A Sociocultural Perspective: Language Arts Framework, Vocabulary Activities and English Language Learners in a Second Grade Mixed Classroom

Article excerpt

Vocabulary acquisition is a critical component of academic language. This aspect of the school curriculum seems to be more difficult for language learners to acquire. This study therefore examines the language arts conceptual framework and the instructional activities for vocabulary development in a second grade mixed classroom with a view to evaluate how language learning conceptualization and instructional practices accommodate specific well-established theoretical, practical and pedagogical issues underpinning English language teaching/learning. Drawing on insights from the theories of the sociocultural approach and critical language pedagogy, I reviewed the Reading/Language Arts Framework for its provisions for language learners. In addition, I observed a vocabulary lesson in a second grade class. The study reveals that the conceptual framework sets the stage for vocabulary instruction to foster monolingual and monocultural American society despite the fact that second grade classrooms in Los Angeles metropolitan city contain learners of dynamic and sometimes conflicting identities, needs, preferences, interests and aspiration. Furthermore, the study shows that the tight control of the teacher on instructional activities and the structured nature of the lesson did not create a conducive atmosphere for language learners to appropriate other pupils" voices and identities.

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California State is the most populous and most diverse in the nation. In 2003/2004 school year 6,298,769 enrolled in public schools and out of this number, 1,598,535 were identified as "limited English proficient" (California Dept. of Educ. Educational Demographics Units) learners, that is, students who use another language other than English as their primary language. In 1997, the State Department of Education reports: "more than 100 languages (other than English) were found to be represented (in schools across the state)" (Reading Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools, p. 232). The framework further identifies the top four languages and the percentages of the LEP students as Spanish (81%), Vietnamese (3%), Hmong (2%) and Cantonese (2%). The document also notes that students come from "many ethnic groups, speak a variety of languages and dialects, varies in English proficiency, and come to school with a variety of experiences, academic and non-academic" (p. 232).

In responding to the diversity in school population and the perennial abysmal performance of students in public examinations, particularly the minority ethnic students, California State instituted reforms. First, the state legislature passed into law the "Teacher Preparation Is Changing" bill, popularly called the Senate Bill 2042. The bill overhauled The Teacher Preparation and Licensing Act of 1970 (Ryan Act) by setting a new standard for teacher preparation in California through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC). The purpose of the reform is that: "prospective teachers develop a strong understanding of the conceptual foundations of the subject as well as understanding of how knowledge is created and organized in the subject" (CCTC, P. 3). Specifically on language learning, the content of Language Development and Acquisition requires teachers-in-training to:

   apply knowledge of both the development
   of a first language and the
   acquisition of subsequent ones. They
   can describe the principal observable
   milestones in each domain, and identify
   the major theories that attempt to explain
   the processes of development and acquisition.
   Candidates demonstrate they
   understand the range of issues related
   to the interaction of first languages and
   other languages. They are able to recognize
   special features that may identify a
   pupil's language development as exceptional,
   distinguishing such features from
   interlanguage effect (p. A-3).

It is significant to note here that the document for preparing teachers to teach English learners is, at best, ambivalent about the issue at the heart of second language learning: the conceptualization of language learning as identity formation (Peirce 1995, MaKay and Wong 1996, Toohey 2003 and Pennycook 2004). …