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INVESTMENT, CLASSROOM CONTEXTS, AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
OF FOUR CUBAN REFUGEE WOMEN IN THEIR FIRST ENGLISH-TO-
SPEAKERS-OF-OTHER-LANGUAGES (ESOL) LEARNING EXPERIENCES
JOHN STEPHEN BUTCHER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
John Stephen Butcher
I am grateful to many people who helped me in my work on this dissertation. First
and foremost, I am grateful to my wife, Constance, as my support and inspiration. I can
never repay her for her love, patient sacrifice, and household management as I progressed
through the insanity of a Ph.D. program. She and our son, Zakhary, own a major part of
Dr. Jane S. Townsend, my guide and supervisor throughout the project, has
allowed me to wonder about many facets of the study all the while bringing me closer
and closer to the focus of my interest. Her editorial comments helped me polish and
refine even at times when wisps of despair caused me to doubt that the end was in sight.
My deep thanks to her for her continuous exhortation, "Deep breaths!"
The members of my committee each contributed their expertise and care for my
work. Dr. Barbara G. Pace who introduced me to the "lens of gender" as a field of
inquiry, was always available to talk, and her critique of my work enriched my writing.
She convinced me to "kill my darlings" in order to write with more focus and clarity.
Dr. Rodman B. Webb, with wit and wisdom taught me to make "the strange
familiar and the familiar strange" as I developed my eye for field observation in
qualitative research. His classroom teaching style blended insight and substance with
humorous undertones that provided me with a personal connection with new knowledge.
I am always grateful for his patient counsel, "not to measure the lot."
Dr. Kesha D. Fikes taught me to consider the implications that ethnographic
fieldwork has on participants and on a researcher. Her anthropological work on women's
life contexts has been an inspiration to me. Her words of encouragement kept me going
during the troubling times of my work. I offer her a hearty, "Muito obrigado!"
The late Dr. Clemens L. Hallman was my first contact with the University of
Florida. He was a respected and outspoken advocate for Bilingual Education. The
consummate teacher, he loved both his craft and his students. His long illness and
untimely passing in April 2001 left a void in my doctoral committee that could never be
filled. His motto, "Todo lopuedo en Cristo que mefortalece" (Filipenses 4:13) has be an
ongoing source of reassurance. I feel blessed to have known him.
John W. Hampp, my first principal, hired me as an ESOL instructor in 1980. He
saw my potential as a teacher at a time when I had not considered a career in education.
He and his wife, Barbara, later became my in-laws when I married their daughter.
Through the years they taught perseverance and the courage to look for challenges in life.
For their love and support over the years, I remain forever grateful.
I owe an enormous debt to my dear friend and long-time mentor, Dr. Edwina
Hoffman. She has always been a phone call away when I needed help making
professional decisions, and her wise advice has always led to success. I thank her for
counsel to apply for the OBEMLA fellowship in 1998.so that I could begin my doctoral
studies. Dr. Hoffman has been a major supporter of my research for this dissertation.
Esta sombra will never forget the assistance and cooperation from Dorinda
Hidalgo, Marta Camero, Maria Angelica Gonzalez, and Dra. Xiomara Hernandez whose
contributions made the study possible. Esta obra espara ellas.
I thank Norma and Cyril Skuby who became my "Ph.D. Mom and Dad" when
they welcomed me into their home during my data-collection trips to Miami. As a
mother and wife, Norma had a way of questioning me about my study data that helped
me look at the participants' lives in ways that I had not considered. Mavi and Tim Zeien
also welcomed me to stay in their home during the early stages of my research. Mavi
was my "big sister" at the school where we both taught for many years. She has always
urged me on to excellence.
I thank Dra. Graciela Pardo de Velez, Professsor Emeritas from Universidad del
Valle, Colombia who was the first to suggest that I pursue doctoral studies. Gerardo
Perez, my balsero friend and hermano cubano provided me with cultural insight as the
study evolved in its early stages.
I greatly appreciated the valuable assistance of people at the school district,
especially Manny Castafieda and Jose Alvarifio. Leidia DiMascio and Miguel Soto,
school counselors at the field site, aided me at the start. I appreciate the efforts of Mirella
O'Reilly-Perez and her assistants, Yusnelis and Yvette for all their work with the
participants. Mirella's personal encouragement and dedication to the project was
invaluable and, con cariho, I am indebted to her belief in the importance of the work.
Rosy Diaz-Duque and Carol Antufiano provided me with access to the classrooms. I also
thank the teachers who graciously welcomed me into their classrooms. Finally, I thank
Yolanda Perez and my neighbor, Manuel Vilaret who proofread and provided suggestions
for the Spanish language IRB and interview protocol translations.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ......... ...................................................................................... iii
LIST OF TABLES ........ .................................. ................... .............. ix
A B ST R A C T .......... ..... ...................................................................................... x
1 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM...............................................
Introduction ..................................................................... ........ ............ 1
Statement of the Problem and Origins of the Study ................................................. 2
Scope and Significance of the Study ......................... ........ ........................ 4
Questions of the Study .............................. ................. .. ................... .. 6
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE ......................................................... .............. 7
Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 7
G ender as Site of Inquiry.......................................................... .............. 10
Awareness of Essentializing Forces in Gender Research................................ 11
Coming to School: Research in Women's Participation in Adult ESOL Learning
C o n tex ts ............... ........................................................... 14
A dult Literacy as Com m odity ........................................ ......... .............. 18
Contexts, Surrounds, and Primary Frames ......................................................... 20
Influences from Women's Life Contexts................................ ......... ........ 20
W omen in the Cuban Exile Context.................................................................... 23
Cuban Revolutionary Influences ................ ...................... 25
Frame Analysis and the Banking Model of Education ............... ........................ 27
Language learning and ESOL................... .............................. ........................... 31
Dialogic Notions of Language Learning ................... .............. 31
Learning Strategies .......... ....................................... ........ .. .......... 35
Social/affective strategies: ................................................... ................ ........ 38
Case Study Research in Second Language Learning .......................................... 41
S u m m a ry ............. ................. ................. .................................................. 4 3
3 M E T H O D .............................................................................4 6
Study Design......................................................... 46
Identifying P articipants......................................................... ......................... 48
Setting of the Study ......................................... ................ 50
T h e S c h o o l ............... .......................................................................................... 5 0
The Refugee-Assistance Program ............................ ..... .................... 53
Curriculum Frameworks: Florida Adult ESOL Literacy Completion Points..... 56
Data Collection Methods: Interview and Observation ......................................... 59
D e sig n ............... ...................................... ..................... 5 9
R researcher R responsibility .............. ......................................................... 63
D ata A analysis Procedures.............................. ........................... .............. 63
Appropriateness of the Method .............. ......................................... 65
R researcher B background ......................................................... .............. 66
Sum m ary ................................ ... .................................. ......... 66
4 PERSONAL CONTEXTS ......................................................... ............... 68
Introduction.......................................... .......... 68
F ou r P portraits .................................................... 69
Angelica......................................... .............. 70
D o ra ....................................................................................... .............. 7 7
M arina............................. ............... ..... 85
D am aris................................. .............. ...... 9 0
Participants' Lives and Influences ......................... .............. .............. 95
Aspects of the Participants' Investment and Integration ................. .......... ...... 98
Achieving a sense of belonging: .................................................... 100
Children and Spouses: Pressures, Worries and Inspirations ......................... 101
C h ild ren ............. ................. ................................................... .............. 10 1
S p ou ses .................................. ................................... ......... . 10 3
Crossing Borders in Employment and Social Contexts .................................. 105
N ascent Patriotism and Belonging ............................................... ....... ....... 110
S u m m ary ......... ......... ......... ................................. .... 1 1 1
5 CLASSROOM OPPORTUNITIES AND LEARNING STRATEGIES OF
ANGELICA, DORA, MARINA, AND DAMARIS ....................................114
Literacy Completion Point-A: Building Foundations of Literacy .................... 115
Angelica and Marina with Ms. R.................... .......... 117
D o ra w ith M r. .................................................................................. 1 18
D am aris w ith M s. F .......................................................................................... 12 0
Literacy Completion Point-B: "Real" ESOL I...................... .............. 122
D ora w ith M s. N ................................................... .................................. 124
Angelica with Ms. T ...................... ....................... 126
Damaris with Ms.V and Mr. Y ........ .............. ... .. ........ ................. 127
Overview of Classroom Findings ................................................................ ...... 129
Participants' Strategies and Opportunities for Learning.................................. 130
Categories of Reading: Basic Literacy for the Test......................................... 134
Categories of Writing: Formulaic Contexts ................................. .............. 138
Dictation: W writing Other's W ords .............................................. ................. 139
"Fill-in-the-blank" learning. ................................. .......................... .......... 141
Vocabulary Notes: Translation and Cognitive Strategy .................................... 145
Rule W writing: Schemata in Translation......................................... ............... 151
Categories of Oral Response: Repetition & Recitation................................... 154
Dialogue and drill practice................................. .............. 155
Explaining, discussing, and contextualizing............. ...... .............. 158
Inquiry and speaking... ...................................... ............................ ....... 159
Teacher questions................................... ... ................... ........... .... ................. 168
Observed Aspects of Adult ESOL Teaching and Learning............... .............. 170
"English-Only" and classroom policy on translation....................... ....... 170
A activity consensus .................. ............................... .... .... .. ........ .. 172
Cooperative learning opportunities........................... .......... .... 175
Total Physical Response ..................................... .............. 178
E rror correction.................................................. .............. 179
C culture of T est T making .......................................................... ... .............. 182
M multiple C choice L anguage................................................................................. 184
EDL Vocabulary and Testing .................................. 186
Successful Testing: The Goal of Learning........................................................ 189
S u m m ary ................................................................................... 19 1
6 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS.............................193
D iscu ssion of the F finding s.................................................................. ................. 194
Influences of Personal Contexts and Surrounds.............................................. 194
Silence and Language Learning Strategies................ ... .............. 197
Learning Opportunities and Primary Frameworks ................. ............... 201
L im stations of the Study ............................................................ .... .............. 203
Implications for Curriculum and Instruction............. .................... ................... 205
Learning and Teaching Driven by Assessment............................. ............. 205
Critical Examination of State-Mandated Curriculum Frameworks................ 206
Underlying Forces of "Workforce English" ............................................. 208
R ecom m endations....................................................... .. ..... ..... 211
Im plications for Future Research.................................................. 213
A FLORIDA ADULT ESOL COMPETENCIES FOR LCP-A AND LCP-B.............215
B COMPETENCY CHECKLIST FACSIMILES FOR LCP-A AND LCP-B............224
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ......... ........... .......................................................................229
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ........................................ ............................................237
LIST OF TABLES
3-1. Field w ork progress................................................................. 47
4-1. Participants' personal data........................................................... ............... 96
4-2 R seasons to learn E english ........................................................... ..................... 100
5-1. Participants' classroom assignments in LCP-A ...............................................115
5-2. Participants' classroom assignments in LCP-B ...................................................123
5-3. Classroom activities ..................................... ........................... ....... ... ... 131
5-4. A compilation of the observed CALLA strategies that the participants used......132
6-1. Comparison of CALLA strategies and observed strategies used by study
participants .............................................................. ........ 199
6-2. Researcher recomm endations. ........................................ ........................ 212
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
INVESTMENT, CLASSROOM CONTEXTS, AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
OF FOUR CUBAN REFUGEE WOMEN IN THEIR FIRST ENGLISH-TO-
John Stephen Butcher
Chair: Jane S. Townsend, Ph.D.
