Middle School Emergent Bilingual and Bilingual Students' Perspectives on U.S. History

Yoder, Paul, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Van Hover, Stephanie, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Kibler, Amanda, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This dissertation study investigated the historical perspectives of middle school emergent bilingual and bilingual students. The participants in this qualitative multiple case study included eleven seventh grade students from two middle schools in a Virginia school district. Data collection occurred over the course of one semester and included classroom observations, instructional document collection, and individual and focus group interviews.
Data analysis revealed that the participants reflected the official U.S. history curriculum when describing their own historical perspectives. The participants’ descriptions of their historical knowledge reflected three schematic narrative templates (Barton & Levstik, 2004; Carretero & van Alphen, 2014; Peck, 2010; Wertsch, 2000; Wills, 2011). Students most frequently referenced “the nation-building narrative,” which was based on concepts of progress and development. The participants also used “the equality narrative” and “the discrimination narrative.” These narratives reflected the importance of rights and inequality, respectively. When describing historical perspectives that reflected the nation-building narrative, students rarely referenced their own experiences or social identities. However, students used the discrimination and equality narratives to bridge the divide between their own social identities and the formal U.S. history curriculum, particularly when comparing the present and the past.
The findings from the present study contribute to research on the historical perspectives of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The findings highlight the potential for the U.S. history taught in schools to mediate students’ historical perspectives. The findings also suggest that middle school students have the potential to use narratives and other cultural tools to organize complex historical knowledge. Finally, the findings suggest that U.S. history classrooms represent “curricular spaces” (Parker, 2010) in which questions of identity are explicitly and implicitly addressed.
The findings from the present study have potential implications for research and practice. First, the findings add to the existing research on the interaction between student identity and the ways in which emergent bilingual and bilingual students describe their historical perspectives. Second, the findings suggest students may benefit from history instruction that is more culturally and linguistically responsive. Finally, the findings prompt new questions that may inform future research.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
social studies, U.S. history, narratives, historical perspectives, emergent bilingual, middle school, qualitative, case study
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