Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Graffiti Walls: Migrant Students and the Art of Communicative Languages

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Graffiti Walls: Migrant Students and the Art of Communicative Languages

Article excerpt

Introduction

Human communication takes place at two levels, at the same time: a message is expected to have a meaning and the message is expected to contain information (Leydesdorff, 2000, p. 275)

Language is one of the vehicles through which high school students express themselves and make sense of the deeds and words of others. Students talk with and listen to their peers while playing outside, having lunch or simply when they move from classroom to classroom. Most of these interactions are created to establish or to maintain a social link between the individuals as well as to share meaningful information. There is consent among the students on the codes and tones to be used in these conversations. Without being instructed, students develop communicative actions that use language to actively build understanding; while talking and listening, they compare and contrast their individual ideas within a shared world, developing contentions that can either be acknowledged or denied (Habermas, 1985). Languages within this context are tools equally owned by participants who share significance and knowledge.

In contrast, when students enter the classroom, human communication often turns into strategic exchanges between teachers and students. Teachers talk to the students rather than with the students, which somehow impedes the students' partaking in the language (Appleman, 2009; Copeland, 2005). Here, the languages used by teachers and the ones used by students differ from each other; hence, there is a struggle on the students' side to master and to understand the teacher's language; and there is a challenge on the teacher's side to build shared agreement with students about information acquired and meanings communicated (Gallagher, 2009).

The struggle depicted above increases when students who are participating in these communicative interactions are from migrant populations. Their constant mobility from school to school, from state to state - following the harvesting seasons - and the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) of these students add an extra difficulty in the attempt to reach a common ground where students and teachers might "speak the same language." Moreover, Ruiz-de-Velasco, Fix, and Chu Clewell (2001) note that "the organization of secondary schools into subject departments (mathematics, sciences, social sciences) created barriers to integrating language and content learning for students with LEP. The departmentalization of secondary schools also effectively barred language and content teachers to improve im[migrant] student outcomes" (p. 4). Departmentalized education fences the voices of migrant students within the areas comprised in the Language Arts curricula. Most subject area courses focus on the transmission of content, thus limiting solely to Language Arts classes the space where students can refine and enhance their language. When communication is the exclusive property of English class, then art, science, history, music, and many other subjects become voiceless subjects (hooks, 2009).

Instead, as stated by Kozoll, Osborne and García (2003) in their analysis of research on migrant students, in order to create communicative actions teachers must "accept students as they are, with the language they speak at home and the value systems they live within" (p. 579). Communicative action, within this context, is defined as the capacity and willingness of teachers and students to listen to and adopt each other's languages, and from there, develop a common language without excluding each other's perspective (Habermas, 2001). Moreover, communicative action avers that constant dialogue between teachers and students nurtures a Participatory Pedagogy, in which both groups are equal heirs (Ochoa & Ochoa, 2004). Participatory Pedagogy implies the "informational efficiency of pedagogic communication" (Bourdieu & Passeron, 2000, p. 71) to link teachers' rhetoric and students' utterances. Moreover, Participatory Pedagogy is a new way to reach migrant students, who, though often silent, have powerful voices within themselves waiting for an opportunity to dialogue with their teachers about who they are and how they see themselves in their communities. …

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