Major Department: School of Teaching and Learning
Social and familial contexts frame the learning experiences of four Cuban refugee
women in adult ESOL classrooms who were beginning English language learners in a
geographical area where their home language, Spanish, was dominant. The study was
limited to the attendance and classroom experiences of four recently-arrived, Cuban
refugee women at one school during their first two trimesters of beginning ESOL
instruction. Research questions were posed to examine the influences of the women's
social contexts, use of learning strategies, and opportunities to learn English. By
interviewing and observing the four participants during their school activities, I
investigated the aspects of their lives that related to their school attendance, language
learning opportunities, and classroom experiences.
The four case studies highlighted the personal perspectives of women's learning in
a field of research that has largely depended on quantitative statistics and self-report data.
Methods of data collection included interviews and ongoing conversations both in and
out of classrooms, multiple classroom observations, and videotaped segments of
classroom interactions. Analysis produced a description of the influences from their
social and familial contexts. The women's investment issues, why they spent the time
and energy in English language learning, included concerns for their children's welfare,
response to pressure from spouses, thoughts of re-entering professions, and nascent
feelings of patriotism to the U.S. Their classroom experiences provided limited learning
activities and strategy use. Results suggested that pressures from state-mandated
performance-based accountability measures had a negative effect on the women's
classroom opportunities for learning spoken and written English. Additionally, their own
notions of the authority of the teacher and the power structures operating in the
classrooms silenced them.
Previous research has overwhelming revealed that people learn through
meaningful communication in the target language. The four participants, however,
produced little evidence of authentic language in speaking or writing because classroom
interactions rarely included cooperative activities as learners completed fill-in-the-blank
worksheets and repeated text dialogues. The learners' use of learning strategies was
limited because teachers did not focus on learning strategies. Learners spent instructional
time practicing test-taking skills. Cooperative and dialogic language learning succumbed
to time constraints rooted in the pressures of completing curriculum checklists and
succeeding on norm-referenced exit tests.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Cultivarle paises inocentes
a la gente hace tiempo alejada
de su tierra o de suspensares.
Cultivate innocent homelands
for ones long distanced from
their countries or contemplations.
Juana Rosa Pita,"Minstrel Angel Pastimes"
In the above lines, the Cuban exile poet, Juana Rosa Pita, expresses hope in exile
existence as she suggests connections of past and future. She might have written those
lines for the four women whom I came to know as they assisted me in this study.
Through their recent experiences of migration from Cuba Angelica, Dora, Marina, and
Damaris attempted to negotiate their new surroundings and immigrant identities and
build a new sense of home for themselves and their families.
The four participants had an average of one year prior to the study adjusting to the
changes in their lives after leaving Cuba. In middle age, their nuclear families were
disrupted. They had to abandon their professions, temporarily at least. They were
establishing new relationships while renewing old ones with relatives and friends in
Miami, people from whom they may have been long separated. They sought work and
attempted to understand the rights and policies of employment in a capitalistic society.
They were attempting to learn a new language. At school, they encountered formal
language learning confined to the sociopolitical definitions of Workforce English,
according to a set of statewide curriculum frameworks for adult ESOL. They worried
about their children and, in one case, grandchildren whom they had left behind in Cuba.
As they became better acclimated to their new surroundings the four women were
beginning, as Juana Rosa Pita writes, cultivarle paises inocentes, for themselves and their
families. Three inspirational themes common to each emerged from our conversations
during the women's cultivation of their new lives: tenerfe; la lucha es la vida; and la
familiar (having faith; struggle is life; and the family) (Isasi-Diaz 1996).
Statement of the Problem and Origins of the Study
The problem of this study is that there is little information about the experiences
of recently-arrived Cuban women regarding their access to and attendance in adult ESOL
programs. State curriculum guidelines (FL DOE, Division of Workforce Education
200 b), in accord with theories of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), expressed the
importance of knowing the needs of language learners. Additionally, adult literacy was a
principle concern for the district and the refugee-assistance program that served to assist
the participants in their school enrollment and attendance. Both were charged with
meeting the state-mandated demands of Workforce Development that defined public
noncredit adult ESOL course offerings as those courses
designed to improve the employability of the state's workforce thorough
acquisition of communication skills and cultural competencies which enhance
ability to read, write, speak, and listen in English (FL DOE 2000a, p.6).
In reality, there was little evidence that curriculum designers had considered the
actual contexts and interests of learners' lives. What is generally taught in public Adult
ESOL programs is dictated by what the state feels is important for learners in a
capitalistic society. Thus, prescriptively, language and culture related to labor and
consumer issues take curriculum center stage. Is it enough to know content -facts and
vocabulary without understanding that social and cultural structures underlie
employment and consumerism? While such content is important to survival, more
information and dialogue that addresses themes of power and ownership (Freire 1970)
make lesson content more relevant as immigrant learners discover aspects of their new
cultural surrounds. For example, in my experiences teaching adult ESOL in the historical
center of the Cuban postrevolutionary exile community, I learned about the traditional
and not-so-traditional roles of Cuban women and admired their tendency for
outspokenness and sense ofjusticia (social justice) (Isasi-Diaz 1996). In contrast to
learners' interests, existing adult ESOL curriculum guidelines and content checklists do
not address themes of social justice and community empowerment within the curriculum
The origins of this study began in Miami in the 1980s. As a young teacher, I
noticed that many Cuban women in the adult English to Speakers of Other Languages
(ESOL) classes that I taught were usually middle aged or older, had lived in the U.S. for
about 20 years, and were just beginning to study English. There were a few younger
exceptions at the time, of course, especially from among the population of Cubans who
recently arrived in the Mariel Boatlift of May 1980. Out of curiosity, I asked many of
the older Cuban female students why they had waited so long to enroll in English classes.
The usual response revealed a kind of a dream deferred: "My kids are grown. Now it's my
turn," or "My husband retired. Now it's my turn." The theme, Me toca a mi. (It's my
turn), often followed by Ahora tengo la oportunidad. (Now I have the opportunity.),
replayed in my mind at the start of every new trimester as I wondered about the older
Cuban women beginning, or re-entering after a long hiatus, their ESOL studies.
I pondered questions of Cuban women's learning again in 1994. El Verano de
Crisis (Summer of Crisis) from May to September of 1994 saw the arrival of just over
34,000 balseros (rafters) to the shores of South Florida. The new vintage of migrants
built rafts from anything that could float and cast themselves to the mercy of the sea.
Many of those who survived the journey enrolled in ESOL classes at the school where I
taught. Some joined my class within a week of landing on the beach or having been
plucked from the waves. Some were still nursing deep, painful ulcers on their legs and
backs, the effects of days of exposure to sun and immersion in salt water. The
newcomers told stories of their ordeals, but I noticed that something was not quite right.
In my classrooms, only men, balseros who made the journey, told the stories of their
dangerous crossings. If there were women with similar experiences among the balseros
attending the classes, they did not share stories of their migration to Florida. Although I
learned later that women made up 24% of the Cuban rafter population (Ackerman 1996),
as a teacher, I had never met a female balsera. Either they did not enroll in the classes I
taught, or they chose to remain silent while their male compatriots spoke of decisions and
trials of leaving Cuba by sea. I will never know.
Scope and Significance of the Study
My interest in immigration experiences led me to inquire about Cuban women
and aspects of their lives affecting how they learn English in Miami. I chose to study
recent arrivals, Cuban refugee women who arrived in the U.S. since 2000, because I
wanted to capture a part of their early resettlement experience as they were trying to
make sense of their new social and cultural surrounds. I could identify no previous study
that addressed such interest. The scope of the study evolved from my professional
experience and my curiosity regarding Cuban women's learning in Miami. The work was
limited to the conversations and classroom experiences of four Cuban refugee women
(Angelica, Dora, Marina, and Damaris) at one school during two trimesters of beginning
Previous research has shown that women are often directly involved with literacy
transactions at home and at work (Rockhill 1987). With this in mind, I sought to explore
the influences of the social contexts surrounding women who were beginning English
language learners in a geographical area where their home language, Spanish, is
dominant. I chose to conduct four case studies of Cuban refugee women because I hoped
that by concentrating on the women's lives in their classrooms I could highlight the
personal perspectives of learning in a field of research that has largely depended on
quantitative statistics and self-report data.
As I was preparing to identify participants, I explained my research interests to
the administrator of a refugee-assistance program that supports refugee learners' ESOL
and vocational studies in the school district. She and her staff encouraged me to look into
the actual lives of the clients they served in adult centers throughout the school district.
Although the district provided statistical information about demographics, matriculation,
and entry/exit test scores, no researcher had investigated the actual daily interactions in
the school settings. The significance of the study is that it may inform the refugee
program staff members by providing some suggestions that would help them improve
client services throughout the local school district and the state of Florida (van Lier
Questions of the Study
I did not choose the classroom settings before identifying the participants. I asked
them to participate first without knowing anything about their respective classroom
placements. In order to guide my study, I focused on the following research questions:
* What are contextual influences that frame and shape the four women's
experiences of learning English in their ESOL classrooms?
* What language learning strategies do the learners develop or employ in the
* What are their classroom opportunities for language learning?
The first question allowed me to examine the influences of the women's
investments in language learning and the familial and social surrounds that framed their
notions of schooling. The second question required me to identify the women's observed
language-learning strategies in order to analyze what they did to help themselves learn.
The final question framed an examination of the interactions in the four women's
classrooms. I considered it to be an open-ended inquiry because in qualitative case
studies methodology, I could not predict or hypothesize what might happen during the
course of data collection.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
This qualitative study examined the contextual influences on adult female second
language learners' experiences while attending ESOL classes. By contextual influences,
I mean those factors present in the participants' lives that frame their perspectives of
identity as newly-arrived immigrants and as students in their first ESOL classroom
placements. My work is informed by constructivist theory in Second Language
Acquisition (SLA) that values an adult learner's life experiences and knowledge as the
foundation and springboard of instruction (Cummins 1983, Krashen 1981, Freire 1970).
Students and teachers are partners in the learning process where the classroom is "a social
space, and this means a place where interaction is valued, not simply tolerated" (Lindfors,
1999 p. 222). Knowledge comes out of what is known and questioning is based on a
comparison of what is known and what is needed. The need is what is salient to learners
during a lesson and what is relevant in instructional discourse to take advantage of natural
and spontaneous interactions (Garcia 1994). I agree with Krashen (1981) and his model
of the "affective filter" that influences adult learners' access to information within the
interactions necessary to their progress and ultimate success. The interwoven contexts
(Cole 1996) that surround a language learner (aspects of her past educational experiences,
social and family networks, worries and joys, and in the case of the participants in this
study, the experience of migration and resettlement) affect the extent and effectiveness of
her language learning.
In this chapter, I review literature on studies conducted in the areas addressed by
my questions. Areas of interest include the women's social contexts and their attendance
in beginning adult ESOL classes, the learning strategies they used during class sessions,
and their opportunities to learn within the frame of their classrooms. I was interested in
understanding the role of adult education in the learning and professional goals of women
and in the contextual influences in their lives that affect their attendance. I first discuss
the issue of gender as site of inquiry, followed by research on women's participation in
language learning and adult education. Next, I address theories related to the learners'
contexts of experience and how internal and external factors and relationships might
affect the women's opportunities for learning English, as well as their perspectives of
resettlement that might have affected their personal and domestic obligation and their
classroom attendance. An exploration of the historical factors is important because the
four participants in this study experienced powerful cultural influences framed in their
Cuban revolutionary and exile realities. Then I examine traditional notions of schooling
within the theoretical frame of the classrooms in order to understand the nature of the
classroom interactions I observed. Finally, since the observations took place during the
participants' ESOL classes, I present an overview of some language learning theories and
strategy frameworks that I found helpful in my later analysis. The chapter ends in an
overview of ethnographic case study research, the format of the study.
