Leveraging Diverse Students’ Cultural and Linguistic Resources
The current study builds on a substantial body of educational research that frames
linguistic and cultural diversity as a resource for teaching and learning (García,
2005; McKay & Wong, 1988; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992; Valdés, 2001).
Much of this scholarship informs and/or is informed by a related tradition of
ethnographic research on the everyday language practices of students of color
from working-class communities. Over the past three decades, ethnographers have
debunked deficit notions about these nondominant 5 students by demonstrating the
skill and intelligence embedded in their everyday language practices (Alim, 2004;
Goodwin, 1990; Heath, 1983; Orellana, 2001; Zentella, 1997). Taken together, this
ethnographic work has reframed nondominant students as competent and literate
learners. Educational researchers influenced by this tradition argue that, in order to
meet the educational needs of the nation’s increasingly diverse student population,
schools should promote what García (2005) referred to as a responsive approach
to curriculum and instruction. According to García, this approach requires that
educators acknowledge nondominant students as competent learners and respond
to the cultural and linguistic contexts surrounding their learning and development.
Within this broader body of scholarship, sociocultural researchers have recognized
the multiple resources and contributions that nondominant students bring
to schools, suggesting ways that these assets might be effectively leveraged for
academic learning (Lee, 2000; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Orellana &
Reynolds, 2008). In their groundbreaking work, Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González
(1992) demonstrated that many of the everyday social and cultural practices in
which Latina/Latino households engaged as part of familial and extended social
networks could be utilized as funds of knowledge—resources for academic learning
in school. Other scholars have focused on how students’ own everyday cultural
practices might be used as pedagogical resources. Gutiérrez, Baquedano-López, and
Tejeda (1999), for example, described how one teacher successfully used students’
hybrid language practices to promote learning in the classroom. They argued that
classrooms such as the one they described, in which hybrid language practices are
normative, constitute “potentially fruitful contexts of development” (p. 288), and
they highlighted various ways in which this “hybridity and diversity can be used
to promote learning” (p. 301). Similarly, Lee (2007) suggested that “practices and
ways of using language in the world that are typically vilified in academic settings
may actually be generative sources for both generic learning as well as rigorous
literary reasoning” (p. 7). Using what she called a cultural modeling framework, Lee
(1995, 2000, 2007) has demonstrated that powerful connections can be identified
between African American students’ everyday language practices and the skills
required to interpret canonical literary texts, and that such connections can be
effectively leveraged in the service of academic literacy learning.
Building on this pioneering work, Orellana and Eksner (2006) suggested that
“there is a need to extend cultural modeling research to a wider range of cultural
128 Research in the Teaching of English Volume 45 November 2010
practices and to the practices of a wider array of social groups” (p. 2). To that
end, Orellana (2009) has conducted extensive research on the everyday language
practices of Latina/Latino students for more than a decade. Using Lee’s cultural
modeling framework, Orellana has explored the experiences of Latina/Latino
students who interpret and translate for their immigrant parents across various
social contexts (Orellana, Dorner, & Pulido, 2003). She has argued that important
parallels can be drawn between the interpreting/translating that children do in
their everyday lives and the academic literacy skills involved in developing and
displaying audience awareness, interpreting texts, paraphrasing, and summarizing
(Orellana & Reynolds, 2008; Orellana, Dorner, & Pulido, 2003).
More recently, I have worked with Orellana to begin building on this research
base, creating and testing curricula that leverage the translating experiences of
bilingual students in order to advance the development of their academic literacies
(Martínez, Orellana, Pacheco, & Carbone, 2008). We have found that, when engaged
in lessons and activities that leverage their translating skills, bilingual students can
successfully apply those same skills to academic writing tasks that require them
to shift voices for different audiences. The current study builds directly on this
cultural modeling tradition by exploring Spanglish, another everyday language
practice common among bilingual and emergent bilingual Latina/Latino students,
and offering suggestions for how it might be leveraged as a resource for academic
literacy teaching and learning.
Setting and Participants
This study took place at Eastside Middle School,6 a “traditional calendar” (i.e.,
single-track) public school that serves students in grades six through eight. Located
in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, Eastside M.S. has an enrollment
of approximately 2,600 students, more than 40% of whom are officially classified
as English Learners. The school has significantly intensified its efforts to reclassify 7
its English Learners over the past four years, reclassifying more than 16% of them
during the most recent academic year. The demographics of the school are reflective
of the surrounding community, in that 98.8% of the students are Latina/Latino
and 100% of them qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunch. Boyle Heights,
where Eastside M.S. is located, is a working-class community just east of the Los
Angeles River. With a population of approximately 91,000, Boyle Heights is home
to one of the oldest Chicana/Chicano8 communities in the United States.
