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Developing discoursal selves:Academic writing in a linguistically diverse Puente English class


In our globalized world the ability to move across multiple linguistic and cultural borders continues to grow in importance; however, instead of cultivating students' multiple ways of being in the world, public schools in the U.S. have often failed to capitalize on the cultural and linguistic resources that students bring from diverse backgrounds. This qualitative study examines how linguistically diverse students, those who were currently or had previously been identified as English Learners (EL), develop their identities within academic writing practices in a mainstream public high school English classroom that is part of the Puente Project. This is a college preparatory program that includes activities both in and out of the classroom designed to incorporate students' various cultural and linguistic "voices" as resources for learning.

This study is framed through sociocultural theories of activity, identity construction, and literacy. Drawing on ethnographic and discourse analytic methodology, it examines the motives the teacher and counselor had for the activity system of Puente; how these motives shaped practices inside and outside of the classroom; how practices related to students' construction and performance of their "discoursal" selves; students' understanding of their academic identities within Puente; and how these perceptions changed over time.

A focus on student voice was indeed paramount in the Puente learning ecology, with both the counselor and the teacher emphasizing that supporting students to develop their voices was a central goal of the Puente activity system at Emerson High. This focus, however, did create some tensions with the activity system, since the teacher and counselor conceptualized "voice" differently from each other. Nonetheless, the Puente learning ecology at Emerson High provided students many and varied opportunities to develop academic identities and to perform academic discoursal selves. Students used the conventions of academic discourse that the teacher taught them in combination with their other social languages to express opinions, thoughts and feelings that were meaningful and important to them.

The findings indicate that providing a variety of opportunities to write, both inside and outside of the classroom, and allowing students to choose the topics that they address are essential to support students' development of academic discoursal selves. While it is important for students to master "genres of power" such as argumentative writing, students are best served when they have an authentic purpose for writing and when they explore issues that hold personal significance through multiple writing genres. Moreover, this study suggests that incorporating personal and creative writing in the English curriculum is crucial to engage students whose identities and experiences had been previously marginalized in school settings.

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