«A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education in the Graduate Division of ...»
Whatever the reason for their high success rate, the fact that, as a group, they succeeded on the exam is clear. Their success on this exam over the course of the first five years they took the exam may be one of the reasons students and parents in the program continued to have high expectations for their performance in World Language classes in high school. And since the AP exam is a significant measure of success among World Language teachers, it would be fair to assume that World Language teachers would have liked to know how these students performed on this assessment. One can speculate that the Spanish teachers may have sensed that the former Spanish Immersion students would outperform their non-Spanish Immersion peers, and that no one pursued the matter as it might have challenged some of their assumptions about these students.
Or we could wonder whether the Spanish language teachers felt it was the responsibility of the district to compile such data since they, and not the Spanish language teachers, were responsible for this multi-site program. Either way, the fact that no one had compiled this data to use as a language assessment tool was highly ironic given the emphasis placed on the need for language assessment during the middle school Program Review, as I will discuss in the next chapter.
Conclusion: Student Performance Contradicted Teacher Attitudes
The former Spanish Immersion students perceived Mr. Mann and his colleagues to be good teachers, hard working and likeable. Mr. Mann was clearly a committed professional, looking for ways to engage students and improve his courses through participation in professional development and AP training courses. His courses compared favorably in the minds of students with the course of his colleagues. Mr. Mann liked students, treated them positively in class, and had positive things to say about the writing of 5th grade Spanish Immersion students. He expressed a clear understanding of the goals of TWI education, and acknowledged that the former Spanish Immersion students brought significant language experiences with them to high school. So it seems surprising that, given all the positive understandings and good will between him and his students, he would focus so clearly and consistently on their language deficits and attribute them to faulty teaching in the Spanish Immersion program, and inflated expectations on the part of former Spanish Immersion students and their parents. The expectations that these students would achieve high levels of success in their Spanish Language studies in high school seem to be supported by their success in passing the AP test, one of the measures of success accepted by the Spanish Language teachers at Midville High School.
One way of understanding this disjunction between understandings and attitudes could proceed from the model of language education characteristic of the courses that prepare students for the AP exams. The emphasis on “control” of various elements of the Spanish language seems to take precedence over real-life language use, even though students have to read real-life texts in preparation for and during the AP exam. “Control” emphasizes a static view of language as represented in textbooks which can’t hope to capture the complexities of dynamic, living languages as they are used in the world. The predominance of encapsulated school forms of learning over the reality of how people who know and use Spanish do so contributes to the gap between what TWI students have experienced of language learning and use as compared to what traditional World Language students have experienced.
Another way of understanding the disjunction proceeds from understanding the historical situation of the Spanish Immersion program in this district. Because the district leadership resisted the program from its inception, did not provide sufficient support for it, and refused to consider extending the program into high school, Spanish Language teachers were left to determine how these students, with their unique language learning and use experiences, could be fit into the existing World Language model of learning.
They did not receive any more support in making that determination than the Spanish Immersion program did in establishing itself in the district. However, the Spanish Language teachers, even good ones like Mr. Mann, seem to have retracted into a defensive position against the entrance of Spanish Immersion students into their classes.
They acknowledge the differences in experiences of these students in their classes, but do not cast those differences in terms of resources, but in terms of problems. In fact, some of these students might have served as a resource to their traditional Spanish Language students, might have become language informants in the classroom, sharing what they know about Spanish with their peers, demonstrating the complexities of the dynamic, living Spanish language, or tutors to help struggling students with the literacy they were learning to practice. Taking advantage of the resources of these students would mean, however, loosening control, raising hard questions, and changing how a class is run.
In the next chapter, I will focus on the effort to resolve the historical problem posed by the Spanish Immersion program and its students in Midville, by examining the district’s Program Review of the Midville Middle School segment of the Spanish Immersion program. Though that examination, we will see how the differences between the Spanish Immersion experience and the World Language experience lead a leadership group to reinforce the attitudes about how to make the Spanish Immersion students fit into World Language classes.
Chapter 5: “A Bridge to Somewhere”: Revision of a Middle School Spanish Immersion Program “We will frame the debate.” – Associate Superintendent for Secondary Education “We need to craft something uniquely different.” – Associate Superintendent for Elementary Education “No one has really figured out the master plan for [Two-Way Immersion] middle school.” – Director, Secondary Education “[Language] doesn’t have to be learned, but it has to be acquired. That didn’t happen in elementary school.” -- Spanish teacher, Midville Middle School “[Spanish Immersion] has never been about the pursuit of language.” -- Spanish Immersion Teacher, Midville Elementary School.
“[Spanish Immersion] parents have felt it was their patriotic duty to keep kids in the program so that the program will continue.” -- Parent of Midville Middle School Spanish Immersion student.