I chose to study women's language learning contexts exclusively, without
comparison to men's learning issues, because I subscribe to two key assumptions drawn
from feminist research: (a) women's learning must be understood and valued in its own
right, and (b) women's learning must be understood within a broader social context that
should encompass the social determinants of gender roles and norms (Hayes & Flannery
2001, p. xii). This work seeks to extend understanding of refugee women's contexts of
learning. The research questions frame the following overlapping areas of inquiry:
0 Issues related to women's life contexts, access, and attendance in a formal adult
education ESOL program
I Learning strategies they developed and used to help themselves learn.
O Women's activities of learning within the environments of their classrooms, school,
and state curriculum frameworks.
The inspiration for my interest has been the call for qualitative contributions to
the growing body of research linking theories of second language learning (SLA) and
social contexts (Dornyei 1994, Ehrman & Domyei 1998, Norton Peirce 1995, Oxford &
Shearin 1996, Ushioda, 1996). An emerging body of scholarship focuses solely on
immigrant women's language learning (Katasse 1994, Norton-Peirce 1995; Remennick
1999, Rockhill 1987, Rockhill & Tomic 1995, Sinke 2000). However, most related
studies I have reviewed either did not address gender or compared women and men's
experiences and behaviors in educational settings. Norton-Peirce (1995) points to the
lack of SLA theory that integrates second language learners and the learning contexts. I
also found that too few studies have been based on ethnographic methods, conducted
within the naturalistic settings of classrooms, that accurately described classroom
activities from a learner's point of view. In related research, studies of refugee women's
concerns in resettlement, in which language learning is a factor, form a growing body of
work within the field of psychology (Boyd 2001, Espin 1999, Forner 2001, Saldafia
1992). Thus, in response to researchers' calls for a qualitative perspective, I explored the
participants' classroom learning experiences in order to discover contextual factors
situated in the social dimension of language learning.
Gender as Site of Inquiry
In the past, research in adult education has focused on perspectives of women as
learners, deficient or marginalized collaborative learners, who must cope with new social
roles (Hayes & Smith 1994). Other studies examine the importance of relationships, the
diverse and nonlinear patterns of women's lives, and issues of intimacy and identity
(Cafarella 1992). In their watershed study, Women's Ways of Knowing, Belenky,
Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986/1997) found that women learn best in
environments that emphasize connected teaching and learning, that is, when theoretical
models are connected to real-life experience. In these environments, the researchers
conclude, women begin to recognize their own ability to think independently, to think
critically, and to come to their own conclusions as they integrate the private and the
public, the personal and the political. The sense of belonging in the learning environment
can enhance opportunities for sharing knowledge and constructing new knowledge within
a community of learners.
Interchanges lead to ways of knowing that enable individuals to enter into the
social and intellectual life of their community. Without them, individuals remain
isolated from others; and without tools for representing their experiences, people
also remain isolated from the self (p. 26).
According to Bem (1993), "What virtually all the women-centered theorists have
seen as a woman's special virtue is her ability to easily transcend the many isolated units
and artificial polarities that men are said to almost compulsively invent" (p. 128).
Bearing such theories in mind, some researchers have suggested gender-specific
instructional programs based on theoretical formulations for adult learning that focus on
the mental construction of experience as it relates to emancipatory learning (Carmack
1992, Purcell-Gates & Waterman 2000). Tisdell (1993), referring to the Belenky et al
study, criticizes adult education classroom practices and curriculum as being driven by
white male, middle class values that might not be in the interests of women, and
especially women from minority populations. She claims that men's experiences and
goals in adult learning are more often validated than are those of minority women.
Tisdell suggests a "liberatory model" of feminist pedagogies that deals with "the nature of
structured power relations and interlocking systems of oppression based on gender, race,
class, age and so on" (p. 94). The model she proposes, based on critical examination of
social power structures, is parallel to that proposed earlier by Freire (1970). Tisdell's
criticism of adult learning environments is a reaction to the reproduction of male power
and the oppression of women inherent in workforce and domestic labor settings.
Because the curriculum, the knowledge base, and the examples used in the books
and materials are created by and are primarily about the middle-class male
experience, white middle-class males are more likely to be successful both in the
education system and in a society that accords greater value to that experience.
Therefore, white male power is reproduced by the system (p. 95).
Awareness of Essentializing Forces in Gender Research
The problem with most studies on women's learning is that they may unwittingly
contribute to essentializing and stereotyping female learners while they consider the
effects of gender apart from constructions of race and class. Cheng (1999) writes that
"minority and third world feminists have maintained that gender should not be treated as
an autonomous system independent of other systems of stratification, such as ethnicity,
race and class; they have criticized the additive model of conceptualization of gender" (p.
43). Furthermore, it seems that the choice of the word, "gender," in scholarly discussions
implies a markedness to the male default the addition of the female as if the male
subject were not also a category of gender. Representation of the learners' experiences
without first examining the social constructs of gender and the category of "woman"
could imply that there is some unknown and underlying common identity that the word
"woman" subsumes. Such an assumption ignores the vast diversity of identities,
experiences, and cultural contexts that exist for people who carry the cultural
representative label, "Woman."
Butler (1990) writes at length on the presumed universality of "women" as a topic
of representation and inquiry in feminist critique. She raises the pervasive question in
feminist theorizing: "What defines the category, 'gender'?" Is it biologically linked to
reproductive function? Is it based on social roles predetermined by the dominant
culture? Does it essentialize and diminish women's identities to say that transcultural
structures of femininity, maternity, and sexuality make women's life experiences
universal? "When feminists theorists claim that gender is culturally constructed, what is
the manner of mechanism of this construction?" (p. 11). Whatever the nature of such
construction, societies set a code of gender appropriate behaviors and roles that proceed
unnoticed unless they are violated.
The limits of the discursive analysis of gender presuppose and preempt the
possibilities of imaginable and realizable gender configuration within a culture.
This is not to say that any and all gender possibilities are open, but the boundaries
of analysis suggest the limits of a discursively conditioned experience. These
limits are always set within the terms of a hegemonic cultural discourse
predicated on binary structures that appear as the language of universal
rationality. Constraint is thus built into what language constitutes as the
imaginable domain of gender (p. 13).
People's lives conform to factors of behavior such as those related to construction
of the male and female identities and the materialization of gendered bodies. Butler
(1993) questions how the materiality of sex difference has been presumed to be
irreducible; how we speak about and situate the categories of the masculine and feminine
have somehow created absolutes that bear cultural construction (p. 28). Enloe (1989), in
her examination of the roles that women have played in international politics and
economics, suspects that the categories of gender are "packages of expectations that have
been created through specific decisions by specific people. We are also coming to realize
that the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity have been surprisingly hard to
perpetrate" (p. 3).
Bem (1993) describes the hegemonic discourse of such binary gender
construction in her discussion of gender issues and inequalities. Bem posits that, in
general, societies view gender in three ways or "lenses."
a. "Androcentrism" is the assumption that men's experience is the norm. The
view of woman as "the other" is still firmly embedded in Western thought.
b. "Gender polarization" places men and women on opposite ends of a spectrum
that is rigidly defined, not so much by biology as by acculturation.
c. "Biological essentialism" forms the basis of shifting theories that share the
belief that biology is destiny.
All three lenses both distort and shape reality and are culturally reproductive in nature.
Arguments about whether women are or are not different from men miss the point--
women clearly are different in some ways, and these differences should be considered but
not devalued. Moreover, the lenses that Bem describes focus more on the reproduction of
power to control social processes than they do on difference.
The lenses of androcentrism, gender polarization, and biological essentialism
systematically reproduce male power in two ways. First the discourses and social
institutions in which they are embedded automatically channel females and males
into different and unequal life situations. Second, during enculturation, the
individual gradually internalizes the cultural lenses and thereby becomes
motivated to construct an identity that is consistent with them (p. 3).
Butler (1993), in her book, Bodies That Matter, also speaks of the role of power in
the discourse of gender and the importance of critique regarding the term, "woman."
While she argues for the use of the term without tacitly inferring limits on its meaning,
Butler also calls for subjecting it "to a critique which interrogates exclusionary operations
and differential power relations that construct and delimit feminist invocations of
'women'" (p. 29). Later, Butler explains that the boundary of the material "body" is the
site of lived differentiated experience where conceptions of "the other," that is, of
separate individuals, are situated. "That differentiation is never neutral to the question of
gender difference or the heterosexual matrix" (p. 63).
Coming to School: Research in Women's Participation in Adult ESOL Learning Contexts
Of interest to the study were reasons that drew the four women to the school and
kept them attending during the first two trimesters of their 1-year funded program.
Because I wanted to understand the participants' experiences in their first ESOL
placements, I needed an intimate look at the daily classroom activities of the participants
in order to understand their multiple social identities as learners, workers, mothers, wives,
and community members. The participants' voices provided deeper perspectives on their
investment in language learning (expenditure of time and effort) rooted in personal and
family background, previous education, migration experience, historical context, and
support networks. Norton-Peirce situates investment in language learning "in the
relationship of the language learner to the changing world" (p. 17) and recognition of the
complex social roles, contexts, and identities that learners must negotiate.
Women's participation in adult education is a complex phenomenon (G6mez,
2000). Perceived obligations to domestic, familial, and occupational duties are among
many forces that might positively, or negatively, influence a woman's decisions to attend
school and to continue doing so. In the historical context of the Miami Cuban exile
community, adult female refugees, who often found work within the Spanish-speaking
community, did not attend English classes as frequently as males (Rogg, 1974). As a
historical comparison, Portes and Bach (1985) reported that "between 1976 and 1979,
while just less than one third of the [Cuban] men attended class, only 21% of the [Cuban]
women received similar formal instruction" (p. 179).
Since the 1970s changes in labor markets and technological advances have forced
people to seek education (Golden 2001, G6mez 2000, Portes & Bach 1985). In the
analysis of data by gender in her study of adult education participation, G6mez (2000)
found that more women than men tend to make the decision to attend on their own and
that more men than women participated on the suggestion of their employer (p. 215). She
also found that women rely on information and recommendations from neighbors,
friends, and family members as they consider their return to formal education settings.
Luttrell (1989), in her study of 30 working-class women of color, argued that there are
profound reasons for women to participate in schooling. Women tend to place heavy
value on the voices and knowledge put forth by school authorities (Belenky et al
1986/1997). Luttrell found that
Their identities are already embedded in cultural, community, and work
relationships, yet their desire to expand, perfect, or contradict the work they do as
women underlies their participation in school (p. 34).
Rockhill (1987) in her study of 50 Hispanic women in Los Angeles, found that
many women express the desire to attend English classes. They first enroll in such
classes soon after they arrive from another country. Women attending adult education
programs are most likely to be enrolled in the lower skills classes. G6mez agrees. "The
more basic the level of the course, the more women were over-represented among the
participants" (G6mez 2000, p. 217). Unfortunately, despite effort and desire, many
female students discontinue their studies during their lower levels of ESOL enrollment.
They explain stopping in terms of the enormous pressures of their daily lives,
including resistance at home. They talk about worry, anxiety, too much on their
minds, and feeling too old to concentrate upon the difficult and time-consuming
endeavor of learning the language (Rockhill 1987, p. 163).
