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Expanding the Learning Zone: Decisions that Transform the Practices of two English Language Arts Teachers


Abstract and Figures

This article presents two case studies that document the decisions of two secondary English language arts teachers in ninth and eleventh grade classrooms who are working with English learners. These teachers were interviewed and observed in their classrooms during the spring semester to investigate their decision-making during literacy instruction. Findings suggest that when decisions focused on building relationships, inquiry instruction, and students' interests and mediated the resources around them, students deeply connected to the learning. One teacher saw students as instructional partners and overtly focused decisions on improved engagement and participation. The other teacher overtly and deliberately focused on empathy, caring and meaningful connections to help students make sense of their academic worlds.
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Expanding the Learning
Zone: Decisions that
Transform the Practices of
two English Language Arts
Juan J. Araujo
University of North Texas at Dallas
is article presents two case studies that document the decisions of two secondary
English language arts teachers in ninth and eleventh grade classrooms who are work-
ing with English learners. ese teachers were interviewed and observed in their class-
rooms during the spring semester to investigate their decision-making during literacy
instruction. Findings suggest that when decisions focused on building relationships,
inquiry instruction, and students’ interests and mediated the resources around them,
students deeply connected to the learning. One teacher saw students as instructional
partners and overtly focused decisions on improved engagement and participation.
e other teacher overtly and deliberately focused on empathy, caring and meaningful
connections to help students make sense of their academic worlds.
English language arts teachers, at all levels, face a critical challenge of col-
lectively attending to the literacy needs of 11.2 million (National Center
for Educational Statistics, 2011) English Language Learners—especially in an
era of federal standardized testing mandates. But as they plan, deliver and assess
instruction, monolingual high school teachers, in particular, are realizing that
“one-size-ts-most” instruction was never suitable to meet the literacy needs of
multiple language learners. ese teachers need to think about the inuence
and use of their students’ cultural and linguistic resources, the specic resources
USU_C2960_Section-2.indd 87 10/09/13 11:31 AM
88 Literacy is Transformative
at the contexts in which they teach, the resources provided at their professional
setting, and the eects of their particular pedagogical approaches” (Ball, 2006, p.
295). ese teachers are realizing that the challenge is exacerbated by some of the
curriculum at their disposal. Curriculum, which was never eective to meet the
needs of 20th century students —especially English Learners—as they prepare
for college, career and life. However, teachers must work with the curriculum
they have to engage students in rich and multifaceted literacy learning.
Due to changing student language prociency demographics, technology
changes, and cultural shifts, teachers are nding that determining appropriate in-
structional strategies, given the mandated curriculum, is a complex undertaking.
Although there are research studies that relate to supporting adolescent writing
instruction (Panofsky, Pacheco, Smith, Santos, Fogelman, Harrington, & Kenney,
2005; Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007), little is known specically about the decisions
teachers make to support English Learners as they write in school. Information is
still needed about how teachers decide which instructional strategies are the most
appropriate to meet the range of student linguistic, thinking and academic needs.
e purpose of this paper is to help address this quandary. To further
understand more about decision-making the following two questions guided
this research:
1. What is the nature of teacher decision-making during writing instruc-
tion in two ELA classrooms?
2. What, if any, resources do these teachers put in use or action to mediate
Theoretical Underpinnings
It has been widely accepted that concepts are learned long before formal school-
ing starts, but how they are learned has been a debate for many years. Some
believed that learning happens due to stimuli, either passive or negative reinforce-
ment (Skinner, 1957). Other believed that the mind stored input and provided
an output when necessary (Rumelhart, 1994). Today, it is widely believed that
learning is an active and constructive process in the social context (Vygotsky,
1978). Learning with this perspective happens through apprenticeship (Rogo,
1990); the expert leads the novice until the novice can do the task without
help or assistance. In this perspective, learning a language is shaped not only by
the student’s prior learning experiences, but also by tapping into social capital
(Bourdieu, 1972; Moll, Amanti, Ne, & Gonzalez, 1992), linguistic knowledge
and culture, educational experiences, and individual learning patterns (Gardner,
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Expanding the Learning Zone 89
1987). Socioculturalists believe learning happens socially, between and among
people through the use of tools (Vygotsky, 1978). As humans transact with these
tools and signs, they make sense of their local and global cultures that is how they
see the world. Because culture is a process (Spindler, 1997) the tools and signs
people use are in constant ux both individually and collectively. is paper is
grounded in the sociocultural perspective because of its focus on the student’s
culture and its use as a mediation tool for learning.
What Informs Teachers’ Decision-Making?
Teachers make eective decisions about their students’ needs (Darling Ham-
mond & Bransford, 2005; Gambrell, Malloy, & Mazzoni 2011). Many years ago
Kinder (1978) theorized that good decisions are made by teachers who have ex-
tensive background knowledge about supporting their students and without this
knowledge decision-making becomes a daunting undertaking. Teachers require
content and pedagogical knowledge, as well as knowledge about their students,
curricular mandates, local and national policies in order to make the best deci-
sion possible.
