Abstract In the context of recent debates for and against the reality of ‘long-term English learners (LTELs)’ in US secondary schools, the diversity of these students’ classroom experiences and opportunities to develop academically valued forms of English is often overlooked. This analysis draws upon a data from middle school classrooms in the South Atlantic region of the USA and focuses particularly on the classroom experiences of six 6th-grade students classified as ‘English learners’ who have been in US schools since kindergarten. We use a multiple case study approach (Stake 2006) to analyze qualitative classroom observations completed in ‘mainstream’ classrooms alongside teacher and student interviews to examine the extent to which classroom-based peer and teacher–student interactions offer opportunities for language acquisition/development. Varied patterns of engagement and interaction were found, but most students had relatively few substantive academic discussions with peers or teachers. The diversity of our six students’ experiences, and of the language expertise they demonstrate, suggests that ‘LTEL’ obscures more than it elucidates regarding these students’ academic and linguistic strengths and needs. INTRODUCTION In today’s US policy context, the English language acquisition/development of elementary and secondary students classified as ‘English learners’ (ELs) is primarily conceptualized through growth in their annual English language proficiency scores on standardized assessments.1 There has been recent concern in education policy, practice, and research in the USA about so-called ‘long-term English learners (LTELs)’ (Olsen 2010), who are unable to score as proficient on these assessments even after many years of US schooling and are therefore assumed to have not fully acquired English. Other scholarship, however, critiques this notion of long-term ELs because of its deficit orientation and broad categorization of students who have highly varied educational and linguistic backgrounds (Menken 2013; Flores et al. 2015; Thompson 2015). Instead, such scholars suggest that students’ continued classification may be due to a range of factors, including insufficient or inappropriate instruction (Menken and Kleyn 2010), particularly in literacy (Brooks 2015, 2016), rather than ‘incomplete acquisition’ of English. But who are the students who do not progress quickly through this system? In both arguments for and against the ‘reality’ of LTELs, the diversity of these students’ classroom experiences and opportunities to develop academically valued forms of English is often overlooked. Particularly at the secondary level, students vary widely according to educational backgrounds, socioeconomic status, gender, country of origin, and home language and literacy. If we are to take seriously sociocultural researchers’ claim that language (including valued forms of ‘school language’ that all students must learn) is acquired through developmentally and relationally relevant interpersonal interaction with speakers of that language (Hawkins 2004), we must also examine the classroom-level, teacher–student, and peer interactions responsible for language acquisition/development. For adolescents in particular, peer influences are thought to play an especially important role in learning and development (Chu et al. 2010). This analysis draws upon data from a larger mixed-methods study at a linguistically diverse middle school in the South Atlantic region of the USA and focuses particularly on the classroom experiences of six 6th-grade students who are enrolled in classes alongside non-EL students but are still classified as ‘English learners’ after having been in US schools since kindergarten (We call these students ‘U.S.-educated adolescents classified as ELs’, rather than ‘LTEL’, because of critiques mentioned above and explored in more depth below2). Specifically, we analyze qualitative classroom observations completed in English, math, and history classrooms alongside teacher and student interviews to address the following question: What are the different types of classroom-based peer and teacher–student interactions experienced by US-educated sixth graders classified as ELs? LITERATURE REVIEW ‘LTELs’: Definition and characteristics In an influential policy report, Olsen (2010) argued that students who have attended US schools for ‘more than six years without reaching sufficient English proficiency to be re-classified’ (p. 1) should be defined as LTELs. Policy makers in California endorsed this definition and incorporated it into a 2012 bill establishing official categories of ‘LTEL’ and ‘at-risk of becoming LTEL’ (California Assembly Bill No. 2193), and new federal legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (signed into law in December 2015), now includes a requirement for the reporting of ‘the number and percentage of ELs who have not attained English language proficiency within five years of initial classification as an EL and first enrollment in the local educational agency’ (p. 162). To date, an emerging body of research has attempted to define characteristics of so-called ‘LTELs’ and their schooling experiences (see Menken 2013 for a review). Based on interviews and academic records, Menken and colleagues (Menken et al. 2007, 2012; Menken and Kleyn 2010) found that students classified as EL after six or more years often experienced inconsistent programming in US schools (shifting between bilingual education, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs, and ‘mainstream’ classrooms with no language support—see also Freeman et al. 2002) or moved back and forth between the USA and their families’ home countries. Students’ scores on standardized literacy tests were multiple years below grade level in English and Spanish, and grade point averages hovered just above the failing mark. These findings resonate with Olsen’s (2010) empirical study of school records and district staff interviews in over 40 districts in California, which also found that teachers often viewed these students as well behaved but unengaged in classes. Critical perspectives on ‘LTELs’ and alternative conceptualizations As others have argued for US–Mexican students more generally (e.g. Valenzuela 1999), schooling can be subtractive for students from immigrant families: in this same way, Menken and Kleyn (2010) argue that the prominence of English-only rather than bilingual instruction is ‘a significant contributing factor’ to the length of time it takes for students to acquire or develop English appropriate for schooling contexts (p. 400). In contextualizing reading test scores of students classified as ‘LTELs’, Brooks (2015; 2016) found that these students suffered from insufficient literacy instruction (i.e. oral and teacher-centered reading instruction that did not help to facilitate the independent silent reading skills required by tests), rather than a lack of expertise in English. Thus, their academic performance can be seen as a function of the limited educational opportunities to which they have been exposed. To these critiques can be added a range of arguments that question the use of standardized test scores (see Cumming 2008 in relation to language) or grade point averages to indicate either linguistic or academic success, especially for linguistically ‘minoritized’ (Flores et al. 2015) populations. Some of the researchers who played significant roles in creating the categorization of ‘LTELs’ have moved away from the term and now reconceptualize it as ‘a category [that] serves the racial project, perpetuating white supremacy through the marginalization of the community of color’s language practices’ (Flores et al. 2015: 6) and that positions students as ‘languageless’ (p. 5). Such a term can also reduce the complex educational challenges students might face at school to solely language issues and minimize the range of intersecting mechanisms that shape constructions of learners (Kibler and Valdés 2016). Recent arguments instead call for conceptualizing such students as complete bilinguals, rather than partial monolinguals, who engage in complex, creative, and dynamic language and literacy practices (Menken 2013; Flores et al. 