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Affordances for Language Awareness in a Middle School Transitional Classroom: Multi-Competent L1/L2 Users Under No Child Left Behind


This dissertation examines affordances for Language Awareness within a classroom serving English learners in a coastal California middle school under the policy context of No Child Left Behind. As an ecologically inspired account, this study contributes to understanding how students use and learn language in classroom settings. Affordances for Language Awareness represent possibilities available to students for accessing relevant information to make meaning of language within a classroom. Affordances for Language Awareness are opportunities for meaning making. That is, the learner seeks out meaning, while the classroom context (teacher, pedagogy, realia, classmates, etc.) provides the potential to give meaningful information. No one has conducted a similar study within the context of this policy environment-- a context in which students' and teachers' opportunities to draw on their repertoire of linguistic, cultural, and intellectual resources in classroom and school settings have been drastically constrained. For this reason, a study of affordances for Language Awareness can offer a lens on how a particular policy context may impact classroom language learning.

Taking an ecological perspective on bilingual learners, defined as multi-competent L1/L2 learners, the research questions in this study focus on how affordances for Language Awareness are constructed within the school context by multi-competent L1/L2 users. A second goal of this study is to understand what factors mediate potential affordances for Language Awareness. A third goal of this study is to consider how the broader ecology of the school, district, state, and federal government language education policy under No Child Left Behind influenced the construction of affordances for Language Awareness.

To address the research questions within an ecological perspective on language learning, a qualitative design was employed. In drawing on qualitative methods, the researcher collected classroom interaction data focused on episodes of meaningful exchanges and case study data which enabled the researcher to understand the range of student practices through which affordances for Language Awareness occurred. The unit of analysis in this study is Language Awareness Related Episodes (LAREs), defined as episodes of conversational exchanges containing ideas contributing to students' Language Awareness in the construction of meaning. The LAREs were inductively coded, revealing four emerging categories.

Further examination of these categories within the individual practices of the case students found that affordances for Language Awareness occurred as bi-directional semiotic activities between students and their teacher while exploring classroom texts, which were contextualized through multi-sensory and multi-modal mediating factors (e.g. listening to text, listening to peers' response to text, text projected on board, keeping marginal notes, visual imagery, music and film). Findings showed that students most frequently engaged in affordances for Language Awareness while constructing understanding around metalinguistic elements such as morphology and polysemy. The second most frequent finding was students engaged in analeptic discourse exploring shared experiences that allowed for affordances for Language Awareness. A less frequent and third finding was that students engaged in affordances for Language Awareness through prolepsis or co-constructing inference in texts guided by instructional language puzzles. The least frequent occurrence was students who engaged in affordances for Language Awareness through register shifts. The case study findings showed that students demonstrated a range of language practices within the classroom, including (a) independently seeking out opportunities, (b) engaging in dynamic exchanges with classmates and the teacher, and (c) being drawn into the community of learners by peers and the teacher in order to marshal relevant resources for gaining affordances for Language Awareness. While the policy context situating this study was shown to be disruptive, constraining affordances for Language Awareness, this study found that the instructor was able to negotiate policy demands to support students' classroom engagement allowing for affordances for Language Awareness to occur.

The implications of this study are that teachers can resist the dominant discourse supporting classroom practices for students to engage in affordances for Language Awareness through (a) their teaching practices and (b) supporting students to draw on their heritage language resources. Another implication of this study is that classroom practices must allow for the various ways in which students may experience affordances for Language Awareness. A further implication for policy makers is the need to reconsider how drawing on multiple language resources may support affordances for Language Awareness for both bilingual development and classroom learning.

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