Complexifying notions of heritage language learning: Investigating learners' social identities and opportunities for academic learning in a heterogeneous spanish class at a bilingual school
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The research reported here about a Spanish classroom in a bilingual school lends support for the overarching claim that classroom discourse can reveal important information about how students' self-identification evolves over time and how self-identification shapes opportunities for learning, mostly because such analysis shines light on ideologies and assumptions about language and language users in play. Classroom discourse therefore has the potential to disrupt prevalent ideologies about language learners and users and the activity of language learning. In practice, the focal school's attempts to categorize their diverse student body using the labels "Spanish-dominant" and "English-dominant" created a rigid hierarchical structure that students were unable to traverse. These labels engendered serious tensions in the classroom as students negotiated social identities through discourse and interaction. The study also examines the influence of the school's labeling practices on students' social identities (Wortham, 2006) as they evolved over time. In the unpacking of the classroom discourse, various ideologies and assumptions embedded in the school categorization system are examined in detail. Finally, the impact of students' social identities on their learning identities (Wortham, 2006) in the Spanish classroom as well their opportunities for learning is analyzed. This dissertation argues that school labels applied to students constrained the social identities available to them in class. Adopting Wortham's (2006) core notion that social identification and academic learning are deeply interdependent, the findings suggest that the curriculum and instruction in Ms. Flores' class were mostly geared toward the so-called "English-dominant" beginners and therefore, the path for the so-called "advanced Spanish-dominant" group was fraught with difficulty. In essence, the "advanced Spanish-dominant" group fell through the cracks educationally, which is not a new story as it is widely recognized that it is precisely these students whom the educational system has underserved for decades. The overall argument emerging from analysis is that institutions and educators must work collaboratively to reflect upon the impact that their classification systems and labeling practices have on social identities and learning identities available to students and to consider what implications this might have for student learning and students' overall experiences in schools. Furthermore, instead of blindly implementing the curriculum, educators ought to consider the actual consequences of the enacted curriculum for a diverse student population. Lastly, a (re)conceptualization of all learners as "emergent bilinguals" (García, 2009) is provided as an alternative to current approaches in classifying language learners in U.S. schools. This study argues for extending the term "emergent bilinguals" beyond referring to just heritage language learners (HLLs) learning English to include foreign language learners (FLLs) learning a language other than English. This (re)conceptualization is unique in that it challenges the longstanding notion that FLLs are simply monolingual learners acquiring a new and separate linguistic system. It also more adequately recognizes the great variation in the population usually referred to as HLLs. In sum, the move to employ the term "emergent bilingual" and the concept of emergent bilingualism to language education situations in U.S. schools offers an alternative perspective on heterogeneous groupings of language learners and users and has the potential to restore educational equity and harness bilingualism as a resource for all.