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SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..…...4


SECTION 3: CLARIFYING MY ACTION RESEARCH PROJECT ……………………………………...……………………………...15







A High School English Language Development (ELD) teacher reflects on his experience as a

Spanish Language Learner in which he found success in his language learning through local

speech communities. His reflections lead him to design an Action Research study around the

question, What happens when English Language Learners (ELLs) participate in English

speaking and writing communities? The study took place over the span of three months and was

performed in the context of student participation in two identified communities: The Cesar

Chavez Leadership Conference Poetry Contest and an English Language Development (ELD) 1

and Spanish 1 conversation partner language exchange project. Data was collected in the form of

observations, interviews, and artifacts. Through the study the researcher discovers the magic of

audience as the students develop the craft of words as they write poetry to honor the non-violent

farm labor activist and friendships through questioning their English speaking peers.

Additionally, the researcher witnesses the ways in which connecting students with an audience

that values their voice sets the stage for their language to reach new levels of meaning and



“De dónde eres?” (Where are you from?)

“Soy de aqui.” (I’m from here.)

“Y sus padres, son Mexicanos?” (and your parents, are they Mexicans?)

“No, ellos son Americanos.” (no, they’re Americans.)

“Pero… ellos hablan español?” (but… they speak Spanish?)


“Entonces… donde aprendiste Español?” (So… where did you learn Spanish?)

From my personal experience, conversations similar to this one are very common for a

Spanish language learner (SLL) living in the United States. My answer is never short for the last

question, “Where did you learn Spanish?” The truth is, I cannot say “where,” I learned Spanish

because my language learning journey has been more a matter of “who” than “where.”

I began to learn the language from my childhood friends and teammates on the basketball

court and in the orchards picking cherries. I continued to learn from my chef and boss in the

college cafeteria. We shared our languages and stories each day when I came in to mop her

kitchen floors. I learned from my Guatemalan pastor and his family through song, meals, and

prayers at a small Spanish speaking Christian fellowship. I learned from a family of faith that

took us in when we had no home or direction in life. I learned from playing games with and

caring for the needs of the children of Colonia Mixteca and Testarazo labor camps. I learned

from my chaplain and his stories of Argentina at the Union Gospel Mission. I learned from

immigrant high school students that have befriended me and others that we have been able to

invite into our home during challenging times. And of course I learned from all of my students at

the high school I currently work at.


Thomas Ernest Hulme said, “Language is by its very nature a communal thing; that is, it

expresses never the exact thing but a compromise - that which is common to you, me, and

everybody” (1923, p. 162).

Throughout the George Fox MAT program I have felt the recurrent themes of student

voice and communities deeply resonate with my experience time and time again. In my literacy,

English content, rethinking high school, ESOL, professional educator and diverse populations

courses the themes have emerged and reemerged. I chose to research authentic experience in the

second language learning classroom for EDFL 571 course. Within this research I discovered that

although the definition of authenticity was not agreed upon by researchers, it seemed that they

did agree that language learners benefit from access to speech communities in their target

language (Black, 2005; Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006).

This fall I began teaching students who are in the early stages of developing their voice in

a new language. They came anxious to join their new community, asking all kinds of questions

about the school community, culture and functions. All of the students are placed in sheltered

classrooms where they receive substantial language support; however they are also “sheltered”

from their fluent English speaking peers. A few of the students have begun to form relationships

with students outside of their sheltered classes, however many have little or no interaction with

them during the school day. Each day, students bring questions into the classroom about words

and phrases they encounter in their daily life and the classroom becomes like a living laboratory

for their English voice, where they are free to experiment, putting together concoctions of

meaning with hopes that they will gain more confidence in their emerging language. Students

have also suggested interest in their voices being heard within the larger English-speaking

community. When we as a class began to write personal profiles and I posted them in the room,

students began to ask me with a tone of combined hope and fear, “Do other students see these?”

As I reflected on the ELL students’ curiosity about their English speaking peers as well

as the memories of my own language learning journey, I began to ponder the answers to several

questions: Can opportunities for interaction with English speaking and writing communities be

facilitated within a sheltered ELD classroom? How do the students feel about these interactions

and exchanges? How can I provide students with greater access to these language rich valuable

communities? What happens when ELLs voices and stories are represented within English

speaking and writing communities? All of these questions and elements combined have

motivated my interest in the study of, “What happens when ELLs participate in English

speaking and writing communities?

I realized that the scope of my study would be limited to the communities that I was able

to provide students opportunity and access to within the school day. I knew from several peers’

and mentors’ accounts that the Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference was an inspiring and

welcoming community. A key aspect of the conference is recognizing rising voices and a chance

for publication of poetry and essays on themes related to Cesar Chavez. I decided this would be a

wonderful writing community that the students could participate in. I struggled deciding on the

second community. I knew it needed to be something totally different than the first. I thought

about facilitating student participation in an online community, however, after careful thought, I

decided it would be more interesting to see if there was another teacher in the building willing to

coordinate a language exchange project with my students. To my delight, I discovered that there

was a beginning Spanish teacher that had similar ambitions and was teaching the class at a

similar block of the day.


As I have described, my personal experiences and biases directly influenced my action

research question, therefore I have taken extra precautions in my research to gather data that is

rich in the voices of students and colleagues. I have done this by asking students to journal on a

variety of questions as they related to their participation in the Cesar Chavez Poetry Contest and

the language exchange project with Spanish I students. I have also gathered some very

interesting data from an interview with a migrant specialist, who has a great deal of experience

working with newcomer students and the community.

I hope that this study will provoke the imagination of language learners and teachers

alike. My hope is that students will have a story to tell using new words, a new language, and

perhaps a new friend to share it with. My fear is that students will become discouraged in their

language learning journey when faced with real life challenges of meaning making. But however

great this fear is, it is a necessary fear to overcome. As Joan Wink says, “We must relate our

teaching and learning to real life.”



In their research of best practice teaching, Daniels and Bizar (2005) found that student

engagement, “outside of the school, or with outside activities brought into the school,” was the

common thread that transformed lessons into ‘authentic’ experiences (p. 193). The authors

described various classroom examples to showcase how lessons were built on genuine and

tangible experiences occurring in the community.

The value of engagement in communities outside of the school has also been recognized by

second-language acquisition (SLA) researchers (Black, 2005; Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006).

Many successful second-language learners have used participation in speech communities to

acquire their target language. SLA research has sought to find where these communities are

made available to second-language learners and how they benefit the learner’s language

development so that they may be incorporated into SLA classrooms (Black, 2005; Knight, 2008;

Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006).

According to Diaz-Rico and Weed (2006), language learning activities that focus on

meaningful experience, occur in authentic language environments, and embedded in real-life

activities are among the implications for brain-based instruction for English language learners


In our daily lives we highly integrate language input (e.g., reading blogs, reading food labels,

watching films) and language output (e.g., responding to text messages, asking for assistance at

the store, discussing a film). Guariento and Morley (2000) suggest that all teachers concerned

with mirroring real world communicative processes in the classroom, should focus on integrating

input and output.


The purpose of this paper is to explore what happens when ELLs participate in authentic

English speaking and writing communities. Two specific aspects of the affects of participation in

English speaking and writing communities are explored: (1) the impact on ELLs and their

learning and (2) the impact on the communities themselves.

Impact on ELLs and their Learning

Rebecca W. Black is a SLA and literacy researcher and English as a second language

teacher (ESL). As a child she enjoyed writing fanfictions, “original works of fiction based on

popular media such as television, movies, books, music, and video games” (Black, 2005, p. 118).

As an adult her literacy research led her to digitally mediated literacies and online cultures. She

was amazed to discover that not only were there online fanfiction communities serving as forums

for fanfiction enthusiasts to post and receive feedback on their work, but a good portion of the

participants and contributors were English-language learners (ELLs) (Black, 2005).

