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The experiences of language minority students in mainstream English classes in United States public high schools: A study through in-depth interviewing

John Gabriel, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Using phenomenological interviewing as a methodology, this study reconstructs the urban high school experiences of sixteen language minority students through the participants' words. Three sixty-minute interviews were conducted with each of the participants. The study explores the social, cultural, and educational experiences of the participants before they entered high school, their experiences in ESL classrooms, the transition from ESL to the mainstream, and the mainstream English classroom. The study finds that participants learned English in a variety of ways, both inside and outside the classroom. In both the ESL and mainstream classrooms, talking, reading, and vocabulary study were considered the most important of all literacy activities, writing less so, and grammar the least. Participants considered reading aloud as vital to their learning English and they cited the short story and the plays of Shakespeare among the most compelling literary genres. In addition to how and what they were taught, participants wanted teachers who listened to, cared for, and respected them. The study suggests that secondary English teachers, within a social construction of literacy perspective, need to contextualize language learning more in accord with students' sociocultural and ethnolinguistic backgrounds and experiences. They also need to integrate an instructional skills and a whole language approach to language learning, not one or the other; to sound out, enact, and present language with a range of instructional strategies and methods; and to listen to, care for, and respect students. Generally, teachers and administrators should communicate continually to ensure the social and academic success of this growing population. Further, preservice and inservice English teacher education programs should make curricular changes to address the academic and affective needs of an increasing language minority student population. Finally, future research should focus on more in-depth studies of specific cultures or ethnicities, such as the Vietnamese who come from an Eastern to a Western culture, to gain a deeper understanding of their lives and their particular needs and goals. Educational researchers need to continue to interview students to bring their voices, concerns, and knowledge into educational dialogue and debate.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Language arts|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Gabriel, John, "The experiences of language minority students in mainstream English classes in United States public high schools: A study through in-depth interviewing" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809335.