of instruction” on the issue in the 5th grade class, Mr. Mann asked Mann: Is it sor- is it systematic, I mean does it start when they start writing?
Merritt: You know, that I don't know, uh because I have only been looking at the fifth grade classroom soMann: Well, I'm just curious, because if they haven't been getting it from when they start writing probably I'd say in first grade and it goes without any sort of you know without any mention, and then all of a sudden in fifth grade she's got all these charts and corrections and things, it's probably too late.
Once again, Mr. Mann presented an unreasonable theory regarding the problem. The idea that fifth grade was “probably too late” to learn correct accentuation must have flown in the face of his own experience of teaching heritage speakers in his high school courses. He seemed to have no language development theory to help him understand this problem. When I mentioned that I didn’t know how accentuation is taught in schools in to Spanish speakers, he pointed to the way it was taught in World Language classes.
Mann: No, I think that, I mean, you'd start writing and then they would-I think what they would do is show you how to um that's kind of what we do with native speakers is we-we show them the different categories of palabras, graves, llanes, esdrújulas, and you know how to-so you know counting bits the syllables and where does the emphasis on the syllable lie and which one is it, and learning the basic, there's only really three rules, for basic things that you need to know, and then does it break the rule, then it needs an accent mark, does it follow the rule then it doesn't. So it doesn't have to be that onerous of a task. That doesn't mean that it doesn't take time because when native speakers, you know, over the course a year-we’re no where near perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they at least had more of a clue than these kids do. Um and then I'm not trying to criticize because it's hard to do that, but I wonder how systematic it is or if it's just something that the fifth grade teacher kind of says “Oh well, I've got to really emphasize it this year,” you know, cuz if-if they're waiting ‘til fifth grade to do it, it's too late, I would say.
With what seemed to be no knowledge of how accents are taught in Spanish-as-a-first language context, Mr. Mann had no place to turn but to the methodology of the World Language classroom. Though he recognized the difficulty of teaching accentuation, he persisted in arguing that it might be too late for these students.
In putting together a set of short stories for Mr. Mann to read, I had selected what I thought were some of the stronger students essays, reflecting a range of strengths, including one in which the student, Joyce, was fairly adept at most of the conventions of writing in Spanish. While I had not chosen it because of her accentuation, that feature became the focus of our conversation, and challenged Mr. Mann’s perceptions about this pattern of language use. When he read Joyce’s story, he once again focused his first comment on accentuation, but recognized the difference in her writing. Yet he still turned to interpret it in deficit terms.
Mann: Well, she does use-I'm looking at the second page and she does use accent marks with a lot more accuracy, but then she-she also has what I always called accentoitis because then she starts putting them on just sort of-all sorts of words that accent mark on “vos” and on “su” and on, you know--which often happens and they think everything needs an accent mark, you know, but she's got-I mean “alguién” has an accent mark here so there's some-she's certainly got a lot more control than those other examples didn't have any accent marks or maybe just one, you know?
He seemed genuinely surprised to see Joyce’s “control” of accentuation, and began to speculate about why she used “accent marks for some reason a lot more than-than the other students,” asking “I wonder what the difference is. Do we know?” When I responded that we didn’t have any information that would help us understand this difference, he returned to her writing to consider the ways she had used accentuation accurately.
Mann: H- well I think it's very curious because I mean these three (Jacob, Michael and Georgia) have nothing basically, and this one (Joyce), she even includes um I mean she's got-where was it? I saw it on page 4, towards the top where it says No la ví por ningún lado,” she's even got an accent mark on “ningún,” you know. Uh “es más,” she's got an accent on “más”, “no pensé en ese tópico,” she's got the accent on “pensé” and “tópico,” “perdón,” “dejé,” I don't know.
Mr. Mann might have recognized this contradiction as something worth investigating, though he did not express any further desire to study this. As we ended our conversation about the students’ writing, he reaffirmed the same focus on the need to learn accentuation.
Mann: They did a good job Merritt: Great Mann: They need to learn their accents.
Merritt: Yeah, ok.
Mann: It just makes it seem-it's just so striking.
Mann: Just because they-the language that they use is so rich sometimes and um everything else they use is good, but it's like “Whoa!” We're really missing-I mean I know it's-it's one little piece, but it's-it's an important little piece.
When I had observed Ms. Gomez’s class for the first time, and saw that she was addressing the issue of accentuation directly during her “Grammar Time!,” it had occurred to me that she seemed very aware of what World Language teachers had said and would say about her students’ language use, the conventions of written Spanish they were aware of and used. During my interview with Mr. Mann, I could see how the focus of World Language teachers on one feature of language use could have significant implications for teaching and learning at the elementary school level. And it explained why three of the former Spanish Immersion students from bilingual families, Mateo, Marcos and Daniel, had all responded the same way when asked what they felt they would like to be able to do with their Spanish: get better at using accents (Focus group, 5/5/09). They had internalized the concerns conveyed to them by Mr. Mann and other World Language teachers during middle school and their first year of high school.
Mr. Mann’s Language Ideologies and Attitudes: Informed by Experience, Professional Community and Local Attitudes Mr. Mann’s language ideologies were complex and sometimes seemed contradictory. His own language learning experience, one he characterized as pleasurable and in which his desires as a student had been accommodated, informed many of his ideas about bilingualism and biliteracy. However, his professional experiences as a member of the community of World Language (specifically AP) teachers, and the unresolved problems associated with the presence of the Spanish Immersion program in his district, also informed his language ideologies, specifically the ones that he accessed in thinking about Spanish Immersion students. The fact that district leadership had taken the possibility of extending the Spanish Immersion program into high school away from teachers, parents and students created a problem in how to help these students fit into his classes. For Mr. Mann, helping them fit in might have involved acknowledging and accessing the language resources they brought with them, accommodating them, even utilizing them as a resource for other students. However, Mr. Mann seemed to be constrained by several aspects of language education in his context: by the teachercontrolled model of language learning inherent to his department; by the encapsulated school learning inherent to the AP system; and by his having absorbed the deficit view of the Spanish Immersion program and its students held by some of the secondary World Language teachers in Midville.
Mr. Mann’s Classroom, Spring 2009: Characteristics of Language Learning and Use Mr. Mann was clearly a conscientious, professional and amiable teacher whom students liked and from whom they learned sufficient Spanish to do well in his course and on the AP exam. However, as he indicated some aspects of the Spanish language “program,” or activity system, did not favor the incorporation of former Spanish Immersion students. In fact, elements of that activity system created a centripetal (Bakhtin, 1986) orientation to language learning that stood in vivid contrast to the centrifugal orientation of guided autonomy students experienced in the 5th grade Spanish Immersion class. From the built space Mr. Mann and his students had to work with, to the highly unnatural, decontextualized assessment of language learning and use in the AP exam, generally, the activities and practices of the Spanish Language AP course did not provide a satisfying or challenging extension of the language experience former Spanish Immersion students brought with them to the class.
Built Space: Encouraging a Teacher-Centered Classroom