2015), and who have high post-secondary aspirations (Kim and García 2014). Classroom interactions of US-educated adolescents classified as ELs With rare exceptions (e.g., Brooks 2015, 2016) scholarly attention paid to students labeled as ‘LTELs’ tends to focus on interview and document analysis rather than classroom-based observations of students interacting with their peers and teachers. Yet, for adolescent language learners, second language acquisition/development is influenced by social contexts such as language exposure and school quality (Carhill et al. 2008). Moving beyond a deficit view of students labeled as ‘LTELs’ requires researchers to holistically consider their classroom experiences, where interaction with peers and teachers is a key context for language acquisition/development and academic learning. Most of the aforementioned studies focus on reading and writing, rather than oral language (and students in these studies tend to score lower on reading/writing than listening/speaking in standardized assessments), but we argue that oral interactions in classrooms are key to both spoken and written literacy, in that much reading and writing instruction is accomplished and mediated through oral language (Kibler 2010, 2011). Such a focus on oral interactions can therefore expose previously underemphasized aspects of students’ language expertise and suggest ways in which language and literacy development may be hindered by a lack of meaningful oral communication in the classroom. Although studies of classroom interaction have not focused on ‘LTELs’ as a distinct population, certain trends in the USA and Canada are notable among adolescents at relatively more advanced proficiency levels (who typically have longer length of residence as well). For example, in studying teacher and peer interactions in classrooms that include EL-classified students alongside those who are already deemed proficient (or are monolingual) in English, researchers have noted advanced EL-classified students’ cooperation (Bunch 2006; Miller and Zuengler 2011) and resistance (Miller and Zuengler 2011) with teachers and peers, as well as active negotiation of language ideologies (Razfar and Rumenapp 2012). Such patterns overlap to some degree with findings related to more beginning students in terms of cooperation and resistance (McKay and Wong 1996) and their relative silence, or silencing by others in classrooms with non-EL students (Miller 1999; Duff 2001). Students at earlier levels of proficiency may arguably be even more silenced in heterogenous classrooms than are more advanced learners (Miller and Zuengler 2011). Classroom interactions can also serve as a site in which adolescents from immigrant families who are US-born or have been in the country a significant amount of time may purposefully distance themselves from or even resist being identified with their more newly immigrated EL-classified peers (Talmy 2004; Case 2015). US classrooms reflect a larger trend found elsewhere in which teacher talk is often monologic rather than dialogic—following the common initiation–response–evaluation (IRE) pattern—with relatively limited opportunities for substantive student contributions (e.g. Nystrand 1996), but such patterns may be particularly pronounced for EL-classified students in ‘mainstream’ settings (Harklau 1994). Yet simply incorporating one-on-one or group structures that require active student participation may not lead to meaningful interaction, particularly if they are not part of carefully scaffolded classroom routines and expectations (Kibler, Atteberry, Hardigree, and Salerno 2015; Wiltse 2006). If researchers wish to replace manufactured labels such as ‘LTEL’ with identities as students create and define them, then a focus on classroom interaction can offer unique insights. In this article, we take seriously critiques of the label ‘LTEL’ and expand on such perspectives through the lens of classroom interactions and peer and teacher–student relationships. For the adolescents in our study, classroom interactions served to construct linguistic and academic identities in ways that also created (and re-created) their linguistic acquisition/development and academic learning. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Sociocultural perspectives conceptualize learning as a process of semiotic mediation (Vygotsky 1978; Cole 1996) that, in the classroom, is constructed with and through peers, teachers, and other tools; as such, interactions with more knowledgeable others (Klingner and Vaughn 2000) and peers (Donato 1994) are fundamental to learning. Haneda and Wells (2008) argue that classroom interaction among teachers and peers spans a continuum from monologic (teacher-led, following traditional IRE patterns) to dialogic (open-ended, involving students offering their own ideas and responding to those of others), with important functions fulfilled by each. Dialogic interactions are particularly beneficial for students learning English in schools, according to Haneda and Wells (2008), because of opportunities they provide for: learning how to participate in discipline-specific genres (e.g. literature discussions), learning various social and communicative strategies that students can employ to learn content, and learning from peers as language models. Peer interactions also help to build social and cognitive connections: students establish intersubjectivity (Anton and DeCamilla 1998; Swain and Lapkin 2000), or a ‘shared social reality and joint perspective on the task’ (Brooks and Donato 1994: 227). Dialogic interactions are not only ways of exchanging information but also means of participating in school communities. In such a setting, language is used in particular ways, which Haneda and Wells (2008) refer to as ‘speech genres’, following Bakhtin. Speech genres of schooling are notoriously difficult to define, but Halliday (1986/2007) describes them as multiple and dynamic ‘registers of education’ through which students are socialized into schooling contexts (p. 304). Such a socialization process occurs, Wells (1999) argues, as students simultaneously learn language and learn through language: ‘children’s ability to engage effectively in the different tasks that they may be expected to undertake in school depends on the extent to which they have internalized the sociosemantic functions of the specific modes of discourse that mediate these tasks’ (p. 39). Given that the ‘LTEL’ label (as a proxy for normative time periods to achieve success on standardized language assessments) is employed as a way of indicating that students have not yet mastered these registers of schooling, then it is vital to understand the extent to which teacher–student and peer dialogic interactions occur in classroom environments in which US-educated adolescents classified as ELs are enrolled. If such interactions are not consistently present, then what is at question is the extent to which classroom spaces actually afford meaningful opportunities for language development for those who do not come to school with those linguistic resources already in place (Halliday 1999; Gee 2014; see also Wells 1999). SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS The study takes place at Adams Middle School in the Hampshire County School District,3 which is located in a South Atlantic state that is a relatively new immigrant destination in the USA. The school serves students in sixth to eighth grade (approximately ages 11–14 years) from multiple ethnic backgrounds, including 20.2 per cent African American, 16.1 per cent Hispanic, 50.8 per cent White, and 12.9 per cent ‘other’, according to the school Web site. Approximately 47 per cent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. There are 16.6 per cent of students who are classified as English learners. They speak almost 20 languages, with the most common language being Spanish (53 per cent). The district and its schools have historically met most or all federally mandated requirements for improving test scores and continue to do so. The language program in place in district schools featured ESL rather than bilingual instruction at the time of the study. US-educated adolescents classified as ELs are not