The class that I observed was Ms. Ramírez’s second-, third-, and fourth-period
English language arts/social studies instructional block. Ms. Ramírez is a Chicana9
teacher who was in her fourth year of teaching at the time of this study. Although
she is bilingual in English and Spanish, Ms. Ramírez said that she spoke mainly
Martínez Spanglish as Literacy Tool 129
English in class and that she rarely mixed the two languages. During the 2007–2008
academic year, Ms. Ramírez worked with the same 29 students for three consecutive
periods, separated by a 25-minute recess. While second period was officially
designated for social studies and third and fourth periods for English language
arts, Ms. Ramírez often integrated the two content areas. Like Ms. Ramírez, the
students in Room 228 were a true joy to work with. With the exception of one
Filipina student, all of the students were bilingual and emergent bilingual Latina/
Latino sixth graders, and the overwhelming majority of them were Chicanas/
Chicanos.10 Five of the students were officially classified as English Learners, 20
of them had recently been reclassified as “Reclassified Fluent English Proficient,”
and four of them had been classified as “Initially Fluent English Proficient” from
the time that they first enrolled in the District. The similarities and variation that
existed among the students, however, tended to obscure these official classifications.
While all of the students spoke English, a wide range of proficiency could
be observed among them irrespective of their official classification.
I also frequently observed students shifting styles and registers, and using
various language varieties, including Chicana/Chicano English, Standard American
English, and regional varieties of Mexican and Central American Spanish. I
observed some students approximating African American Language in ways reflective
of what Rampton (1995) calls crossing. In addition, three of the students were
trilingual. María, the Filipina student, spoke English, Tagalog, and some Spanish;
Carlos spoke English, Spanish, and American Sign Language; and Lupita spoke
English, Spanish, and Quiché, a Mayan language spoken mainly in Guatemala.
Suffice it to say that these students’ everyday language use revealed a great deal of
hybridity and linguistic dexterity (Paris, 2009). Spanglish was one of many tools in
their broader linguistic toolkits—or linguistic repertoires (Gutiérrez & Rogoff, 2003).
The following question guided my collection of data: How does Spanglish mediate
conversation and social interaction in this classroom? In order to explore this
question, I relied on three primary methods of data collection: participant observation,
video/audio-recording, and semi-structured interviews. Over a period
of three months, I observed and took fieldnotes in the classroom during periods
two, three, and four; on the playground during recess and lunch; and during the
“transitional time” between academic periods and other daily routines. Although
there was some variation in my observation schedule throughout the duration of
my study, I generally observed five days per week for approximately four hours
each day. I also occasionally followed the students into their two-hour math/science
instructional block during periods five and six.
In addition to engaging in participant observation, I video-recorded and audiorecorded
verbal interactions that took place across the various social and instrucf124-
130 Research in the Teaching of English Volume 45 November 2010
tional contexts mentioned above. Using a digital video camera and a digital voice
recorder, I attempted to document these interactions from different perspectives.
Throughout the data collection process, I continually assessed and re-evaluated
my decisions about which students, interactions, and contexts to focus on more
closely, and which methods to use to document them. As my understanding of
students’ language practices and interactional patterns developed, I reflected on
my video-recording and audio-recording decisions and adapted them as necessary.
Given the range of social and instructional contexts that I recorded, I had access
to both formal and informal student interactions for a relatively uninterrupted
four-hour block on a regular basis.
Finally, during the final month of my study, I conducted semi-structured
interviews with each of the students in Ms. Ramírez’s class. I conducted these interviews,
which I video-recorded and audio-recorded, after preliminary analysis of
the fieldnote and video/audio data. During these interviews, I presented students
with data on their use of Spanglish (extracts from video and/or audio recordings,
as well as examples from my fieldnotes) and asked them to engage in participant
retrospection (Rampton, 2003) by commenting on and explaining their language
practices in their own words. I began these interviews by showing students video
clips of themselves speaking Spanglish, and then encouraging them to respond to
what they saw with little specific prompting. When necessary, I further elicited
their feedback by posing specific questions about the instances of code-switching
featured in the data. For example, I occasionally asked students to explain why
they had chosen to code-switch in a particular utterance or interaction and why
they had chosen one language over another for a particular word or utterance. I
also asked students to comment on their classmates’ uses of Spanglish.