Teachers’ instructional decisions are informed by many factors. ese fac-
tors can be student or teacher related. Organizational, instructional, professional,
local or national concerns and priorities contribute to the decision-making pro-
cess for all teachers (Kinder, 1978). In addition, professional development in-
forms how teachers make decisions. In particular, these two teachers took part in
Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction (CMWI). Its purpose was to help teach-
ers address the needs of mainstream students and English Learners and to help
teachers exceed standards put forth by NCLB Act, 2001 (2002). During the
institute, teachers were introduced to inquiry-based instruction, language acqui-
sition theories, cultural practices, and writing strategies to help support students
as they wrote. CMWI’s theoretical underpinnings were based on a socio-literate
approach, which supports students to “constantly be involved in research and
into strategies that employ in completing literacy tasks in specic situations
(Johns, 1997, p. 15). Table 1 displays CMWI’s principles and practices, which
were explored in earlier publications (Patterson, Wickstrom, Roberts, Araujo, &
Hoki, 2010; Wickstrom, Araujo, & Patterson, 2011).
Decision-Making Research Gap
While in the past there has been research on teacher decision-making in main-
stream classrooms (Anderson, 2003; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Connelly & Clan-
dinin, 1986) there has been very little research conducted in ESL classrooms
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90 Literacy is Transformative
(Cumming, 1989; Woods, 1989). e gap on teacher decision-making research
coincides with NCLB Act, 2001 (2002) because of its focus on standardized,
objective-based assessments. In this perspective, teachers are judged by local,
state, and federal authorities based on student academic yearly performance as
measured by their states chosen measurement tool. Because of this action, teach-
ers nd themselves teaching to the needs of the measurement tool, not teaching
to their students’ short and long-term academic, career and life needs.
TABLE 1 Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction
CMWI Participant Beliefs
learn and how we read and write.
our own learning strategies).
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Expanding the Learning Zone 91
After the passing of NCLB Act, 2001 (2002) school districts across the
United States adapted to the mandate “every child will be reading and writing at
grade level by 2013” by implementing structured curriculum across grades and
content areas to ensure that students met and exceeded the standards set at the
state and national level. In Texas, many school districts centralized instructional
decisions about lessons, pacing, sequence and rigor to the point that teachers
were provided and expected to adhere to daily lesson plans about what to cover
with students. Teachers reverted to being thought of as technicians delivering
banking education (Freire, 1970) to meet the objectives set by the states; the dis-
tricts took on the essentialism philosophy that there are basic skills people need
to function in society. ese skills were delivered in a high-structured learning
environment that measured their performance through frequent content-based
assessments created by central administrators. Teacher decision-making capaci-
ties were reduced to classroom management, attendance, and seating arrange-
ments. Today, however, some teachers are realizing that eective instruction for
their students goes beyond the structured curriculum at their disposal (Patterson
et al, 2010, Wickstrom et al, 2011).
During the last few years, several studies have looked at decision-making
under the teaching adaption umbrella (Duy, Miller, Parsons, Davis, & Williams,
2008; Parsons, Davis, Scales, Williams, & Kear, 2010). Parsons (2012) studied
adapting practices of two third grade teachers in a Tittle 1 school. He found
that teachers adapt in various ways and for dierent reasons. His review of the
literature pointed to “a lack of empirical base in the eld of adaptive teaching”
(Parsons, p. 150). One major dierence between Parsons study and this study
is the student participants are adolescents in 9th and 11th grades. Another dif-
ference is that these case studies focus on how teachers use the resources at their
disposal to mediate learning. Clearly there is a need to study teachers and their
decision-making capabilities. Information about how teachers decide in English
as a Second Language (ESL) classroom is still needed.
Case studies (Creswell, 2008; Yin, 1994) are appropriate for the purposes of
studying teacher’s decision-making because they require “an intensive, holistic
approach of a single entity, phenomenon, or social unit” (Merriam, 1988, p.
16). is descriptive non-experimental design (Creswell, 2008; Merriam, 1988)
provides teachers and researchers a way to further understand the complex issue
of teacher decision-making in order to extend and strengthen what is already
known. ese case studies are “(1) particularistic because they focus on the
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92 Literacy is Transformative
decisions of two separate persons, (2) they are descriptive because they focus
on rich description of events, (3) they are heuristics because the cases focus on
understanding more about teacher decisions and they are (4) inductive because
the data collected drives the understandings that emerge” (Barone, 2004, p. 8).
e study took place in two adolescent classrooms, at two dierent high schools
in the southwest. ese particular classrooms were chosen because of the re-
searcher’s insider knowledge with the site and with the teacher participants. Car-
men’s (pseudonyms) high school is located in a midsize city in north Texas. It
serves about 2,200 students in grades 9 through 12, many of whom are typically
middle- and upper-class students from Anglo, Hispanic, African American, Asian
American, and Native American backgrounds. In this classroom, the students are
either native English or long-term English Learners. at is to say that they have
been in the United States more than 5 years and are almost uent.
