In the field of education, there are numerous categories that identify students based on their abilities and aptitudes. Two such terms are "ESL" and "gifted." However useful these labels are for the purposes of identifying students' needs and creating instructional programs, the fact remains that they are also steeped in hegemonic discourses surrounding learner identity (Lightfoot, 2001; Schulz, 2005). Therefore, it is crucial to examine how these broad institutional categories are produced locally. Employing the theoretical frames of disciplinary technology (Foucault, 1977), cultural production (Levinson & Holland, 1996) and figured worlds (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner & Cain, 1998), this ethnographic study explores how teachers and students in a single middle-school classroom, through their daily practices, created a specific, local understanding of what it meant to be "ESL."
Findings indicate that in this classroom, the teachers were aware of the social stigma their students faced by being labeled ESL. Part of their strategy to counteract this stigma involved using the language and artifacts of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) to position their students as gifted. The teachers encouraged their students to adopt habits associated with a gifted identity; however, many of these habits were related to maintaining order in the classroom and positioning the students as "docile bodies" (Foucault, 1977). The process was fraught with contradictions, but ultimately opened up the possibility for students to reposition themselves as both ESL and gifted.
Little research exists on the way that the institutional category ESL is locally produced in classrooms. There is even less research on how the IBMYP program is implemented in schools with large contingents of linguistically diverse students. Given the disparate implications for academic success that accompany the labels "ESL" and "gifted," this study begins to bridge a gap in an important area.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2013. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Dr. Martha Bigelow. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 161 pages.
Rambow, Adam C..
If you're ESL, can you be anything else?: exploring the local production of ESL students.
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