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Title:The nested contexts of language use and literacy learning in a South African fourth grade class: understanding the dynamics of language and literacy practices
Author(s):Mkhize, Dumisile
Director of Research:Bouchereau Bauer, Eurydice
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Bouchereau Bauer, Eurydice
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Garcia, Georgia E.; Harris, Violet J.; Bokamba, Eyamba G.
Department / Program:Curriculum and Instruction
Discipline:Elementary Education
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
fourth grade
South Africa
English as a Second Language (ESL)
Abstract:This qualitative case study examines language and literacy practices in English as a second language (L2) in a South African 4th grade classroom, and to a lesser extent in the foundation phase grades (grades R-3), where literacy was in the students’ home language, Zulu. Although I was interested in the 4th grade class as a whole, to illuminate my understandings of the students’ practices in this class, I chose six focal students. Through performance assessments in Zulu and English, I examined the focal students’ strengths and weaknesses in these languages. In addition, I tried to gain insights into their home language and literacy practices, and also establish if there were any tensions between these practices and the school language and literacy practices. Throughout the study, I was guided by sociocultural and cognitive-linguistic theories of language and literacy. I collected data from the focal students—four of which I used to present findings—the 4th grade teacher, the foundation phase teachers, the principal, and the parents/guardians of the focal students. Data collected at the school included observational notes in the 4th grade class and in grades R-2; video recordings in the 4th grade, interviews with the focal students and participating teachers, students’ writing samples, and students’ performances in reading and writing tasks. Data collected in the students’ homes included informal discussions and formal interviews with the parents/guardians. I used a constant comparative method (Straus & Corbin, 1990) to analyze the data. Findings from the classroom observations in all the grades revealed that the teachers’ instructional practices limited students’ learning of literacy. The classroom data in the 4th grade showed that although some students demomstrated potential agentive learning, there was almost no room for such learning. On the other hand, the data from the performance assessments revealed that despite the students’ differences in their performances in both Zulu and English, they all showed evidence of transfer of skills across the two languages. However, this cross-linguistic transfer of skills did not get sufficient support as evidenced by the teacher’s interviews and the limited use of bilingual strategies in the classroom. Despite the limiting context of bilingual and biliteracy learning at the school, interviews with the students’ parents/guardians and students about home language and literacy practices showed that the students’ homes provided the students with contexts and opportunities that supported development of bilingualism and biliteracy in complex and flexible ways. The implication of this study is that to be effective teachers of bilingual and biliterate students, teachers need to be equipped with academic and professional knowledge in L2 and L2 literacy pedagogy. Finally, teachers and researchers should find out about students’ home language and literacy practices and build on these in supporting language and literacy learning of these students.
Issue Date:2013-05-24
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Dumisile Mkhize
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-05-24
Date Deposited:2013-05

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