Black’s discoveries led her to focus her SLA and literacy research on a specific online

fanfiction community, She focused her inquiry with the following questions:

• In what ways does this site provide ELLs with access to literacy learning and literacy-

related practices in areas where many school-based programs have not succeeded?

• How might the virtual environment and digital mode of communication scaffold or

promote affiliation with composing and interacting in English? (2005, p. 118)

Black found that the online fanfiction community contained several key features that

contributed to the ELLs’ participation and language development: opportunities for meaningful

linguistic and social interactions, 24-hour access to native English speakers, ability to be

legitimate participants, use of various modes of meaning (e.g. visual, audio, and emoticons), and

identity development (2005).

Black’s research supports that the online community is a safe and accessible environment

for ELLs to take risks and experiment with new forms of language. Not only is the technology

motivating, it is providing students with access to authentic language, genuine readership,

constructive feedback, and affiliation that reaches outside the classroom. Based on her study of, Black argues that online discourse communities might be used in the

classroom to move ELLs past decoding and encoding mechanical forms towards becoming

literate in English (2005, p. 127).

Access to an online community may not be available in all classrooms, however face-to-

face cooperative learning almost always is. According to Mason (2006), cooperative learning,

“provides authentic contexts for meaningful spoken communication,” and, “naturally integrates

listening, speaking, reading, and writing.” Cooperative learning in an SLA classroom may not

provide all of the same benefits as interaction in an online community (e.g. 24 hour access to

native English speakers), however it does encourage learners to, “take linguistic risks, interpret

input, adjust output, request clarification, and negotiate meaning” (2006, p. 58).

Peng, Fitzgerald, and Park (2006) describe a partnership project facilitated by the

University of Missouri-Columbia that involved “the development of multimedia stories produced

by ESL children using a children-as-designers approach,” in Producing Multimedia Stories with

ESL Children: A Partnership Approach (p. 261). The multimedia-writing project was designed

as “an intercultural collaborative venture between graduate students in a university educational


technology course and elementary children in an English as a second language (ESL) public

school class” (Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006, p. 262).

The first phase of the partnership project was the story writing. With the assistance of the

ESL teacher, the children from Bosnia, Turkey, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Rwanda wrote retellings

of folktales from their native countries or stories inspired by their own experiences. The children

were then partnered with university students in a software design class. The university students

collaborated with the students to transform their stories into multimedia stories with, “cultural

images, trilingual text and narration, animation and sound effects” (Peng, Fitzgerald, Park, 2006,

p. 262). The final phase of the project was the publication of the stories on the Internet and CDs

that were distributed to families, the school, and university classes (Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park,


Cultural folktales and personal stories are perfect examples of what Little defines as

authentic text: “created to fulfill social purpose in the language community in which it was

produced” (1988, in Guariento & Morley, 2001, p. 347). Partnering students with software

developers to enhance and publish their work is a meaningful engagement with activities outside

the school. In addition to this, “children thought it was ‘cool’ working with partners,” and they,

“felt they were treated like a ‘manager’ because their partners would do ‘whatever you told them

to do’” (Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006, p. 277). Upon reflective questioning all of the students,

“expressed the belief that the stories could ‘help others to learn about different countries and

languages’” (Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006, p. 277).


In this study a meaningful speech community was created within the classroom that lent

itself to social communication, activities based on students’ prior knowledge and experience,

partnerships with people and organizations outside the school, and the opportunity to produce

published work.

The implementation of a similar project in a SLA classroom would indeed be challenging

and labor intensive, but the results validate this work. In their final reflections on the project the

authors make a valuable admonition for those seeking to do similar projects:

Whenever feasible, having a longer time frame to carry out these types of collaborative

projects would enhance all components. It was apparent that the use of multimedia

writing helped these children bring alive their personal stories and feel pride in sharing

their cultural differences, but it is recognized more could have been accomplished…

without time restraints (Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006, p. 282).

Impact on the Communities

Caroline Knight, a middle school ESL teacher in a suburban Minnesotan district, began

to notice resentment growing amongst the staff at her school towards recent immigrants when

she overheard a colleague say, “I’ve had it! If Jim (the counselor) shows up at my door with

another kid named Trahn or Kim, I’m just going to slam the door shut!” (2008, p. 54)

Knight, out of concern for the students, decided to organize a professional development

seminar for the staff at her school develop a better understanding of the ELLs and their family

histories. Upon approval from her principal she began to develop the conference with the help of

another teacher. “We began a two-month process of recording the stories of these refugee

families and photographing their middle-school children… What we learned was both heart-

rendering and inspiring” (2008, p. 54).

Many of the students were “Hmong people from northern Laos, Laotian from the cities,

south Vietnamese farmers, and Cambodian people from all walks of life who had survived

horrendous suffering under the Pol Pot regime” (p. 54). Students and their families had stories of

brave escapes, loss of family members, and couragous migrations. During the interview process

Knight and her colleague learned several things that would be key in helping them improve their

classroom instruction. They discovered that most of the children had very limited school

experience, their families were preliterate, and the children had rich, full lives outside of school

that included strong support networks of adults encouraging their education (Knight, 2005).

When Knight presented the students’stories and photos at the professional development

seminar it had an immediate impact on the staff. “Our colleagues were amazed by what the

families had experienced… Several teachers admitted that before seeing the presentation they

had begun to accept the convential wisdom that the refugee families had come to Minnesota for

its generous welfare benefits.” Many teachers, “expressed a desire to continue the conversation

and do all they could to make the transition smoother for new students” (Knight, 2005, p. 56).

After extensive experience working with ELLs and witnessing the impact of their voice

and stories on her community, Knight implores the following: “English language learners

deserve our respect, not our pity. Speaking more than one language is an asset, not a liability…

it’s important for teachers to understand, respect, and celebrate the backgrounds of all their

students” (2005, p. 56-57).


Joan Wink, author of Critical Pedagogy (2005), argues that if we seek a transformative

model of teaching, we must do the following:

We must act; we must relate our teaching and learning to real life; we must connect our

teaching and learning with our communities; and we must always try to learn and teach

so that we grow and so that students’ lives are improved, or self- and social

transformation occurs. (p. 79)

Each of the described pathways of ELLs participation in English speaking and writing

communities (online communities, multimedia story writing, community partnerships, and

student interviews) include aspects of the transformative model of teaching. Although the

implementation of these activities requires varying degrees of expertise, they serve as examples

of possibilities of what might happen when participation in authentic English speaking and

writing communities is incorporated into ESL classrooms.



Who is involved in this project?

This study involved twenty-three beginning and early-intermediate English language

learners (ELLs), a migrant specialist, a panel of judges evaluating poems for the Cesar Chavez

Leadership Conference Contest (CCLC), eight Spanish I students, a Spanish I teacher, a bilingual

instructional assistant, a mentor teacher, and myself.

What is the critical question and what was implemented or analyzed?

This study seeks to explore, “What happens when beginning and early-intermediate

English language learners participate in English writing and speaking communities?” In order to

analyze the question, English writing and speaking communities were identified and selected.

The two communities that were selected were the Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference Poetry

Contest (writing) and a conversation partner project with a mainstream Spanish I class

(speaking). Beginning and early-intermediate ELL students were given opportunities to

participate in the communities within their English Language Development (ELD) classes. The

students then were given opportunities to make reflections on their experiences.


Where did the project take place?

My action research project took place at a public high school within the Salem-Keizer

school district. The research was conducted within the regular school day. The first phase of the

project involving students’ poetry submissions to the Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference

Poetry Contest took place in an ELD classroom and the school computer lab. The second phase

of the project involving a language exchange with conversation partners from a Spanish I class

took place in an ELD classroom and the school library.