typically placed in ‘ESL’ classrooms at the secondary level but are instead often integrated into academic courses alongside fluent bilingual students and monolingual English speakers (Harper and deJong 2009). Such settings have been argued to be the very type of classroom contexts that have the potential to serve as important sites of academic and linguistic development (Bunch et al. 2014). For this reason, we selected these types of classrooms for our study. We focused on sixth grade in particular because it represents the first year of US secondary schooling, which brings new language registers through which students learn increasingly sophisticated content (Halliday 1986/2007); it also represents the first year in which most students might fit criteria as so-called ‘LTELs’ in terms of years of schooling. Four sixth-grade classrooms from a larger study were selected for qualitative observation and student/teacher interviews. The four classrooms included: two-year-long English language arts classes, one-year-long mathematics class, and one single-semester US history class. All but one of these classes included teaching assistants or collaborating special education or ESL teachers alongside the main content-area teacher. The classes included students from all language backgrounds: students classified as ELs, those classified as ‘fluent bilinguals’, and monolingual English speakers. As part of the larger study, two EL-designated focal students were selected from each classroom for a total of eight EL-designated students; six met the so-called ‘LTEL’ criteria, in that they had been in US schools in this same district since kindergarten, for a total of seven years.4 An overview of the six students is presented in Table 1. (See Online Supplement for further details on school context and classroom and focal student selection criteria.) Table 1: Participant demographics Name Male/female Focal class EL density (percent) Fifth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) Sixth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) WIDATM percentile growth relative to national samplea State math assessmentb State reading assessmentb State history assessmentc Grade in focal classd Kelsey F English: Mr Brown 40 4.2 3.8 L = <25th Pass: proficient Fail: basic Not available B S = ≥40th & <60th R = <25th W = <25th Miguel M English: Mrs Urbanski 23 4.3 5.2 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Pass: proficient Not available B S = <25th R = <25th W = ≥75th Daphne F English: Mrs Urbanski 23 3.8 3.7 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Not available C S = ≥25th & <40th W = <25th R = ≥40th & <60th Leigh F Math: Ms Miller 60 5.1 4.5 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Not available B S = <25th R = ≥60th & <75th W = <25th Victoria F History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 3.6 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Fail C S = ≥75th R = <25th W = <25th Antonio M History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 4.1 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Pass: advanced B S = ≥75th W = <25th R = ≥75th Name Male/female Focal class EL density (percent) Fifth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) Sixth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) WIDATM percentile growth relative to national samplea State math assessmentb State reading assessmentb State history assessmentc Grade in focal classd Kelsey F English: Mr Brown 40 4.2 3.8 L = <25th Pass: proficient Fail: basic Not available B S = ≥40th & <60th R = <25th W = <25th Miguel M English: Mrs Urbanski 23 4.3 5.2 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Pass: proficient Not available B S = <25th R = <25th W = ≥75th Daphne F English: Mrs Urbanski 23 3.8 3.7 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Not available C S = ≥25th & <40th W = <25th R = ≥40th & <60th Leigh F Math: Ms Miller 60 5.1 4.5 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Not available B S = <25th R = ≥60th & <75th W = <25th Victoria F History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 3.6 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Fail C S = ≥75th R = <25th W = <25th Antonio M History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 4.1 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Pass: advanced B S = ≥75th W = <25th R = ≥75th Notes: a L = listening, S = speaking. R = reading, W = writing. b Reading and math levels are below basic, basic, and proficient. c History levels are fail, pass, and pass advanced. d Grades are on an A–F scale. Table 1: Participant demographics Name Male/female Focal class EL density (percent) Fifth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) Sixth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) WIDATM percentile growth relative to national samplea State math assessmentb State reading assessmentb State history assessmentc Grade in focal classd Kelsey F English: Mr Brown 40 4.2 3.8 L = <25th Pass: proficient Fail: basic Not available B S = ≥40th & <60th R = <25th W = <25th Miguel M English: Mrs Urbanski 23 4.3 5.2 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Pass: proficient Not available B S = <25th R = <25th W = ≥75th Daphne F English: Mrs Urbanski 23 3.8 3.7 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Not available C S = ≥25th & <40th W = <25th R = ≥40th & <60th Leigh F Math: Ms Miller 60 5.1 4.5 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Not available B S = <25th R = ≥60th & <75th W = <25th Victoria F History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 3.6 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Fail C S = ≥75th R = <25th W = <25th Antonio M History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 4.1 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Pass: advanced B S = ≥75th W = <25th R = ≥75th Name Male/female Focal class EL density (percent) Fifth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) Sixth-grade WIDATM composite (1–6) WIDATM percentile growth relative to national samplea State math assessmentb State reading assessmentb State history assessmentc Grade in focal classd Kelsey F English: Mr Brown 40 4.2 3.8 L = <25th Pass: proficient Fail: basic Not available B S = ≥40th & <60th R = <25th W = <25th Miguel M English: Mrs Urbanski 23 4.3 5.2 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Pass: proficient Not available B S = <25th R = <25th W = ≥75th Daphne F English: Mrs Urbanski 23 3.8 3.7 L = ≥25th & <40th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Not available C S = ≥25th & <40th W = <25th R = ≥40th & <60th Leigh F Math: Ms Miller 60 5.1 4.5 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Not available B S = <25th R = ≥60th & <75th W = <25th Victoria F History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 3.6 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: below basic Fail C S = ≥75th R = <25th W = <25th Antonio M History: Mr Griffith 15 4.3 4.1 L = ≥75th Fail: basic Fail: basic Pass: advanced B S = ≥75th W = <25th R = ≥75th Notes: a L = listening, S = speaking. R = reading, W = writing. b Reading and math levels are below basic, basic, and proficient. c History levels are fail, pass, and pass advanced. d Grades are on an A–F scale. As seen in Table 1, focal students’ sixth-grade English language proficiency scores ranged from 3.8 to 5.2 on the 6-point WIDATM scale, the state-designated English language proficiency assessment, and their scores on state standardized content-area assessments (English language arts, math, and history) ranged from below basic to proficient, with three students receiving passing scores (Kelsey in Math, Miguel in Reading, and Antonio in history). Students’ final grades ranged from B to C (on an A–F scale) in the classes in which they were observed. It should be noted that all students are Spanish speakers, which is typical of the US-educated EL sixth graders at the school, and that English language proficiency scores from all students but Miguel actually dropped from fifth to sixth grade. Sub-score changes, however, suggest that students made progress on different aspects of the test from one year to the next relative to the national sample at that grade