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Individual Subjects in Program Review: Differing Language Experiences and Ideologies By December 2008, the Program Review group had completed their work, produced their policy statement and program plan, and charged several individuals with the work of implementing the new reenactment of the middle school program. In theory, the group meant for them to use the policy statement as a guide; however, in reality, the statement continued to reflect some of the conflicting visions of language learning, ideologies that differed along the lines of the various Communities represented in the review process. It did not provide specific direction for implementation, nor did it resolve some of the issues that would have an impact on future curriculum development and assessment. The Program Review group left the specifics of implementation and the resolution of ongoing differences up to several administrators and teachers. I focus this section on three Subjects in the activity of program review, the administrators who would take an essential role in implementation: Ms. Fisher, responsible for working with teachers to development 6th and 7th grade curriculum; Mr. Bell, charged with developing an appropriate assessment plan; and Mr. Worth, responsible for the overall functioning of the program in the middle school, and for the final decision on teacher hiring/placement in the three Spanish Immersion classes.
These three individuals represented the continued influence of three different Communities, Midville Elementary School/TWI, Midville High School/World Language, and Midville Middle School/TWI and World Language. In their implementation of the new Spanish Immersion program, the program review group’s policy statement would provide them few concrete directions, and much of the shape of the program would still depend upon their contingent decisions made in the midst of day-to-day conditions of their district and school site. The highly contingent nature of their decision-making environment and the nature of the policy statement would mean that they would at times depend upon their prior experience, beliefs, and ideologies as they enacted the new program. Yet another location in the Activity of Program Review and enactment at which expansive learning can fail can be found in the work of such individuals, the extent to which they rely upon their own experiences and beliefs, making, in the process, de facto policy, rather than on the intentions of the policy statement, the source of de jure policy. In this section, I will focus on several areas of experience and belief which could have an impact on their actions in implementing the new program: their language education experiences; their understandings of the nature of bilingualism; and their vision of the goals of TWI education and of the new middle school program.
Language experience and ideology: Personal language learning.
The three focal subjects represented interesting and radically different personal language learning experiences, ranging from Ms. Fisher, who is English monolingual, to whom school-based language learning “made no sense,” to Mr. Bell, who majored in Spanish and French in college and had made a profession of learning languages, with Mr.
Worth somewhere in the middle.
Elementary TWI community: Ms. Fisher. Ms. Fisher had the least to say about her own language learning experience, which involved taking high school Spanish classes at Midville High School several decades earlier. She represented the experience of many students who begin language learning in high school and end up thinking they are “really crummy at languages.” She understood her very unsatisfactory experience as the result of having no relevant social context for learning, and felt that she “could have learned it a whole lot better if [she] had just been […] put on a train and sent south and said, you know spend the summer there. [She] probably would have done a whole lot better.” Ms.
Fisher ended her discussion of her own language experience with the summary statement “I don’t speak another language” (Interview, 5/21/09).
Her own experience could easily explain both her commitment to her children’s bilingual language development (much like the parents in the study done by King and Fogel ), and to the Midville Spanish Immersion program and TWI education in general. Though she did not express regret over her own struggles with language learning, she had developed a theory of what kind of language learning might have served her better, one focused on language use in social contexts, very similar to the kind of language learning that takes place in TWI classrooms.
High school World Language community: Mr. Bell. Mr. Bell, in contrast, represented that small percentage of language students whose classroom language learning experience leads to a high level of satisfaction and success in acquiring and using languages. Unlike Ms. Fisher, Mr. Bell began his learning in elementary school, as a “Sputnik kid” in the 1950s, when the Federal Government was investing heavily in not only math and science education, but in teaching kids World Languages early in their schooling. He began with French in 3rd grade, Spanish in 5th, continuing his studies “virtually seamlessly” all the way through high school. He described his language study as “pretty intense” inasmuch as his elementary school instructors came from the local state university, which also was involved in early childhood language acquisition research in his school. Mr. Bell saw his experience as giving him important insights into TWI education, though he recognized that his experience would not be considered the same as TWI (Interview, 12/18/08).
Though he felt that his experience of language learning in elementary school helped him understand the situation of Spanish Immersion students in Midville, in fact his experience represented a very different model, one that focused on language learning more than language used as a medium of instruction. Though his experience differed from Mr. Mann’s in that they began their language studies at different times in their schooling, they were similar in that they both represented that small proportion of World Language students who succeed in learning language through school instruction.
Middle School community: Mr. Worth. Mr. Worth seemed to represent a middle road experience with language learning in school, having taken Spanish for five years in middle and high school, ending with an AP Spanish Language course in 11th grade, though not with the AP exam. This middle road is one that many secondary students follow, one that might even be considered the norm in many school districts from which a significant percentage of students go on to college. However, he also represented a very different language learning experience than either Ms. Fisher or Mr. Bell, in that he “became familiar with Indonesian” as a result of teaching English there shortly after his undergraduate experience. Though some of his learning of Indonesian happened in classrooms as preparation for his in-country experience, much of it happened during his two years there. Though he “didn’t become quite as fluent or proficient as [he] anticipated or would have liked, [it] served [his] purposes.” His focus was primarily on learning spoken Indonesian, though he learned to write “thank you notes, […] requests, or […] basic instructions for neighbors or friends or things like that.” He described himself as “functionally literate,” though not one who “was gonna pick up a book or a magazine in Indonesian and try to read it” (Interview, 12/18/08). Mr. Worth experienced the widest range of language learning, including both the kind of school-oriented learning of Mr. Bell, and the sort of contextualized learning imagined by Ms. Fisher.
