Schooled Language: Examining Teachers' Figured Worlds about Language and Literacy Practices

Hardigree, Christine, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Kibler, Amanda, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

In spite of increasing diversity within the U.S., the needs and abilities of plurilingual students, who are able to draw upon resources from diverse languages (Cenoz & Gorter, 2013), continue to be ignored by educational policies, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which reflect a monoglot ideology (Silverstein, 1996) that privileges Standard American English at the expense of students' linguistically diverse realities. While much research has found that this monolingual bias (Flores & Shissel, 2014) has a negative influence on emergent bilingual youth who are not yet considered “fluent” by their schools and districts, less research has considered the experiences of teachers within increasingly diverse classrooms who teach students who do not conform to traditional linguistic categorization.
The Study
This study examines how whole-class teacher discourse reveals figured worlds of language and literacy through a comparative case study of two secondary classrooms at Gardenside (pseudonym), a public school in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. serving grades 6-12. Gardenside served roughly 400 students, 87% of whom identified as Black or African American. While only 6% were identified as English Language Learners, the students' collective linguistic repertoires were diverse, as many students spoke Haitian Creole, as well as stigmatized dialects of English, including Caribbean Creole English and African American English. Individual students also spoke Arabic, Bengali, French, and Spanish, among other languages.
Given the diversity of languages, as well as the quantity of students who spoke languages in addition to English, this study considered how teacher discourse conceptualized students’ language and literacy abilities against the backdrop of national and local English-only educational policies. Specifically, how might teacher discourse reflect teachers’ figured worlds (Holland 1998), or cohesive set of assumptions about classroom language and literacy activities? Data collected for the project included daily observations and fieldnotes, audio recordings of class sessions, semi-structured interviews with teachers and focal students in one-on-one and small-group settings, and student work artifacts.
Combining critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2013) and Holland’s (1998) figured worlds framework, this project seeks to illuminate the sets of assumptions and beliefs about students, language and literacy practices, and ways of being in school that surface in teachers’ whole-class discourse.
Findings suggest that teachers’ figured worlds of language and literacy continued to conceptualize students as monolingual English-speaking students who understood and spoke the same dialects of English that the teachers used. Specifically, teacher discourse often conflated language and literacy practices with general academic and school behaviors or positioned them within larger content-area practices. Implications for how policy, schools, and classrooms can acknowledge and build upon students’ diverse linguistic resources are discussed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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