Janet’s (pseudonyms) high school is located in a suburban city in north
Texas. It serves about 1,500 students in grades 9 through 12 many of whom are
typically middle- and upper-class students from Anglo backgrounds. Janet re-
ports that there appears to be an emerging growth pattern of Asian American and
Hispanic students. In this classroom, English Learners range from beginning to
intermediate English prociency. ey are typically enrolled in sheltered English
as a Second Language classroom for the language arts portion of the curriculum
and then participate in the regular classes for the other content courses.
e participants in this study were two high school ELA teachers. ey were
selected using a purposive sampling technique (Patton, 1990). e teachers
for this study met the following criteria: 1) participation in the local Writing
Project summer institute, 2) membership and knowledge of CMWI principles
and practices, 3) teach English language arts to native and English language
learners, and 4) be a member of the local NWP site. Taken together it was likely
that these two English language art teachers would be making decisions based
on student resources and information obtained from the CMWI professional
Carmen (pseudonym) was a Caucasian secondary ELA teacher whose focus
was literature. She had taught at the middle and secondary grades for seven years.
She has a Master of Education degree with a focus in reading. Her professional
development activities focused on technology instructional practices. She used a
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Expanding the Learning Zone 93
writing workshop approach. In class, students spend most of the time inquiring,
reading, and writing about the topic of the day. Carmen was attentive to student
needs, frequently engaging with students individually and collectively. Using a
mix of formative assessments, Carmen motivated students to become self-reliant
and take initiative for their own learning. She mediated learning using small and
whole group conversations, interactive writing activities with a focus on using
technology, and on-the-spot conversations to help students sort out their ques-
tions about what to do next.
Janet (pseudonym) was a Caucasian secondary ELA teacher, with a passion
for working with beginning to intermediate English Learners. She had taught
English Learners for eleven years and was pursuing a Master of Education with
a focus on providing reading instruction to English Learners. Her professional
developmental activity focused on learning more about eective practices with
linguistically and culturally diverse students. She focused on guiding student
learning using a writing workshop approach based on engaging students with
inquiry (Wilhelm, 2007). As she delivered instruction, she was attentive to using
the student’s background knowledge as an aide for learning new materials. Dur-
ing the observation period Janet was torn between delivering the state mandated
curriculum and the realities of the students’ language and literacy prociency
in the classroom. Using reective journaling, informal observations, long-term
writing inquiries, and small discussion groups Janet mediated challenging aca-
demic tasks.
Janet’s class met daily whereas Carmen’s class met on a block schedule—
sometimes meeting one, twice, or three times a week. e observations took place
during ELA instruction. During the observation, the researcher documented
students. A digital recorder was used to revisit the conversations and identify to
ll in the gaps between what was initiated captured through note-taking. Both
teachers provided the researcher access to handouts, lesson plans, links to web-
sites, and student work. After each lesson, the teacher and researcher spoke to
discuss the observations. Topics ranged from students, lesson planning, delivery,
assessment and decision-making. e conversations began with, “How did you
think that went?” After this, the conversations led to questions about decisions,
“Why did you decide to do that?” “What are you planning to do next, and why?”
In Janet’s class the conversations centered on student’s individual needs. In Car-
men’s class the conversations centered on the curriculum in February and March
then shifted to student’s needs in April. A reason for this shift was a change in
focus from preparation of standardized tests to improving student engagement
and academic readiness for college and life.
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94 Literacy is Transformative
Data Collection
is study used four types of documentation to address the research questions
(1) pre-entry interviews, (2) teacher surveys, (3) periodic classroom observations,
and (4) semi-structured teacher conversations before and after the observations.
e researcher observed the teachers during the spring 2010 semester across a
period of four months. e role of the researcher was a participant observer. Dur-
ing the observation the focus was to document the interactions between teachers
and students to better understand the process of decision-making during literacy
e teachers went through a pre-entry interview and lled out a question-
naire about their principles and practices with the purpose of the researcher
becoming familiar their philosophies, the classroom environment, classroom
settings, teacher-preferred times, and to schedule the periodic observations. In-
formal conversations took place during a total of 22 observations for the two
teachers. e observations ranged between 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
ese observations depended on the district, administration, teacher availability,
and the researcher’s teaching schedule.
Data Analysis
A constant comparative methodology was used (Glaser, 1992). Data collected were
organized by participant, day of observation, interview, student assignment, or
teacher directed assignment. Analysis during the collection phase consisted of tran-
scribing, note-taking, and to begin to notice patterns of teachers decision making
and the enactment of their instructional practices. is process involved arranging
the data, searching for patterns and recording them to each teacher participant in
the study. e emerging codes provided guidance as the next phase took place.
After the data collection, the audiotapes and notes were transcribed using
Microsoft Word and Atlas TI. en, the researcher read through the observation
and interviews multiple times to get an understanding of the data. For this analy-
sis the researcher focuses on two: 1) resources in use and 2) decision-making.
