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Conflicting Ideologies about Using and Learning Spanish across the School Years: From Two-Way Immersion to World Language Pedagogy

  • Author(s): Merritt, Sharon
  • Advisor(s): Freedman, Sarah W.
  • et al.
Abstract

As Two-Way Language (TWI or dual language) Immersion programs, located most often in elementary school settings, have continued to increase across the nation over the last three decades, educators and researchers have raised questions regarding what will happen to students' bilingual language development as they move from these programs to secondary school classrooms (Garcia, 1995; Montone & Loeb, 2000). Few secondary TWI programs exist today, and to continue their language development in school, most former TWI students must enter middle and high school World Language courses. While the focus of study in World Language classes is the nature and learning of a particular language, the focus in TWI programs is on the use of the target language (most often Spanish, in the U.S.) as medium of instruction in elementary content areas and literacy activities. These differences in focus reflect differences in ideologies regarding language learning and use in these contexts, differences which sometimes come into conflict between teachers, administrators and students as students move from TWI programs into World Language classrooms. Students who may have been cast as competent learners and users of language in the TWI context may be recast as having significant linguistic deficits when they enter the World Language classrooms where encapsulated forms of school learning take precedence (Engestrom, 1991). These differing ideologies inform both de jure and de facto language policy as school districts make efforts to resolve the conflicts that arise from them. Such language policy decisions have an impact on both English-dominant and minority-language dominant students with serious repercussions for both groups.

Using qualitative interviews, participant observations, and a student focus group, this study provides an account of the trajectory of language learning and use experienced by Spanish Immersion students over the course of their years in school as they move from an elementary TWI program to secondary World Language classes. It considers the differences and conflicts in ideologies of language learning and use of teachers and administrators in both Spanish Immersion and World Language programs, and how they affect students. It further recounts the practices of language learning and use that characterize both educational contexts. The data capture an historical conflict in a school district that houses a Spanish Immersion elementary program which brought about a district-wide program review of the middle school segment of the Spanish Immersion program, which was tasked with preparing students for the high school World Language program. Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory as an analytical lens, the study examines the sources of failure of the expansive learning (Engestrom, 1987) necessary to enact real program reform and language policy change.

While Spanish Immersion teachers and administrators affirmed the abilities of their students to learn and use Spanish for a variety of academic and social purposes, World Language teachers took a negative view of former Spanish Immersion students in their classes, focusing on specific linguistic features to recast those students as having significant deficits that disqualified them from enrolling in higher level Spanish language classes as they entered high school. Despite their resounding success on the 2009 Spanish Language Advanced Placement exam, former Spanish Immersion students in high school World Language classes expressed significant dissatisfaction with their experiences of language learning and use in secondary school as they encountered greater emphasis on encapsulated forms of school learning rather than a wide range of language uses. The difference in ideologies about language learning and use contributed to the historical conflict in the school district over this program, and led to a program review to reform the middle school Spanish Immersion program. The two ideologies of language learning and use continued to prevail during and after the program review, preventing the expansive learning necessary to resolve the conflict. The program reform effort has led to very little real change in the Spanish Immersion middle school program.

As the number of TWI programs continues to grow across the country, this dissertation contributes a study of students' experiences of language learning and use across the years of schooling, and of the language policy problems encountered by a school district as it attempts to provide the best long-term language education experience it can to its students

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