Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Communication Sciences and Disorders

Major Professor

Elaine R. Silliman, Ph.D.

Keywords

Bilingual, Academic language proficiency, Identity, Writing topic, Writing assessment

Abstract

The study's purpose was to assess, through mixed methods, written linguistic features of 20 Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs) in middle school. Students came from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Participants wrote two expository and two narrative formal texts, each in Spanish and English, for a total of eight writing samples each. Additionally, students developed 10 journal entries in their language of choice, and 6 randomly selected, focal participants were interviewed for the qualitative analysis. The quantitative analysis involved scoring formal texts at the lexical, syntactic, and discourse levels. Scores were analyzed using Friedman's 2-way ANOVA by ranks, and resulting ranks were compared across genre-topic and language. A key outcome was that the text topic, rather than genre or language, impacted on rank differences at all levels, possibly due to student engagement or influence of the prompt structure.

Performance at the three levels was essentially similar across both languages, revealing that participants were emerging writers in Spanish and English. Similar outcomes in Spanish and English also implied potential cross-language transfer of academic language proficiency. Results further highlighted the interaction of multiple linguistic levels in text composition. Finally, students appeared to apply a knowledge telling strategy to writing, resulting in unsophisticated vocabulary and structures. For the qualitative analysis, focal participants' journals and interview transcripts were analyzed with domain and taxonomic analyses to discern how their language learning experiences shaped their identities as bilinguals.

Results showed that 1) Spanish was preferred for all focal participants; 2) students shared the experience of language discrimination; 3) bilingual and monolingual identities resulted in different attitudes toward language learning and varied writing performance; and 4) Mexican and Puerto Rican students had diverse language learning experiences, leading to differences in identities and writing outcomes. Overall, the quantitative and qualitative findings raise two questions: 1) which aspects of academic language proficiency are shared across both languages, and how might these be assessed with bilingual, integrated language measures? 2) How might integrated assessment in L1 and L2 aid in identifying adolescent ELLs with language impairment?

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