“We are initially sketching out the bridge to get from the [elementary school two-way immersion] experience to the high school world language classes.” – Principal, Midville Middle School “What’s a better word than ‘bridge’?” – University consultant
Introduction: “We will frame the debate”
Late one mid-October afternoon in 2008, a group of 14 members of the Midville Spanish Immersion Program Review group gathered for the first of three meetings in which district officials intended to bring resolution to the crisis in the Midville Middle School Spanish Immersion Program. Everyone present at the meeting--district and site administrators, elementary, middle and high school teachers, parents, and consultants from universities—agreed that the middle school segment of the program had undergone a crisis in the past two years, though they would not necessarily agree on its source.
Guiding the discussions, District administrators held these meetings to allow program constituents to air their concerns, consider some of the historical programmatic problems (but not all of the particulars of the specific situation that led them to this place), and provide a means of resolving those problems and reinstating the middle school Spanish Immersion program, on hiatus for the academic year 2008-2009. Everyone would likely have agreed that the district’s leadership in conducting these meetings, and in taking responsibility for the oversight of the Spanish Immersion program, was very much overdue.
In the weeks just before this first meeting, district and site administrators, and secondary World Language teachers had met twice to set the agenda for the three larger group meetings that were about to begin. As the Associate Superintendent for Secondary Education put it in one of the planning meetings, “We will frame the debate,” a statement that seemed to indicate the need for district and site personnel to carefully control the endeavor to avoid encountering unproductive conflict over past experiences in the program (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). Several members of the program review emphasized to everyone participating in these early meetings that they would not be discussing the events that most recently had led to the suspension of the middle school program, and parents, perceived to be at least in part responsible for the crisis, were noticeably absent from these early meetings. Ms. Fisher, Associate Superintendent for Elementary Education, indicated that the entire existence of the middle school program was on the table, pointing to a letter written to the Spanish Immersion parent community by the former Associate Superintendent for Education Services, in which she set the agenda for the group to “examine the viability of sustaining a middle school immersion program in the future” (6/10/08). The final recommendation of the program review group would go to the Superintendent in December 2008.
Using CHAT to Examine Language Ideologies and Metaphor in Program Review
In this chapter, I will examine the process of Program Review, from the series of Program Review meetings held in Fall 2008, to the attempt to present an adequate middle school curriculum to the potential middle school Spanish Immersion teachers in spring
2009. During the course of this process, I observed how, by the end of spring 2009, some of the same sources of conflict persisted and emerged as Spanish Immersion and World Language teachers met to discuss and develop a curriculum for the newly reinstated middle school program, despite the efforts made from September-December 2008 by all the parties involved in the Program Review process. Though they had made decisions, drafted a policy statement, and set a curricular direction, faculty charged with enacting the new program did not seem settled, and even argued about the very nature of TWI education. These persistent conflicts invited examination to understand the nature of the possible failure of real reform for the middle school program. Therefore, in this chapter, I will examine the activity of reshaping a program, reviewing/revising policy, using the lens of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to consider “places” in the process, locations in the activity triangle, where the expansive learning necessary to resolve the issues involved in the crisis failed to be achieved and what the possible factors that contributed to its failure were.
First, I will study the understanding of the Object of the activity of Program Review (and of Spanish Immersion education itself) by specific Subjects participating in it, using their contributions during Program Review meetings. These Subjects were chosen to participate in the process at “stakeholders,” who were aligned with various Communities represented in the Spanish Immersion Program, some professional, some school sites, and some communities-at-large. Their alignment with these Communities, while representing certain expertise or interests valued by the district, also reinforced certain orientations toward the Object of the activity, orientations which often came into conflict, and which were never sufficiently resolved through the process of review.
To further understand some of those differing orientations and ideologies, I will examine the differences in experiences in and beliefs about language learning and teaching, as well as beliefs about the nature of bilingualism, of three Subjects of the activity system of program review, all major actors in the enactment of the new program, and how their differences may have affected their view of the Object of the activity system in which they were participating. I will argue that these differences in beliefs/ideologies worked against the process of expansive learning necessary to resolve a problem at the heart of the program review process.
I will also consider some of the language used in program review meetings, in the resultant policy statement, and in interviews with the focal Subjects, to discuss and define the possible nature of the new middle school program. That language served as a Tool in the activity system of program review, but demonstrated that not all Tools are as useful as others in accomplishing the Objects of the activity system. Specifically, I will consider the overriding metaphor adopted by the program review group--the middle school program as a “bridge” between the elementary school TWI program and high school World Language courses--and how that metaphor indexed a frame that limited possibilities and even contradicted a stated Object of the activity system.
Finally, I will move from focusing on the activity of Program Review and policy formation to discuss development of new curriculum by teachers and administrators charged with enacting and supporting the new middle school program. In doing so, I will examine another activity system, connected to the activity of program review, in which the expansive learning necessary to resolve programmatic problems also failed, and I will consider some of the possible reasons for that failure.