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Bilingualism, gender, and friendship: Constructing second language learners in a mainstream kindergarten

Barbara Lynne Hruska, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This year-long ethnographic study focuses on six Spanish dominant, English as a second language learners in an English mainstream kindergarten classroom. The study is based on a theoretical framework which views language as the site of social meaning construction and power negotiations (Fairclough, 1989). Four broad research questions address the local meanings of bilingualism, gender, and friendship and how the ideologies, identities, and social relationships relevant to these socially constructed discourses impact language learners. Broad, mid, and micro level analyses are conducted using standard interpretive analytic procedures. Findings are presented regarding the meanings of the local discourses of bilingualism, gender, and friendship and their implications for the English as a second language learners in the study. Findings indicate that: (1) Bilingualism was not highly valued in this setting and provided no status, and possibly reduced status, to the Spanish dominant students within their mainstream English dominant peer group, in spite of the classroom teacher's efforts to the contrary. (2) The children's gender ideology, which emphasized gender segregation and gender differences, limited the children's relationships, participation in whole class events, and interaction with opposite gender peers. Boys dominated public discussions and constructed themselves as superior to girls. (3) Friendship was highly valued among all the children. Friend relationships were less accessible to the Spanish dominant children due to a variety of contextual constraints. As a result they were not always able to claim the high status identity of close friend in the mainstream classroom. (4) The differing identities related to bilingualism, gender, and friendship had differing consequences for the children in the classroom. Implications of the study for second language learners, teachers, institutions, and the field of second language acquisition are presented. It is argued that a focus on effective second language instruction and language acquisition alone are inadequate for understanding and addressing complex learning environments and the needs of language learners. The consequences of the meanings of local discourses and their inherent power dynamics impact students' identities, classroom participation, access to relationships, access to knowledge, and ultimately their investment in school. A critical analysis of local discourses, their power relations, and meanings is suggested as a means of changing classroom practice when both students and teachers are involved in this process.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Hruska, Barbara Lynne, "Bilingualism, gender, and friendship: Constructing second language learners in a mainstream kindergarten" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920613.