I conducted an ethnographic microanalysis of social interaction (Erickson, 2004),
based largely on a framework elaborated by Goodwin (1990). Drawing on earlier
work in the field of conversation analysis, Goodwin (1990) emphasized the central
role of talk in building social organization. She argued, for example, that “it is not
the case that talk and social organization are two separate types of phenomena
that merely happen to co-occur within interaction but which can nonetheless be
analyzed in isolation from each other” (Goodwin, 1990, p. 2). Instead, Goodwin
asserted that “talk is itself a form of social action, so that any rigorous account of
human interaction must pay close attention to the detailed structure of talk that
occurs within it” (1990, p. 2). Observing that the detailed analysis of face-to-face
interactions has long been a neglected subject, Goodwin proposed an approach
to the ethnography of communication that focuses on the sequential organization
of talk and the role that individual utterances play in creating that organization.
This framework directly informed my own approach to analyzing students’ use of
Spanglish. I paid particular attention to how students used Spanglish in conversation
Martínez Spanglish as Literacy Tool 131
and to how their use of Spanglish contributed to both the sequential organization
of talk and the broader social interactions in which that talk was embedded.
I used an inductive approach to data analysis, generating codes, hypotheses,
and analyses that were grounded in the data that I collected. A key component of
this analytic induction involved systematically searching for pieces of disconfirming
evidence (i.e., so called “negative” or “discrepant” cases) and constantly revising
and refining my emergent analyses by proposing potential counter-hypotheses.
The goal of searching for discrepant cases and proposing alternative hypotheses
was to avoid what Erickson (2005) has called “premature analytical closure and
hypertipification” (p. 1206). Committing to an exhaustive and systematic search
for disconfirming evidence prevented me from ignoring important exceptions to
patterns that I began to identify through analytic induction. A key step in analyzing
the fieldnote and video/audio data on students’ use of Spanglish was to triangulate
them with data from the semi-structured interviews. Recall that I formulated interview
questions based, in part, on my preliminary analysis of the fieldnote and
video/audio data. As I sought to make initial sense of the instances of Spanglish
that I had documented, I generated specific questions to ask individual students
during the interviews. Their responses during the interviews helped to complexify
my analysis by enabling me to challenge, confirm, and disconfirm some of my
In Ms. Ramírez’s classroom, Spanglish functioned as a semiotic tool that enabled
students to accomplish important conversational work. For example, students
sometimes used Spanglish as a tool to sustain interaction when they were “at a loss
for words” (i.e., crutching or crutch-like switching). Despite students’ perceptions to
the contrary, however, this was not the primary motivation for their use of Spanglish.
In fact, instances of crutch-like code-switching made up less than 2% of the total
instances of Spanglish that I observed during this study. More often than not, there
was something else going on when they mixed Spanish and English in conversation.
As I have described in detail elsewhere (Martínez, 2009), there were six other key
conversational functions that students’ use of Spanglish served in this classroom.
Specifically, students used Spanglish to: (1) clarify and/or reiterate utterances; (2)
quote and report speech; (3) joke and/or tease; (4) index solidarity and intimacy;
(5) shift voices for different audiences; and (6) communicate subtle nuances of
meaning. These creative, skillful, and intelligent uses of Spanglish stand in stark
contrast to students’ collective perception that they primarily code-switched due to
a lack of proficiency in Spanish and/or English. Below I focus on the last two uses
of Spanglish listed above (shifting voices for different audiences and communicating
subtle nuances of meaning), providing examples that help illustrate how Spanglish
enabled and facilitated this important conversational work.
132 Research in the Teaching of English Volume 45 November 2010
Shifting Voices for Different Audiences
Students in Ms. Ramírez’s class sometimes used Spanglish as a tool to shift voices
for different audiences. In these cases, students’ use of Spanglish seemed to reflect
an acute awareness of the multiple audiences being addressed and of how best to
address them. The dialogue below, for example, highlights Teresita’s use of Spanglish
to shift voices during an interaction with Zulema. On this particular day, Ms.
