The journey of Latina English language learners from elementary to middle school
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This study analyzed the discourse of 7 Latina English Language Learners as they transitioned from elementary to middle school. Specifically, the research focused on the girls as they moved from a small, self-contained English as a Second Language classroom in an elementary school to a large middle school with multiple classes and teachers and reduced language support. The fieldwork for this study included meeting with the 7 study participants in focus group meetings and one-on-one interviews in the spring of their sixth-grade year as they prepared to leave elementary school and, then, in the fall and spring of their seventh grade at their new middle school. Primary data included fieldnotes from classroom observations, transcripts from audiotapes of meetings and interviews, and documents and artifacts collected during the study. All of the fieldnotes and transcripts were coded and analyzed. From the analysis of this discourse, two themes emerged which provided a framework for understanding the transition from elementary to middle school. The first theme was about the relationships between the girls and teachers or other significant adults. Their discourse revealed that they established a strong and positive relationship with their sixth-grade teacher that was based on connections that they made through caring words and acts, through sharing humor and stories about one's past, through successfully negotiating issues that enhanced trust and confidence, through a sensitivity to cultural and language issues, and through sharing time in after-school activities. They did not develop this kind of relationship with teachers or other significant adults after they moved to middle school. The second theme was about their meta-awareness of the teaching and learning process. Their discourse revealed that they were keen observers of classroom teaching strategies and their teachers' classroom behaviors, both of which they found to be particularly problematic in seventh grade. Their discourse revealed an acute awareness of the state accountability exams in sixth grade matched in intensity by their focus and concern with grades in seventh grade. Finally, their active reflection on themselves as learners provided a picture of girls trying to successfully make their way through a complex and sometimes perilous transition.