level. EL density across the four classrooms (Table 1) played an interesting role, which can be seen in our findings, below. In ‘low’-density classrooms in which only two to three EL-classified students were enrolled (Mrs Urbanski and Mr Griffith), those students tended to have limited interactions with each other but instead sought out same-gender, non-EL-classified peers for social and academic purposes. Those in ‘high’-density classrooms interacted with a broader range of students but frequently engaged with fellow EL-classified peers of the same gender and home language. DATA COLLECTION Classroom observations with field notes were conducted 6–10 times per classroom, and audio-recorded interviews were completed with each focal student and teacher. Field researchers—including the first author and three doctoral student researchers trained in qualitative methods—each observed one classroom throughout the entire year, to build rapport and familiarity with the students, and were trained to collect observations of the entire classroom while rotating focus (∼10–15-minute intervals) on focal students. (See Online Supplement for field note template.) Audio recorders at each focal student’s desk, as well as a video recording of the whole classroom, aided observer recall and field note development. These same observers conducted one-on-one interviews with students and teachers. During the semi-structured student interviews, students were asked about their background and language characteristics, their experiences in the class, and their attitudes about school. Students were offered the option to conduct the interview in their home language (Spanish), although none of them chose to do so. The semi-structured teacher interview included questions about how they would describe each of the focal students linguistically, socially, and academically. DATA ANALYSIS A multiple case study approach (Stake 2006) was used to gather a wide range of data to provide insight into individual as well as collective characteristics. Instances of classroom interactions were identified in field notes and transcribed when audio was available. Data were organized into four deductive categories based on the type of interaction (i.e. teacher–student/peer and either non-task or task-focused), and each excerpt was coded as monologic/dialogic (following Haneda and Wells 2008, with a recognition that such differences exist along a continuum). After re-reading transcripts and field notes alongside student and teacher interview transcripts and other supporting data, researchers wrote case studies of each student—focusing on teacher–student and peer interactions on both non-task or task-focused topics—and then analyzed them using a hybrid inductive–deductive approach (Fereday and Muir-Cochrane 2006), in which we drew upon findings from the literature as well as trends emerging from the data. Through this analysis, we developed themes to describe features of peer and teacher interactions across all six students, which are described below and found in Table 2. (See Online Supplement for transcription conventions, detailed data analysis procedures, and individual case studies of each student.) Table 2: Cross-case analysis Student Topic of interaction Teacher interactions characterized by: Peer interactions characterized by: Kelsey Task-focused • Confusion • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Rare engagement or silence Miguel Task-focused • Ambivalence • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, especially around video-gaming interests Daphne Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, usually in English and rarely in Spanish Leigh Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with reliance on teacher Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, in English and Spanish Victoria Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with teacher reliance and procedural emphasis; peer resistance to work with her Non-task • Engagement, with student initiation but redirection to academics • Rare engagement Antonio Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, but formulaic/monologic Non-task • Engagement, with peer initiation but redirection to academics • Engagement, at times with ties to academic topics Student Topic of interaction Teacher interactions characterized by: Peer interactions characterized by: Kelsey Task-focused • Confusion • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Rare engagement or silence Miguel Task-focused • Ambivalence • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, especially around video-gaming interests Daphne Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, usually in English and rarely in Spanish Leigh Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with reliance on teacher Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, in English and Spanish Victoria Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with teacher reliance and procedural emphasis; peer resistance to work with her Non-task • Engagement, with student initiation but redirection to academics • Rare engagement Antonio Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, but formulaic/monologic Non-task • Engagement, with peer initiation but redirection to academics • Engagement, at times with ties to academic topics Table 2: Cross-case analysis Student Topic of interaction Teacher interactions characterized by: Peer interactions characterized by: Kelsey Task-focused • Confusion • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Rare engagement or silence Miguel Task-focused • Ambivalence • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, especially around video-gaming interests Daphne Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, usually in English and rarely in Spanish Leigh Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with reliance on teacher Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, in English and Spanish Victoria Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with teacher reliance and procedural emphasis; peer resistance to work with her Non-task • Engagement, with student initiation but redirection to academics • Rare engagement Antonio Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, but formulaic/monologic Non-task • Engagement, with peer initiation but redirection to academics • Engagement, at times with ties to academic topics Student Topic of interaction Teacher interactions characterized by: Peer interactions characterized by: Kelsey Task-focused • Confusion • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Rare engagement or silence Miguel Task-focused • Ambivalence • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, especially around video-gaming interests Daphne Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Resistance Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, usually in English and rarely in Spanish Leigh Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with reliance on teacher Non-task • Brevity, teacher initiation • Engagement, in English and Spanish Victoria Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, with teacher reliance and procedural emphasis; peer resistance to work with her Non-task • Engagement, with student initiation but redirection to academics • Rare engagement Antonio Task-focused • Engagement, but with limited opportunities for dialogic talk • Engagement, but formulaic/monologic Non-task • Engagement, with peer initiation but redirection to academics • Engagement, at times with ties to academic topics CROSS-CASE ANALYSIS The following cross-case analysis focuses on all six students’ experiences in peer and teacher–student interactions. Trends are described in detail, with exemplars presented as transcriptions of interactions, or as detailed field note descriptions if interactions were not audible on recordings. Table 2 provides an overview of these characteristics for each student, and here we present evidence suggesting overall patterns and variations across students. TASK-FOCUSED PEER INTERACTIONS Patterns of engagement and resistance in peer interactions on task-focused academic topics suggest a diversity of experiences, but even activities that explicitly involved collaboration did not consistently engage students in substantive discussions with peers about the academic content or the language through which it was communicated. As such, while teacher-designed peer activities held potential for dialogic interactions, these were often limited in nature due to students’ reliance on teachers instead of peers for problem-solving, or to students’ choosing not to engage in the activities. Engagement Although all observed classrooms included small-group peer activities in addition to whole-class instruction, we found that task-focused peer interactions were relatively rare, and when they occurred, often involved procedural rather than conceptual discussions of academic content. In Ms Miller’s math class, for example, Leigh, Monique (monolingual English speaker), and another student5 were engaged in a group task measuring the circumference and diameter of clementines (small oranges). Leigh looks at a clementine on her desk and asks, ‘What are those?’ Monique says, ‘Clementines.’ Leigh measures the clementine and Monique records the numbers. Leigh then asks, ‘How can we divide?’ The third student does not verbally reply but goes and gets a calculator. They divide the numbers to first determine the diameter. I see a perplexed look on Leigh’s face, and she asks for help from Ms Longman (a teaching assistant in Ms Miller’s class) … who cannot figure out why the numbers do not make sense either and then asks Ms Miller. Ms Longman comes back with the answer and she explains to the girls how they should measure the diameter. (Field notes, 14 March 2014) In this instance, Leigh and her peers engaged with and actively helped each other verbally and non-verbally to complete the measurement and calculations, but did not interact with each other to problem-solve the unexpected results. Instead, Leigh appealed to one of the teachers, who then determined the correct process and told it to the students. Such a pattern was frequently found in observations of Leigh and Victoria, in which teachers, rather than peers, were called upon to solve academic questions, even in the context of collaborative tasks, thus turning dialogic peer interactions into more teacher-led monologic ones by involving the teacher to ‘solve’ the problem for them. With other students, like Antonio, peer interactions were productive but also fairly formulaic, such as quizzing a peer on vocabulary words or providing definitions of words. Antonio would at times comment on task-focused topics to a peer even during individual classwork, such as when he noticed and asked Stephen (a close friend who identifies as a monolingual English speaker but reports his parents speak Arabic at home) about his anachronistic drawing of a car during the Revolutionary War, but this mention did not elicit any further discussion between them. In other cases, students engaged in Spanish language use with other EL-classified Spanish speakers to manage tasks, but these tended to also focus on class procedures rather than the academic content itself. Resistance In other instances, three students (Kelsey, Miguel, and Daphne) showed resistance to engaging in task-focused peer interactions. For example, in a review activity in which Mr Brown asked students to study their vocabulary flashcards either individually or with a friend, most of the other students in the class practiced in groups of two or three. Kelsey watched these groups silently and then reviewed her cards individually. In activities that required group work, Kelsey almost always sat with the group but rarely joined in the conversations, passively resisting participation. Miguel, however, actively resisted engaging with peers on academic tasks: for example, when a group task involved making a poster about a text they had read, Miguel offered non-sequiturs (e.g. declaring ‘My name is Steve’, when there was no mention of anyone by this name in the lesson or class) while others were collaborating. In other cases, he engaged in side conversations or openly refused to complete group tasks, to the annoyance of his classmate Xavier (monolingual English speaker), whom Miguel counted as one of his closest friends in the class. As his teacher Mrs Urbanski noted, ‘I don’t see him offer to help others a lot’, and she observed few task-focused interactions between Miguel and peers (Interview, 19 May 2014). The third student to show resistance was Daphne, who at times participated in whole-class discussions but rarely solicited or received help from peers. In group work, she sometimes engaged in the activity but more often ignored the academic task that had been assigned, such as when she chatted with a group member about birthdays rather than working with her other group members on the collaborative figurative language task they had been given. Daphne, seen by her teacher as ‘more socially driven than academically driven’ (Interview, 19 May 2014), commented in an interview on her lack of task-focused interaction with peers, stating: ‘I would describe myself by like, trying to work hard and paying attention and kinda sometimes distracted…like my friends are talking and I get distracted and I should focus’ (Interview, 16 April 2014). In Victoria’s case, however, other peers sometimes showed resistance to working with her. The majority of her peer interactions (all of which were with monolingual English speakers) focused on shared academic tasks with an emphasis on procedural matters, and when she asked peers for help, her requests were not always addressed. While working in history class on a group map task, for example, she repeated her request for help several times only to be ignored by the other girls in her group. This matter was then resolved by the teacher coming over and offering to help the group answer the first question together. NON-TASK-FOCUSED PEER INTERACTIONS Peer interactions that did not focus on the classroom task at hand were far more frequent than those that did, with the former involving extended dialogic conversations among peers on a range of topics. However, the prominence of these interactions was not universal for all students, and ironically some non-task conversations actually led to intense peer engagement in academically oriented topics, although not those designated by the teacher. Prominence We observed frequent and in-depth dialogic interactions among peers on non-task topics either between or during class activities. In such instances, peer talk revolved around a range of adolescent topics, and all but two case study students participated in these interactions with both ELs and non-ELs, though to differing degrees. For Daphne and Miguel, their resistance to academic peer interactions was not visible in non-task conversations. In fact, both interacted regularly with peers about social topics, and for Miguel, conversations about video games were especially frequent. In some instances, non-task conversations also took place in English and Spanish, such as when Daphne and another Spanish-speaking student had a lengthy bilingual conversation about the other student’s romantic interest in a friend of Daphne’s. Leigh engaged in many similar conversations in her classroom with other Spanish speakers, all of whom were also EL-classified. Two case study students are exceptions to this trend: Kelsey and Victoria rarely engaged in non-task interactions with peers. Kelsey, for example, was frequently by herself and silent when other students in Mr Brown’s class were engaging in such conversations during class. Field notes indicate that Victoria also rarely initiated or participated in non-task conversations, despite her teacher’s belief that she often rushed through her work to talk with friends. Such instances suggest that non-task interactions, while comprising the majority of many students’ peer interactions overall, are not universal; in this way, it cannot be assumed that students have access to any particular language resources—even peer social ones—in their classrooms. Ties to academics More rarely, the non-task topics that case study students discussed did not relate directly to the academic task they were completing but instead referred to other academic subjects or content. Antonio and his friend