When was the data collected?

Data Set One: January 5, 2009 through January 22, 2009

Data Set Two: January 23, 2009 through January 29, 2009

Data Set Three: February 10, 2009 through February 27, 2009

How was data collected?

The data for this action research project was collected in three sets of triangulated data.

Data sets included observations, artifacts, and interviews. Observations were made in the form of

personal reflections and anecdotal records taken during the students’ participation in the CCLC

Poetry contest and conversation partner language exchange. Artifacts included students’ poems,

photographs of students preparing their poems for publication, and recordings of students’

conversations during the language exchange. Interviews included students’ personal reflections

about participation in the English writing and speaking communities and an interview with a

migrant specialist that has worked directly with immigrant students and the community for many

years. A letter was sent to the families of participating students requesting parent permission for

the use of data collected throughout the research (see Appendix A).

Why was the study conducted?

High school students are often on a difficult search for identity and belonging. This

search is compounded for the immigrant English language learner. As an English Language

Development (ELD) teacher, I have sought out communities that value ELLs’ voices and stories.

It is my desire to better understand what happens when students are given opportunities to

participate in these communities within the school day. Therefore, the study was conducted in

order to discover how ELLs could participate in meaningful interactions and make meaningful

connections with authentic communities.

What were the limitations of the study?

Several factors limited the scope of discovery in this study. The principal limitation

existed in the amount of communities that the students were able to participate in. Additionally,

students’ participation in the identified communities was limited to writing one poem and one

conversation partner exchange. Despite these crucial limitations, the data has been packed full of

thought provoking material. This brings me to the final significant limitation, time constraints

surrounding analysis.



In Search of Communities – Pre-Data collection

The core of my research question was reliant on opportunities that did not yet exist and

communities that had not yet been discovered. Early on I realized that since my study revolved

around communities, an integral part of the research would be identifying these communities.

Therefore, the study began as a quest to identify as many opportunities for students to participate

in English speaking or writing communities as possible. To guide my search I had examples of

communities from distant colleagues, such as Rachel Black (2003), and my own personal

language learning experience.

One of the writing communities that stood out to me in the work of distant colleagues

was an online community (Black 2003). I wondered if there were similar online communities

available to students within the school day. After an extensive search that did not yield any

engaging options for my class, I decided against using an online community.


I began speaking with my colleagues at school about my research, seeking their input for

more possibilities. I received encouragement from my mentor teacher and a migrant specialist at

my school to look into participation in the local and annual Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference

(CCLC) Contests. After gathering more information about the poetry contest, I realized that it

was a writing community with a perfect fit for my students’ cultural backgrounds as well as

language level. I would go on to place all of my initial research into the ELLs participation in

this community.

I had begun my research with a plan to involve students in both English writing and

speaking communities. The poetry conference covered the writing aspect of my research, but I

felt that a significant aspect of my question would be left unanswered unless students were given

an opportunity to participate in an English speaking community. This is when conversations

about collaboration began with a Spanish I teacher. We both realized at the same time how little

the ELD and Foreign Language departments collaborated, despite the great similarity of content.

Over 90% of the students in my ELD classes are native Spanish speakers, and 100% of the

Spanish 1 students are native English speakers, it seemed natural that the two classes should

interact and share their language and knowledge.

The CCLC poetry conference and the Spanish English language exchange project were

the two communities ultimately identified from the initial community “search” for the study.

Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference Poetry Contest

The context of the initial phase of the study was a unit on the life and work of Cesar

Chavez. The unit began with a presentation by a migrant specialist on the life and work of Cesar

Chavez as well as the local Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference (CCLC) that happens each year

at Western Oregon University. An integral part of this conference is an art, poetry, and essay

contest for high school students. I designed the unit of study around poetry and the life of Cesar

Chavez. The culminating project of the unit was the submission of a poem to the contest.


Student interviews were collected in the form of journal entries. As students began to

compose their poems they journaled about how they felt about writing something that would be

read outside of class. The purpose of this journal entry was to provide an idea of the students’

work and effort as they interacted in an authentic written community. After they had completed

writing their poems, students journaled on the following question, “How did knowing that this

poem would be read by others change the way you wrote it?” The purpose of this journal entry

was to focus in on the affect participation in a writing community has on students perceptions of

their work.


Students from early intermediate ELD class created a poem to be submitted to the César

Chávez leadership conference. The two requirements on the poem were that it was between 300

and 500 words and written in English. Students were allowed to compose the poem first in their

native language and then translate it into English. This would give an idea of the students work

and effort as they interacted in an authentic writing and speech community.

In addition to the poems, photographs were taken of the students framing their final

poems. Photographs were chosen to capture a snapshot of students work, effort and value they

place on their writing to be submitted to a panel of judges to read.



I kept a daily reflection journal during the poetry writing/Cesar Chavez unit. In my

reflections I focused on student voice. Each night after class I would think back about all the

comments and actions students made during class. I wrote the most memorable observations

down and reflected on their significance. The purpose of these observations was to document

my interpretations of the students’ daily struggles and successes as they participated in the Cesar

Chavez Leadership Conference poetry contest.

Conversation Partner Project: English 1 and Spanish 1 Language exchange

The context of the final phase of the study was a unit on asking personal questions.

Students developed and mastered ten questions that they could ask a person that they just met.

The unit’s culminating project was a conversation partner language exchange. This involved

English 1 (my class) and Spanish 1 students. The students all met together in the library and both

groups had an opportunity to meet new students and have conversations in their target language

with native speakers.


Students journaled before and after the conversation project. Before the conversation

project they journaled on the following questions: What are you excited about? What are you

worried about? What do you think will happen? After they completed the conversation project

they journaled on the following questions: What surprised you? How did it feel to speak English

outside of class? Would you like to do something like this again in the future? If yes, Why? What

was the most difficult part? What happened? The purposes of the journal entries were to gather

student opinions, attitudes and perceptions on the experience of participating in an English

speaking community.


Each student that participated in the conversation project selected ten questions to

practice and ask their conversation partner. These questions were collected in order to gather a

sense of student interest and choice as it related to interaction in an English speaking community.


During the conversation project an audio recording was taken of students asking and

answering questions in English with their conversation partner. Later, I listened to the entire

audio recording, wrote a transcript and made observations of student interactions.

Methods Used to Analyze, Interpret and Deconstruct Data

I sought to vary the methods I used for analysis, interpretation and deconstruction of the

data I collected. I read over my data and organized it into categories. I made synthesis statements

of the major themes that emerged from the data. I read the quotes to my wife and baby Nélida

and listened to their responses. I emailed critical colleagues my analysis. I had critical

colleagues and mentor teachers listen and read my data logs and give me feedback. I included all

of my final interpretations in three analytical memos (see appendix) that I reviewed a final time

with my critical colleagues and university professor.

Changes Made and Rationale for Design Modifications


The entire research was a dynamic project. Minor changes were made at each transition.

It would be difficult to recount each and every shift in design, however I will make mention of a

few major shifts made in the research design.

At the beginning of my research I had considered researching students participation in an

online community, however I decided instead to facilitate a conversation partner project. I

decided that conversations give students a more interactive and meaningful experience because

they are meeting real people and getting immediate feedback on their language use.

Near the end of the data collection surrounding the CCLC poetry contest I felt the need

for a change in my research plan. I made the following comments in the first analytical memo:

After careful thought and input from critical colleagues, I believe that I will be changing

my data collection practices by asking students more directly about how meaningful the

interaction was to their language learning journey. More directed questions may provide

me with more data on this angle/aspect of my question. I had considered a language

exchange project as the next step in my research, however, I hadn’t considered extending

this out and continuing the conversation in a written correspondence (until the idea was

introduced by a thoughtful critical colleague). I plan to change my practice and include

this aspect to engage the students in a community that they may follow up on their

interactions (See Appendix B).

