An English Learner as a Cultural Broker for Youth Interviews

By Reyes, Cynthia C. | The Qualitative Report, March 2019 | Go to article overview

An English Learner as a Cultural Broker for Youth Interviews


Reyes, Cynthia C., The Qualitative Report


Learning from student voices... requires major shifts on the part of teachers, students, and researchers in relationships and in ways of thinking and feeling about the issues of knowledge, language, power, and self. (Oldfather, 1995, p. 87) 

In examining the term student voice, Cook-Sather (2002) described the implications for listening and what that might look like when engaging young people's voices. Cook-Sather noted the ubiquity with which it is used in the field of student voice highlighting listening via student participation, agency, and ownership. She also noted how the act of listening could inform a researcher's method for conducting qualitative research. This notion of listening to the linguistic ability of an English learner is of particular interest here, and to what can happen when student voice is amplified during interviews, particularly in multilingual classroom settings where differences between children's home and language are sometimes pinpointed as detrimental to student learning (Gutierrez & Orellana, 2006). An English-is-all-that-matters approach can promote a deficit discourse blinding administrators, teachers, and school personnel to really hearing the linguistic abilities that multilingual learners bring into the classroom (Mitchell, 2012; Shapiro, 2014) or for students from getting heard through transformative practices (Fielding, 2004). Thus, the act of listening can play a nuanced role in shaping how school frames English learners.

Listening can also impact the interviewing process, the topic of the following empirical report, which focused on the cultural brokering of one young adolescent English learner during the research interviews I conducted with his multilingual classmates. Due to a personal interest in interviewing, Hassan (pseudonym) engaged in a type of peer brokering that helped to amplify the voices of the youth interviewees. He said:

To be honest I watch a lot of interviews on YouTube. I like technology. I watch a lot of stuff like that because I like learning about a lot of stuff, modern stuff, how to do it. (Hassan, personal correspondence) 

Peer brokering is similar to cultural brokering, which is a practice specific to immigrant communities and has been defined as "bridging, linking, or mediating between groups or persons to effect change" (Jezewski, 1990, p. 497). Cultural brokering is seen as more than a linguistic practice as "brokers mediate, rather than merely transmit, information" (Malsbary, 2014, p. 1315). As such, cultural brokering is used to foster belonging as well as resist reductive spaces in a classroom community (Malsbary, 2014). Cultural brokering can also be considered as communication that "takes action in the world" (Orellana, 2009, p. 26) as opposed to adults who prefer to push forward certain ideas and concepts. This action in the world represents the agency of children to see the world through their lenses. Using this broad definition to describe the kind of brokering that a young adolescent English learner used in an interview is the focus of this report.

The original qualitative case study on digital storytelling that I conducted with young adolescent English learners over 8 months in one middle grades classroom did not originally include a youth participatory component, such as YPAR (Youth Participation Action Research). YPAR is a research method that employs student voice by including students in the development of the interview protocols or process (Mirra, 2016; Mirra, Garcia, & Morrell, 2015) However, upon using discourse analysis to examine the student interviews that I conducted to explore their digital storytelling projects, I noticed Hassan's role during these interviews. In order to more deeply understand his peer brokering role, I posed the following questions: In using discourse analysis to re-listen to EL student interviews, what linguistic affordances did having a young adolescent cultural broker offer during the student interviews? …

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