To achieve triangulation (Merriam, 1988) the researcher convened a team of six
literacy experts (3 full-time university faculty and 2 doctoral students) who were
familiar both with the teachers and with the professional development course to
collectively analyze the data. e codes and themes were discussed, modications
were suggested, and a consensus about codes and themes was reached.
e following narrative provides a case study for Carmen and Janet. Each case
documents the nature of instructional decision-making, the practices the two
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Expanding the Learning Zone 95
teachers used, and how these teachers put the resources in use to mediate learn-
ing. e narrative focuses on two instructional units for each teacher. For Car-
men the units are e Catcher in the Rye and e Hunger Games. For Janet the
units are e House on Mango Street and e Odyssey.
1. What is the nature of teacher decision-making during writing instruc-
tion in two ELA classrooms?
Carmen in the Mainstream Classroom
Deciding to learn from a culture of boredom. During e Catcher in the
Rye (Salinger, 1951) unit, Carmen’s decisions initially focused on delivering the
academic content to get the students ready for the state assessment, improving
linguistic knowledge and synthesizing the themes for the book. She decided to
read the book because she had heard positive comments from other faculty, it was
available for checkout, and “one student had suggested we read it.
Juan: Who decided on reading e Catcher in the Rye?
Carmen: e curriculum. We have ten novels to read from. It depends
on what’s in the bookroom since we share the books. My class is supposed
to be American Literature and I have to follow a historical timeline.
e Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1951) was taught through traditional methods
(i.e., lecture, question and answer, feedback). As she looked around the room
Carmen said she noticed that many students seemed “bored and not happy.”
During the next lesson she decided to have students read in pairs and aloud to
the rest of the class, but still many students were not engaged with the story,
during the observation students talked about what they did during the weekend
or about what plans they had for after school.
During the next interview, Carmen said, “I know the students hate the
book and have not read it, instead the students will read the Spark Notes as they
prepare for the chapter quizzes and nal exam.” So, Carmen asked 10 teachers
to audio tape reasons why they had enjoyed reading the book. During the next
lesson she played the audio for the students, they spoke about their feelings for
the book. ey opened up about their unwillingness to read. ey said that
they did not connect to Holden or his issues. She said, e funny thing was
that having this conversation made me realize that I did not like the book either
when I read it, I learned to appreciate it when I read it again in college.” From
that point forward she said that she noticed students seemed more connected to
the story and the characters.
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96 Literacy is Transformative
Juan: Why do you think the students did not connect to the book?
Carmen: Huh, I don’t know, I read in this article that our kids share
everything with everyone, they put everything on Facebook. If they have
a problem they say, “Guys I don’t know what to do,” and this book is
so dierent than that. I think Holden is so dierent than that. I think
all generations before [Facebook] understand that because we have not
been able to do that.
To mediate, she decided to ask students to create a “Catcher in the Rye
Soundtrack” which they presented to the rest of the class. Its purpose was for
students to create a music soundtrack for the book. e activity asked students to
search for ten songs that went along with the themes and characters. e students
were asked to submit a reection where they discussed the reasons for their song
choices and how the songs t the particular scenes. During the observations, the
students were eager to share their soundtrack; each listened to each other’s choices
and made connections to themselves, the characters and its themes. Below is one
student’s explanation of two song choices.
1. For the rst song, I choose Mr. Lonely by Akon. is song is when he
is in the hotel room and feels depressed and lonely because he has no
place to go, nothing to do and got kicked out of Pencey. My motiva-
tion for this song is he is feeling depressed so the song explains that he
is lonely. at is how he feels so it is a good part of the book.
2. Nothing on you B.O.B. [babe] [is another song that] goes into the part
of the book when Holden is thinking about Janet when he is going into
his hotel room. He cant get her out of his brain. e song is about there
isn’t anyone who can’t compare to the girl. at’s how Holden feels, he
loves everything about her. e song really relates to this.
Because Carmen saw a dierence in student participation when she gave students
some personal latitude with the soundtrack, she decided to continue this practice
and allow her students to select the next book. To do this, she asked them to go
home, think of a book that they felt the class needed to read and then to “pitch
the book” to the class next time they met. Students were given 3 minutes to sell
their book to the class. At the end of class, the choice was overwhelmingly in
favor of e Hunger Games (2008) because the students said they connected to
the young characters, setting in a television game show, and its themes of war,
poverty, friendship, and government.
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Expanding the Learning Zone 97
Deciding to take advantage of a culture of advocacy. During e Hunger
Games (2008) unit, Carmen’s decisions focused on the students building personal
and authentic connections with the text. She decided to read this book to engage
students with a book that was meaningful to them. Carmen said she decided to
see her students as partners in the learning process because she wanted students
to see that reading a book could be enjoyable.
Carmen: ey’ve talked me into reading e Hunger Games book, even
though I know it’s beneath them, reading wise that is. I decided they
hated e Crucible, they hate, I mean, they thought A Lesson before
Dying was mediocre, they hated e Catcher in the Rye, so I decided
let’s read a book that they selected and that they enjoy . . . .I want them
to see that you can actually get into a book.
