Literacy and the Identity Development of Latina/o Students

  • Jimenez R
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Abstract

This research sought to better understand how literacy and identity inter-acted in the development of Latina/o students in four bilingual classrooms. The year-long project involved approximately 85 students and their 4 teach-ers. Data were obtained through classroom observations, dialogue between the teachers and the researcher, student interviews that included think-aloud procedures, cognitive strategy instruction, and various means of re-cording student response to the instruction. The results indicated that students' bilingual language and literacy knowledge and their understand-ing of identity had noticeable influences on each other. The ways that stu-dents constructed their biliterate identities were traced and theoretical implications were explored. How these students thought about English, the roles that English and Spanish literacy played in their lives, and the impor-tance of language and literacy to maintaining and fostering interpersonal relationships were some of the prevailing and identifiable trends within the data. ROBERT T. JIMENEZ is an Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and In-struction, 1310 South Sixth St., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cham-paign, IL 61820. Jiminez V "arious national efforts are currently underway to explore, examine, and search for ways to improve the literacy development opportunities of Latina/o students (August & Hakuta, 1997; Secada et al., 1998; Snow, Bums, & Griffin, 1998). Unfortunately, all too often, these efforts have been inter-preted as calls to repair presumably defective students, their parents and communities, or their teachers. Macedo (2000) points out the absurd consequences of such an approach by indicating that many main-stream, middle-class language practices, which serve as the basis for recom-mendations made to teachers and parents, are grounded in class and economic assumptions (p. 19). In this manuscript, I present the results of a year-long research project in which I sought to better understand some of the contextual factors that influenced the literacy development of a group of Latina/o students. In addition, I present some of the ways that these students responded to literacy instruction that was designed and implemented as a component of this research project. The basic prem-ise of this instruction was to identify literate practices and ways of thinking about literacy that had been previously derived from Latina/o students. The theoretical framework for this research combined critical theoreti-cal, Vygotskian, and post-structural constructs for the purpose of describing, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about the literacy development of the participants. Issues that arose during this research included questioning the role that literacy plays in the lives of students from linguistically diverse communities, in particular the ways that these same students perceived its uses. In addition, my analysis focused on the students' understanding of how key participants influenced their literacy development, their views of the relationship of the Spanish and English languages to literacy, and finally, their evolving sense of identity. The influence that students' understanding of their identity had on their access and stance toward literacy are also discussed. Finally, an instructional component was designed using a Vy-gotskian conceptual framework to examine the specific interactions between students and their teachers, students and one another, students and their environment, and students and texts. Latina/o youth currently constitute the largest group of minority stu-dents in U.S. schools, calculated at 13.5% of the total (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1998a), and this fact may account for some of the increased public interest in their academic achievement. They continue, however, to demonstrate depressed levels of literacy development in com-parison to students from mainstream backgrounds (NCES, 1998b). Valencia (1991) described these low levels of academic achievement as persistent, pervasive, and disproportionate. Previous neglect of this population by re-searchers and policy-makers has resulted in a relatively limited knowledge base of potential usefulness for addressing this situation (Garcia, 2000). For example, a definitive statement describing the relationship of native lan-guage literacy to that in a second language has yet to be produced (see Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). 972

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  • Robert T Jimenez

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