Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

"Doing Funny" and Performing Masculinity: An Immigrant Adolescent Boy's Identity Negotiation and Language Learning in One US ESL Classroom

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

"Doing Funny" and Performing Masculinity: An Immigrant Adolescent Boy's Identity Negotiation and Language Learning in One US ESL Classroom

Article excerpt

Introduction

It was the third-hour class on a Friday morning. The students in the ESL class at Academic High School1 were learning the word adequate. The class was a little rowdy because their teacher, Mrs. Brown, had to miss school to take care of a family member in the hospital, and Mrs. Smith, a substitute teacher, was there with them. The students formed a U-shape with their seats, facing the whiteboard in the front. Tiger and another boy, Samir, were sitting at the back of the classroom, isolated and away from the U-shape. Mrs. Smith had made the special seating arrangement for the two boys because they were "distracting" to the other students. Standing between the bottom of the U-shape and the two boys, Mrs. Smith asked the class to be quiet and to volunteer themselves or their conversation partners to share their sentences, using the sentence starter: In order to study adequately for the exam, I plan to...

Several students volunteered and shared their sentences. Then Samir shot his arm in the air and waved his hand, eager to volunteer Tiger to share his sentence. Mrs. Smith noticed his hand but looked reluctant to call on Tiger, probably because the two boys were laughing and joking around during the pair-work. She called on Tiger anyway, and the boy started to share his sentence. Tiger was speaking slowly but suddenly he became animated: "In order to study adequately for the test for the exam, I plan to skip to take my girlfriend to relaxing for exam."2 This brought a burst of laughter from the students. Mrs. Smith, upset with Tiger's answer, quickly went on to the next sentence starter. Two minutes later, when Samir again volunteered Tiger to share his sentence with the second sentence starter, she frowned at them: "Do you two have serious answers?"

Tiger, a 15-year-old boy from Taiwan, was a ninth-grade student at Academic High School, a suburban secondary school in a Midwestern state in the United States. In September 2014, I started a yearlong critical sociolinguistic ethnography (Heller, 2011) in this school to understand the role of gender and masculinity in immigrant adolescent boys' language learning and school experiences. Tiger and two of his ESL classmates, Omar and Chris, were my focal participants. The classroom episode above is one example of what I maintain are classroom events in which identity performances and social identification are complexly intertwined with the process of teaching and learning academic content (Wortham, 2004, 2006). Mrs. Smith was upset with Tiger's sentence, probably because it referenced nonschoolish behaviors-cutting classes and alluding to sex. These references, along with the act of laughing at private jokes with his desk-mate Samir, seemed to indicate that Tiger was performing a form of "laddish" masculinity (Willis, 1977) to construct a nonschoolish identity and to distance himself from the image of nerd students. His masculinity performances led to the teacher's identification of him and Samir as "not serious" and their loss of the opportunity to practice and to speak.

In this article, I focus on the case of Tiger to explore the role of masculinity negotiation in immigrant adolescents' language learning experiences. Specifically, I examine how he used English as an L2 to negotiate his masculine identity in the social ecology of the ESL classroom, through the theoretical and analytical lenses of gender performativity (Butler, 1990) and discourse analysis (Baxter, 2003; Gumperz, 1982, 1999). I explore three interrelated questions: (1) How did Tiger discursively perform his masculine identity through classroom interactions? (2) How was his social identification as a "not serious" learner discursively constructed and solidified? (3) How did his identity negotiation and social identification affect his language learning? Through an analysis of classroom interactions, field notes, and documents, I argue that the language curriculum in the ESL classroom became a linguistic resource for Tiger to perform his masculine identity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.