Stephen, for example, initiated an in-depth dialogic conversation with peers about science as a result of Stephen’s complaint about the difficulty of a drawing task as part of a history assignment. In this instance, Antonio suggested a different brain would help Stephen draw more skillfully: While clearly not a conversation intended by the teacher—and also lacking somewhat in scientific accuracy—this peer interaction encompassed academic topics, which were discussed more passionately and extensively than any teacher-designed group work task we observed. In this instance, Antonio engaged in opportunities to respond to Stephen’s supposedly inaccurate scientific knowledge (line 6), repeated and clarified his own knowledge for another peer (lines 9, 12–13), listened to that student’s own explanation (line 14–17), drew from that explanation to defend his original statement to Stephen (line 18), and listened to further exploration of the topic among other students (lines 19–26). Such conversations were the exception, however, in our field notes. In sum, peer interactional patterns point to frequent, lively, and at times multilingual non-task encounters for many, though not all, US-educated adolescents classified as ELs. Case study students also participated in academic conversations—though less frequently—in a range of ways, but without dialogic engagement. TASK-FOCUSED TEACHER INTERACTIONS Interactions between teachers and case study students varied widely, encompassing both task-related and other topics, though a focus on academic tasks was by far most common. Task-focused interactions were initiated by both teachers and students, and although these interactions tended to be more monologic than dialogic, they ranged in nature from difficult to positive and productive. Confusion and uncertainty For Kelsey specifically, teacher–student interactions were typified by moments of confusion and uncertainty about her understanding of teacher explanations. In a representative interaction, students were discussing a class novel, Holes, and filling in details on a plot diagram poster with Mr Brown’s guidance. When Mr Brown called on Kelsey for an answer, she gave an incorrect response, and he quickly moved on without responding to Kelsey and asked another student for his answer. Kelsey reacted by putting her head down and looking the other direction. When asked in the interview about her relationship with Mr Brown, Kelsey shared that ‘I don’t know, ‘cause when like I do something wrong and the teacher is like to do this, I feel like disappointed or like sad’ (Interview, 26 March 2014). Such a pattern, seen several times in observations, show that while Kelsey was engaged with the teacher and the curriculum, their largely monologic interactions did not seem to lead to her active engagement with the academic and embedded linguistic topics with which she seemed to be struggling. In fact, Mr Brown expressed concern in his interview that Kelsey was ‘too quick to give up’ (Interview, 29 April 2014). As we discuss below, such small interactions like the kind between Kelsey and Mr Brown may represent missed opportunities in classrooms and suggest the importance of helping teachers identify ways to extend interactions. Ambivalence For Miguel specifically, interactions with teachers showed somewhat more ambivalent investment in the class and teacher–student relationships. In whole-class discussions, his responses to teacher’s questions were insightful and confident but often spoken too quietly for the teacher to hear, despite Miguel’s ability to make himself heard at other times. For example, during a discussion of metaphor in which a student described Mrs Urbanski’s desk as a ‘junkyard’, Miguel quietly explained, ‘the guard dog would probably be a chair’ (Field notes, 20 March 2014), offering a thoughtful extension to the metaphor, but neither the teacher nor other students gave any sign of having heard him. In fact, Miguel was often seen by teachers as needing help, with Mrs Urbanski or the collaborating special education teacher, Ms Hadley, typically proactively sitting with him as he (reluctantly) completed written seatwork. Ms Hadley in particular often interpreted his efforts to contribute (by raising his hand) as requests for help. The following is a typical example: Mrs Urbanski asks students to read the poem they were given and decide who the speaker is. Some are reading, but others start to call out that they know, and many are raising their hands. Miguel’s hand goes up, at a slight angle rather than straight up, and Ms Hadley goes over to ask if he has a question. He tells her he knows the answer. (Funny that Ms Hadley assumed he wasn’t volunteering a response but instead had a question.) (Field notes, 20 March 2014) Engagement In contrast, other students frequently participated in task-focused teacher interactions. Antonio, for example, engaged frequently with both teachers in his history class, Ms Hadley (special education collaborating teacher) and Mr Griffith (history teacher), the latter of whom described Antonio as ‘completely capable, extremely smart, [and] bright’ (Interview, 8 May 2014). In one instance, Antonio was making a booklet and walked over to Mr Griffith, showed him the booklet, and asked his advice about what event should come next, after which the teacher made several suggestions. When asked specific questions by his teachers, Antonio was also consistently able to locate the answers in the appropriate textbooks or class materials. For example, while reading a text on enslaved African–Americans, Ms Hadley asked him to explain what ‘economic freedom’ meant. Antonio looked at the handouts that he had and extracted a suitable answer, reading, ‘They could work for pay’. Ms Hadley then repeated the answer approvingly. In such instances, however, Antonio was rarely asked to expand upon his answers by justifying his responses or offering his opinion on the topic, reflecting a common trend for more monologic teacher-led interactions. Leigh, Daphne, and Victoria’s teacher interactions were similar, though less frequent, and often involved responding to teacher questions or asking for clarification about how to accomplish the task at hand. In the following representative instance, Victoria responded correctly to a review activity that demonstrated her knowledge of a vocabulary word but not an engagement with the term in a dialogic context: Such an instance reflects the ubiquitous monologic IRE sequence found in teacher discourse more generally, which Harklau (1994) argues has serious implications for EL-classified students like Victoria because it provides ‘little occasion to practice the communicative strategies [students] would employ in building interaction over several turns…[or] produce extended coherent discourse within a single turn’ (p. 250). These patterns also point to a recitation script (Nystrand 1996), in which teacher-controlled discourse primarily serves to transmit and review information with students, thereby precluding students like Victoria from substantive or active participation in building knowledge. NON-TASK-FOCUSED TEACHER INTERACTIONS We also found evidence of non-task-focused interactions among teachers and students, although these were far rarer. Brief instances of such interactions initiated by teachers tended to occur in liminal moments, such as teachers’ greetings to students as they walked in the door or Ms Hadley’s complimenting of Daphne’s glasses as students transitioned between activities. (Such a pattern is not surprising, given teachers’ primary responsibility in the classroom as academic instructors, which understandably leads them to engage in task-focused conversations more than non-task-focused ones.) In other instances, however, students initiated such interactions themselves, or participated in those initiated by peers. Victoria, for example, frequently inserted non-task questions into academic conversations with teachers, as she did in the following conversation in history class about generating words to describe each of the geographic regions of the USA. Her teacher made a direct suggestion (lines 1–2), which then led to a non-task question from Victoria (line 3) that provided a potential opportunity for dialogic interaction: Mr Griffith responded to Victoria’s question (line 4) while still addressing history content, in that the Great Plains were another area they studied; he then guided Victoria and her peer back to the academic task they were completing (line 6–7). On another day, Victoria engaged a substitute teacher in a lengthy conversation regarding another time she substituted in one of Victoria’s other classes. In such instances, Victoria sought out social connections with teachers, with varying levels of success in engaging them in conversation, and with perhaps unintended consequences: Mr Griffith described her as ‘very needy emotionally’ and requiring an ‘overwhelming’ amount of attention in class (Interview, 8 May 2014). At other times, case study students took part in non-task teacher–student interactions initiated by others, such as when Stephen (non-EL-classified), sitting at a table with Antonio, called over Mr Griffith: Stephen says his brother told him to ask Mr. Griffith, ‘Do you like the Miami Heat [basketball team]?’ Mr. Griffith smiles and says no and then tells Stephen he can talk more about it after class. Mr. Griffith then tries to direct the boys’ attention to the pictures at the [work] station and reiterates the directions for them to take the perspective of one of the characters [in the pictures] and then walks away. Antonio looks down [at the picture] and says that the cowboys are ‘rampaging everyone’ before chanting: ‘I am the buff-a-lo’ and repeating the word buffalo while distinctly enunciating each syllable. (Field notes, 30 April 2014) In this instance, although Antonio did not instigate the interaction, he actively took part in the teacher’s redirection toward a more academic topic, using the term ‘rampaging’ (taught in an earlier lesson) to describe the buffalo’s perspective to his peer. In sum, teacher–student interactions varied widely, from productive (though at times superficial) to ambiguous and ambivalent. Although teachers and students both initiated (largely monologic) task-focused interactions, non-task-focused conversations were less common and, when initiated by students, tended to be redirected by the teacher toward more academic topics. DISCUSSION This study moves beyond demographic and interview-based studies of US-educated adolescents classified as ELs to suggest further insights that both confirm and challenge previous research through a focus on classroom interactions. While our study was not designed to explicitly compare these students’ interactions with those of learners of other backgrounds or proficiency levels, these case studies suggest that all language learners’ (including but not necessarily limited to ‘LTEL’ students’) experiences are likely to be more easily characterized by diversity, rather than uniformity. We first discuss case study findings for the research question before commenting upon ways in which our case study students aligned with and deviated from popular conceptions of ‘LTELs’. What are the different types of classroom-based peer and teacher–student interactions experienced by US-educated sixth graders classified as ELs? Case study students—even those in the same classroom—experienced very different peer and teacher–student interactions, which we discuss in turn. Regarding peers, dialogic academic interactions among students were relatively rare; instead, they often involved procedural rather than conceptual matters. This appeared to occur either because of the design of the activity (such as quizzing peers on vocabulary words) or students’ reliance on teachers rather than peers to solve problems, even in the context of collaborative tasks. Similar to others’ research (Miller and Zuengler 2011), our data contained many examples of classroom resistance, and in our study, these included academic peer interactions, from Kelsey’s opting out or minimal participation in group activities to Daphne’s view of peers as ‘distractions’ to Miguel’s active resistance, even with close friends. These latter trends can be seen as important responses to classroom cultures and moves to establish adolescent identity, but they nonetheless position students in ways that may preclude academically and linguistically supportive interaction with peers. For most (but not all) case study students, dialogic non-task peer interactions were frequent and featured high student engagement, including both English and Spanish when all students involved were bilingual. At times these conversations even veered into more traditionally ‘academic’ topics—such as Antonio and his peers’ discussion of brains—though not as part of teachers’ instructional designs. Peer non-task interactions were not universal, however: Victoria and Kelsey were far less engaged in these conversations than were the other case study students or other students in their classes, suggesting that access even to social peer talk varies significantly by individual. Across both non-task and task-focused conversations, peer interactions shared notable trends. Rejection or silencing during conversations with non-EL peers was quite rare—with Victoria’s experience as an exception—suggesting that US-educated adolescents classified as ELs might be less likely than those who have more recently arrived in the USA to be stigmatized or silenced by non-EL-classified peers (Harklau 1994; Miller 1999; Duff 2001). At the same time, our case study students were not observed explicitly differentiating or distancing themselves from more recently arrived EL-classified students, as has been found in other studies of adolescents (Talmy 2004; Case 2015). Such patterns suggest that the US-educated adolescents classified as ELs in our study were not ‘cordoned off’ from either more recent immigrants or non-EL-classified students in these classrooms. In this way, such students have perhaps greater access to peers who could serve as linguistic or academic models than do more beginning students, and they also have the potential to become bridges between more beginning learners and monolingual English-speaking students. Interactions with teachers were similar to those with peers in terms of their diversity, although task-focused conversations were far more common than non-task ones. Academic interactions, initiated by both teachers and students, varied widely. Productive if superficial monologic question–answer sequences (such as Antonio’s with Ms Hadley) resonate with Harklau (1994) and might suggest one of the ways in which teacher patterns of interaction can influence language learner’s competence through providing, or in this case, precluding opportunities for extended student discourse. More ambiguous interactions included both confusion and ambivalent investment in teacher–student interaction: such resistance to norms of participation (Miller and Zuengler 2011) can also exclude students from classroom communities and from being seen as knowledgeable students or peers. For the most part, students were the ones to initiate dialogic non-task conversations with teachers. While such patterns are unsurprising given teachers’ instructional responsibilities in the classroom, ‘small talk’ with teachers can be helpful to more beginning language learners in developing non-institutional social discourse (Luk 2004), and further work is necessary to determine how such interactions might help more advanced users of English, such as US-educated adolescents classified as ELs, in developing their linguistic repertoires. Case study students’ initiation and participation in such interactions also highlights their agency in classroom settings, a pattern often overlooked in studies using the ‘LTEL’ label. Challenges to ‘LTEL’ scholarship In many ways, our students did not fit the larger portraits of ‘LTELs’ that have been promoted in the literature. Unlike those students profiled in Menken et al. (2007), our students experienced neither inconsistent language programming nor transnational moves: they had been enrolled in the same school district since kindergarten, and had received the same English-as-a-second-language program throughout their previous education. As Table 1 suggests, they also did not uniformly fit the profile of being