She engaged students in authentic tasks like asking them to research about cur-
rent events, write Dear Abby Letters as if they were characters in the book sub-
mitting them to the personals in newspapers, and record group documentaries
that engaged outsiders to discuss topics that they connected to the book. She
decided to step aside more often because she said, “students learn best when this
happens.” To assess learning, Carmen assigned tasks throughout the reading that
were meaningful and engaging for students. e assignments were to create a
video about a topic in connection to the book, research a topic on their own and
present it to the class. Carmen asked students to choose a research topic from
a list they had collectively developed and at the end of the class present their
ndings to the rest of the class. e decision to go along with what the students
wanted improved both the classroom atmosphere and the relationship between
the students and the teacher. From the students’ perspective this action revealed
that Carmen possessed similar interests and personality as they did. One student
said, “Miss, I wish you would have shown us this side earlier.
Janet in the English Speakers of Other
Languages (ESOL) class
Deciding to navigate within the culture of newcomers. During e House
on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1984) unit Janet’s decisions focused on encouraging
students to use their background and culture as resources when they read the
text. She decided to read the book because of her prior success with previous
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98 Literacy is Transformative
Juan: Why did you decide to read the book?
Janet: Because, rst of all, it’s my all-time favorite book. It’s also in the
district curriculum. It’s so thick and rich of ideas. And I’ve had at least
ve students that have said, “When we read House, it changed my life.
To facilitate learning, Janet decided to stop often during reading (three or four
times each chapter) and ask students to think about the characters and plot. She
frequently claried unfamiliar vocabulary.
Janet: Do you think she’s serious or do you think she is joking?
Carla: What did you say before— sarcastic?
Janet: Well, if I said, “you didn’t do your homework; that makes me very
happy. at’s being sarcastic.
At times when the action was dicult to describe with words, she would act out
and use humor to provide a visual or a concrete example for the action in the
story—Total Physical Response (Asher, 1995). She reported during one conver-
sation that this helped students build [reading] comprehension.
Janet: [Reading from House] We slowed the double circles down to a
certain speed so that Rachel who had just jumped in could practice
shaking it . . . . and then is Rachel who starts it. Skip, Skip, snake it in
your lips. Wiggle around and break your lip.
After reading the passage, Janet stood up out of the chair and pretended to jump
rope and shook her hips like the book describes. Students burst into laughter as
she shook her hips. To assess what the students were learning she asked them
to answer through writing two essential questions she had posed from the very
beginning: 1) Tell me something you have in common with the book, 2) How
do people keep their own power? She decided to use essential questions because
she said, “this will be the best way to elicit a good response from her students.”
roughout the reading she continually asked students to speak about their com-
monalities with Esperanza, the lead character, to make personal connections.
Deciding to test the culture boundaries. For e Odyssey (Homer, trans. 1996)
unit the decisions Janet made focused on meeting the curriculum and to gauge
the status of the students’ academic language prociency in order to determine
their readiness for the mainstream curriculum. Janet delivered the content using
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Expanding the Learning Zone 99
a more traditional method (question, answer, assessments) and stepped back to
provide less academic support.
Juan: Who chose e Odyssey?
Janet: e curriculum.
Janet acknowledged that only the academic content guided her decisions because
she believed that regular English language arts teachers would not provide the
level of support she provided to her students. She said she took this course of ac-
tion because she wanted to make informed decisions about the student’s academic
placement for next year. As the readings progressed she said, “Only one student
is successfully navigating the academic content. e other students are having
trouble because of the lack of [clear] connections and because the vocabulary
needed to read and understand the text was too academic.” To help them make
signicant connection she decided to use the web [i.e.,] and
decided to show them bits of e Odyssey movie (2008). One of the biggest aids
for students was when Janet decided to charge groups to lead the conversation for
one chapter. Janet said that this decision allowed students to focus on chunks of
the text which improved the dialogue and heightened comprehension.
2. What, if any, resources do these teachers put in use to mediate learning?
is section describes how Carmen and Janet transformed their teaching prac-
tices by using the resources around them. Multiple resources including personal
and professional knowledge, familiarity about students’ sociocultural resources,
familiarity with the text, and the contextual resources guided the instructional
decisions the teacher participants made. For this study, the data pointed to four
and 4) teacher. e textual resources included the textbook, articles, worksheets,
and novels. e contextual resources included the classroom, school, home, and
cluded the student’s sociocultural knowledge, linguistic knowledge of English
and native language skills students accessed during instruction, thinking strate-
gies to support learning, and previous academic knowledge of the text or topic.
e teacher resources included familiarity with the text, knowledge of the stu-
dent, understanding of the context, prior personal experiences and professional
experience. Table 2 displays the four instructional units, the resources in use,
and the activity the teachers implemented to mediate the language and literacy
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100 Literacy is Transformative
domains (sociocultural knowledge, linguistic knowledge, thinking strategy, and
academic knowledge). When these teachers used these resources, these resources
turned into aordances for students. Together these aordances created a zone
of learning for students which expanded or contracted depending on the use of
the resources.