Rockhill also argues that the rates of women's attendance is proportionate to the
extent that other institutional factors support women's participation and learning. What
is equally important, she found, is that the proportion of women students attending class
can contribute to women's feelings of belonging as they come to identify themselves as
learners in the learning environment (cited in Hayes 2001, p. 32). Women may depend
on schooling as the place to learn English because they are usually confined to the
domestic sphere or working environments where they are not exposed to practical, and
informal uses of English on an ongoing, day-to-day basis (Rockhill 1987). Additionally,
Hayes (2001, citing Rockhill) argues that women's pursuit of further education can be a
deliberate attempt at independence (p. 49). However, independence is a construct that is
defined in different ways across cultural lines and may not be the goal of all women
learners attending adult ESOL classes. In the classroom, women learners become part of
a community of learners, in contrast to the isolation they often encounter in their home
life, where they are less likely to interact with native English speakers.
Interactions in the classroom are strongly influenced by gender roles especially
among cultures where power and patriarchy are explicit (Tisdell 1993). Officially, and
idealistically speaking, discourse in adult ESOL classrooms attempts to level the playing
field for all learners. However, attempts at equality in U.S. ESOL classrooms may be
naive, considering that some women come from backgrounds where their public voice is
devalued, and even squelched. Luttrell (1989) concludes,
To understand women's exclusion requires an examination of the similarities and
differences in the objective conditions of women's lives, as well as an analysis of
how ideologies of knowledge shape women's perceptions and claims to
knowledge (p. 44).
Psychologist Espin (1999) addressed the complexities behind classroom
interactions as learners attempt to learn the language, but also to acquire the skills to
negotiate new cultural spheres and construct new knowledge within their new
The immigrant learns to "live in two languages" at the same time she learns to
live in two social worlds. Learning to live in a new language is not merely an
instrumental process; it is not a neutral act. (Espin 1999, p. 134.).
Within the scope of this study, the spirit of Espin's statement was a thread interwoven in
the fabric of the women's goals and experiences as they negotiated lives on the cultural
and linguistic border between the Miami Cuban exile enclave and the surrounding
English-speaking environment. Espin explains that both concern for freedom of
movement and their acceptance by the dominant U.S. society seemed to reflect women's
hope for greater independence and transforming identities. Norton-Peirce (1995) agrees
When language learners speak, they are not only exchanging information with
target language speakers but they are constantly organizing and reorganizing a
sense of who they are and how they relate to the social world. Thus an
investment in the target language is also an investment in the learner's own social
identity, an identity which is constantly changing across time and space (p. 17).
Learning the dominant language can be seen as an investment in oneself, one's
family, and one's social community. However, for many women, initial language
learning comes from a need for self-defense in the threatening borderland between their
home culture and the newly entered environment. In her study of female Spanish-
speaking immigrants, Klassen (1987) found that some language learners wanted to learn
English as a means of defense in their daily lives. It is important to point out that when
Spanish speakers use the cognate, defender (to defend oneself), the meaning in not
limited to situations of conflict, but can extend to explaining one's agency, opinion, or
decision. "Initial efforts to learn the language are framed in terms of self-defense, of
survival" (cited in Rockhill, 1987).
Reality stands in contrast; self-defense issues and women's language learning
investment are clearly not the focus of Adult ESOL. Most language teaching and
materials in ESOL programs are organized into instructional units to teach the language
of survival and coping with social power structures as they exist. The "client," as a
student enrolled in Florida adult education is called, receives language instruction that is
embedded, according to state-established goal competencies in cultural, social, and
political spheres of the community and workplace (FL DOE 2001a). Such a curriculum
bias seems to validate Espin's (1999) observation that language learning is not a neutral
act of instrumentality: "It implies being immersed in the power relations of the specific
culture that speaks the specific language" (p. 134). The cultural aims and definition of
"empowerment" in Adult ESOL in the last several years have been recast to fulfill
economic mandates to teach specific language and behaviors exclusively aligned with
business interests and the greater consumer-oriented society.
Adult Literacy as Commodity
Locally in Florida, and throughout the United States, the philosophy of Adult
ESOL has been evolving, moving more toward labor-oriented language learning under
federal mandate (Workforce Investment Act of 1998). In 1992, the Secretary of Labor
Commission on Acquiring Necessary Skills (SCANS Report 1992) defined the skills
needed by workers to function productively and efficiently in the U.S. workplace. "The
legislature has clearly designed the program to enhance the state's ability to have in place
a trained workforce. This is in keeping with early goals that the U.S. Congress had for
adult education" (FL DOE 2001b).
Literacy has become the important buzzword in ESOL with the contemporary
emphasis on teaching reading skills, particularly for Workforce English. Teaching
"employability skills" makes efferent reading of such texts as instructions, safety
warnings, and workers' rights paramount in importance over reading aesthetic texts for
the simple joy of reading (Rosenblatt 1938). Furthermore, the state-mandated, seven-
level curriculum frameworks for Adult ESOL are themselves entitled, "Literacy
Completion Points" (my emphasis. See Appendix A for Florida Adult ESOL
For the last 10 years at least, Adult Literacy and ESOL instruction has been
framed, as Rockhill (1987) observed "in terms of economic development, equality of
opportunity, and the possibilities of liberty and democracy" (p. 156). Philosophically,
literacy has become an object or commodity to be acquired. As a result, Adult ESOL has
widely been reclassified as "Workforce English." It bears noting that the U.S. has not
been the leader in this initiative and that the focus on workforce issues in adult language
teaching and learning is a global concern.
Studies of teaching the local language to newcomers in Sweden (Hill 1990),
France (Grillo 1985), and France and Britain (Grillo 1989) countries in which
newcomers are primarily conceptualized as labor migrants reveal that the
curriculum deals "primarily with the languages of, and behaviors appropriate to,
situations that reflect roles basic to processes of production and consumption"
(Grillo 1985) and "actors in a complex structure of official rights and obligations"
(Selwyn 1986). (Golden 2001, p. 67).
Whereas labor and consumer language has become the framework of Adult ESOL
curriculum content, Rockhill (1987) sharply condemns reliance on such a curriculum
because in her view it does a disservice to female learners.
To frame literacy in terms of equality of opportunity, rights, or empowerment is
absurd...in a gendered society where conception of rights is alien to women who
have been told all their lives that they must obey and care for others (p. 165).
She suggests that women learners would be better served if researchers sought answers to
how language in general enters their everyday lives and self-definitions. What does
learning language mean to the lives of learners and what is necessary to them? If
immigrant women in ESOL classrooms are to be successful, the curriculum and
instruction should be relevant to their lives. Feminist theorist, Weedon (1987) asserts that
language is "the place where actual and possible forms of social organization and their
likely social and political consequences are defined and contested. Yet it is also the place
where our sense of ourselves, our subjectivity, is constructed" (p. 21).
Contexts, Surrounds, and Primary Frames
Influences from Women's Life Contexts.
The first research question addresses the contextual influences within the
participants' lives and the effects such influences may have on their attending adult ESOL
classes. The women in the study (recent refugees, professionals, mothers, wives, and
community members) entered the long process of English language learning in a public
adult education center. Historically, they found themselves among the most recent Cuban
arrivals to the Miami exile enclave. Psychologist Peck (1986) offers a spiraling model of
women's adult self-definition and subjectivity that can help theoretically explain the
influences of the contexts that surround the study participants and their English language
learning opportunities (Figure 2-1).
Figure 2-1 Peck's Model of adult women's self-definition in adulthood (Peck 1986, p.
It is helpful to view the influences in the participants' lives according to a model
that situates their identity formation within the domains of historical time, social
surrounds, and personal relationships. As Peck's model shows, a woman's development
of her own self-definition is not static, but continually evolving according to roles and
relationships with the people, times, and places surrounding her. The spiral construction
of Peck's "Model of Women's Adult Self-Definition" indicates continual change wherein
the woman is subject to, and exerts her influences on, forces and contexts of relationships
and chronology as she monitors her growth against the relationships with those she
values (p. 281).
The model describes the process of self-definition enveloped in the powerful
contexts of relationships that Peck calls the "sphere of influence." The influences
function in emic-etic channels, that is, they include the affective relationships a woman
has with others around her (as co-worker, wife, lover, mother, friend, etc.) and the effects
other people have on her and her identity. Peck explains that the sphere of influence is
both flexible and elastic, expanding to accommodate new relationships and contracting to
prevent them. "Flexibility includes the ways in which a woman is able to redistribute her
emotional involvement with each relationship in order to receive support and
reaffirmation of the self when necessary" (p. 279). Elasticity is the primary way a
woman sees the effects she has on the people around her. Therefore she can see herself as
having some control over the extent to which others' needs and expectations affect her
own behavior and her ability to differentiate others' concerns from her own (p. 280).
Surrounding the immediate sphere of influence in Peck's model is the concept of
"social-historical time." It takes into account the Zeitgeist and social attributes of the
woman's lifetime, and subsumes the factors of personal chronology and physical aging.
In the social-historical realm the woman defines herself at any given point in time against
the backdrop of social, emotional and political contexts (p. 278). Peck's model is
dialectical in its description of the internal and external forces of a woman's life and
includes the influences of relationships and caring. It stands in marked contrast to
models of autonomy and identity, which usually depict stages of adult identity formation,
from the default of masculine perspectives.
Peck's "Model of Women's Adult Self-Definition" applies to Lindfors' (1999)
discussion of the importance of considering "surround contexts" in classroom
interactions. In her explanation of surround contexts, Lindfors refers to the layers of
relationships located in contexts of time and space. Although people are generally
unaware of contexts of daily experience, learners' identities and their life experiences
frame the perceptions of learning opportunities, as well as learners' involvement and
contributions to classroom work. The knowledge, beliefs, values, expectations,
experiences, expressive ways learners (and teachers) bring into the classroom interact
with what is already there and they contextualize classroom discourse and interactions.
"Expectations from outside and inside constitute a pool of resources for each individual -
a set of possibilities and constraints for creating and interpreting utterances" (p. 218).
In her discussion of surround and context, Lindfors credits the work of cultural
psychologist Cole (1996) for the psychological metaphor of "weaving" to understand
surround contexts. In his presentation of the notion of context and surround, Cole looks
to the Latin root of the word "context" for inspiration in his proposal of interweaving of
influences. In Latin, contexere, means "to weave together." Cole sees the image of
weaving as salient to a discussion of the influences that not only surround learners, but
construct a multidimensional matrix of experience in which an individual is an active
participant. "When context is thought of in this way, it cannot be reduced to that which
surrounds. It is rather a qualitative relation between a minimum of two analytical entities
(threads), which are moments in a single process" (p. 135). Cole concludes that
interactions have multidirectional consequences that position an individual in relation to
another person. That relationship exists as cross-threads woven within the situation as a
whole, that is, the surrounding context (p. 144).
Women in the Cuban Exile Context
Latina women in particular are regarded as virtuous if they demonstrate humility
and selflessness in their relationships with family and community (Anzaldua 1997). With
such complexities in mind, each participant made decisions that affected her own welfare
and that of the people who depended on her. Latina writer Anzaldua (1997) explains that
kinship effects powerful forces on women's (and men's) gendered lives within the
Hispanic cultural sphere. The obligations framed in kinship often define Latinas'
identities and gave rise to the pressures behind their daily struggles.
