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Coming of Age and Becoming American: Adolescents Learning English and the Rules of Citizenship


This study follows the social and academic development of first and second generation immigrant students in a public middle school in an urban area of California over the course of their seventh grade year. Using an ethnographic approach, I observed three cohorts of students during the course of their English classes with one particular teacher in an attempt to trace the formation of their social, cultural, and academic identities. The cohorts of students were divided into leveled English classes: regular 7th grade English, High Point English (for English language learners), and Strategic English (for non-English language learners who had scored below the 30th percentile on the CST). From these cohorts, I chose twelve focal students to interview outside of classroom observations. In addition, I conducted formal and informal interviews with the principal teacher and other school staff.

Through these methods, I sought to gain understanding of how the school structures around language learning affecting students' academic and social experiences of learning English as well as their perceptions of language use (both of their own and others). I also wanted to uncover how students' formed their understandings of cultural identities that were based in notions of language, race, and ethnicity, and how all of these notions intersected with larger beliefs of academic achievement and success. While my observations were based in these students' school experiences, the interviews extended my understanding of how their out of school social networks also factored into forming their belief systems, understanding, and multifaceted identities. The findings from this study add value to our ongoing understanding of language minority students by demonstrating that first and second generation immigrant students differ less than has been hypothesized by others in terms of their cultural identities and their profiles of performance in English reading, writing, and language.

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