Although I had planned to extend out the conversation project into a written communication,

time constraints did not allow this aspect to be included in my research.


The intent of this description is to give the reader a road map of the process of this study.

Since the core of this study was communities of participation, it is evident that a reproduction of

this study would significantly change depending on the community, people involved and

personal experience of the researcher.


It’s seven thirty AM and I’m making my daily trek from the classroom to the computer

lab to work on my lesson plans for the day. As I walk to my workstation, I see that almost every

one of the forty or so student computers are filled by alert and busy students. Several of the

students are newcomer English Language Learners (ELLs) in my English Language

Development (ELD) 1 and 2 classes. I don’t notice many students working on schoolwork, yet, I

am amazed how productive they are at such an early hour. They are busy downloading pictures,

reading poems, posting comments, changing profile status, and making new contacts on the few

social networking websites or email programs that are not blocked by the district website filter.

As I observe the students, I wonder to myself, how can I direct all of the literacy,

technical knowledge, and social energy that these students exhibit towards learning English.

How can I fuel their English learning with this need for relationships, interaction and

socialization? I know that I will shortly be checking my own email and thinking about the

language I will use to respond to my audiences. I know that it is equally important for students to

have a chance to find social networks and an audience for their English use. I wonder what

would happen if I were able to bring outside English speaking and writing communities into my

class or allow my class to participate in outside communities. I wonder, What happens when

ELLs participate in English speaking and writing communities?

Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference Poetry Contest (English Writing Community)

Migrant Specialist: “Who can tell me a little something about who Cesar Chavez was?”

ELL Student: “Wasn’t he a farm worker guy?”

Migrant Specialist: “Yes, he was a unique and important farm worker.”

ELL Student: “He made it so farm workers could have lunch.”

Migrant Specialist: “Right, he worked for the rights of farm workers.”

ELL Student: “He didn’t eat for 25 days.”

Migrant Specialist: “Yes, one of the most famous things he did was a hunger fast for grape


Pictures of students wearing brightly colored shirts printed with a fine ink drawing

depicting Cesar Chavez and the UFW eagle flashed on the projector screen behind the migrant

specialist as he began to introduce one of his greatest passions in education. “Every year we

celebrate the life and work of this man with a conference of over 1500 high school students.

Your task is to write a poem between 150 and 300 words on the topic of this remarkable man,

Cesar Chavez. What you should do is tell us your story, don’t just give us a biography of him.

Your poem will be read by judges and you could be the winner of a 200 dollar prize.”

I stood before the class looking to connect with gazes of inspiration, but I was only met

with empty eyes of doubt. I asked them to begin their writing by allowing everything they had in

them to freely fill one page. When Marbella began writing right away I was taken aback, usually

the last one to start, she had completed a page of thoughts before anyone else. Other students

didn’t start so well, I circled around the room encouraging students to draw, close their eyes, flip

through publications and think about their families for inspiration.

After a week of brainstorming and half of a week of threshing out their poems, students

were beginning to near the completion of their projects. We took a day to reflect on what was

happening and how they felt about their English being read by others outside of class.

Students felt good, “I feel good because I am writing about a person that do something

for the good of others.”

They felt excited and nervous, “I’m so excited because is was the first time for me to

write in English and read by others people and I’m so nervous too.”

They felt embarrassed, “I will be embarrassed if the people know that the writing is my. I

don’t know because I never do something the same.”


They were frustrated, “I would like to win and that everyone would read what I write but,

I have a blank mind and I don’t have any ideas.”

They felt that they were learning, “I feel sometimes good sometimes bad. I feel happy

every day I learn more.”

Joel had worked in the fields, he had suffered, and he had discovered a personal

connection to Cesar in his poem. He wrote,

“You were always a humble person and strong

Always helped your Latino brothers

Worked from dawn to dusk

continued with the sweat on your brow

People like you are very few and unique.

I have worked in the field and know what you suffered

If you had not done what you did, what would have happened to the workers?”

Jorani, a Cambodian-American struggled at first to find the English words to describe a

Mexican-American man she just learned about for the first time. As she sat with a blank sheet,

her Mexican-American classmates noticed before she did that it was the first time she had

struggled to complete an assignment. They pleaded in her defense, “She can’t write this because

she’s not Mexican.” I took the misconception as an opportunity, “Did Cesar Chavez only do

work for Mexicans? Who else did he work for? Wasn’t it the Filipino-Americans that marched

alongside him?” I offered Jorani a few more biographies to explore and encouraged her to

continue discovering the depth of Chavez’ service. She had her breakthrough:

“He started fighting when he saw the injustice.

Cesar Chavez helped all the farm workers in their jobs,

before they didn’t have a lunch and now they do.

We can work for civil rights.

We can work for a good leader.

We can work hard for all people.

We can inspire people.

We can work against injustice.

We can fight for the environment.

Yes, we can.

We are really proud of Cesar Chavez.

He is a special person.

The dream came true and now we all have a better life.”

Samuel was familiar with verse and he took right to the task of eloquently capturing the

spirit of Chavez. He wrote:

Because if we let die

your mind, my great César Chávez

Again they will return,

the darkness and injustice


Abuse for all of us, we need you

today, tomorrow and forever. Live among us.

Silvia found her voice when she wrote her poem titled, “The Key to our Future”,

“Now your feet don’t walk in the fields

Your hands don’t cultivate fruit

And your nose doesn’t breathe our air

But your spirit remains engraved in our hearts.”

Sandra, her sister also wrote with a strong voice.

“Today we can speak freely about rights, as workers, where we work.”

Antonio concluded, “We carry your heart in our minds Cesar Chavez we can continue

your legacy”

Other students made simple but clear connections in their poems such as “Mr. Chavez

you are great you opened our roads” and “we can thank him so much with great confidence that

we can all make progress”

Estella fearfully pleaded, “How are we going to be able to write a poem about someone

we don’t even know. We didn’t learn anything about this guy in México!” She later discovered

that Cesar Chavez worked for the rights of grape workers, the work her father had done for the

past 2 years in the Willamette Valley. She wrote:


“we are following his footsteps

to end discrimination,

our style is so unique.

There are opportunities for growth

for all of us, thanks to him

the nature waits for the workers

To make it a beautiful land

we expect a better future”

Throughout the Cesar Chavez poem writing unit I received daily questions from the

students in regards to the audience of their poems. Questions like, “Are we going to read the

poems in front of all those people?” “When are they going to judge our poems?” “Who is going

to read these?” These questions reminded me of the student’s question that had initiated my

research question, “Do other students read these?”

Some of my final thoughts on this project were best written in the synthesis section of my

second analytical memo,

“As a whole I see that students are engaged and have an authentic concern for delivering

a clear message and portraying their identity when participating in an English writing

community. In order to do this they have taken risks and requested clarification. Without

a doubt, students needed substantial time and opportunity to struggle with the project

early on so that they were able to create something they were proud enough to submit for

publication. Those students that did not make it to this final step (2 out of 12), were the

ones that missed class and struggled to write something they were proud of” (see

appendix A).

Language Exchange Conversation Project (English Speaking Community)

The Cesar Chavez poetry contest answered many of the questions I had about students’

participation in an English-writing community, but I still felt that it was not a community that

captured all four of the domains of the language (reading, writing, speaking and listening). I

wondered about the oral aspect of language. I knew that another writing activity, such as

participation in an online community, would not suffice. Additionally, I wanted students to have

a language experience with immediate feedback that only a live audience can give. With the

Cesar Chavez poetry contest, students trusted that their poems would be read, however they were

not given immediate feedback on the language they were using, and they never actually met the

people that read their writing.