From a Cuban exile perspective, Mujerista theologian Isasi-Diaz (1996) agrees
with Butler (1993) and Bem (1993) as she, too, argues against essentializing women's
experiences, especially those of women lived in exile realities. Isasi-Diaz explains that
Cuban women's lives in exile follow a daily struggle of identity and liberation that she
calls, "lo cotidiano" (the daily [struggle]). Lo cotidiano refers to daily life experiences
that constitute Cuban women's realities and how they might characterize actions,
conversations, norms, social roles, and themselves (p. 67). The experiences of daily life
are shared among the members of an individual's social network as illustrated by the
flexible and elastic "sphere of influence," the core of Peck's "Model of adult women's
self-definition in adulthood" (1986, p. 275).
Lo cotidiano points to "shared experiences," which I differentiate from "common
experience." "Shared experiences" is a phrase that indicates the importance
differences play in lo cotidiano. On the other hand, "common experience" seems
to mask differences, to pretend that there is but one experience, one way of
knowing for all Hispanic women (p. 68).
The philosophy behind Isasi-Diaz's description of lo cotidiano, or daily struggle
(la lucha, the struggle) highlights the agency that Cuban women find and locate in their
own lives lived in exile space and historical context. Indeed, the common Cuban cliche,
"Hay que seguir luchando" (Ya gotta keep struggling!) surfaced repeatedly in the study
data. As if to link la lucha with women's resistance to oppression, Butler (1993) points
out that personal agency implicates the individual in the relations of power that she seeks
to oppose (p. 123). Within the relationships constructed by lo cotidiano, Cuban women
judge their own "personal understandings, aspirations, ambitions, projects, and goals in
their lives" (p. 71) usually in their obligations to others. Cuban exile educator, J.
Gonzalez (1993), illustrates Isasi-Diaz's point from her own perspective.
No solo teniamos que velarpor nuestra sobrevivencia, sino que ademds dramos
responsablespara servirle de apoyo a novios, esposos, hermanos y padres. Con
esafalta de direcci6n definida empezamos aproyectar nuestras vidas de mujer.
De pronto, las reglas deljuego cambiaron. No habia tiempo para dedicarse a
pensar en ilusiones, habia que repartir el tiempo entire trabajoy studios. Nos
viamos de repentefrente aproblemas quejamds pensamos atravesar, con
decisions quejamds pensamos tener que tomar.
Not only did we have to watch out for our own survival, but we were also
responsible for serving to support boyfriends, husbands, brothers, and fathers.
With that lack of defined direction, we began planning our lives as women.
Quickly, the rules of the game changed. There was no time for thinking about
illusions. One had to split one's time between work and studies. We saw
ourselves suddenly confronted with problems that we never thought we would go
through, with decisions we never thought we would have to make (p. 39).
Cuban Revolutionary Influences
As children and young adults, the four women in the study lived through the
developing ideology of the Revolution, which ineffectually tried to change in the
traditional lenses of gender (Bem 1993) in the Cuban cultural context. The attempts at
change caused Cuban women to be treated paradoxically in the post-revolutionary period
in Cuba. Women could not only shoulder arms as true soldiers, but were obliged with
added duty as caring companions at the service of their male rebel compatriots. For
example, according to historian Guerra (2001), the women's rebel organization, La
Escuadra de Hijas de Fidel (The Squadron of the Daughters of Fidel) early on
established a paradox for women within the revolutionary context. Members in the
Escuadra acknowledged the role of women in the physical revolutionary struggle while
reinforcing the traditional domestic image of women as caretakers.
As the Revolution progressed, the Cuban government's perspectives on gender
equality became more defined. In 1974, during the time when the participants were
attending high school (Angelica and Dora), recently graduated (Marina), or attending the
university (Damaris), a law was passed that limited the types of employment that women
could pursue because of the danger to women's reproductive systems. Thus, women
were barred by law from working in construction, scuba diving, chemotherapy medicine,
radiation related occupations, and chemical manufacture. The following year, the
"Family Law" was enacted that divided domestic labor equally between spouses. Deere
(1984) explains the philosophical rationale behind the law.
The traditional reproductive responsibilities of women, and the burden it places
upon them, must be recognized. If domestic labor cannot be socialized, the only
alternative, if women's equality is to be achieved, is for men to share the
reproductive burden (p. 74).
The effect of the law was that a woman could divorce a husband who did not do 50% of
the household chores and childcare. According to Guerra, many men found a loophole in
the law by enlisting their mothers or other female relatives to assist them in their legally
mandated domestic duties.
The gendered paradox became further developed in the framing of the 1976
Cuban constitution. In its writing, the government established recognition of gender
equality as an ideal, but obscured the problem in policies of incorporation of women in
all social roles. Not only were women in Cuba included in the social responsibility for
upholding the revolutionary ideals and contributing their labor to the cause of the
Revolution, they also were charged with the traditional domestic and reproductive roles
as well. The new position on equality did not affect women's traditional identity roles
established by the earlier Roman Catholic Cuban society.
In the Revolution women had two models of socially acceptable behavior: (a) The
Virgin Mary, the traditional honor/shame role as the basis of domestic female power; or
(b) The Revolutionary Hero Woman with the gun who is the companion and caretaker of
the male guerrilla. Guerra concludes that the Revolution did force reconsideration of
women's power, but not to the point of conflict with men's power. Through the 1990s,
women's issues in Cuba became even more marginalized because of perceptions of the
success of revolutionary egalitarianism. All gender debate was silenced because it
violated the honor code of Cubanismo. Any open gender critique became construed as an
indictment of some failure on behalf of the government. By the time the four participants
emigrated to Miami, public debate in Cuba regarding gender equality had ceased.
Frame Analysis and the Banking Model of Education
Dewey once said, "For we never experience nor form judgements about objects
and events in isolation, but only in connection with a contextual whole" (1938, p. 66). In
the previous section I explored theories regarding the place of learner context and
surrounds that influence their opportunities and experiences of learning. In this section, I
will discuss a common ideology that often underlies culturally constructed
understandings of classroom discourse and experiences.
Generally, people are unaware of the many cultural forces that long ago
established behavioral and situational expectations. Lack of awareness means that people
accept many reified social structures without question. In his celebrated work, Frame
Analysis: An essay on the organization of experience, Goffman (1974) writes about how
people passively accept the actions and artifacts of their surroundings and culture.
Goffman's "frame analysis" looks at the structures that people perceive as, what
Goffman calls, "primary frameworks," or the understandings and expectations about what
something is (an object, a social context, etc.) and how it functions and relates to others.
Primary frameworks dictate how people will react or respond to situations. As Goffman
Each framework allows its user to locate, perceive, identify, and label a seemingly
infinite number of concrete occurrences defined in its terms. He is likely to be
unaware of such organized features as the framework has and unable to describe
the framework with any completeness if asked, yet these handicaps are no bar to
his easily and fully applying it (p. 21).
Bruner (1990) applies what Goffman has described to the social realm. "People
are expected to behave situationally whatever their 'roles,' whether they are introverted or
extroverted, whatever their scores on the MMPI, whatever their politics" (p. 48). In this
study, learners and teachers functioned within primary frameworks of what they might
expect from a "normal" educational experience (van Lier 1988). All the participants and
all the teachers experienced personal histories of schooling that set rules and expectations
about how the educational process would operate.
Within the culture of the classroom, routines can evolve, becoming part of the
expected framework of usual behaviors. "This leads to activities which are similar to
rituals in which everyone knows what to do next, and the only surprise is when
unexpected things happen" (van Lier 1988, p. 10). If, for example, learners (to recall
Goffman's phrase) locate, perceive, identify, and label a seemingly infinite number of
concrete occurrences" that take place in the classroom in terms of passively received
knowledge, they would probably accept the traditional frame that views teachers as
authority figures and purveyors of knowledge. Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) describe
such a traditional classroom communication in much the same frame of many learners
and teachers who may have not had experience or training in constructivist styles of
The lecturer [teacher] can call for participation or objection without fear of it
really happening: questions to the audience are purely rhetorical; the answers,
serving to express the part of the faithful to take in the service, are generally no
more than responses (p. 109).
Within such a frame of education, student responses are often just reconstituted,
paraphrased information that the learners have received from the teacher in the first place.
It is as if the teacher deposits more and more information for the learners to store in
memory for later recall. Called "The Banking Model," this framework of education
derived from economics models is described by Freire (1970) in his landmark work,
Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
In short, the banking model assumes that a learner's mind is empty and
impoverished, waiting to be "filled" by the enriching knowledge that the respected, well-
educated teacher endows. The teacher (and/or the mandated curriculum) decides what
learners need to learn, then delivers the nutritive knowledge in a lesson. Curriculum
content is customarily based on what students lack or what is good for them to know in
order to become productive members of society. Later, the assessment, or some accepted
proof of "learning," usually comes in the form of an uncritical, often verbatim, playback
of the teacher's input, orally or in writing. Bilingual educator and social critic, Macedo
(1994) calls such teaching and learning, "instrumental literacy for the poor." Macedo
criticizes drills and fill-in-the-blank exercises as nothing but "preparation for multiple
choice exams and writing gobbledygook in imitation of the psychobabble that surrounds
them" (p. 16). According to Freire, it is a type of pedagogy that protects power and
prevents critical thinking and dialogue by keeping the classroom interactions in the hands
of the teacher.
Many of the learner experiences that I observed, and will describe in the findings,
can be categorized according to Freire's list of banking model assumptions (p.73):
0 The teacher teaches and the students are taught.
O The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing.
O The teacher thinks and the students are thought about.
O The teacher talks and the students listen meekly.
O The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined.
O The teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply.
O The teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the
O The teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted)
adapt to it.
O The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional
authority, which she or he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students.
O The teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.
In the context of the banking model, learner production of original work is not an
issue since the learners are expected to absorb what the teacher is presenting to them.
They apparently have almost no opportunities to offer their own input to the learning
event. Student work then is reduced to rehashing the teacher's ideas or the content of the
textbook, filling in the blanks of worksheets and mimicking dialogues. The framework
default dictates that the learners do not question content or delivery of what surely must
be to their benefit (my emphasis). They do not really get to use the language, at least
during class sessions, for their own knowledge construction. Thus, "being recipients but
not sources of knowledge, the students feel confused and incapable when the teacher
requires that they do original work" (Belenky, et al 1986/1997, p. 40). Newcomers in
ESOL classrooms may not be equipped to understand the style of dialogic discourse
necessary in language learning because their cultural frame traditionally supports the
authority and power of the teacher and the inferiority of the learner (Bourdieu & Passeron
In language-learning contexts, the banking model can be a sure barrier limiting
learning strategy use, acquisition of language, and communicative competence because
the learner does not have frequent opportunities to practice what she has learned.
Effective language learning and communicative competence develop from interactions
among learners and with speakers of the target language. It is a social process in which
the learner discovers the purposes and cultural variables of discourse (Woolard &
Schieffelin 1994). As Norton-Peirce (1995) writes, "...language learning results from
participation in communicative events; it is important to investigate how power relations
are implicated in the nature of this learning" (p. 13). Fine (1991) in her critical analysis
of urban high schools, claims that the muting of students and learning communities
undermines the project of educational empowerment.
