Caught in the crossfire: ESL students meet Reading First
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This qualitative case study focused on a group of young students who attended a highly diverse urban school and who were identified by their teacher in the fall of first grade as students at risk of being retained because they were not learning to read. The group was composed of five children, all of different cultural backgrounds, four of whom arrived in this country as non-speakers of English. The aim of this study was to examine through observation, interviews, and artifacts the ways these students struggled to understand, speak, read, and write in English and how well they "learned the ropes" of their school culture, if at all. Taking a sociocultural/constructivist stance, the study included a focus on multicultural theory and best practices, as well as the connections among immigration, assimilation, and identity. The research aimed to situate the students in different social contexts within the school. It looked at the students' interactions with their peers, teachers and other adults, viewing the students as active creators of their own knowledge, and the growth of literacy as deeply rooted in embodied experience and situated action. To this end, the larger situated context of school literacy practices included sweeping changes that the adoption of Reading First initiatives in the second year of this study made in those practices. The study provides an in-depth descriptive analysis of how four first grade English language learners, together with an American-born peer, coped with the demands of an urban school in trying to learn how to read. It fills in a number of gaps in the literature: it deals with refugee groups about which little is known, deals with multicultural rather than monocultural group issues, and does this using a constructivist lens. In addition it provides a picture of a school before and after Reading First and how English language learners and their teachers can be affected by new mandated programs and teaching methods.