4
The Social Context of School Learning

Whereas the previous chapter reviewed cognitive aspects of literacy and content learning, this chapter examines research related to a variety of social factors involved in school learning. It is clear that children may arrive at school ready to learn in a number of different ways. One way is to have high levels of language, emergent literacy, and world knowledge acquired at home or in preschool. Equally important, though, is readiness in the emotional, social, and motivational realms: the ability to adapt to the new constraints of the classroom, the social skills needed to participate effectively in classroom discourse, and the self-esteem and sense of agency required to work hard and learn intentionally. Moreover, other aspects of the social context, such as differential treatment of minority children, impact school learning.

FINDINGS

This section focusses on five areas: the social nature of knowledge acquisition, the issue of differential treatment of ethnic-minority students, cultural differences in the motivation to achieve, children's social and group relationships, and parental involvement in children's school learning.



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4 The Social Context of School Learning Whereas the previous chapter reviewed cognitive aspects of literacy and content learning, this chapter examines research related to a variety of social factors involved in school learning. It is clear that children may arrive at school ready to learn in a number of different ways. One way is to have high levels of language, emergent literacy, and world knowledge acquired at home or in preschool. Equally important, though, is readiness in the emotional, social, and motivational realms: the ability to adapt to the new constraints of the classroom, the social skills needed to participate effectively in classroom discourse, and the self-esteem and sense of agency required to work hard and learn intentionally. Moreover, other aspects of the social context, such as differential treatment of minority children, impact school learning. FINDINGS This section focusses on five areas: the social nature of knowledge acquisition, the issue of differential treatment of ethnic-minority students, cultural differences in the motivation to achieve, children's social and group relationships, and parental involvement in children's school learning.

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The Social Nature of Knowledge Acquisition Were we to focus only on issues examined in the previous two chapters, we would be ignoring a vital aspect of school learning: that most learning occurs in a social context in which individual actions and understandings are negotiated by the members of a group. We propose that in a classroom learning situation, negotiation occurs within at least two domains: the rules for how to talk in the classroom and the construction of actual content knowledge through talk. It is from the interpretation of these negotiations that students construct their own knowledge and understanding. However, it is typically the teacher who, either implicitly or explicitly, initiates negotiation. Conversational Rules The process of negotiating the way classroom participants will talk about subject matter is assumed to influence an individual's academic performance. There are obvious implications for second-language education, in part because negotiating engagement in conversation is much more difficult in a second language and in part because the negotiated rules are likely to be heavily influenced by culture. Based on observations of children both at home (Philips, 1983; Heath, 1983) and at school (Gee, 1988a, 1988b; Michaels, 1991; Au and Mason, 1981; Au, 1980; Boggs, 1985), researchers conclude that there is cultural mismatch in the negotiation of talk that limits full participation in educational interactions for second-language learners. Phillips (1983) found that Native American students' verbal interactions were much more extensive in classrooms whose participant structures were similar to those used routinely in their homes and communities. Various studies have investigated efforts to incorporate into classrooms features of learning and talking that are characteristic of the homes and communities of English-language learners. Perhaps the most well-known such effort to make classroom instruction culturally responsive is the Kamehameha Early Education Program (Au and Mason, 1981), which incorporated the talk story format, a native Hawaiian discourse pattern, into literacy instruction, with positive results. Negotiating Knowledge In addition to negotiation of the rules for classroom talk, social practices for talking about a particular subject matter are also negotiated by

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the participants. Researchers have contributed to our understanding of the language and social practices in classrooms and the role of these patterns in the construction of knowledge (Linguistics and Education, 1994; Goldenberg and Gallimore, 1991; Rueda et al., 1992; Saunders et al., 1992; Patthey-Chavez and Goldenberg, 1995; Dalton and Sison, 1995). For example, in her ethnographic study of journal sharing in nine different bilingual classrooms, Gutierrez (1992, 1994) found that teachers shared one of three "scripts" or pedagogical views of writing. Based on Gutierrez's 1992 descriptions, only one of these scripts provided enriched contexts for literacy learning in line with the tenets of sociocultural theory, that is, "contexts that give students both assistance and the occasions to use and write elaborated and meaningful discourse" (p. 259). Differential Treatment While cultural mismatch is one explanation for the relatively poor academic performance of English-language learners, another avenue of research, known as differential treatment studies, starts from the assumption that some language-minority children may not be socialized toward academic achievement. This literature has contributed to the view that language-minority students, along with other ethnic-minority students, are treated differently from mainstream students as a result of forces both within and outside of school that implicitly and explicitly promote and sustain the perspectives and institutions of the majority. Ogbu, a primary contributor to this view (Ogbu, 1978; Ogbu and Matute-Bianchi, 1986), has focused on how societal forces have contributed to socialization and acculturation patterns that ultimately influence minority students' academic achievement. Other researchers (Moll and Diaz, 1987; Gibson, 1988; Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco, 1995; Tuan, 1995; Harklau, 1994) have concentrated on schools and classrooms when investigating the interaction among cultural, societal, and school influences on student achievement. The latter studies have shown how schools engage in a number of practices that favor the status quo by enabling middle- and upper-class English-speaking students to progress through an educational pipeline that is often inaccessible to low-income ethnic-minority students, including those who are limited-English-proficient. Cultural Differences in Achievement Motivation Achievement motivation—the set of beliefs children hold about how and why to do well in school—is implicated in the relatively poor perfor-

