How Mexican American bilingual children use Spanish to construct meaning for English text comprehension




Murray, Yvonne I.

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This study investigated the role of Spanish upon the comprehension of English text among Mexican American bilingual children for whom Spanish is the first or ancestral language. The participants were fourth grade students in a transition bilingual program. The study shadowed ten focus students through participant observation of whole class and small-group activities during which students discussed a reading task. Think-out-loud protocols, prompted comprehension interviews, structured interviews, and informal student interviews were conducted individually with the focus students. Teacher interviews describing the reading of the focus students were also conducted. Field notes and a reflexive journal were maintained throughout the nine-week grounded theory investigation. Two pilot studies preceded this investigation. Data from these qualitative analyses were submitted to a three-level analysis: (a) frequency of reading strategies analysis, (b) text representation and inference generation analysis, and (c) a socio-constructivist perspective applied to the learning and reading of bilingual children. Categories generated by the data revealed a central phenomenon labeled "community of learners." Analyses indicated the specificity of Spanish and culture upon the strategies used by the subjects, upon inferences generated by the subjects, and upon the socially developed knowledge. Concerning the construction of meaning, data suggested that a text's meaning was influenced by the degree of agency that the students were assisted in creating for themselves. This agency refers to the degree to which they activated resources such as culture, language, affect and text in a catalytic mix with which they constructed meaning for the text. With regards to the role of Spanish, data suggested that Spanish created agency at all levels of text representation. In the process of construction, Spanish, through connections, analogies and metaphors transferred the ideational chunks of knowledge that are part of what the reader knows through his language and culture. In sum, Spanish at all levels was both a cognitive and affective enabler, creating agency among the community of readers.