TABLE 2 Language and Literacy Needs
Primary Text/
Language Support
Mediated () Resources Used Activity/Student
e Catcher in the Rye
Knowledge Reader
Flexible Seating
“Catcher Music
Audio Recording
inking Strategies
Knowledge Reader
Textual “Catcher Music
Audio Recording
e Hunger Games
Knowledge Reader
Individual Inquiry
Research Project
Knowledge Reader
Individual and
Research Project
Write up and
inking Strategies Reader
Essential Question
Knowledge Textual
Individual and
Group Research
e House on Mango Street
Knowledge Reader
Author’s Chair
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Expanding the Learning Zone 101
Knowledge Teacher Teacher Read aloud
inking Strategies Reader
Time for Dialogue
about Connections
Knowledge Read aloud
Writing Workshop
Author’s Chair
e Odyssey
Knowledge Teacher
Contextual e Odyssey Movie
Knowledge Teacher Internet Research
Activity about
Greek Gods
inking Strategies Teacher
Chapter Leaders—
Students lead
discussion to
discuss key ndings
Knowledge Teacher Dialogue
Chapter Leaders
Who is a hero?
Figure 1 displays a product that was constructed during the data analysis
to make sense of the resources the teachers where navigating within to mediate
what is already known with new information for students. is decision-making
heuristic provided some clarity about the decisions these two teachers were mak-
ing. During the analysis this heuristic made a dierence because it provided a way
to contextualize the decisions. ese four resources transact (Rosenblatt, 1978)
with one another to create a zone of learning for the students.
During e Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1951) Carmen initially focused on
the textual resources (e.g., book) and her personal knowledge of the book. As she
saw students become disengaged, she searched for contextual (i.e., teacher audio
tapes, and technology), student (i.e., music recording), and additional teacher
resources to help connect students.
For e Hunger Games (Collins, 2008), Carmen initially focused on the
students resources (i.e., knowledge of the book) because the students were famil-
iar with the text, not her. e students possessed all the textual resources. When
Carmen improved her textual resources she more eectively used the contextual
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102 Literacy is Transformative
resources and planned ways to incorporate the class, school, and technology to
mediate learning.
During e House on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1984) Janet utilized the
student, personal, contextual and textual resources to mediate learning. Because
the book was about an immigrant, students were able to relate to Esperanza’s
experience. Because Janet had taught this book previously, she was able to tap
into her experience. She was able to deliver practices which other students con-
nected with. Because the language used in the text was familiar, and the reading
was delivered during class, students were able to tap into the many contextual
and textual resources.
For e Odyssey (Homer, Trans. 1996) use of student and textual resources
became challenging for Janet. During this unit, she had to rely on her personal
and professional resources and the use of the contextual resources around her.
Figure 1
e Decision-Making Conceptual Mediation Heuristic.
USU_C2960_Section-2.indd 102 10/09/13 11:31 AM
Expanding the Learning Zone 103
rough personal and contextual resources, she managed to nd technology
resources, the idea about chapter leaders, and the movie she played for the class
after they read the chapter. But because students possessed few resources and the
text was too dicult, Janet reported that only a handful of students accomplished
any meaningful work.
e purpose of these case studies was to develop a better understanding of the
decision-making practices of two high school teachers during English language
arts instruction and to understand when and how teachers put the resources at
their disposal in use. e researcher observed, interviewed, and analyzed multiple
data to answer the following two questions.
1. What is the nature of teacher decision-making during writing instruc-
tion in two ELA classrooms?
2. What, if any at all, resources do these teachers put in use or action to
mediate learning?
e decisions Carmen and Janet made that attended to the shifts in culture of
the classroom (needs and resources) made a dierence for students. In Carmens
case the class culture initially was “I passed the state assessment, I do not have to
do anything else!” and was then exacerbated by the lack of cultural connection
with e Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1951). Nevertheless, it was only April and
Carmen had to keep them engaged. It was no longer enough to get them in class.
e Hunger Games (Collins, 2008) was the vehicle that created a springboard
for inquiry for the students. In Janet’s case the class culture was We support
each other—we are in this together.” However, when the academic texts went
beyond their abilities with e Odyssey (Homer, trans. 1996), the culture shifted
to, “Miss, can you give me the answer?” Instead of simply giving students the
answers, Janet searched for other appropriate resources that mediated the needs
of the students. ese conversations and outcomes were made possible because
these teachers kept an ongoing dialogue with the students.
e decisions Carmen and Janet made that focused solely on delivering
and assessing the structured explicit curriculum (Oliva, 2005) made little dier-
ence for student learning. In Carmens class this was evident during e Catcher
in the Rye (Salinger, 1951) when the students were just reading and discussing
the book— they were bored, not happy, and not learning. In Janet’s classroom,
learning stalled when she shifted her focus to e Odyssey (Homer, 1996) to see
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104 Literacy is Transformative
if students were ready for the traditional mainstream structured curriculum. In
both of these instances, the teachers were attempting to use traditional teach-
A possible reason for this is that both e Catcher in the Rye’s (Salinger, 1951)
and e Odyssey’s (Homer, Trans. 1996) characters and themes did not explicitly
appeal to the students’ interests and concerns. However, once both Carmen and
Janet realized the mismatch they took immediate action and made explicit con-
nections for students through conversations and projects.