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mance of language-minority children. The notion that achievement motivation may vary culturally has been supported by cross-national studies (e.g., Stevenson et al., 1990; Stevenson et al., 1986) showing that Asian children are more likely to believe high achievement is the result of effort, whereas American children focus more on innate ability. In the United States, however, these ethnic differences are eliminated or even reversed: second-generation Korean American children have been found to attribute success to ability more than do European American children (Choi et al., 1994), and high achievers across a variety of ethnic groups (African American, Latino, Indochinese American, and European American), all low-income, attribute their success to their high innate ability (Bempechat et al., 1996). One consequence of assimilation is often a lowering of academic goals and achievement, perhaps because of incorporation into a caste-like minority status or peer stigmatization of high achievement (Ogbu, 1995). It may be that some Asian immigrants are less susceptible to the negative consequences of assimilation because, as voluntary immigrants, they place their faith in schools as agents of improvement (DeVos, 1978). Children's Social and Group Relationships Dialects and languages spoken by students influence teacher perceptions of the students' academic ability, their learning opportunities, evaluations of their contributions to class, and the way they are grouped for instruction (Harrison, cited in Garcia, 1993; Ryan and Carranza, 1977). Language can be the basis as well for categorization and the formation of ingroups and outgroups, especially within an institutional context in which the languages spoken have unequal status. Languages are often symbols of group boundaries and are therefore the sources of intergroup conflicts and tensions (Giles, 1977; Issacs, 1992). Two-way bilingual programs, in which students from two different language groups learn both languages, may provide an effective way of reducing group differences and constructing a single group identity (Lambert and Cazabon, 1994). Cooperative learning has also been found to improve intergroup relations. In his review of 19 studies of the effects of cooperative learning methods, Slavin (1985) found that 16 showed positive effects on interracial friendships. In a more recent review, Slavin (1995) also describes the positive effects of cooperative groups on cross-racial friendships, racial attitudes, and behavior. Cohen and Roper (1972) caution, however, that equal status among groups in interracial and interethnic situations must be constructed by teachers, rather than assumed. In a series of perceptive and carefully

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designed studies that span two decades, Cohen and colleagues (Cohen, 1984a, 1984b; Cohen and Roper, 1972; Cohen and Lotan, 1995) have consistently found that contact among different groups without deliberate interventions to increase equal status and positive interactions will increase rather than reduce intergroup tensions. Cohen (1994) has developed practical guidelines and strategies that can be used by teachers and other practitioners to create equal status within racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse classrooms. Research indicates that curriculum interventions such as multiethnic curricular materials, plays, folk dances, music, and role playing can also have positive effects on the ethnic and racial attitudes of students (Gimmestad and DeChiara, 1982; McGregor, 1993). Parental Involvement in Children's School Learning When parents establish partnerships with their children's schools, they extend school learning effectively into the home and reinforce academic values outside school (Henderson, 1987; Dornbusch and Ritter, 1988). Positive effects of such partnerships have been found with both low- and middle-income populations, as well as populations of different racial/ethnic groups (Comer, 1986; Delgado-Gaitan, 1990; Epstein and Dauber, 1991; Dauber and Epstein, 1993; Hidalgo et al., 1995; Robledo Montecel, 1993). Evidence suggests that immigrant and language-minority children benefit from actions taken in the home to promote child academic achievement (Hidalgo et al., 1995; Diaz-Soto, 1988). However, teachers' notions of desirable parental involvement (coming to conferences, responding to notes, and participating in the classroom) may be foreign to immigrant parents (Allexsaht-Snider, 1992; Matsuda, 1989). Parent centers designed to promote the exchange of information regarding teacher expectations for parental involvement (Johnson, 1993, 1994; Rubio, 1995), two-generation literacy programs (McCollum, 1993), parent training seminars (Smith, 1993), and the Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork program (Epstein et al., 1995) have all been demonstrated to help align parental involvement with teacher expectations. IMPLICATIONS Educational Because cultural mismatch in conversational patterns makes access to full participation in classroom interactions more difficult for the speakers of less-valued discourse forms, teachers need to be aware that full partici-