I was struggling with these questions while collaborating with a Spanish teacher on SIOP

strategies. I knew that many of my students had the exact key to what her students needed,

Spanish. Her students had what my students needed, English. It seemed obvious to ask if we

could share. The next day I wrote her, “Would you be interested in doing a conversation project

with your Spanish 1 class and my English 1 class?” She replied, “Absolutely, I have always

wondered why the ELD and world languages departments don’t collaborate more? That would

be a great opportunity for my students.” The conversations between us followed as the weeks

went on and planning for the language exchange ensued. We decided that it would be best for

our students to meet on equal ground in the library because we wanted both groups to feel an

equal amount of discomfort.


We also decided that the first half of the project would be in Spanish, with the Spanish 1

students asking questions first, so that the ELD students would gain confidence in the knowledge

that they had. It was important to us that the ELLs were given a chance to be the language expert

as well as a language learner. I wondered if this would change their perspective on their own

language learning journey.

As the ELD students practiced questioning their classmates to get ready for the language

exchange they began to feel excited and nervous about the opportunity. The thought of

interviewing a person they had never met made them particularly aware of their pronunciation.

Students took a moment the day before they would enter into the “speed-dating” conversation

exchange to reflect on their feelings, joys and concerns.

“I am excited that other people are going to come that want to learn my language and I want to

learn theirs.”

“I am excited because we are going to share our languages.”

However, the anticipation was not without worry:

“I am worried we won’t understand each other.”

“What if I answer in English and they don’t understand me?”

“I am worried I won’t do a good job.”

They may have been nervous, but they knew that they were going to be valued because of

their knowledge of Spanish.


“To speak with someone that is learning a new language is something very exciting.”

Many of the students’ saw the conversations as more of an opportunity to make a friend

than to learn English:

”Maybe I am going to make a new friend.”

“I am going to get to meet new people.”

The Spanish 1 class arrived in the library before the English class. They were huddled

together at a table with anticipation. The English class came in and sat down. I fumbled through

the directions for the conversation exchange in both languages, surprising myself by the

unparalleled attentiveness of the students that day. Students chose numbers that determined their

first conversation, and the conversations were underway.

Students seemed really as if they truly were interested in making a new friend, as they

were mostly interested in asking about personal information. Some of the questions they chose to

ask were:

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

What is your favorite restaurant?

Who is your best friend?

What is your favorite movie?

Do you like to eat pizza?

Do you have any pets?

Do you have a job?


As soon as the conversations had begun I felt an unusual feeling of uselessness. There

wasn’t a single one of my students calling out, “teacher, teacher,” seeking my English assistance.

I had become accustomed to being the only language expert in the classroom. Now, each of my

students had access to their own language expert. When they ran into a misunderstanding, they

had two languages to negotiate meaning. My assistance was only needed a few times. I was also

blown away by the amount of language practice and interaction the students were getting. Within

50 minutes students had asked at least 30 questions and given at least 30 answers in their target

languages. This was without a doubt the most productive class of the year in terms of language

input and output.

After the final conversation, the groups shook hands, waved goodbye and parted once

again. I heard pleasant comments from both sides. “That wasn’t too hard.” And “What was her

name again?”

Back in the safety of our classroom the students sat down hard in their seats, smiled and

reminisced excitedly about what had just happened. I could feel students’ vibes of contentment,

accomplishment. We took a moment to reflect on the experience.

“I felt good speaking English, I would like to do it again.”

“I want to do this again because it is cool to talk with people that are learning my language.”

“They were so nice and respectful,

“I want to have another chance to do this so that I can learn more English and practice with

more people.”

“I met new people that are learning our language and if I see them again I will talk to them


All the six of the ELLs involved in the language exchanged expressed a desire for a

similar interaction in the future.

Audience is crucial. When I make a post on my family blog, I know that a minimum of

ten people will read my words the same day and I will probably receive four or five comments. I

also know that my opinions and stories are valued, so I keep writing and posting. Through this

study I have discovered the magic of audience in the classroom. ELLs were engaged when they

were given an audience that valued their voice and participation. This discovery has led me to

yet another exciting question: How can we develop more communities in our school that value

the voice and participation of ELLs?


Section 6: Further Reflection and Continuing Questions about my AR Journey

I am no longer able to assign writing or speaking assignments without first considering

the audience students will receive for their work. After discovering the paramount importance of

audience, I realize how crucial it is for me to seek audience for my students and inform my

students about these audiences. I can expect to receive different levels of engagement and

creative thinking based on whether students are writing to their teacher, to their peers, or to a

larger outside audience. This research has led me to commit to seeking out audiences for my

students rising voices.

I believe that I have learned the importance of audience all throughout my AR journey,

not only as a high school teacher, but also as a graduate student. Before we were commissioned

to write the final sections of our Action Research I raised the question to our professor that I am

now promising to always answer for my students, “How many people are actually going to read


The class laughed and the teacher replied with a mysterious smile, “Well, you never


I got the feeling that our final AR papers would be stored in a file and held in history for

a few brave souls to read in the distant future. I felt solidarity with my own students and a

conviction to ensure an audience for their work. When we returned back from spring break I

asked one of my colleagues, “Did you get your AR story written?”

He replied, “Yeah, I just copied and pasted most of my memos, because like someone

said last class, who’s actually gonna read this. I ended up spending most my time on my work


I had to agree with my colleague. He was making a choice about audience. He knew that

he would have a far greater audience for his work sample, his students, than for his AR. Based

on that measurement, he made his choice. Throughout my AR I observed my students making

similar decisions on the effort and value they place on their English and writing. As teachers we

must provide our students with an audience that values and gives feedback on their work.

Otherwise the students may feel that their work is benign.

Although I may not see the immediate value in this paper, I see the lasting value in this

research. Here is some of the ways that I am using my research. The week after I completed my

final data collection I started a video making project with students. They wrote scripts,

memorized and preformed for their classmates and the camera. Videos were compiled, edited,

and submitted to an Oregon educators contest. The contest was incredibly motivating, and I can

say one of the most engaging lessons ensued, not to mention students were highly motivated by

the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. Additionally, I have started writing a comic

book with another class. Each student is adding their personal comic to the book. The book will

be at least shared among peers if not a broader audience.



When my AR journey began, it felt like exploring a cave with a penlight. It was

intimidating to form a question or a direction that would determine my next three months of

study. As I settled into the question, What happens when ELLs participate in English speaking

and writing communities, I wondered if the data I collected would be meaningful and fulfill my

original hope, to provoke the imagination of teachers and language learners alike. Trusting Joan

Wink’s call to “seek opportunities to connect teaching and learning to real life and real

communities”, we crafted poetry to honor a labor activist at a local conference and shared

languages in a conversation exchange (79). The students’ journals, stories, and poems reflected

the magic of connecting classes with communities that value student voice and participation. I

was grateful to witness the ways in which these audiences set a stage for students’ language to

rise to new levels of meaning and eloquence.



Black, R. (2005, October 1). Access and Affiliation: The Literacy and Composition Practices of

English-Language Learners in an Online Fanfiction Community. Journal of Adolescent

& Adult Literacy, 49(2), 118.

Chen, L., & Oller, J. (2005, December 1). Indexical Relations and Sound Motion Pictures in L2

Curricula: The Dynamic Role of the Teacher. Canadian Modern Language Review,


Daniels, H., Bizar, M. (2005). Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12.

Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.

Díaz-Rico, L., Weed, K. (2006). The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development

Handbook: A Complete K-12 Reference Guide. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language

Teaching, 40(2), 97-118.

Guariento, W., & Morley, J. (2001, January 1). Text and Task Authenticity in the EFL

Classroom. ELT Journal, 55(4), 347.


