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Making the margin visible : out-of -school literacy practices among Mexican heritage English learners in an English-only district


The Hispanic academic achievement gap in California is often attributed to language difference, low economic status, and assumed cultural deficit within families (Neufeld & Fitzgerald, 2001; Saracho, 2007). When students who fit these descriptors achieve academic scores of proficiency and above, we can benefit from examining their repertoires of family literacy practices. This qualitative study examined the summer literacy practices within the nine Spanish-speaking families of a second grade cohort attending a small Title 1 urban school in Southern California. At home adult support was in Spanish, and material means were limited by low-income status, yet six of the nine achieved above average on state tests in English. In this descriptive, two-phase study I used semi- structured interviews and video elicitation to answer these questions: 1. What do Mexican-heritage children do during the summer vacation? 2. What funds of literacy are available to them? 3. How do home and community ecological and cultural- linguistic contexts influence their engagement with these funds of literacy? The goal was to identify patterns of literacy engagement with local resources as they emerged through daily family routines within an apparently homogeneous sample. I used the framework of ecocultural activity settings to capture literacy events involving adults and children in their naturalistic settings. Inductive analysis of multiple data sources revealed a wide range of practices and an abundance of literacy resources within each home. Four of the six higher achieving children were found to be involved in church or bible study community activities that required literacy in Spanish. Adults in these cases provided structure and engagement to summer practices, with the purpose of moral education. In two of the cases fathers were the dominant agents of literacy. In all cases older siblings mediated practices in English. These findings complicate the deficit assumptions associated with low-income, linguistic minorities by providing illustrating how families leverage local funds of literacy to support their children's overall literacy development. The study claims the need for a new framework of literacy research that integrates the role out-of-school literacy activities in overall literacy development, and the need to acknowledge the literacy resources Mexican-heritage students bring to the classroom

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