Language learning and ESOL
Dialogic Notions of Language Learning
The language learning process is invisible because knowledge construction is
individual and personal. Teaching and learning practices must consider the interaction of
language, culture, and cognition. "Because learning is an active, dynamic process, we
believe that second-language acquisition will occur most effectively with high degree of
learner involvement" (O'Malley & Chamot 1993, p. 97). Sociocultural theorists have
long sought to describe patterns of connection within all areas of language, cognition,
culture, human development, and their relation to teaching and learning. Spolsky (1989)
asserts that language learning cannot progress without exposure to the language, and that
learners practice the target language in two distinct qualitative settings informally with
native speakers in a natural setting and formally within the curriculum-based confines of
Lindfors (1987) discusses two approaches to language learning. She says that
some teachers see language learning as acquiring a set of habits that are internalized by
repetitive practice. In contrast, adherents of another approach hypothesize that learners
acquire the second language in interactive, social contexts by experiencing how native
speakers use the target language. In the first approach, the first language is viewed as a
liability because of the belief that it interferes with learning specific content or form and
pattern in the second language. The second perspective credits learners with the
resources of cognitive understanding of the general processes of language as learners
infer their own rules about content, pronunciation, and grammatical rules (p. 441).
Explicit instruction can have its place within the creative construction process of
language learning as a teacher scaffolds knowledge previously learned in order to connect
it to new learning. Language is the tool for constucting new knowledge.
Vygotsky's (1986) oft-cited model of the "Zone of Proximal Development"
explains a learner's need for others help in constructing knowledge that reaches beyond
that which is known. In his discussion of speech and tool, Vygotsky explains that
language is a mental tool and knowledgeable others assist the learner to develop mental
tools within the child's current range of development. Speech and action are part of the
same complex psychological function directed at the solution of the problem at hand.
The more complex the task, the more reliance placed on external or internal speech.
Bakhtin (1986) explains language in use as utterance, that which is spoken or
written and is dialogic in nature. He also stresses the necessity of shared experience in
learning and language development. An utterance to him is a border phenomenon that
takes place between speakers and is immersed in the social factors of discourse. Meaning
comes about in the individual psyche and in shared social experience through sign and
symbol. Dewey (1931) agrees in saying that thought does not deal with bare things, but
with their meanings. Dewey agrees with Vygotsky that language is a tool; however, it is
a tool used to preserve meanings, a store of meanings, without which intellectual life
could not exist.
James and Piaget both discuss the constructive nature of learning. According to
James (1899), the accumulation of a store of physical conceptions is the basis of human
knowledge of the material world. Piaget (1959) says that thought occurs through the
development of networks of knowledge on which learners build additional knowledge.
Experience and dialogue build the mental frameworks, what Piaget labels, schemataa."
Mental frameworks do not happen in a vacuum free from outside influences. Schemata
are constructed within contexts and notions of reality that are culturally bound.
The process of equilibrium, accommodation, and assimilation of new knowledge
expands the intellectual store. The common themes among all these early theorists are
that language is a tool for understanding and storing knowledge.
Learning is accomplished in association with others, in a social dialogue of
scaffolding, expansion, and inquiry. Individual learning and social interaction are
inextricably connected as the teacher and learner and others are constructing minds
through social activity. Vygotsky's work supports this notion because he believes that
language acquisition is where the internal mental representation and external reality meet.
Lindfors (1999) calls this nexus the realm of inquiry where the learner uses internal
knowledge and imposition on others to push to the limits of what is known.
Cognitive psychologist Anderson (1980, 1985) believes that language is a
cognitive skill, that is, the ability to perform various mental procedures. He writes that
knowledge can be thought of in two types, "declarative" and "procedural." Declarative
knowledge is "what" we know such as accepted facts, which are static. Procedural
knowledge is more complex and constitutes what we know "how" to do. It is dynamic
and includes knowledge about processes of rule formation and problem solving (p. 198).
Belenky et al agree with Anderson in that procedural knowledge leads to problem solving
talk. "Procedural knowers are practical, pragmatic problem solvers" (p. 99).
Learning, according to Anderson's model, occurs in three stages: (a) the cognitive
stage; (b) the associative stage; and (c) the autonomous stage. The cognitive stage is
where declarative knowledge of facts relevant to a skill enters the memory as input, i.e.
the information that the learner recognizes and accepts (Chaudron 1985). Input, as Gass
(1997) describes it, is information about the environment that is "synthesized and
digested in preparation for integration into a developing system" (p. 138). In the
associative stage, the learner works out possible errors in skills and meaning while
strengthening connections with other skills or schemata previously learned. Finally, the
procedures of association and connection become more and more rapid as internalized
rules become less and less consciously accessible. In short, the skill becomes so
automatic that the learner does not have to think about the process (pp. 234-235).
Declarative knowledge is maintained in long-term memory in terms of meaning instead
of precisely replicated external events.
SLA researcher Krashen (1981) applies a similar set of language learning stages
that he describes in two models, the Input H)pl,,the\i and the Monitor Hypothesis. In the
former, Krashen situates a subconscious and intuitive process of constructing the system
of language through interaction with speakers of the target language. The main
assumption of the Input Hypothesis is that input must be available to the learner and
comprehensible. The Monitor Hypothesis asserts that language learning is a conscious
effort and that the learner uses what is known to compare and monitor language
production. The learner detects errors and makes corrections based on conscious
observation of language events. Krashen values input over monitoring because he
believes that only large amounts of input and exposure to authentic language can lead to
acquiring the skills necessary for fluency. In a comparative view of Anderson's stages
and Krashen's hypotheses, Krashen might regard input as adding to the realm of
Anderson's declarative knowledge, because both depend of external influences, while
procedural knowledge may find a connection with monitoring, a more internally driven
The study describes the learning styles and observable strategies employed by the
participants to learn English in their classroom settings. The choice of focusing on the
experiences of female participants for this study was informed by the emerging area of
research interest in women's and men's experiences in L2 learning. Since the 1970's,
several measures and personal survey instruments of learning strategy use have
complicated the field of language learning strategy inquiry (Tsung-Yuan & Oxford
2002). In relation to the participants in this work, a few studies that have considered
gender as a factor in the data have examined classroom talk (Losey 1995), classroom
teaching (Holmes 1994, cited by Schwarte 2001, Sunderland 1994), comprehension
signaling (Gass & Varonis 1985, and Pica, et al. 1991), and learning strategies (Oxford
1995). Losey's (1995) study examined the classroom talk of Mexican-American men and
women attending English classes in a community college setting. She concluded that the
women's silence she observed arose from the fast pace of the class and frequent
interruptions when they did attempt to speak. Even so, women often engaged in one-on-
one tutorial interactions and unofficial sense-making talk with peers. Losey cites Davies
(1983) and Stanley (1986) who have previously written about silence in classrooms as a
characteristic of young women. Youth may be only one among many in women's
silence. Among the women whom Belenky et al (1986/1997) identified as "silent" were
the youngest, but they were also the most socially, educationally, and economically
deprived of all the participants in their study (p. 23).
Oxford (1995), who has an extensive body of research on language learning
strategies and motivation to her credit, found that female L2 learners who employ a wider
range of L2 learning strategies, are generally field dependent and reflective, while males
in the same settings are often impulsive and field independent learners. Field dependence
indicates that a learner looks for clues to meaning by connecting discreet language tasks
to elements in previous knowledge and in the surrounding contexts of discourse. Field
independence implies that a learner is tolerant of ambiguities and does not depend on
explicit connection to context when constructing meaning. Oxford also found that
women employ a wider range of strategies and that women are more social and receptive
to differing styles. The women in Rockhill's study (1987) of 50 Hispanic women in Los
Angeles used writing more frequently than men who depended more on acquiring oral
skills to speak English. Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, & Cox (1977), suggesting an
important link between learner motivation and L2 learning strategies, found that field-
independent learners tend to learn more than field-dependent people do under conditions
of intrinsic or integrative motivation, such as when a learner seeks to enter a new culture
that speaks a language different from her own.
In their study of communicative language learning strategies, Chesterfield and
Chesterfield (1985) identified 12 strategies that elementary school bilingual students
employed during classroom activities (Table 2-1). Although their findings summarize
what children do in language learning activities, the list of strategies is general enough to
constitute a first level analysis of what might also be observed in an adult classroom.
Table 2-1. Chesterfield and Chesterfield's list of learning strategies
Repetition Memorization Formulaic expressions(chunking)
Verbal attention getter Talk to self Answer in unison
Elaboration Anticipatory answer Monitoring
Appeal for assistance Request for clarification Role play
Effective learning strategies in adult settings, both foreign language learning and
ESOL/EFL, have been described within two frameworks for the purpose of observation
and general analysis in this study. First, O'Malley & Chamot (1986) established a
landmark learning strategy model called the "Cognitive Academic Language Learning
Approach" (CALLA). CALLA strategies are categorized into three domains of language
learning, (a) metacognitive, (b) cognitive, and (c) social and affective. Metacognitive
strategies include planning for learning, self-evaluation, and self-management. Cognitive
strategies refer to active learning through note-taking, referencing, critical thinking, and
elaboration. Knowledge of questioning for clarification, cooperation with peers, and
issues of self-talk are social and affective strategies.
Their domains are reminiscent of Anderson's (1980, 1985) work described in the
previous section of this chapter and they categorize some of the same strategies identified
by the Chesterfield and Chesterfield (1985) study as listed above.
Table 2-2. CALLA Learning Strategies
0 Selective attention for special aspects of a learning task, as in planning to listen for
key words or phrases
D Planning for organization of either written or oral discourse
0 Monitoring or reviewing attention to the task
D Evaluating or checking comprehension after a receptive language activity, or
evaluating language production after it has taken place
I Organization, grouping or classifying words, terminology, or concepts according to
their semantic or syntactic attributes
D Inferencing or guessing meanings, predicting outcomes
D Summarizing or intermittently synthesizing what one has heard to ensure the
information has been retained
I Deduction or applying rules to understand language
0 Imagery or visual images
D Transfer or using known linguistic information to facilitate a new learning task
I Elaboration, linking ideas contained in new information or integrating new ideas
with known information [scaffolding]
E Cooperation, working w/ peers to solve a problem, pool info, check notes, or get
feedback on a learning activity
E Questioning for clarification, or eliciting from a teacher or peer additional
explanation, rephrasing, or examples
E Self-talk, or using mental control for self-assurance that a learning activity will be
successful or to reduce anxiety
(O'Malley & Chamot 1990, p. 44)
Most strategies described by O'Malley and Chamot appear to be easily observable
in the classroom because they involve movement, vocalization, or notation. The previous
table (Table 2-2) lays out the schema of CALLA strategies defined by O'Malley and
Chamot. Tsung-Yuan & Oxford (2002) statistically compared and analyzed eight
different theoretical frameworks of learning strategy research and concluded that the
O'Malley and Chamot (1990) CALLA framework that classifies strategies in three
dimensions metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective "represents an important
step toward a better theory of L2 learning strategies" (p. 377).
The second framework of learning strategies related to this study was developed
by Rebecca Oxford (1990) when she expanded on an earlier framework of strategy theory
by O'Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Russo, and Kuipper (1985). Oxford
developed her "Strategy Inventory for Language Learning" (SILL) (1986), an elaborate
survey used to identify learners' perceptions of their own language learning. A self-
report, Likert scale response list, SILL categorizes 64 individual strategies under the
specific language tasks of speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
Oxford groups learning strategies under two separate headings, direct and
indirect. According to Oxford, direct learning strategies are:
0 memory (creating mental linkages),
I cognition (creating and organizing knowledge), and
I compensation (negotiating and guessing).
In her framework, indirect strategies can be characterized as:
0 metacognitive (arranging, planning, and evaluating),
I social (asking, cooperating, and empathizing), and
I affective (self-perceiving emotions and encouraging oneself).
SILL was tested in military language classes using the self-report checklists (cited in
O'Malley and Chamot 1990, p. 104) and has been used nationally and internationally for
continuing research. I considered both O'Malley and Chamot and Oxford's frameworks
for analysis of the observed strategies used by the participants in this study.