Hume, T. E. (1923). Speculations. Routledge.

Knight, C. (2008, June). Celebrating Immigrant Learners. Democracy & Education, 17(3), 54-


Mason, K. (2006, September 1). Cooperative Learning and Second Language Acquisition in

First-Year Composition: Opportunities for Authentic Communication among English

Language Learners. , 34(1), 52.

Peng, H., Fitzgerald, G., & Park, M. (2006, July 1). Producing Multimedia Stories with ESL

Children: A Partnership Approach. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia,

15(3), 261.






Dear Parent and/or Guardian:

I am excited to be teaching a unit this January on invitations and events in your student’s
English Language Development II class. During this unit students will be creating invitations to
personal and cultural events. I am encouraging the students to choose real events that they are
planning themselves or to attend with friends or family. Your participation in this activity will
certainly enrich the experience.

I will also be studying my own practice of becoming a teacher through an action research
project. Specifically, I want to learn more about ways to provide your students opportunities to use
the English they are learning in the community.

During this project, I will survey students about communities in which they are speaking
English, provide students with opportunities to interact in new English speaking communities, and
observe class projects involving speech communities to better understand this issue. This data will
be collected during the normal course of class routine and work.

I will be collecting data for this project between December 1st and March 5th. I will present
this project to the faculty and my peers at my university in April. Pseudonyms will be used
throughout the report I write for the community, school, and all students. Data generated by
students will be part of the teaching/learning process and will help me to be a better teacher and to
provide a better education to your child. There is no risk in participation.

Please sign the permission slip below, indicating whether I may or may not use the data
generated during the normal school day from your child’s work.

I would like to make video-recordings during this project and take digital photos. These will
be used to create a class CD at the end of the project. You will receive a copy of this. I would also like
to use this during my presentation. Please indicate if I have permission to use photos and video-
clips of your child in my report.


Mr. Benjamin Dalgas (503) 399-3241

Please sign and have your child return this slip. Thank you!

o Yes. You may use data generated by my child to be used in your research project.
o No. Please do not use data generated by my child in your research project.
o Yes. You may use video-tape clips and/or digital photos of my child in your research
o No. Please do not use video-clips and/or digital photos of my child in your research
_________________________________________ ____________________________

Signature of Parent and/or Guardian Date


Analytical Memo 1



I feel that three things were clearly happening in the César Chávez poems written by the

early-intermediate ELL students. I found that students found and developed their voice,

experimented with powerful words, and exhibited engagement and frustration throughout the

project. This was the first time I asked students to write first in their native language, then use

translation resources to convey their thoughts in English. The poems are both imaginative and

diverse. Previous assignments in the class were more scripted and oriented around sentence

frames. This assignment allowed them a chance to feel comfortable in their own language.

Students were very careful in choosing their words. They spent time going over and over the

word images. The uniqueness and voice of their poems seems to support Daniels and Bizar

(2005) findings which suggest student engagement, “outside of the school, or with outside

activities brought into the school,” was a common thread that transformed lessons into

‘authentic’ experiences (p. 193). The themes that seem to repeat in the poems are success,

dreams, opportunities, rights, and gratefulness. The following snippets from their poems are

examples of this:

“You were always a humble person and strong

Always helped your Latino brothers

Worked from dawn to dusk

continued with the sweat on your brow

People like you are very few and unique”

“Now your feet don’t walk in the fields

Your hands don’t cultivate fruit

And your nose doesn’t breathe our air

But your spirit remains engraved in our hearts”


“Before there was no time to eat

Thanks to the honesty of Cesar E Chavez

everything is different,

everyone has the time to eat

and to be healthy.”

I see the themes of success, dreams, opportunities, rights and gratefulness as reflecting

the culture in which the project was introduced. The school migrant specialist introduced the

contest with a personal and heartfelt history of Cesar and an admonition for success. This is

interesting to me because I did not anticipate the importance of the introduction into the

community on the final result. Peng, Fitzgerald, and Park (2006) did notice this in their study in

which they observed the creation of a meaningful speech community within the classroom that

lent itself to social communication, activities based on students’ prior knowledge and experience,

partnerships with people and organizations outside the school, and the opportunity to produce

published work.

I think that I expected students would have many previous connections to the Cesar

Chavez Conference community in terms of life experience, (because of previous conversations

with them and their parents). However, the biographical information about Cesar appears to be

new and enlightening to them as it is portrayed in their poetry. I also expected that they would

have included more content about personal history in their poems. A few did, such as one that

wrote, “I have worked in the fields and I know what you suffered.” However, I was expecting to

see more of this.


Students felt happy, excited, nervous and unsure about writing something in English that

would be read by others outside of class. Additionally students expressed that this was a first

time experience for them. One in particular wrote, “I’m so excited because is was the first time

for me to write in English and read by others people and I’m so nervous too.” I think that these

were all expected responses; however, I also anticipated that students would see this as an

opportunity to improve their English. Only one student out of eight that journaled, saw this as an

opportunity to improve her English. She wrote, “I feel really good because I think my English

will be better. I’m happy but also excited.”


This personal observation of my community and exploration of the internet for online

communities was rather revealing. I discovered that there is another teacher teaching early level

Spanish language classes within my school that is interested in conducting a language exchange

project with students. This was one of my hunches and it proved true. I also discovered that other

possibilities exist such as pen pal projects and public events. I was surprised because I expected

there to be a ton of online sites that would be available and appropriate for ELL teens to

participate in real time literacy through live chat forums. What I found was that there were

several OK educational sites, but they were restricted to 18 years and over. There were several

other forum sites, but they seemed to be limited and required a registration and significant

technical knowledge to use. This was particularly frustrating because after reading Black’s

(2005) research and suggestion for introducing these communities into the classroom I expected

there to be a wealth of opportunities online.


As a whole I see that my question and research is being directed to a more localized and

varied approach. I have observed voice, feeling, and engagement as three positive effects of the

participation in the Cesar Chavez leadership conference community, however I am interested in

what happens when students participate in a speaking community where things are not as

structured and distant. I think that the students general feelings of excitement and uneasiness is

interesting, however the gap that seems to exist in my explorations is whether or not students feel

that their participation is meaningful to their learning. I feel that the context of the data was

within a controlled community. The data that resulted was exciting, but rather stable and

predictable. There has not yet been an incredibly resilient revelation from this data as of yet, and

I believe that this is partially related to the depth of the student involvement and sense of the

community of participation.


I believe that one clear either/or category of interpretation that I am making in my

analysis and synthesis is the question of whether or not participation in English speaking and

writing communities is useful to student learning. This interpretation could be reconstructed

from a new approach that asks “how” participation is useful and dangerous to student learning. I

also feel that my analysis and synthesis is quite limited in scope primarily because of the scope

of participation to which the students have in this community. My synthesis has to point me in

the direction of varying my study because of these limitations.

In my analysis I make the assumption that there is a positive correlation between

participation in the language community and higher-order thinking/rates of learning. I think that

this assumption relies upon personal experience and research which suggests that in language

learning a higher contextualized interaction results in the production of more meaningful and

authentic forms of language (Diaz-Rico and Weed 2006).

Context Considered

As a student/teacher that believes strongly in student-centered learning I feel that I may

be considering conclusions to the data that support this model of practice. Additionally, I had a

hunch going in to this study that using the Cesar Chavez Contest would be rather limited because

of its low involvement demands. It has left me as a researcher, excited, yet yearning for more

opportunities to examine the results of participation in more interdependent speech communities.

These conclusions reflect a personal belief that personal, meaningful activities and highly

contextualized language learning is integral to best practice language instruction.

