Positioning and Identity in the Academic Literacy Experiences of Elementary English Language Learners

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This study investigates the academic literacy experiences of elementary English Language Learners (ELLs) in first grade, fourth grade, and sixth grade. Participants included students as well as their reading/language arts mainstream teachers and their English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers. Informed by both cross-sectional cross-case study and narrative inquiry methodology, this study used positioning theory and identity theory as complementary analytic lenses. Students' positionings, both reflexive self-positioning and interactive positioning by others, were identified and named through analyses of their interactions in academic literacy events during reading/language arts. In order to consider the ways that students' positionings may afford or constrain their access to and engagement with academic literacy events, the researcher created an analytic framework naming student positions. Additionally, positions were considered in light of the ways that they mediated students' levels of engagement as literacy events unfolded. To investigate the construction of students' literate identities, the researcher examined students' patterns of positioning during literacy events and considered interview data from students and teachers as well as field notes that documented conversations with participants. The researcher also gathered two self-portraits from student participants, including one self-portrait showing the student engaged in an academic literacy task at school and one showing the student engaged in a fun activity outside of the school context. The study demonstrated that students' positionings, both positive and constraining, may work to construct and re-construct students' literate identities even as students' literate identities may inform the ways that students take on and negotiate positions in a recursive process. The study also found that students with strong literate identities bridging home and school contexts took on more positive positions thus engaging more deeply with academic literacy tasks than students with striving literate identities. Students with striving literate identities often took on positions of constraint in strategic moves that allowed them to get through literacy tasks without engaging deeply. Finally, this study demonstrated the powerful ways that teachers may support students' deep engagement with literacy tasks through positive positioning and following through on their lesson implementation by offering opportunities for re-positioning and the use of scaffolds.