Green and Oxford (1995) define the strategies most used by learners of all levels
as "bedrock strategies." In their study, Green and Oxford do not explicitly name the
bedrock strategies, but they incorporate commonly reported strategies within six different
classes (Table 2-3).
Table 2-3 Green & Oxford's (1995) classification of learning strategies
Class of strategy Examples of strategy applications
Affective Anxiety reduction, self-encouragement
Social Asking questions, cooperation with native speakers, and
becoming culturally aware
Metacognitive Evaluating one's progress, planning for language tasks,
consciously searching for practice opportunities, paying
attention, and monitoring errors
Memory-related Grouping, imagery, rhyming, moving physically, and
reviewing in a structured way.
Cognitive Reasoning, analyzing, summarizing, and practicing
Compensatory Guessing meanings from context and using synonyms and
gestures to convey meanings.
(Green & Oxford 1995, pp. 264-265).
The researchers also state that the success of the learning outcomes can depend on the
number and variety of learning strategies that students incorporate in their classroom
activities and communication in the target language.
A number of researchers believe that training students in recognizing and
developing strategy use will improve language learning for all students. SLA researcher
Yeok-Hwa Ngeow (1998) recommends teaching strategies because they (a) encourage
ownership in learning; (b) promote intentional or mindfulness to learning in various
contexts; and (c) increase authenticity of learning tasks and goals. Green and Oxford
emphatically recommend that students and teachers explore ways of learning for a clear
and explicit focus on strategies with frequent practice opportunities, incorporation of
strategy use with normal classroom activities, and the possibility of transfer of strategies
to other learning contexts (p. 264). Norton-Pierce (1995) also argues for teaching
learning strategies within the contexts of authentic learning. She proposes five objectives
for such classroom-based research projects (pp. 27-28).
O Investigate opportunities to interact with target language speakers.
O Reflect critically on engagement with target language speakers.
O Reflect on observations in diaries and journals.
O Pay attention to and record unusual events.
O Compare data with fellow students.
Norton's recommendation incorporates classroom-based social research as a type of
critical collaborative activity for learners and teachers in order to "help students
understand how opportunities to speak are socially structured and how they might create
possibilities for interaction with target language speakers"(p. 26).
Case Study Research in Second Language Learning
I chose to conduct four ethnographic case studies in order to answer my research
questions. Case studies research has been recommended as an effective format for
studying aspects of language learning (van Lier 1988, McDonough & McDonough 1997)
because of the interest in the personal perspectives and contexts of the participants'
experiences. Analysis of case studies can be used to represent and make contributions to
predicting behaviors in a general sense. The work, conducted over time and on a
personal level with participants, differs from quantitative studies, which rely on self-
report surveys and analysis of test results, because the data are collected within the
learning context in the naturalistic setting of the classroom.
McDonough & McDonough (1997) cite Adelman et al (1980, pp. 59-60) to
summarize the strengths and benefits of conducting case-study research in language
O Case study data are strong in reality
D Case studies allow generalizations about an instance, or from that to a class
0 They recognize the complexity of 'social truths' and alternative interpretations
D They can form and archive descriptive material available for reinterpretation by
D They are a "step to action" (for staff/institutional development)
D They present research in accessible form (p. 217).
According to McDonough and McDonough, there are four characteristics that define case
studies research in language learning: (a) boundedness; (b) emic and holistic perspective;
(c) resistance to reified concepts; and (d) questions that are emergent and dependent on
analysis of the data (p. 205). Boundedness means that the study is limited to the key
players, a particular point in time, geographical parameters, group characteristics, etc.
that are critical to the contexts and experiences of the participants during the study. The
emic view comes from within the participant and seeks to describe what she feels and
experiences within her social and educational surrounds (van Lier 1988, p. 60). The
researcher is concerned with understanding people's own meanings while remaining
aware of and bracketing one's own beliefs. Finally, although initial research questions
frame a study, they should be considered flexible, not fixed.
Mehan (1979) (cited in van Lier 1988) proposes four components of an approach
he calls "constitutive ethnography." One of the goals of Mehan's work is "to locate the
organizing machinery of classroom lessons in the interaction, in the words and in the
actions of the participants" (p. 61). The first characteristic of Mehan's proposal is
retrievability of data from video and/or audio tapes (and field notes) that can be re-
examined and re-interpreted during the course of analysis. Secondly, data should be
treated comprehensibly and holistically in order to tell the story of the participant's entire
experience. Third, there must be convergence between the researcher's and the
participants' perspectives. "Actions must be described in such a way as to reflect exactly
the way that these structures and actions are perceived by the participants" (p. 61).
Finally, Mehan requires an interactional level of analysis to avoid unwarranted
attributions regarding participants' roles, status, or intentions. Analysis must be ongoing
in order to clarify, verify, or discount the researcher's assumptions during the course of
This study is informed by two philosophical perspectives. First, I maintain a contructivist
view of language learning that considers the ESOL classroom as a social sphere where
open interactions and inquiry situate the students and teacher as co-learners. Secondly, I
value women's learning and seek answers to broader social issues connected to women's
learning in the idealistic hope that teaching and learning in ESOL might eventually better
serve both women's and men's language learning needs. In this chapter I have examined
previous research literature encompassing five areas of interest to the study: (a) gender as
site of inquiry; (b) women's access to adult and ESOL education programs; (c) contextual
influences in Cuban women's lives; (d) language learning theories and strategies in SLA;
and (e) ethnographic case study methods.
I was interested in the four participants' attendance in their first trimesters of
Adult ESOL and found that researchers state that women depend on networks of family
and friends for information about educational programs. Immigrant women make up the
largest percentage of learners attending low level ESOL and work skills classes. Because
of various pressures and worries, they frequently drop out of such programs before they
complete a course of study. Women often view language learning as an investment in
themselves and their families.
Women's contextual influences include valued relationships and social networks
and their connection with time and place. Their identities are often defined in the internal
and external factors of relationships, that is, the effects they have on others and the
influences that important others impose on them. The four participants in this study
experienced the political, social, economical, and educational influences of the Cuban
Revolution. Historically speaking, social and familial contexts in Cuban Miami have
included relationships on both side of the exile divide. Cubans are accustomed to the
daily struggle (la lucha) to survive on the island and continue to situated their lives in
such a struggle to build their lives in Miami.
The "Banking Model" is a traditional primary frame through which people
consider education. Teachers are the authorities who dispense knowledge that students
store in their memories. Knowledge is not considered a product of constructive dialogue,
but rather as a commodity to be stored and retrieved as necessary. The banking model
exists contrary to SLA and cognitive psychological assertions that learning is a social
transaction accomplished in relationships and discourse among people.
Learners depend on knowledgeable others to assist them in making sense of the
world. Language is a tool for understanding and storing knowledge and experience.
Through dialogue people build culturally-constructed mental frameworks of reality.
Language learning occurs in stages. New knowledge and facts accumulate as declarative
knowledge before moving into procedural knowledge where rules and processes are
internalized. Input in language learning must be comprehensible, and learners need
abundant exposure to the target language. In addition to input, learners incorporate
strategies to organize their learning, take an active part in learning, and engage in
knowledge construction with peers, teachers, and native speakers. The degree of
language learning strategy use determines the success of the learning outcomes.
Finally, case studies research can present an intimate portrait of the learner and of
her experiences in the classroom. Data need to be recorded in rich observation notes and
audio and video recordings. Case studies make research data accessible to readers. The
information gathered in such case studies applies only to the participants) in the study, is
bound by the time and place of the study, and hinges on questions that may have changed
according to ongoing data analysis. However, analysis of case studies can be used to
represent and make contributions to predicting behaviors in a general sense. Case studies
research is especially valuable in development or evaluation and staff development and
The work constitutes four qualitative case studies of individual women, new
clients of a refugee-assistance program beginning with their attendance in "Foundations"
ESOL for the first time since their arrival from Cuba. During the second trimester, three
of the four participants continued their English studies in ESOL I classes at an adult
education center located in Miami-Dade County, Florida. By interviewing and
observing the four willing participants during their school activities, I investigated the
influences and contexts of their lives that related to their school attendance, language
learning opportunities, and classroom experiences. Data collection took place over a
period of seven months during their first two trimesters of formal English language
learning in the U.S. The field observations began in October 2001 and concluded in
April 2002 and data collected during that time were sufficient to answer the research
[ What are contextual influences that frame and shape the four women's experiences of
learning English in their ESOL classrooms?
D What language learning strategies do the learners develop or employ in the
D What are their classroom opportunities for language learning?
In order to present a clear explanation of the study method, I have organized the
progress in a table (Table 3-1) laying out the month-by-month process.
November Continue observing; begin
videotaping in classrooms;
counselor conducts first
focus group discussion
Continue observing and
notebook writing samples;
counselor conducts second
January 2002 Recommence observations at mid-
Continue observing and
Continue observing the remaining
Complete field work
Field work progress
Discuss of study with principal,
counselors, and SAVES
Conduct initial interviews and
Participants begin ESOL
Four women agree to participate;
all sign IRBs
Participants sat for interviews and
Permitted me to sit with
them in class
Three participants attended the
Two participants attended the
session; one participant
leaves the study
Three participants begin their
Second trimester of ESOL;
Of these, one participant
from attending Saturday
One participant moves from the
area and withdraws from
Participant withdrawn in January
Returns to class
Two participants complete LCP-B.
Qualitative data collection included the following for each of the four
0 One initial audiotaped interview of each participant for personal background
SOngoing informal conversations, taped and/or recorded in field notes, with the four
woman regarding their feelings of progress and change in their lives and learning
I At least three observations sitting next to or near each participant during her classes
wherein I was able to talk with the participant during class sessions
D Videotaped samples documenting each participant's classroom activities during the
D Two audio and videotaped conversation sessions with the participants, scheduled
respectively at the mid point and the end of the first trimester. Discussion topics
covered issues pertaining to their learning experiences at the school. The Cuban
female program coordinator moderated the conversation sessions in Spanish
I Photocopied samples from the participants' class notebooks.
The study focus was on newly arrived female learners who were entering their
first ESOL classrooms. At the time, the school they attended was serving over 200
clients of a social service program, which, as will be explained below, limited its support
to those students who had entered the U.S. as refugees within the prior 60 months. The
participants were to be selected from among the refugee-assistance program's client
records. I had asked the program's counseling coordinator who had agreed to assist me in
the study, to limit the choice of participants to three criteria. I wanted to select potential
participants who were female, Cuban, and attending their first trimester in Foundations
ESOL classes. I did not list "length time in the country" as a factor of choice because, as
previously stated, the program client base included only those refugees who had come
within the previous 5 years. From among the client base, I chose those women who had
come the most recently.
I was looking for participants who were recent arrivals and the refugee-assistance
program seemed to be the logical program where I would find such people with minimum
effort. Additionally, I considered that the refugees who participate in the program
receive assistance from the school district for English language instruction and
counseling which in some way may contribute an incentive for attendance. I chose
program clients enrolled in the daytime program because I felt that they would have the
greatest potential for remaining in the program for the duration of the study. Research
has shown that retention is high where adult students (a) have access to support services
provided by programs (such as counseling, transportation and child care); (b) attend day
classes rather than studying at night; and (c) participate in computer-assisted learning labs
or in instruction that includes independent study (Seufert, 1999, p. 4). All three factors
were either present at the school site and/or provided by the refugee-assistance program.
