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Teacher research as a response to: "Miss, do we really have to pass this class?" Examining discourses in the middle school students' foreign language classroom

Adina C Alexandru, University of Massachusetts Amherst


It seems a paradox that the United States, a country with a highly diverse population and a long history of immigration, has one of the poorest records of sustained public foreign language programs when compared to similar post industrial countries. In an educational system such as the one in United States that is not centralized, foreign language instruction appears not to be a real, tangible necessity. In this situation are engulfed many school districts that are left with state and/or national guidelines and an ever-changing budget, to decide who should learn what languages, if any. ^ By framing and understanding the foreign language education in this context, this ethnographic study examines through a post-structuralist perspective, a current program in the United States and looks specifically at how issues of motivation and power get constructed by students in the foreign language classroom of an urban middle school setting. This study also examines how language policies enacted through class instruction impact student endorsement of foreign language education during the formative years in U.S. public schools that may influence learning, and may generate resistance, or lack of motivation to learn a foreign language. ^ Critical discourse analysis is employed in this study as a tool to: (1) review and analyze specific recent legislation that is interpreted and enacted in the foreign language program of a local school system, (2) examine data collected through interviews with students and administrators, and (3) understand classroom interactions within the local political context of a school system. In examining the social, textual and discursive levels of these policies, it is possible to challenge how traditional education defines the roles of teachers and students and to envision new relations of power that could condition the existence of new learners' identities and new possibilities for teachers. ^ This study will contribute towards the understanding of classroom practices in foreign language programs as they influence and are influenced by language planning and policy decisions, and so point to areas where change can be made. In terms of stating the practical implications for the foreign language field, the concept of student endorsement, as it is employed in this study, is examined for its potential as a viable replacement for the traditional notion of student motivation. Understanding endorsement issues in relation to the current language policies on learning situates learning not as an individual psychological factor but rather as a socially shaped response that can be changed. Furthermore, teachers' and administrators' understanding of endorsement could challenge current policies and practices that contribute to the devaluing and reduction of benefits of foreign language instruction. ^

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Secondary education|Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Alexandru, Adina C, "Teacher research as a response to: "Miss, do we really have to pass this class?" Examining discourses in the middle school students' foreign language classroom" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179850.