The development of English language learners' literate selves: The confluence of peer status and reading competence within small -group, peer -only literacy events in a first grade mainstream classroom
Taking a sociocultural approach, this qualitative case study explored the interactions between and among five first grade English language learners and their mainstream, English-only speaking peers in the context of small-group, collaborative literacy events. Of particular interest was how ELLS with different levels of peer acceptance and reading competence experienced student-led collaborative events, and the influence those interactions had on their developing literate identities. Data collection included interviews with students and teacher, peer status rating and ranking inventories, reading assessments, twenty-nine literacy event observations, audio-tapes of event interactions, and written artifacts (where produced). Research questions focused on (a) the influence ELLs' relative peer-status and reading-status had on the nature and quality of event interactions with peers, and (b) the impact collaborative interactions had on the ELLs' developing literate selves.
Three themes emerged from the data analysis: (a) margin distributions, (b) private consequences in public spaces, and (c) examining the evidence. From the initial dialogic exchanges that established leadership and peripheral roles, to the tangible proof left behind documenting whose literate voice was empowered and whose voice was silenced as a result of participation in these collaborative events, it was apparent that issues related to peer acceptance and reading competence impacted the interactions of ELLs within these social settings in important ways, and ultimately, served to support or thwart their developing literate selves. For three of the English language learners, these public forums were sites that promoted their conceptions of themselves as readers, writers, and learners; for the other two research participants, these social contexts were venues that exposed their social and academic limitations and further marginalized them from their peers. Because ELLs' perceptions of themselves as literate individuals shaped, and were shaped by, their interactions with peers, this study implies that a more complete understanding of the social dimension of literacy learning can better ensure that mainstream classroom teachers create peer-only collaborative contexts that facilitate the literacy learning and identity development of students whose native language is not English.