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Elementary TWI community: Ms. Fisher. Seeing the bridge of middle school as a place to retain what the students had learned and experienced in the elementary Spanish Immersion program, Ms. Fisher was more focused on the maintenance function of the bridge, than on its final academic destination of high school World Language courses.
While she did refer to the bridge as a “transition between the K-5 elementary immersion program and the academic secondary high school program,” she focused on the value of the time spent on the bridge in a couple of ways. She hoped the students “really enjoy” the “wonderful transition” in middle school, emphasizing the middle school experience itself, more than anticipating the place it would lead to. She saw that experience giving students a chance to “maintain their Spanish,” to “maintain some friendships,” “to stay connected with Spanish speaking cultures.” She hoped they would be able to say that their “language skills didn’t recede during this time,” and that they would be “eager to go on and take more Spanish or another language.” For Ms. Fisher, the bridge served to extend the elementary experience in a way that would produce language growth necessary for the next phase of language development in high school.
Secondary World Language community: Mr. Bell. Mr. Bell, having drafted the policy statement, naturally saw the bridge in terms of movement down “pathways that are gonna change from what [their elementary] experience was.” He affirmed the intention to “honor what the students have experienced in K5,” but emphasized that the middle school program would be a “transition bridge to the programs that are already there” at the district’s high schools. Several times, in several ways, he emphasized that the programs of the district would not change for Spanish Immersion students, but that those students would need to change for the programs of the district. The students would experience change in “the way language acquisition is approached,” in “methodologies,” in “standards” and “expectations.” His only look backwards from the bridge to elementary school was to suggest that the middle and high schools would need to collaborate with the K-5 Spanish Immersion program, and that the “basis for that collaboration is really being able to assess the students during this bridge.” He focused his thinking about those assessments on language deficits the Spanish Immersion students brought with them, “speaking patterns that are not necessarily appropriately correct in structure,” a “type of language breakdown which happens.” Those speaking patterns, he said, are not “appropriate to academic language” and “sometimes even to spoken language,” both of which the program must make sure students have acquired. Some students would even have to “de-learn certain patterns in order to re-learn patterns that are more appropriate to the academic language.” In his view of the bridge, just as in his definition of bilingualism, Mr. Bell voiced a purist view of language learning, reflecting ongoing concerns of the World Language community in Midville.
Middle school community: Mr. Worth. Mr. Worth’s return to the bridge metaphor focused upon his role as the site administrator responsible for “mak[ing] it happen” and “maintain[ing] the intent [and] integrity of the program without letting it throw a monkey wrench in the rest of the […] school functions and programs.” Talking about the use of the frozen period and the “structures we’ve put into place at the 6th grade,” Mr. Worth returned to the same practical concerns he may have had in mind when he first introduced the bridge metaphor early in the review process. Mr. Worth clearly saw himself as the bridge builder, and the bridge involved all of the middle school’s programs and people. Though he was aware of the conflict between the proponents of TWI education and the World Language community at his school and in the district, his professional stance would not permit him to comment on the nature of that conflict, because he felt that he didn’t “have enough experience or […] enough […] done enough thinking to really […] comment in depth about what the differences are because I, you know, have only interacted for the most part with the World Language teachers here.” For Mr. Worth to build a successful bridge for Spanish Immersion at his middle school, he would need to move beyond the structural issues to understand how that bridge could represent resolution of the conflict between the two communities, work that had not been accomplished by May when his teachers met with Ms. Gomez, the 5th grade Spanish Immersion teacher, to determine the curricular direction of the middle school program.
Past, Present and Future Spanish Immersion Teachers Late in May 2009, three teachers, Ms. Morelli, Midville Middle School Spanish/TWI teacher, Mr. Sanchez, Midville Middle School Spanish (and former Spanish Immersion) teacher, and Ms. Gomez, Midville Elementary 5th Grade Spanish Immersion teacher, met after school in Ms. Morelli’s classroom to discuss possible curricular models for the new middle school Spanish Immersion program. Ms. Fisher indicated in our earlier interview that in all likelihood Ms. Morelli would return to teach all three grades of Spanish Immersion students, though she did not suggest why a teacher from outside the district had not been found for the courses, despite the Program Review’s discussions about hiring someone from outside to take the courses. The previous December, Mr.
Worth also had indicated that one of his greatest concerns was hiring the right teacher, someone with a “firm and comfortable grasp of the Spanish language,” experienced, but also “still interested in experimenting and trying new things.” Though Mr. Worth’s focus in Program Review had been on the structures of the middle school, he had also been thinking about the need for the new teacher and himself to be “reflective practioners who are committed to […] learning and […] modifying things so that […] they work out […] for the kids in the room” (Interview, 12/18/08). Ms. Morelli clearly met some of his criteria, having taught in various positions in the district, including elementary Spanish Immersion at Midville Elementary, middle school Spanish Immersion, and middle and high school Spanish Language courses. During the 2008-2009 hiatus year, Ms. Morelli had been the teacher for the 8th grade Spanish Immersion section of pre-high school Spanish Language, and, according to Mr. Sanchez, had felt that because of the lowered expectations of students and parents, and her focus on teaching grammar, the course had gone better than past Spanish Immersion classes had (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08). Time would tell whether or not she would be the “reflective practitioner” Mr. Worth was hoping to find, and her disposition toward “learning and modifying things” would be tested at this curriculum meeting. In fact, this meeting would require both Mr. Sanchez and Ms.