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pation in these interactions will be challenging for English-language learners. Thus they might explore ways of more fully engaging culturally diverse students. Schools must also take care not to engage in practices that favor the status quo by enabling middle- and upper-class English-speaking students to progress through an educational pipeline that is often inaccessible to low-income ethnic-minority students, including those who are limited-English-proficient. Moreover, studies incorporating into the classroom features of learning and talking that are characteristic of the homes and communities of English-language learners have shown positive results. Two-way bilingual programs, in which students from two different language groups learn both languages, may provide an effective way of reducing group differences and improving intergroup relations. Cooperative learning has also been found to improve intergroup relations. However, equal status between groups in interracial and interethnic situations must be constructed by teachers rather than assumed, since contact among different groups without deliberate interventions to increase equal status and positive interactions will increase rather than reduce intergroup tensions. Curriculum interventions such as multiethnic curricular materials, plays, folk dances, music, and role playing can also have positive effects on the ethnic and racial attitudes of students. Evidence suggests that immigrant and language-minority children benefit from actions taken in the home to promote child academic achievement. Parent centers designed to promote the exchange of information regarding teacher expectations for parental involvement, two-generation literacy programs, parent training seminars, and the Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork program have all been demonstrated to help align parental involvement with teacher expectations. Research There are two important questions for research regarding status differences among various languages. First, what are the consequences of such differences for children's intergroup and interpersonal relations? Second, how do teachers' perceptions of the status of children's languages influence their interactions with, expectations of, and behavior toward the children? Additional research is also needed to examine what innovative classroom organizations and interventions, such as curriculum content, can influence children's views of themselves and of members of other ethnic groups, promoting cross-ethnic friendships and positive regard.

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Research is needed as well to examine the nature of socialization practices in the homes of English-language learners with regard to both content (e.g., exposure to literacy, opportunities for participation in substantive conversations) and socialization in ways of learning (e.g., through observation versus participation, in a relationship of collaboration versus respectful distance from the expert). In addition, research needs to address the alignment between home and school. For example, does excellent instruction take into account home-school mismatches or simply teach children the school discourse effectively/Are there classroom structures and practices that are particularly familiar to English-language learners and thus promote their learning by minimizing home-school mismatches? Are there procedures for inducting English-language learners into novel classroom and instructional interactions that can promote their learning both of English and of subject matter?

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT: KEY FINDINGS From the literature on student assessment, the following key findings can be drawn: Several uses of assessment are unique to English-language learners and bilingual children. They include identification of children whose English proficiency is limited, determination of eligibility for placement in specific language programs, and monitoring of progress in and readiness to exit from special language service programs. English-language learners are assessed for purposes that extend beyond determination of their language needs, including placement in categorically funded education programs such as Title I, placement in remedial or advanced classwork, monitoring of achievement in compliance with district- and/or state-level programs, and certification for high school graduation and determination of academic mastery at graduation. It is essential that any assessment impacting children's education strive to meet standards of validity (whether inferences drawn are appropriate to the purposes of the assessment) and reliability (whether assessment outcomes are accurate in light of variations due to factors irrelevant to what the assessment was intended to measure). States and local districts use a variety of methods to determine which students need to be placed in special language-related programs and monitor students' progress in those programs. Administration of language proficiency tests is the most common method. Achievement tests in English are also frequently used. Regardless of the modality of testing, many existing English-language proficiency instruments emphasize measurement of a limited range of grammatical and structural skills. States use a variety of procedures to assess student academic performance, including performance-based assessments and standardized achievement tests, and states are in various stages of incorporating English-language learners into these assessments. To a large extent, the field lacks instruments appropriate for assessing very young English-language learners, as well as English-language learners with disabilities. The standards-based reform movement has major implications for the assessment of English-language learners.