below grade level on test scores or academically underachieving, as has been found elsewhere (Menken et al. 2007; Menken and Kleyn 2010; Olsen 2010; Menken et al. 2012): Kelsey and Miguel actually passed their (respective) math and reading state assessments, and Antonio earned a ‘high pass’ on his history state assessment. Students also tended to earn B and C grades in a school district that consistently met federal standards. For Antonio specifically, WIDATM results (the only qualifying criteria for EL reclassification in the state in which this study was conducted) seem mismatched: closer analysis of his sub-scores (see Table 1) shows he was very close to ‘proficient’ on all areas of the test except in writing, in which he scored at a beginning level. Given that in no observation or interview was there any indication that Antonio struggled with writing, there is certainly the possibility that the assessment result is simply inaccurate or that he misunderstood instructions or chose not to engage seriously during the testing itself. In terms of classroom interactions specifically, case study students were far from the well-behaved but unengaged adolescents that teachers in Olsen’s (2010) study described, but neither were they uniformly motivated to succeed academically, as Kim and García’s (2014) work might suggest. While these differences might be reflective of our particular small sample or students’ relatively young age (since most research on ‘LTELs’ tends to focus on high school students), such discrepancies are nonetheless important in that they highlight the diversity of this population and the significant variation that is overlooked in considering these students only according to their years of attendance in US schools and their EL designation (see also Thompson 2015). Our data more clearly align with scholars’ recent reconceptualizations of US-educated adolescents classified as ELs. When in classrooms with other Spanish-speaking bilinguals, our case study students adeptly used both languages, albeit socially and orally more often than academically or in written form. Such observations are consistent with Menken’s (2013) depiction of these students as having complex, creative, and dynamic bilingual repertoires. Our analysis of the instructional settings in which case study students engaged—particularly in the context of peer and teacher/student interactions—suggests that opportunities for substantive dialogic academic discourse were relatively limited, similar to Brooks’ (2015) analysis of the limitations of reading instruction for a similar population in California. And so our case study students’ experiences present us with a complicated set of explanations for students’ continuing designation as ELs. It is not simply a matter of inconsistent programming or completely inadequate instruction: students received consistent English-only instruction in a school with a strong overall record. This leads to several possibilities, which include but are not limited to the following: students’ progress could show the impact of no bilingual instruction, consistent with Menken and Kleyn (2010); students’ performance on the assessment upon which re-designation relies may be an artifact of misunderstanding or disengagement while testing rather than a true reflection of their actual abilities to meet the language demands of schooling; and/or instruction may not provide adequate opportunities to fully develop the school-valued forms of language needed to meet requirements for re-designation, as ‘curricularized’ (Valdés 2015; Kibler and Valdés 2016) through standardized language assessments. While all three are likely contributing factors, case study students’ interactions with peers and teachers suggest varied ways in which students are (and are not) provided with opportunities to develop ways of using English that are valued in schools and on assessments. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS If dialogic interactions are essential to socializing students into the forms of language used and valued in school (Haneda and Wells 2008), then any consideration of US-educated adolescents classified as ELs must also account for their opportunities to acquire and develop the ‘speech genres’ practiced and valued in their particular classroom communities. While we found little evidence of social or academic stigmatization of case study students, each student had a unique ‘interactional profile’ with peers and teachers. Limitations found among the interactions of all students suggest that both assignment design and student expectations for collaborative work are important considerations in encouraging substantive dialogic academic conversations among US-educated adolescents classified as ELs, their peers, and their teachers. Haneda and Wells (2008) contend that an important element in creating the investment necessary for such dialogue is curricula that allow students to engage in inquiry-oriented tasks, involving apprenticeship through careful pedagogical attention to both the desired learning outcomes and the assisted learning processes through which they are achieved (Wells 1999). Teachers could also consider ways in which they may wish to create space for interactions with students that both engage them socially and create avenues for academic learning through small moment-to-moment interactions and whole-class conversations. Dialogic discussions in particular would allow teachers to serve as models of school-based language and provide students with valuable opportunities to hear and use language that is highly valued in schools. The diversity of our six students’ experiences, and of the language expertise they demonstrate, suggests that ‘LTEL’ obscures more than it elucidates regarding these students’ academic and linguistic strengths and needs. Any single label fits our students poorly, but as McDermott (1996) contends, labels often take on a life of their own, independent of individual learners. The identification of language learners in educational settings—undertaken with the genuine and important goal of providing these students with the most effective and appropriate instruction possible—also creates and requires categorizations/classifications of learners that are not neutral (Kibler & Valdés 2016). So, one must consider: is the term useful in any way? In relation to educational practice, such labels may serve purposes of institutional efficiency and accountability but may become counterproductive when policy makers or educators ignore individual students’ needs, and particularly the ways in which students may actually demonstrate sophisticated linguistic expertise. In relation to scholarship, such a term seems particularly detrimental, not only in projecting normative time periods on what is increasingly understood as a complex and non-linear process of language development (Hasko 2013; Larsen-Freeman 2010) but also in how it obscures the ways in which ‘language’—as constructed through instruction and assessment—remains a contested construct. It is through language that the LTEL label is discursively (de)constructed, and as such, the acquisition of ‘speech genres’ through classroom interactions is not a mere local process but one that must be examined alongside discourses generated by legislation and scholarship around the so-called ‘LTEL’ label. Notes Footnotes 1 The US state in which this study takes place makes decisions on EL classification (or designation) based solely upon these assessment scores. Some other states also take into account content-area standardized assessment scores, grades, teacher recommendations, and other considerations. 2 While we do not use ‘LTEL’ to describe our study participants, we retain other authors’ use of the term to demonstrate how it has been conceptualized and used. 3 All locations and individuals have been given pseudonyms. 4 Students were labeled by the school as ‘EL’ students and placed into classes according to their English language proficiency scores and teacher recommendation. 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Applied Linguistics – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 1, 2018
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