High School Spanish Teachers' Attitudes and Practices toward Spanish Heritage Language Learners

By Russell, Brittany D.; Kuriscak, Lisa M. | Foreign Language Annals, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

High School Spanish Teachers' Attitudes and Practices toward Spanish Heritage Language Learners


Russell, Brittany D., Kuriscak, Lisa M., Foreign Language Annals


Introduction

The Hispanic population in the United States increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010 (Ennis, R^ios-Vargas, & Albert, 2011, p. 2)-a trend that is projected to continue, reaching 128.8 million by 2060 and making one in three U.S. residents Hispanic (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2012, n.p.). This national trend has long been apparent in Florida, California, and Arizona, with their historically high concentrations of Hispanics, but it is also becoming more apparent in Indiana, where the Hispanic population increased by 81.7% from 2000 to 2010 (Ennis et al., 2011, p. 6). This increase affects multiple sectors of society, including education in general and high school teachers of Spanish as a second language (L2) in particular, as more Hispanic students are enrolled in classes designed for traditional L2 learners. Interestingly, only 11% of Hispanic children in the United States are first-generation immigrants who were born outside the United States; the remaining 89% would be considered heritage language learners (HLLs) because they were born in the United States of at least one foreign-born parent or grandparent (Fry & Passell, 2009, p. 1). HLLs are different from other groups of Hispanic children, such as native speakers of Spanish, because they maygrowuphearingSpanishandusing noncolloquial registers but often do not have the opportunity to practice outside the home or to complete formal schooling in Spanish and develop literacy skills. Therefore, they bring to the Spanish classroom varying levels of proficiency in oral and written Spanish as well as dialectal variation. In many cases, they display syntactic, lexical, and register gaps, as well as identity issues, that do not align with the experiences of traditional L2 learners or native speakers. As a result, beginning several decades ago, Spanish classes at the postsecondary level were specifically designed for HLLs. In 2010, 40% of U.S. colleges and universities reported offering specific courses and programs for Spanish HLLs, a notable increase from 1990, when only 18% offered such courses (Beaudrie, 2012b, p. 207). Multiple studies have shown that HLLs do indeed benefit from separate courses (e.g., see Krashen, 2000; Potowski, Parada, & Morgan-Short, 2012). In addition to programs at the postsecondary level, Spanish courses that are specifically designed for HLLs have also sometimes been offered in secondary schools, although it appears that comprehensive data on high schools remain to be collected. Beginning to fill this gap in the literature and helping to increase the understanding of the high school HLL context will position high school teachers to better serve HLLs and prepare them for success beyond high school.

The present case study used data from the U.S. Department of Education (2013) as a point of departure; this report showed that the average pupil-teacher ratio in Indiana is 16.7 students, and therefore, one could argue that any schools with 17 or more HLLs would have enough students to merit a separate Spanish class. Using this argument, one could determine that, of the 38 high schools in an eight-county area known as East Central Indiana, 13 had a sufficient population of Hispanic students in 2013 to theoretically justify a Spanish class for HLLs. However, only one high school in the region actually offered such a course that year. To begin to understand the factors that affect the implementation of Spanish HLL programs, the present study was designed to investigate high school Spanish teachers' attitudes toward HLLs and instructional practices to support them.

Literature Review

A variety of de fi nitions of the term heritage language learner exist, although nearly all distinguish between HLLs, native speakers, and other students of Spanish. For example, Vald^es's (2000) definition of an HLL was "a student who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speaks or merely understands the heritage language and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language" (p. …

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