Identity, Agency, and Language Learning: An Ethnographic Case Study of an English Literacy and Civics Education Program in New York City
By: Dina Aracely López
Published: 05/16/2012
Uploaded: 11/20/2017
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2012 (May) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: discourse, Education, Identity, Immigrants, language

Description/Abstract: This dissertation examines the complex social, cultural, political and pedagogical processes--vis-à-vis learner identity and agency--that take place in a New York City-based EL/Civics program. This 10-month ethnographic study, which involved ethnographic data collection methods such as participant observation, dialogue journals, semi-structured interviews, and audio-recorded classroom discourse, asks: How does the EL/Civics policy get interpreted and appropriated by local educational policy actors? How does the EL/Civics teacher's identity figure into the policy appropriation process? How do students engage with locally produced notions of "civics" and "citizenship"? What kinds of identity models and discourses are facilitated by the organizational and pedagogical practices of the EL/Civics program? How are these models taken up, resisted, negotiated or reconstituted by learners? How are adult learners positioned and how do they position themselves as language learners and as immigrants in the context of the EL/Civics classroom? Finally, how do learners make meaning of their participation in this program? Drawing on poststructural and sociocultural theories of identity, agency, and language, I examine how the social identities and agency of adult immigrant learners are discursively produced and socially negotiated in the classroom and how learners themselves make meaning of their participation in these programs.

Data analysis reveals varying conceptualizations among local policy actors while highlighting the structural constraints under which actors make meaning of the policy. While the director and program coordinator conceptualize civics in broader and more abstract terms such as "full participation" and "integration," the teacher draws on her own personal experiences as an immigrant to operationalize civics in the context of her classroom. Findings also suggest that immigrant learners drew on a variety of available linguistic and cultural resources as they engaged in meaning-making and social identification processes in the classroom. These resources included ESL readers that depicted immigrant stories and narratives as well as widely circulating models of immigrant identity, which characterized immigrants as working hard to overcome the struggles of life in the U.S. and using education as a means to do so. Analysis of classroom discourse reveals an ambivalent relationship with what is deemed "American." Students differentiate between what they see as "American" cultural values and "American" political principles. Findings also shed light on the ways in which students and teachers use available cultural and linguistic resources--including widely circulating discourses of immigration, citizenship, and the American Dream--to appropriate language policies and negotiate transnational identities.