As these teachers came to recognize the many resources around them, they
were able to create a more integrated curricular experience (Brown, 2006). Dur-
ing the music soundtrack and inquiry project, Carmens students were able to
put into action personal skills, academic knowledge about the subject area and
technology expertise to explore their questions about the topic at hand. Students
explored topics including science, warfare, poverty, health-care, politics, and ac-
counting. Janet’s students more eectively used the resources at their disposal
during e House on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1984) because they were able to
more explicitly connect to the themes of family, immigration and adolescence,
because the book’s academic language was more accessible to beginning English
learners and because Esperanza and her family experiences mirrored their own
current happenings.
e nature of decision-making was successful when the teachers grew in
expertise and were informed by the resources at their disposal and therefore were
able to more quickly set the conditions for self-paced, individualized learning
to take place. In Carmen’s case, the change that made a dierence was her will-
ingness to go with what students wanted to learn about and to more explicitly
use the entire school. In Janet’s case, the change that made a dierence was her
willingness to go beyond the structured curriculum and then pull back when
e nature of decision-making in these classrooms was at the core of stu-
dent success. When these teachers decided to incorporate student suggestions,
their needs, the students thrived. When the decisions focused on delivering the
explicit curriculum that narrowed to learning the basics the students seemed lost
and unable to work on their own. Both of these teachers used student observa-
tion and took immediate action when appropriate to make learning the goal
in their classrooms. While it took an unsuccessful experience with e Catcher
in the Rye (Salinger, 1951) for Carmen to get to know her students, building
extensive background knowledge about them made the most dierence in the
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Expanding the Learning Zone 105
long term as she made decisions. Janet, on the other hand, knew her students,
so when she noticed that they were struggling to “get it” she was prepared to
take action.
Until recently (Duy et al., 2008; Parsons et al., 2011) the nature of
decision-making in the eld of language and literacy instruction has been lim-
ited, particularly in second language education. As culturally and linguistically
diverse students make up more of the student population in Texas and around
the United States, it is necessary to understand more about how teachers can
use their personal, professional, and contextual resources to mediate learning for
their students. To consistently work within and expand the student’s learning
zone, Janet’s and Carmen’s decisions show us that knowing about and taking
action upon the resources at a teacher’s disposal is vital to improve student suc-
cess and engagement—this is apt, considering the rapid demographic shifts and
technological advances in the student’s social environment. Still, more informa-
tion is needed about how monolingual teachers support English Learners and
how they decide between the resources at their disposal to set the conditions for
learning to happen.
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... Effective instructional actions take place when teachers consider student needs, personal and professional experiences, local and national curricular mandates, professional development experiences, pedagogical stance, and when they see students for who they are (Araujo, 2013;Patterson et al., 2010). Sometimes these instructional decisions are made while teachers are in the act of teaching. ...
... The purpose was to determine what decisions and actions these teachers took to make learning meaningful for their students. Prior inductive analysis (Araujo, 2013) on two instructional units for these same two teachers informed the analysis of this inquiry. For Carmen (pseudonym) the units were, The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1951) and The Hunger Games (Collins, 2008). ...
... 1996). The analysis yielded the following (Araujo, 2013): ...
Full-text available
This paper presents the actions of two high school English language arts teachers as they engage in writing instruction with adolescent English learners. Using a naturalistic, qualitative methodology we investigate the actions two high school English language arts teachers engage in to meet the needs of their students. Findings suggest that embracing the students’ resources, building on linguistic knowledge, taking time to choose the right books and activities, being explicit about writer’s workshop and accepting its frenetic pace because it meets the students’ needs, and using the act of writing as a thinking activity, were the actions that made a difference to promote student success.
... This coincides with Brooks's (2006) case studies of reader response with African American youths as she states that engagement increases as students are able to identify more closely with the story. Some research suggests that English learners are more likely to develop reading skills when they can relate to the characters in the text (Araujo, 2013;Ebe, 2012;Giouroukakis & Honigsfeld, 2010), having more affordances (Van Lier, 2000) to make meaning from the words on the page. ...
Full text here: Research acknowledges the value of youths reading books that represent their lives and cultures, yet there is a growing need to better understand how youths of understudied groups respond to multicultural stories. This single-case study of a multilingual refugee adolescent from Burma (Myanmar) investigates how she draws from her lived experiences in responding to literature. Using the culturally situated reader response model (Brooks & Browne, 2012) to understand the participant’s response to literature allows us to see how her transaction with the texts was mediated by various aspects of her lived experiences as a refugee and adolescent girl. The participant’s powerful response is indicative of not just the need for relevant literature but also authentic ways to respond with a caring adult. Findings suggest that far more important than new programs or strategies, multilingual youths need access to relevant literature and authentic meaning-making for educators to most effectively nurture their literacy, language, and identity development.
... The goal of the innovation was to increase student learning and engagement through using culturally relevant literature to learn social studies and language concepts. Literature and instructional methods were chosen based on past research with adolescent English learners using culturally relevant literature (e.g., Araujo, 2013;Ebe, 2012;Giouroukakis & Honigsfeld, 2010). My field notes and students' writing were continually analyzed to inform the next instructional decision. ...
