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He was most concerned with questions of how the new program would fit into the larger school programs and structures from the very beginning of the planning meetings.
Leaving the work of curriculum development and assessment planning to others, Mr.
Worth returned frequently in meetings to discussions of how logistically viable their plan would be. He conceived of viability broadly, in terms of existing school structures, the overall nature of middle school experience for students, the expectations of parents for academically rigorous programs, the role of both curriculum and individual teachers in creating an academically successful program. He argued for the value of “providing a bridge from elementary to high school” for Spanish Immersion students and argued that past conflict over the quality of language learning characteristic of the program [could] be attributed to normal program variability, and should not be “enough [of a reason] to cut the program” (Fieldnotes, 9/16/08). He balanced concern for parents who had “expressed a desire to have Spanish Immersion reinstated,” and saw the Program Review as an opportunity to improve the program, with students who would benefit from the social mixing that middle school affords them, and who did not want to lose out on other electives because of having to continue in the Spanish Immersion program (Fieldnotes, 9/16/08, 10/21/08). He recognized that the program they would be developing would pose challenges in hiring or finding the right current staff member to teach a course focused on specific content or on advanced literacy in Spanish. In short, Mr. Worth seemed to value all the aspects of middle school life and learning.
However, Mr. Worth expressed the most consistent concern with the program’s logistical viability. He returned to questions of how to make the program fit into the Ms. Valente, one of two Assistant Principals at the school, carried the institutional memory of the relationship between the school and the Spanish Immersion program, but played a very small role in the Program Review meetings.
already existing school structures nearly every meeting, and confessed at an early meeting that it would be “much easier to shift to Spanish classes” than find a way to fit a special Spanish Immersion class into the larger school structures (Fieldnotes, 9/16/08).
In particular, the 6th grade structures posed special problems in accommodating the needs of Spanish Immersion students, since 6th grade involved special structures, such as sheltered team-taught core courses in Math, Science, Language Arts and Social studies and a rotating series of short elective courses called “The Wheel.” Much less concerned about the 7th and 8th grade Spanish Immersion courses, Mr. Worth felt the current school structures accommodated them much more easily. Resolving the problem of incorporating the new Spanish Immersion 6th grade experience into the rest of the 6th grade structures required some creative thinking, and resulted in what Mr. Worth referred to as a “frozen” period option.
Mr. Worth presented the “frozen” period as a strategy that was being piloted by 6th grade teachers at the time, but that had to be sold to them in the first place (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). The idea proceeded from the problem of needing to pull special needs and resource students out of their 6th grade core courses to receive special programs and services. Teachers and administrators determined one hour per day that could be “frozen” for other students while special needs students were pulled out of class. During the “frozen” period, teachers would not introduce any new material in any core subject areas, but would provide an extension activity related to previously introduced material.
Mr. Worth proposed adding in Spanish Immersion students as those being pulled-out for a special program. They would receive their extension activities in Spanish, satisfying the requirement that significant content material be presented in Spanish, and solving other problems proceeding from the fact that 6th graders do not have the kinds of elective courses 7th and 8th graders do. The Program Review group, relying on Mr. Worth’s expertise in resolving the middle school’s programming challenges, adopted this structural solution, but not without concerns about a variety of issues, including student social perceptions about being “pulled-out” of class for special classes, and, of course, who would teach this course, and what the curriculum would consist of. Mr. Worth expressed concern about the idea of teaching science in Spanish, as finding staff qualified to teach this subject area could result in “fluffy science and fluffy Spanish” (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). Having surveyed his faculty to find anyone with BCLAD certification in specific content areas to find that no one fit the bill, he seemed to doubt the group’s ability to find a teacher who could teach specific content in Spanish, whether science, language arts or social studies, favoring instead an undefined “bridge activity” (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). Perhaps he had in mind some of the types of activities promoted by Mr. Sanchez, who had informed him about teachers’ past experiences with the Spanish Immersion classes. He saw in the “frozen” period the possibility of greatest flexibility in content for the potential teacher of the course, and once the group accepted his proposal, he continued to focus on the logistics of its enactment.
Mr. Worth’s focus on structural solutions, while essential in a school setting where Spanish Immersion represented a small proportion of the school population, did not contribute to the resolution of the conflict between the elementary Spanish Immersion and secondary World Language Communities. His lack of experience in the district and with the Spanish Immersion program meant that he could only draw from general administrative experience to resolve a limited set of problems related to school structures.
He was dependent upon others, including his Spanish teacher, Mr. Sanchez, to inform him of other problems related to the Spanish Immersion program at his school.
World Language teacher, Mr. Sanchez: Deficits and lowered expectations. Mr.
