Storied Lives: Exploring English Language Learners' School Experiences

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Virginia Tech


Using a qualitative bricolage approach (Kincheloe, n.d., 2008), this study explores the everyday school life of immigrant students enrolled in an Advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom in a high school in southwest Virginia. The overarching objective of this study is to examine how these students"five from Mexico, three from Honduras, and one from China" experience school. I present my research in two manuscripts: "Just Like Me: How Immigrant English Language Learners Experience a Rural High School and "I'm NOT Stupid!" The Trouble with JanCarlos. In Just Like Me, I use figured worlds (Holland et al., 1998) and positioning theory (Davies, 2000; Harre & van Langenhove, 1999) as analytical frameworks to present how the students rely on their positions as English language learners in an ESL program, on the ESL faculty, and on one another to co-construct a variety of practices that create opportunities for agency in the school space. I describe how they co-construct a world, vis-a-vis their everyday practices, in and through which, they navigate the institution, meet academic needs, and establish networks of care. I also examine the "dissonant threads""elements of data that resist perfect codification"to deepen analysis and to portray a complex portrait of ESL II (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997).

In I'm NOT Stupid, I trouble the school experiences of JanCarlos, a student in the advanced ESL class. Using dialogue and reflexive internal dialogue, I story two events that altered the trajectory of his school life"an emotional argument with the ESL teacher and punishment for drawing graffiti on a bathroom wall. I present how each of these events represented "critical incidents" (Tripp, 1998; Webster & John, 2010) in my research as they interrupted my objective stance and altered my interpretations (Poulos, 2009). As I "connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political" (Ellis, 2004, xix), I use autoethnography to critically examine each event. As I watched events unfold, I routinely asked the relational ethical question""What should I do now?" (Ellis, 2007, p. 4). In so doing, I make transparent my position and power in creating knowledge (Kincheloe, McLaren, & Steinberg, 2012).



ESL, ELL, immigrant students in schools, reflexivity