The findings highlight the role of cultural production within the classroom in promoting identity affirmation and literacy engagement among students who are still in the process of learning English and catching up academically. They also illustrate the role of technology in enabling students to develop identities of competence in academic work. These themes are elaborated below.
Students exceeded their own expectations of what they could accomplish academically. As one student expressed it: “I liked the project because it was so hard”. Furthermore, showcasing students’ work in both English and their home languages to parents, caregivers, and family members presented the students in a new light to these significant people in students’ lives. As a result of the work they produced in the classroom, students were seen as individuals with linguistic talents, creativity, and intellectual potential. This is illustrated in the following quote from a teacher:
Having the opportunity to share your story with someone is empowering--what you have to say matters. Your history, your background, your views, they matter ... the students were very proud of this work. It had intrinsic value, not just doing it for the sake of doing it.
Students were so engaged with their projects that they sometimes did not want to leave the classroom for recess. They also discussed their projects at home and got help from parents and older siblings. The level of student engagement is illustrated in the following quotes:
I wrote my story, I talked about my family, I practiced. I was practicing so much because I wished I could do good. I tried to balance stuff; I worked a long, long time, and my brother helped me.
I learned about choosing pictures, about typing. I know how to make this story now ... and I did it in Urdu, English, and Pashto.
The project illustrated how digital technology tools can serve as “amplifiers” of a student’s voice. The use of technology facilitated the production of identity texts and enabled students’ creative work to be shared with multiple audiences. This is illustrated in the following quotes:
The computer helped me to do my work, it helped me to find [information] and it helped me to do the design.
People can see my things that I [wrote] about, my dad can see it from Afghanistan, and all my family can see it.
The creation of identity texts by recently arrived immigrant students led to the following outcomes:
• Encouraged students to connect new information and skills to their background knowledge
• Enabled students to use their first language (L1) as a cognitive tool
• Enabled students to produce more accomplished literacy work in the school language
• Affirmed students’ identities as intelligent, creative bi/multilinguals
• Extended their knowledge of the relationship between their L1 and their second language (L2)
The project highlights ways in which teachers can create a “counter-discourse” to the implicit devaluation of students’ languages, cultures, and identities that occurs in classrooms where students’ home languages are excluded or treated with “benign neglect.”
The findings address several of the specific objectives of the Putting Inner City Students First project. For example, they identify mechanisms and systems that bring about and maintain improved quality of education for economically and culturally marginalized populations. Among these mechanisms and systems are the implementation of instruction that recognizes both the value of students’ home languages as cognitive tools and the power of technology, when harnessed to an enrichment rather than a remedial pedagogy, to fuel students’ engagement with literacy.