Worth revealed early that he had relied on Mr. Sanchez for the teachers’ perspectives on the Spanish Immersion program. Mr. Sanchez had been a Spanish Immersion middle school teacher for several years, but had most recently occupied a position teaching traditional Spanish Language courses to 7th and 8th grade non-TWI students. During the planning and Program Review meetings, Mr. Sanchez raised many problems with Spanish Immersion middle school students as well as teachers and pedagogy across the program. From the earliest meetings, he argued that the level of Spanish Immersion teachers’ language has been inadequate, citing complaints from Spanish-dominant parents who were concerned about having to “[undo] grammatical problems” that had been learned in elementary school because of errors made by English-dominant students (Fieldnotes, 9/16/08). Additionally, he felt concerned that some Spanish-dominant students might be “more proficient than the teacher in Spanish” (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). He expressed a bleak view of the language use, skills and knowledge of English-dominant students. In response to one parent’s anecdote about her daughter’s having struggled to learn the subjunctive tense through elementary and middle school, and having only begun to master it in high school, Mr. Sanchez asserted that such a grammatical feature of Spanish “doesn’t have to be learned, but should be acquired” and that “that didn’t happen [for students] in elementary school” (Fieldnotes, 10/21). He questioned whether or not Spanish Immersion middle school students were “ready to take the course completely in Spanish,” despite their having successfully completed at least half of their daily hours in school learning in and through Spanish for the previous six years (Fieldnotes, 11/6/08).
He countered perceptions that, by middle school, Spanish Immersion students had achieved a high level of Spanish language ability and knowledge when he raised issues regarding parental and teacher expectations. In a discussion with Ms. Fisher, he gave voice to possible parent expectations that Spanish Immersion students should be placed in the highest levels of high school Spanish courses, and seemed satisfied with the idea of “not expecting [Spanish Immersion students] to be fully competent” by the time they leave middle school (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). He reported that the 2008-09 teacher for the 8th grade class was “under the impression that it [was] going better because expectations [had] been lowered” as she focused more on language instruction as preparation for high school Spanish classes (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08). When he was the teacher for the middle school 7th and 8th grade Spanish Immersion courses, he found they “couldn’t talk in Spanish” and “had lots of problems with the grammar.” He felt these faulty language acquisition problems were severe enough to hinder his being able to engage the students in some of the more creative projects he had designed—“drama, cooking, making movies”—and led him and future teachers to the use of a Spanish language textbook to address the problems (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08).
From Mr. Sanchez’s viewpoint, many factors were responsible for the language deficits of middle school Spanish Immersion students, beginning with the problem of “having the same [elementary and 6th grade] teacher teaching in the two languages” (Fieldnotes, 9/16/08). He was concerned about how reading was taught in Spanish, how it should be taught differently from reading in English, about the “lack of academic rigor—homework,” and about student behavioral problems and “teachers who don’t want to teach” (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08). The language acquisition problems of Spanish Immersion students were serious enough to him that he would have liked to see language assessment begin in Kindergarten and to see a “whole host of criteria” imposed on students’ continued participation in Spanish Immersion classes in middle school (Fieldnotes, 10/7). While his supervisor, Mr. Mann, may have seemed more ambiguous in his assessment of students’ Spanish language knowledge and skills, Mr. Sanchez expressed a consistent “language as problem” view of Spanish Immersion students’ experience with Spanish.
The conflict between the different orientations to language learning and use were most apparent in Mr. Sanchez’s concerns. While Spanish Immersion students may have brought many important experiences in Spanish with them into middle school, and while the Program Review participants would generally affirm the need to recognize and value those experiences, the learning most valued by Mr. Sanchez, with an orientation toward specific grammatical knowledge and control, the kind of learning that takes place in Spanish Language courses, led to a deficit view of Spanish Immersion students. Mr.
Sanchez’s concerns informed the discussions of assessment, and questions of high school Spanish Language placement, as well as what the curriculum for the middle school courses should and would be.
Middle School community in brief: Spanish Immersion represented multiple problems.
In the end, both Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Worth expressed concerns about the Spanish Immersion students and program at the middle school that oriented toward the problems they posed. For Mr. Worth the problems involved in fitting a small program into a larger school structure overrode any other policy concerns, and inasmuch as he had had no experience with the Spanish Immersion program, students or parents, he found it necessary to rely on the past experience of his Spanish Language teachers, including Mr.
Sanchez. While Mr. Worth maintained a neutral view of the past problems involved with the program, Mr. Sanchez brought to the discussion a purely negative view of the students, their parents and the elementary program as a whole. Mr. Sanchez openly embraced lowering expectations for what Spanish Immersion students could do with their language, and how competent they might be (and become) in middle school. Mr. Worth did not, and could not, counter his negative ideology because of his lack of experience with the program and his concern for being the principal of the entire school community.
Communities in Program Review: Conflicting Objects, Little Resolution
By the end of the series of Program Review meetings, each of the stakeholder Communities had been able to have their say about the virtues and problems related to the middle school Spanish Immersion program. However, in the process, very little real listening had taken place. Each group remained firm in its convictions about what the problem was, and how it should be addressed. Some of the same concerns were raised in the final meeting as in the first, and members of each Community seemed focused on continuing to draw attention to their own values and concerns, and to see the Object of the activity of Program Review through the lens of their Community’s values and needs.
By late November 2008, they would turn to the production of a proposal to be given to the Superintendent, and to serve as their next effort to resolve their differences in viewpoints. However, before I turn to a discussion of the process of production of that policy statement later in the chapter, I will consider three individual Subjects (in relation to their Communities) and their experiences with and beliefs about language learning and teaching.