Looking Back

After careful thought and input from critical colleagues, I believe that I will be changing

my data collection practices by asking students more directly about how meaningful the

interaction was to their language learning journey. More directed questions may provide me with

more data on this angle/aspect of my question. I had considered a language exchange project as

the next step in my research, however, I hadn’t considered extending this out and continuing the

conversation in a written correspondence (until the idea was introduced by a thoughtful critical

colleague). I plan to change my practice and include this aspect to engage the students in a

community that they may follow up on their interactions. I believe that my critical question has

become more pertinent and relevant as I do research because it invokes so many more questions

in my mind, primarily: How can I provide more opportunities for my students to participate in

English speaking and writing communities?


Analytical Memo #2



The students appear to be engaged in the process of framing their poems for final

submission to the Cesar Chavez leadership contest. Students are taking careful attention to the

presentation of their hard work. I notice that they have been very careful to make sure there are

no errors in their poems or mistakes in their matting. Most of the class has chosen the

backgrounds carefully, in a way that represents their own particular style. There is an overall

concern and pride that is put into the work. The students seem to be working with a purpose and

an authentic concern, which may be evidence that these poems qualify as what Little defines as

authentic text, “created to fulfill social purpose in the language community in which it was

produced” (1988, in Guariento & Morley, 2001, p. 347).

One student chose a funny background that had cowboys and said “giddy up cowboy.” I

suggested that he choose a different one because the poem was not necessarily a funny poem. He

argued that it was the one he wanted and it was important to him to show this. I agreed, and he

used the background. This interaction along with students’ careful choice of displays may

suggest that students interacting in English writing communities are more keenly aware of the

portrayal and development of their identities. This feature is one that is similar to those

discovered by Rebecca W. Black in her research on ELL participation in online fan-fiction

communities (2005).


I interviewed the students on the following questions: “How did knowing that this poem

would be read by others change the way you wrote it?” There were several students absent on

this day and I only received 6 replies out of the 7 students that were present. Five of the students

stated that they fixed their errors in some way. One student felt “good and happy” about writing

the poem for others. Another student felt that there was a difference in the way he wrote because

he was, “Communicating a message to everyone.” This heightened sense of self seems to suggest

he is concerned about the message he is sending, the clarity of it and how it will be received.

This seems to parallel Mason’s observations about cooperative learning and its ability to

encourage learners to, “take linguistic risks, interpret input, adjust output, request clarification,

and negotiate meaning.” (2006)


This observation included my daily reflections on the class and several quotes and

interactions between the students. Reading over this data there seems to be an unfolding story of

initial doubt, determination and accomplishment. I see the doubt in student quotes such as, “It

would take a miracle for me to win.” Or “I don’t know anything about Cesar Chavez, what am I

supposed to write, we didn’t learn about him in Mexico.” I see the determination in a quotes such

as, “I think that I can win because I have help (pointing up to the sky).” I see accomplishment in

my reflections on the diligence of the work time and pride in the final readings of their poems. I

believe from my reflections that I, as a teacher, began to take an even more personal and careful

look at the students work. Not only were the students beginning to be more determined in their

work, the teacher was too.

Another important revelation from the data was the amount of time necessary for students

to participate in an authentic community such as this one. My original intent was to do the

project in both ELD classes, however the students in the ELD I class were very slow getting

started and seemed at loss, I realized that I had not given enough time for them to develop as I

did the other class, so I changed the plan. I believe I was heeding the words of Peng, Fitzgerald,

& Park when they wrote, ‘Whenever feasible, having a longer time frame to carry out these types

of collaborative projects would enhance all components.” (2006, p282)


As a whole I see that students are engaged and have an authentic concern for delivering a

clear message and portraying their identity when participating in an English writing community.

In order to do this they have taken risks and requested clarification. Without a doubt, students

needed substantial time and opportunity to struggle with the project early on so that they were

able to create something they were proud enough to submit for publication. Those students that

did not make it to this final step (2 out of 12), where the ones that missed class and struggled to

write something they were proud of. These students cause me to wonder if there are other

communities that would not require students to operate at such a high academic level in order to

participate. Are there English writing communities where they could pick up language in less

academic assignments and contexts?


Once again I feel that my data is limited by the scope of this community. Student

participation is merely the reading of other students writing and the composition and submission

of a piece of writing. They are given a hope for a reply and a sense of community; however the

community is limited in the feedback and reinforcement that it gives. It also exists within the

shelters of the classroom. I have been encouraged by mentor teachers and critical colleagues to

broaden the research as well.

Context Considered

The context for this was a determined teacher and an amazing introductory appeal for a

very real and exciting community that exists in Oregon. This makes me wonder; How does the

introduction of a community (or rather how the identity of a community is portrayed) affect the

students participation in the community? Emotionally, I feel that this made a great difference in

student involvement, I will be keenly aware of this when the next community is introduced.

I feel that the data collected has answered aspects of the question, but I am still interested in how

engagement in a speaking community differs from a writing community and therefore have

changed the final data plan to reflect this question. I am choosing to use a language exchange

project as opposed to an online community (my primary plan) for the final section of the


Looking Back

The question still seems relevant, however it seems that I have only addressed it from one

angle, I am excited to take it to a different angle with a language exchange/conversation partner

project with ELL students and a Spanish I class at school. I have received support from critical

colleagues on possible ways to set up and enhance this community. One idea that surfaced is

providing students with both an oral and written platform to communicate with their

conversation partner. It is possible that this would be in the form of a blog or a pen pal project. I

am excited about collaborating with this Spanish I teacher and the opportunities that might come

out of it. I continue to want to find out more ways that I can provide opportunities for student

participation in writing and speaking communities. I also wonder if more informal communities

can be found that would appeal to students that have difficulty with highly academic tasks such

as writing poems.

Analytical Memo #3


Observation: My reflections on the conversation partner project and an audio recording of the


From my observations I believe that students were highly motivated to have

conversations with others learning their native language. We do many speaking and sharing

activities in ELD class, but none have ever been as effective in terms of engagement and quantity

of language exposure and use. I am judging this based on the fact that during this 50 minute

block of time, students asked a total of 30 questions and gave 30 answers in their target language

(English) and asked 30 questions and gave 30 answers in their native language (Spanish). That’s

60 questions and answers in less than 50 minutes, to me that is amazing. Students also recorded

at least 30 of these answers (some 60), within this time.

I think that this amount of communication was possible because students were able to

work together to negotiate meaning. Generally they were able to resolve communication

breakdowns without teacher assistance. Additionally, students’ use of whiteboards for spelling

shows me that this was a highly effective way for them to share more than just oral language.

Students were given immediate meaningful feedback on their English pronunciation and

grammar because if they were misunderstood, they received a question or a quizzical look.

Students became very independent during this time because each student had an expert in the

language of study. This allowed me to shift from the role of a language consultant to the role of a


Artifact: Student developed questions for conversation partner project.

Students were interested in personal topics (What’s your name, Where are you from, Do

you have any brothers or sisters, How old are you, Do you have a boy/girlfriend), personal likes

and dislikes (what is your favorite restaurant, movie, animal, olympic sport, flavor of ice cream,

pizza, drink, sport, and kind of music), and activities (Do you have a job, Do you like to play

games, Do you play sports).

To me these questions reflect several things. Students asked questions that they had some

background knowledge about the possible answers they might expect. They asked questions

from topics that we had studied in class (movies, pets, restaurants). Additionally, I found that

students were very interested in asking questions about personal tastes. Finally, students tended

to choose questions that were not beyond their language ability level. Although we practiced

many questions and I allowed students to develop their own questions, I noticed how they chose

questions that were within their language proficiency.

What surprised me about this was that I expected students’ questions to be very similar

with slight variance, however students asked a total of 22 different questions. I also was

surprised by how well students were able to choose questions within their language ability level.

