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Untapped Resources: Students at Risk of Becoming Long Term English Learners and Identity


When students learning English cannot successfully master the knowledge and skills required to perform the academic tasks necessary to advance to the next proficiency level, their academic achievement suffers and they cannot move on to more advanced classes; they remain in English language development programs for the long term. The official classification “Long Term English Learner” (LTEL) was recently recognized in both policy and research literature. In order to avoid the creation of Long Term English Learners, it is necessary to study students who are, as the State of California says, “at risk of becoming Long Term English Learners,” to ascertain how to help them reach and maintain the expected trajectory for proficiency in English and prevent a new generation of LTEL. The goal of this qualitative case study was to counter deficit-informed research on what language minority students lack by highlighting the abundant, yet unrecognized resources English learners bring to school and use as funds of identity. The participants were students and educators at a small public charter school, including ten English learners in grades four and five, three teachers, and one school administrator. For this case study, I asked each of the ten focal students to complete art projects, and I conducted interviews with focal students, their teachers, and the school principal. I used identity as an analytical lens to examine the cultural and linguistic resources students possess and use as funds of identity. The results of the study indicate that familial resources constitute the most influential funds of identity in students’ lives, followed by what I have termed “Spiritual Capital,” or spiritual resources that contributed to students’ identities, sense of well-being, and motivation, as an unexpected finding. In addition, students’ linguistic resources were depleted and deemed irrelevant by adults to the current school context, and students’ main orientation toward school involved social connections to friends rather than academics. This study implies the need for further research on facilitating connections between students’ linguistic resources and English literacy practices, and investigating ways that spiritual resources support students’ academics and social-emotional well-being and motivation.

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