Morelli to adapt their curricular and pedagogical inclinations to the TWI curricular model brought to them by Ms. Gomez. This meeting represented yet another location in the activity system of program reform at which expansive learning could succeed or fail, a location where de facto language policy was once again formed. The conversation that took place during the meeting provided evidence of the current failure, but also a small hope of possible future success, of meaningful program reform.
Communities in competition: Who would dominate?
Both Ms. Gomez and Mr. Sanchez began the meeting with obvious concerns about the dominance of either the TWI or World Language Community in the discussion of curriculum for 6th grade. Mr. Sanchez had anticipated that his supervisor, Mr. Mann, would also be in attendance at the meeting, and expressed real concern when he was informed that Mr. Mann would not attend because of another district event. He openly admitted his desire to have Mr. Mann there as he had anticipated beginning the discussion of curriculum with the 8th grade Spanish Language class to work their way down to the 6th grade Spanish Immersion class. His clear orientation toward the high school World Language community extended the tension between him and Ms. Gomez who countered with her own understanding of the meeting, that they would begin with the 6th grade curriculum since, as an elementary TWI teacher, she was not qualified to provide input into the 8th grade World Language curriculum. To someone familiar with the bridge metaphor, their positions suggested that they were exercising a claim over either end of the bridge, hoping to gain ground for their particular model of language learning, their solution to the problem of Spanish Immersion in the middle school.
Extending the influence of Spanish Immersion: Literacy-based curricular plan. While Mr. Sanchez seemed to want to claim a larger portion of the middle school Spanish Immersion bridge, Ms. Gomez was much more prepared to stake a claim on her end of the bridge as she brought with her a fully developed curricular plan, the product of earlier meetings with both Ms. Fisher and Mr. Foster, to whose authority she appealed as she explained her work. The plan followed the judgment of the Program Review group, which had decided in the end to opt for a Language Arts approach to the 6th grade course, including several short Social Studies units relevant to 6th grade curriculum. As a 5th grade Spanish Immersion teacher who regularly incorporated the reading of novels and writing about them into her own class’s curriculum, Ms. Gomez had prepared a flexible, multi-week plan that included time for reading group meetings, writing assignments, student research, and multi-genre projects related to the themes of the books selected by the 6th grade teacher. Armed with several handouts, some of which outlined both longer Language Arts units and shorter Social Studies units, listed a number of recommended novels, and presented a schema for the two middle school teachers to learn about the critical thinking and writing work the students had been doing since third grade, she presented the plan in long, rapid-fire, energetic spurts of discourse, dominating the early minutes of the meeting. Most importantly, she emphasized that each unit should be based upon a theme that would connect a novel the students read to some real-life social issue, to give students’ reading and writing “a social context […] a social meaning so that way the kids will connect to it, especially in sixth […] grade because […] they're so much more aware of so many more things and they're not as sheltered as they are in, you know, second, third, fourth grade” (Transcript, 5/28/09). As an example, she explained the work her own 5th graders had done with the novel La gran Gilly Hopkins (The Great Gilly Hopkins) that spring, how they had discussed “kids, you know, just kids who feel, you know, lost and what would you do for, you know, this kid who, you know, is adopted-- adoption system and such-- who doesn't feel um like she's loved at all and so she acts out and so we're talking about bullies and trying to understand other people and trying to get their background and not just judging people right away” (Transcript, 5/28/09). She tied the work of the 6th grade class to what the students had done in 5th grade in terms of the kinds of literature they were familiar with as well, books that would extend their language and social learning experience.
Resistance and silence: Problems with the plan. Following Ms. Gomez’s initial presentation of the curricular model under consideration, a series of starts and stops in the conversation ensued, all of which involved problems raised by either Mr. Sanchez or Ms.
Morelli. They raised these problems in ways that slowed down the discussion, introduced only peripherally related questions, revealed both their need to process the dense curricular plan, and their resistance to it. Eventually, they began to consider the possibility of implementing the plan as Ms. Gomez systematically countered their concerns.
That Ms. Gomez had anticipated resistance from the middle school teachers was apparent in a number of ways, besides her dominance of the beginning of the meeting.
Anticipating their concern with grammar instruction, she pointed out how she had incorporated times for short, contextualized focus on language instruction in the plan.
She talked about her own practice of holding 15-20 minute “grammar warm-ups” and “BICS warm-ups” that focused on genres of language the students might need in everyday encounters with Spanish speakers, “some things that in an academic environment the kids lose and they don't really have in their systems” (Transcript, 5/28/09). She had also thought through the possible objection that the middle school teachers did not have the materials and books available to them to complete the plan. She suggested that they choose as their first novel for the fall a book which she knew they had in a full class set, Mildred Taylor’s Lloro por la tierra (Rolling Thunder, Hear My Cry), and discussed with them what books they did have available to them, and that interested them. Appealing to her conversations with Mr. Foster and Ms. Fisher, to the work that past teachers had done with Spanish Immersion 6th graders, and to the types of reading and writing the students had accomplished in elementary school, Ms. Gomez attempted to present a fully-formed vision of the flexible 6th grade curriculum.