Interview: With a Migrant Specialist

Questions posed to Migrant Specialist:

What has your experience been working with ELL students and the community? Is there another

community besides the Cesar Chavez conference, that you have seen kids getting involved in?

Do you have any stories of how you've seen the success of the Cesar Chavez conference? For

you, working with the newcomer immigrant students, how do they change this school? Over the

years have you seen change in the school or in your own professional life or your own practice

because of their stories and their voices?

Summary of Key points

Without a doubt the lives and stories of ELLs have impacted the work and outlook of the

migrant specialist that I had the opportunity to interview. He has served as an advisor for a

leadership development club for many years that has provided a great community for many ELLs

within the school. Many of these students have benefited from this club academically and

socially. The migrant specialist has also felt blessed and enriched by the involvement in their


I was surprised that there were so few school sponsored opportunities for leadership

development communities for Latino youth in Oregon. I believe that the lack of support is

common for immigrant communities that are fragmented and come together from so many

different parts of the world. He mentioned that it is difficult for the students because many of

their parents are working long hours and don’t understand the students’ struggles at school.

He also noted the importance of making students’ setting at school a comfortable setting

in which they can begin to take risks. He believes that this is important for their growth and

involvement in the larger community/society. Although funding is a struggle, and many of these

communities are spread so thin, they continue to thrive. Over the years, he has witnessed ELLs

involved in this conference become teachers, attend college, and give back to the communities

that welcomed them.

He feels that his life has been enriched and blessed by being involved with the lives and

stories of ELL students. He believes that ending prejudice begins with listening to each other’s

stories. This is exactly what Caroline Knight found in her research on the affect of ELL student

stories on school staff (2005, p. 56-57).

He has found that the reason people are willing to risk life wealth, possessions and

everything is mainly because they have nothing to risk. He feels that we have to understand that

people move here for a reason and that reason has not changed over the years.

Interview: With students before and after conversation partner project

Students were nervous and excited about the opportunity to exchange languages. I found

that students seemed just as excited about the opportunity to meet (3 out of 6 students) and get to

know another person as they were to improve their English (4 out of 6 students). They were

particularly excited about meeting someone that was interested in their language. One student

captured the class attitude well when he wrote, “I am excited that other people are going to come

that want to learn my language and I want to learn theirs.” Another wrote, “To speak with

someone that is learning a new language is something very exciting.” This reflects to me that

students gained confidence and pride about language learning through the experience. I felt that

students were encouraged by the fact that the Americans were struggling with Spanish in the

same way they were struggling with English. Oftentimes we can have this love hate relationship

with our target languages.

Students were most concerned about misunderstandings (5 out of 6 students). When

asked what they thought was going to happen, two students wrote, ”Maybe I am going to make a

new friend.”

After the interview took place students stated that they were surprised by their level of

Spanish (3 students). I think that this shows that a small connection in a community such as this

one can create knowledge and dispel false beliefs. Students now realized there were other

students within the school that were struggling through a language just as they were. I believe

that this statistic as well as students’ comments such as “I met new people that are learning our

language and if I see them again I will talk to them again,” demonstrates that this aspect of

sharing languages creates a greater desire to stay in community.

Overall students felt good about speaking English with others outside of class (3 out of

6), however others felt strange and nervous. Despite half of the students saying that they felt

strange or nervous during the project, all 6 students that participated in the project said they

would want to do it again if they had the chance. This surprised me because even though several

students said the experience made them feel nervous or strange, they valued it as a successful

language learning opportunity. When asked why they would want to do it again they said to learn

more English (5 out of 6), because it’s cool to talk with people learning my language (1), and to

get a better job (1). It turned out the most difficult part of the process was writing the answers

that were given (4), rather than understanding (1). When asked what they felt happened 5 out of

6 students said they met someone new and one student said that they would greet their new

friends and talk again if they were to see them again (which they most definitely will, going to

the same school). I found this very interesting because students were this excited about the new

person that they met even though they only spoke for less than 10 minutes. I believe that this is

because the feeling of being on equal footing in learning a language can be a powerful and

motivating experience in a relationship (as it was for me in my experience with Gloria (see my



There is so much going on in this data that it is difficult for me to synthesize. However, I believe

that I can summarize it down to several key resilient discoveries that emerged.

1. Students were highly motivated by the conversation partner project. Based on student

quotes and observations, the following were contributing factors to this motivation

• The conversations were with other students learning each other’s languages

(Spanish I and English I).

• The language partners (Spanish 1 class) were at an equal level in their target


• The new environment was safe and predictable.


• The conversations provided an opportunity to meet new people and make new


2. The conversation partner project empowered ELLs to become autonomous language

learners (similar to Rachel Black’s discoveries in the online discourse communities).

Indicators of this were the following:

• Students asked their conversation partners how to spell and say things correctly

rather than the teacher

• Students wrote their own questions to ask

• Students tended to choose questions to which they felt comfortable asking and

were familiar with the possible responses.

3. ELLs wanted to have more learning experiences similar to the conversation partner

project in which they share languages and meet new people.

- All of the students expressed a desire for more similar opportunities

- Several of the students were excited about meeting new people

- Several of the students indicated that they would continue interacting with the

students they met in the project.

4. There is a great need for more communities that welcome ELL students

- Students high level of interest in participating in outside of class community

- Testimony of the migrant specialist



Once again my research is based on my personal experiences and I must be conscious of

my biases. I have suggested that students were highly motivated by this activity, and although

my experience was that all students were on task, excited, and engaged, I must consider that it

was the first time they had experienced an activity such as this one. The novelty aspect of the

activity may wear off over time. However, I still believe that novelty is one of the core principles

of authentic experiences.

I noticed that students became more autonomous language learners as they participated in

this speech community, however this observation may also reflect my personal biases. As a

language learner I have taken full advantage of utilizing power phrases (ie What’s that?, How do

you spell_____?) to gather language from those around me. Therefore, I encourage students to

use these phrases often in my classes. The difference, however, between students using these

power phrases in class and during the conversation project, was that each student had their own

language expert to consult, rather than asking the teacher.

It is difficult to make broad statements about student participation in authentic speech

communities because of the large differences that can exist between these communities. I have

only been able to witness several of these communities. The path of my research and the ability

for me to answer my critical question has been reliant on the speech communities that I have

facilitated. I think this is one of the most limiting aspects of my research.

However, despite the limitations of this study, the results have confirmed the validity of

the question. Many things happened during this project and I trust that any teaching that is

centered on connecting and interacting in communities outside of class will be important. I have

discovered that this interaction outside of class may be an important element to building the class


Consider Context and Looking Back

When I began this research I had strong convictions about students participating in

speech communities outside of school. I had formed these convictions from my personal

language learning experience and research (Black, 2005; Peng, Fitzgerald, & Park, 2006). The

conversation project was not technically outside of the school, but it was an interaction with a

community outside of class. I don’t believe that the in-school nature of this project made it

inferior to an out of school experience. In fact, I believe that through this project I have

discovered how a collaborative project within the school can be powerful, continuous, and easily


The students desire to have a similar project with similar ramifications was encouraging.

I want to try to integrate and collaborate more and more with other teachers around me.

Education becomes richer when we invest in collaboration. I believe that it is important for ELLs

to participate in English speech communities; however, I have also discovered that it is important

for them to be in positions of authority within these communities. I believe that schools

oftentimes provide interaction between ELLs and mainstream students, but not in ways where

the students are treated as equals. Pep assemblies, sporting events and clubs are all in English

and ELL students are oftentimes fringe members of these activities and communities. The

question that I began with looked at pushing ELLs outside the school… surprisingly; it has led

me to ask another question about life inside the school… How can ELLs be valued and included

in their school community?


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