Although, traditionally, the purpose of the social studies class in secondary schools is to teach content knowledge, this article argues that historical learning can be a powerful vehicle for English language development for late-arrival English learners (ELs) in middle and high schools. ELs bring a wealth of life experiences, diverse perspectives, and global travel into the classroom that can nurture a dynamic learning environment when English as a second language (ESL) and social studies instruction are juxtaposed as content and language are taught simultaneously. This article details the learning results of a thematic unit on World War II for late-arrival refugee ELs in one high school using a formative design approach. Using the award-winning historical fiction novel Sylvia and Aki (Conkling, 2011) as well as other supporting texts, the teacher leveraged students' experiences to help them gain historical knowledge, literacy skills, and universal perspectives, all while acquiring English. Findings suggest that the social studies provide a rich space to naturally acquire a second language while simultaneously gaining a variety of content area knowledge. Specifically, World War II may provide ESL teachers with a wealth of literary resources to engage ELs in deep language and content learning.
This multiple case study is part of a larger investigation of literacy practices in “Our Home,” an after-school program that provides learning support to children from refugee backgrounds. I asked, “What happens when translingual children from refugee backgrounds respond to multicultural, transnational, and translingual picturebooks?” Informed by critical literacy theories, I illuminate the experiences and perspectives of four children as they interacted with and engaged in dialogic reading of picturebooks; these critical literacy practices, along with observational data, are reported in profiles. Findings from this study reveal the ways in which children from refugee backgrounds found problematic aspects of assumptions in stories, reflected on different and contradictory perspectives, articulated the power relationships between characters, and offered alternative thoughts centered on social justice. This research expands the field’s knowledge of what doing critical literacy work with young translingual students in an after-school program looks, feels, and sounds like.
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Adolescent English Learners (ELs) possess cultural knowledge and skills that can be leveraged for academic success through relevant classroom literature. Using literature that connects to ELs’ personal lives can benefit their literacy learning as well as the educational experience for native English speakers. Specific age-appropriate and culturally relevant literature is suggested for the specific needs of secondary ELs at varying language levels in the language arts and history classrooms. The authors also share reader response activities that address all four language domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) that can be used with specific books. Key Words: English Learners, English Language Learners, Literature, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Language Arts
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Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction invites students to take an inquiry stance toward issues of interest and significance—exploring issues, framing questions, gathering information, synthesizing findings into messages, publishing or presenting their findings, and assessing their efforts before moving on to other inquiries. CMWI can be seen as a rich and dynamic landscape of literacy tasks, routines, practices, materials, and dialogues that invites students to ask questions and to look for answers to those questions. Data from four high-school classrooms illustrate that CMWI teachers made interdependent and layered instructional decisions in response to students' needs, and that they provided mediation toward for primary goals or instructional targets: confidence and risk-taking; concept development and content knowledge; skills and strategies for meaning-making; and linguistic awareness and cross-linguistic transfer.
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Literacy educators may dismiss the recent outcry about the U. S. school "crisis" as an emotional and perhaps cynical bid for political gain and private profit, but the drop-out rate and college-going rate highlight an urgent, legitimate concern about whether all students are being served. Admittedly, multiple factors influence how and whether individual adolescents are able to negotiate various cultural, linguistic, economic, emotional, and academic challenges, many of which are clearly beyond the control of school personnel. The quality of instruction, however, is one significant factor we should be able to influence (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Increasingly, literacy research focuses on improving our support of these students, particularly English learners, toward eventual success in the workplace and in post-secondary educational settings, but few publications specifically address the complexities inherent in writing instruction for secondary English learners. The purpose of this study is to examine two high school teachers' decisions about writing instruction, aiming to prepare students for careers and college readiness. The question addressed in this paper is, " How do two high school teachers mediate English learners' academic writing in preparation for careers and college? " BACKGROUND OF THE LARGER STUDY
This text explores fundamental issues relating to student literacies and instructor roles and practices within academic contexts. It offers a brief history of literacy theories and argues for "socioliterate" approaches to teaching and learning in which texts are viewed as primarily socially constructed. Central to socioliteracy, the concepts "genre" and "discourse community," are presented in detail. The author argues for roles for literacy practitioners in which they and their students conduct research and are involved in joint pedagogical endeavors. The final chapters are devoted to outlining how the views presented can be applied to a variety of classroom texts. Core curricular design principles are outlined, and three types of portfolio-based academic literacy classrooms are described.
Rev.& expanded from Case study research in education,1988.Incl.bibliographical references,index
Programmes for the education of second language teachers necessarily base themselves on conceptions of what learning to be a teacher entails. But surprisingly little study has been devoted to understanding the processes by which second language teachers actually develop their knowledge, or to defining what such knowledge consists of. This paper approaches this issue through a content analysis of data on one aspect of student teachers' professional knowledge: their conceptions of curriculum decision making. Different representations of this knowledge emerge, ranging from schemata which appear inadequately developed to those which seem sufficient to guide curriculum decision- making effectively. Implications are drawn for the education and development of second language teachers, as well as further research in this area. It is argued that current "input-output" models of teacher education can be augmented by "developmental learning" models, if further understanding of language teachers' professional knowledge is obtained.