His experience represented an interesting mix of moderate success in both environments and realistic practicality in approaching language learning and use.
However, from his comments about his language learning experiences, it was hard to tell how either of them would impact his view of the Spanish Immersion students or program.
His experience in Indonesia could potentially have helped him understand the differences between learning language for the purpose of using it and learning language for the sake of learning a language, as one does in most World Language classes.
Language experience and ideology: Language teaching or education.
As they described their experience with language teaching or their understandings of language education based on the experiences of others, each of these Subjects drew on very different types of experiences and took different stances on how those experiences had contributed to their expertise in understanding TWI education. Ms. Fisher, informed by her children’s experience with TWI education, expressed an ideology clearly based in language use for social purposes. Mr. Bell, in contrast, talked about language teaching and learning in the context of academic programs, drawing from his association with traditional World Language teaching. These two Subject’s views represented the conflict that existed between the two models, language learning for use in the world vs. language learning in a purely academic context. Mr. Worth might have provided a viewpoint on language teaching and learning that mitigated this conflict, but he would not claim any authority in resolving the conflict, but indicated his hesitancy to view himself as authoritative.
Elementary TWI community: Ms. Fisher. Ms. Fisher, a former middle school science teacher, had no experience of teaching focused on language learning, and did not connect her experience of teaching science with language learning or use. As she did in the Program Review meetings, she drew upon her experience as a parent to help her understand the value and purpose of the Spanish Immersion program. Because of her experience as a parent, she felt she was “a good spokesperson for immersion programs, because it’s not just the language. It’s the whole awareness that kids get of world cultures. And to [her] mind, [her] children came out as global citizens.” She reiterated her sense of the purpose of TWI education as being something outside or beyond the classroom, something each of her children had experienced. Both of them, a daughter and a son, had spent “a good deal of time working with extremely poor people in different countries” after college, her son laboring in agriculture in Chile, her daughter “work[ing] with children in the slums of Guatemala City.” While her daughter had majored in Spanish in college, and “did really well with it,” her son had seen his language improve as a result of his work in Chile. In both cases, “these [were] not things [she] would have expected [her] children to do,” implying that something about their language learning in their TWI program would explain this choice, their becoming such “global citizens” (Interview, 5/21/09). Ms. Fisher continued to represent and explain the value she placed on experiential learning during the Program Review meetings, and claims certain expertise based on it.
High school World Language community: Mr. Bell. Mr. Bell also drew on his own experienced for understanding “what programs can do for students,” referring to his “many year perspective” of language learning that spanned elementary, middle and high school years, and his understanding of “the entire continuum [of] students’ developmental stages” as both a former student and former teacher. He emphasized the way teachers can see students’ earlier accomplishments, and take them all the way to the “capstones […] when students really acquire [the language] and are able to be [fluent].” In this statement, Mr. Bell reveals his orientation toward the upper levels of a World Language program, his belief that students “really acquire” language at this end of a language program. After 40 years of “professional experience in dealing with curriculum, instruction, assessment,” Mr. Bell felt the middle school Program Review project was “near and dear to [his] heart even with the challenges that [they] had to address” (Interview, 12/18/08). Framing his experience in clearly academic and programmatic terms, Mr. Bell expressed a sense of his professional and personal expertise informed by many years of World Language study.
Middle school community: Mr. Worth. Mr. Worth, on the other hand, eschewed any sense of expertise with regards to thinking about models of language learning, the conflict between TWI and World Language orientations to language education. His two years of teaching English in Indonesia did not provide him with sufficient experience to comment upon conflict, because the teaching he had done “was for a more specific purpose,” that of preparing Indonesian teachers of English. In his teaching, he “either follow[ed] the outlines of the course description or the course guidelines or um help[ed the teachers] feel more comfortable um with their uh skills and understandings um given how, given the manner in which they planned to use those-those skills.” His hesitancy to claim expertise can be seen in his direct statements about how his “objectives were a little bit more narrowly defined” than in the TWI or World Language classes, as well as in his hedges and hesitancy in speaking about his experience. He had not considered the possibility that his experience of teaching English for Specific Purposes could inform his thinking about TWI education and its emphasis on language learning through content knowledge. Mr. Worth’s hesitancy to claim authority in thinking about the nature of language teaching and learning explained his reliance on Mr. Sanchez in understanding the problems of the Spanish Immersion program at Midville Middle School. Not only had Mr. Sanchez had experience with the program that Mr. Worth lacked, but he also had the sort of disciplinary expertise Mr. Worth valued.
Language experience and ideology: Conceptions of bilingualism.