Ramírez had asked me to work with Teresita, who had agreed to serve as emcee
for the Open House later that evening. I had been charged with the specific task
of helping her write a brief speech in Spanish that would welcome the parents and
introduce the different components of the presentation that had been planned for
them. After we had drafted and rehearsed the first few lines of the speech, Zulema
approached us and asked if she could translate the speech into English for those
parents who might not speak Spanish.11 With Ms. Ramírez’s consent, Zulema
joined us and began collaborating with Teresita to translate the opening lines into
English. Meanwhile, the entire activity was being recorded using a digital video
camera that was focused on the table where the three of us were sitting, and a digital
voice recorder that was placed on top of the table. Once the girls had translated the
opening lines to their satisfaction, Zulema suggested that she rehearse her lines.
As she grabbed the voice recorder and held it up to her mouth, as if holding a
microphone, Teresita held up the index card in front of her, as if displaying a cue
card. Notice Teresita’s use of Spanglish in the interaction that ensued:
01 Zulema: Alright, let’s see what I’m gonna say.
02 Teresita: ((using her fingers to count)) One, two, action!
03 Zulema: ((moving her left hand in an exaggerated fashion)) Good
04 evening to all parents, families, teachers, and students.
05 Teresita: Cut! ¡La mano no::!
06 Zulema: Oh. Alright, alright.
07 Teresita: Take two. Action!
The first thing that becomes apparent upon examining the interaction above is its
somewhat performative nature. As with any rehearsal, this is to be expected. However,
there seems to be an added dimension of performativity here that relates to
the presence of the video and audio equipment that I was using to document this
activity. In line 2, Teresita is, of course, speaking to Zulema, but she also seems to
be performing for the presumed audience indexed by the video camera and audio
recorder. Indeed, throughout the course of my study in their classroom, students
constantly exhibited at least some awareness of my presence and my use of video
and audio equipment around them. At times, however, the use of this equipment
seemed to be more salient to them and, as a result, to mediate their use of language
more noticeably. This particular interaction was one such occasion. When
Martínez Spanglish as Literacy Tool 133
Teresita says, “One, two, action!” in line 2, she playfully and jokingly appropriates
the authoritative voice of a film director. This utterance can be seen, then, on two
levels. On one level, it is an imperative directed towards Zulema. On a second level,
however, it can be seen as a performance “for the camera”—for those, including
myself, who might later view this video footage.
When, in line 3, Zulema begins reciting her opening lines, she moves her left
hand in an exaggerated fashion as she speaks. Teresita shakes her head disapprovingly
and then interrupts Zulema with the following imperative in line 5: “Cut! ¡La
mano no::!” (“Not your hand!”). The first part of this utterance (“Cut!”) coincides
with an interesting micro-sequence of nonverbal communication. Teresita looks
directly into the camera as she speaks and then moves her right arm in a chopping
motion, as if to signal the imaginary camera operator to stop filming. She then
looks back at Zulema, continuing to move her arm. This part of the utterance,
then, seems like an imperative directed towards both Zulema, whom she wants
to stop speaking, and the presumed audience, whom she wants to disregard what
has just been video-recorded. Notice, however, that she switches to Spanish for
the second part of the utterance in line 5 (“¡La mano no::!”). It is important to
note that Teresita looks directly at Zulema as she begins to utter these words in
Spanish. What we see, then, is that this change in the direction of her gaze—away
from the video camera and towards Zulema—coincides precisely with her switch
to Spanish. It seems clear that this part of the utterance is directed specifically
towards Zulema and not towards the (presumably English-speaking) audience.
In essence, Teresita shifts voices here to address Zulema. Although she still
speaks with authority, telling Zulema not to use her hand, her switch to Spanish
to issue this imperative indexes a sense of intimacy and familiarity that her
previous voice lacked. Here Teresita seems to be stepping out of her “film director
voice” and stepping into the more familiar voice of a friend. Indeed, her voice in
this second part of the utterance more closely resembles the voice I had observed
her use to address Zulema in the past. In addition to the switch in language, this
shift in voice also involves a noticeable change in volume and tone. When she instructs
Zulema not to use her hand, her voice is louder and more forceful, and her
intonation slightly exaggerated. Notice, for example, how she elongates the vowel
sound in the word “no” (in “La mano no::”) above. Teresita almost seems to be
scolding Zulema here. While more familiar, this voice is decidedly less playful than
the voice that she conveys in line 2 and at the beginning of line 5. Still aware of the
presumed audience represented by the video camera and audio recorder, Teresita
seems to step away from that audience momentarily in order to provide Zulema
with constructive feedback on how she is performing in front of them. Switching
to Spanish here enables Teresita to give Zulema such feedback without addressing
the presumed audience. In this sense,
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