Having located potential participants in their classroom placements, I visited and
briefly guest taught in their classrooms, and had the opportunity to explain my study to
the classes. I believed that it would be advantageous if the learners came to see me as part
of the school. After two days I approached the women, from among the sixteen names the
counselor had listed for me, with my study proposal. The four women who agreed to
participate shared three similarities: they were all married; mothers; and in their forties at
the start of the data collection. The superficial similarities that the women shared
surprised me, but I could not designate who would volunteer. My criteria had limited the
pool of learners from which I could have chosen; another limitation could have been
related to my own physical identity as a middle-aged male researcher. My maleness
might have been disconcerting or threatening for some potential participants socialized in
the strong patriarchy of the typical Cuban family structure. Ultimately, the four
participants who did assist me were outspoken, independent, and self-reliant women who
welcomed my often naive and humble questions.
Setting of the Study
Miami-Dade County, Florida holds the largest concentration of first, second, and
now third generation Cubans residing in the U.S. The participants arrived in Miami as
migrants as part of the latest vintage of exiles, that is, four successive and distinct
migrations of Cubans from the island since 1959. The four participants became members
of a school community that is well known in local and national history for its role in
English language and vocational instruction. Qualitative studies do not mention the site
and location of research by name or by specific city in order to guard the anonymity of
the participants and peripheral personnel involved. In framing this section, I struggled
with how not mention the geographic setting by name, while still providing the necessary
descriptive details about its unique existence within the political and historical sphere of
the post-Revolutionary era of the Cuban Exile. Discussing the location of the study in
general regional terms would not suffice in this case. The participants had not migrated to
a neutral, geographical locale; the space they chose to enter has been shaped and deeply
impacted by U.S. immigration policy towards the participants' home country, ESOL
educational initiatives, and post-Revolutionary Cuban exile politics for over forty years.
Historically, The Language School (TLS) [a pseudonym] was the first center
established to teach English to Cuban exile adults during the Kennedy administration in
1962. The federal government recognized the relationship of English language
proficiency and economic success by providing programs and funding for English to
Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for adults. In 1961, the Cuban Refugee Program
provided for English language instruction as part of the massive government resettlement
assistance aimed at ensuring the success of Cuban immigrants to the embarrassment of
the Castro government and the Soviet Union (Perez in Grenier & Stepick, p. 86). Since its
inception, the school has functioned educationally as an integral part of the largest Cuban
cultural and political enclave in the U.S. for over forty years; almost three generations of
Cuban-American families living in South Florida and elsewhere can point to some past
personal familial connection with TLS.
The school, which serves over 3,000 clients per trimester, is situated
geographically in southwestern metropolitan Miami-Dade County, on the extreme
southeastern coast of the Florida peninsula, the closest U.S. urban center to Cuba. In
addition to an extensive multilevel ESOL program, the center provides a wide selection
of computer-related vocational classes, a cosmetology school, a program for state child
care licensing or Child Development Associate (CDA), High School Completion, GED
Preparation, and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) programs among other
services. Although the study participants attended classes only in the morning, the center
operates seven days a week- Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM and
Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 AM to 5: 00 PM. On-site counselors conduct all
individual counseling, testing, and academic planning with clients.
Additionally, the administration inaugurated a "One-Stop Center" on campus in
1996. A One-Stop Center is a cooperative of community social service and employment
agencies that offer client counseling and other services at one venue, a convenience
especially appreciated by those who lack reliable transportation. The refugee-assistance
program, described below, that served the study participants' counseling needs and
provided them with limited financial support, was one of the agencies housed in the One-
Stop Center. The center provided support for the students as well as the residents from
the surrounding community. An on-campus childcare facility, Head Start, and
kindergarten programs allow parents the convenience of enrolling their small children in
economical, licensed child care while attending classes at the center. None of the
participants had young children, but one, under the guidance of the vocational counselor,
did complete a 40-hour Child Development Associate training course at the school prior
to beginning her English studies.
The four participants attended ESOL classes Monday through Friday, 8:15 to
10:45 AM during the course of the data collection period. Classes were frequently
overcrowded with 45 to 52 students present, particularly in the lower levels of ESOL.
Some classes were housed in the old auditorium, a large open room divided into six class
areas by eight-foot high office partitions. Another classroom was accommodated behind
the proscenium curtain on the stage. Most other classes met in self-contained classrooms.
All classrooms were equipped with two or three networked and internet-connected
computers for student use and one for the instructor. The media center also contained
many computers available to students and instructors. Participants in the study attended
classes in the self-contained classrooms, the auditorium, and on the converted stage. Over
the course of two semesters, four of the classes I observed met regularly in the partitioned
auditorium three times a week and moved for the other two days to self-contained
The Refugee-Assistance Program
I identified the participants in this study from among the clients of a federally
supported refugee-assistance program. The program offers counseling assistance and
scholarship funding to refugee clients in Adult Basic Education (ABE), ESOL, and
vocational education programs at district adult and vocational education centers where
learners may wish to gain and improve English language literacy and workforce skills. In
the legal parlance of adult education, students are referred to as "clients," and the school
is labeled the "service provider." To the four participants, interacting as clients with the
counselors in the program and enjoying the benefits of textbook purchase vouchers and
free transportation passes were part of the experience of attending the school. I
considered that the added connection to the school through their assistance program
affiliation and the support that the program provided might emerge as an investment
factor that influenced the women's class attendance and participation.
The Language School is one of many adult education centers of Miami-Dade
County Public Schools that serve clients of the refugee-assistance program. At the time of
its inception, the program was intended to provide vocational education funding for one
year and unlimited English language instruction exclusively to Cuban and Haitian
nationals who had entered the U.S. as refugees after 1995. The program joins other state
and national educational and social service providers that have been established under
The Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980 to provide Haitian and Cuban entrants
social service and educational benefits regardless of their alien status at the time of
application for the services (DHHS 2001).
Subsequently, since 2000, changes to the federal immigration laws have made the
program services available, not only to Cuban/Haitian entrants, but also to any adult
refugee client, regardless of national origin. A program applicant who has been in the
U.S. for a period of less than sixty months, and who meets established international
refugee status definitions can now benefit from program support in their educational
endeavors. According to the United Nations (1967) Protocol Relating to the Status of
Refugees, a refugee is defined as
Any person who is outside the country of his nationality...because he has or had a
well-founded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or,
because of such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the
government of the country of his nationality (cited in Zolberg, Suhrke, & Aguayo
1989, p. 4).
The refugee-assistance program mission is to ease the transition of immigrants
into the South Florida community. "Our goal is to provide academic and vocational
training to eligible refugee and asylee adults living in Miami-Dade County, Florida"
(program mission statement). Funded through a contract from The Florida Department of
Children and Families Refugee Services Office, the program was established to address
the specific English language and/or employment needs of the local refugee/asylee
population. An asylee is essentially defined in the same way as a refugee, based on the
"well-founded fear of persecution" criteria. However, an asylee is distinguished from a
refugee by his/her location at the time protected status is requested: he/she is in the U.S.
or at a U.S. port of entry (Henken 2000, p. 10).
The refugee-assistance program extends, in the local context, the philosophical
rationale of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), "... to assist refugees and
other special populations in obtaining economic and social self-sufficiency in their new
homes in the United States" (excerpt of the ORR mission statement as quoted in
Dominguez 2002). Of the four participants, three who entered the U.S. by the visa lottery
were classified as refugees. One, arriving illegally from Spain, petitioned for asylee status
during her brief INS detention.
Statistically, 219 female Cuban refugees were enrolled at the school during the
Fall 2001 trimester, the start of the data collection period. In the following term, 220 had
been enrolled (school district statistics report). Some clients who actively sought
assistance from the refugee-assistance program had learned about the program by word of
mouth within their community and social networks; however, school personnel informed
many others about the program's support only after clients initiated registration for ESOL
classes at an adult education center.
In fact, none of the four participants in the study had previous knowledge about
the refugee-assistance program. Initially it appeared that the four participants were not
motivated to attend by the potential benefits of the program. They, too, reported that they
had received phone calls from school personnel informing them of the benefits after they
had enrolled. The school counselors believed that most clients initially had not been
attracted to attend because of the promised program support since there was little public
announcement about it. Although very little overt advertising had occurred since the
inception of the district-wide funding program in 1996, a series of one-half-hour call-in
radio programs on both Cuban and Haitian stations began in December 2001.
Program matriculation is limited in that the intake, counseling, and placement
process must begin during the first three weeks of a trimester, a date set by district
deadline. A trimester by school district definitions comprises a sixteen-week period of
classroom instruction. A school counselor interviews the prospective client for refugee
program assistance who is then tested for ESOL instructional placement at the beginning
of the trimester. The client and counselor together negotiate a personalized plan of study,
the Individual Adult Education/Employment Plan (IAEEP) based on the client's personal
and vocational needs and/or goals. The IAEEP becomes a one-year course plan for
academic and vocational training, including English language instruction as needed- a
personalized prescription for meeting the individual client's vocational goals within
existing county adult education services. In order to assist the clients financially, the
refugee-assistance program provides one-year tuition waivers for vocational classes,
textbook vouchers, free public transportation passes, and child care if the service is
available in the school where the client attends (Miami-Dade Empowerment, Inc. 2002).
The study participants did appreciate the benefits of receiving free textbooks and bus
A client's English language learning needs are defined by a set of standardized,
state-imposed competency-based literacy skill frameworks for Adult ESOL, Vocational
English For Speakers of Other Languages (VESOL), and Citizenship. The Florida
Department of Education, Division of Workforce Development established the
frameworks for mandated implementation statewide in all public adult education centers.
In order to accommodate the refugee clients' special needs, funding is provided for in-
service training of school personnel.
In-service training was designed and is delivered on an on-going basis to instruct
teachers, administrators and support staff on the program's changes, goals and
funding model. Training includes ESOL/VESOL methodology, cultural
sensitivity, data base procedures for reporting client information and pre/post
assessment requirements (Miami-Dade Empowerment, Inc. 2002).
Curriculum Frameworks: Florida Adult ESOL Literacy Completion Points
The state unified curriculum frameworks were another facet of the setting and
learning contexts in which the participants received ESOL instruction. The curriculum
frameworks defined the scope of their English language learning opportunities, and the
assessment of their mastery of the competencies that the frameworks prescribed. The
study participants were attending "Foundations" or the LCP-A level of ESOL instruction
at the start of the observations in October. After completing the requirements for LCP-A
in December, three of the women continued on to the next level of instruction LCP-B.
Traditionally, ESOL I had been the lowest English language skill level and ESOL
VI the most advanced. In August 1998, the Florida state government, under new
performance based funding guidelines, began mandating the use of competency
inventories for what formerly had been called ESOL Levels I to VI. The new focus
provided adult language "training" in order that immigrants might enter and function
more effectively in employment settings. The labor-based competencies prescribed by
"Workforce English" framed the participants' English language learning. The state
established the curriculum guidelines in order to bring districts into line with the new
emphasis on Workforce English. ESOL curriculum planning and teaching in adult
education centers in Florida must conform to state competency frameworks, which have
been in effect since July 2001. In this work I have addressed only the two levels, LCP-A
and LCP-B, that the participants attended.
The new performance-based curriculum for adult ESOL instruction was enacted
to unify adult ESOL instruction for delivery across the state and to facilitate statewide
documentation of student achievement and completion of learning competencies. "The
curriculum frameworks are the minimum performance standards developed by
practitioners to assist teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in
providing consistency in the delivery of instruction" (Florida Department of Education,
2000). Implementation directives place emphasis on documenting effective student
orientation, assessment, and placement as key components to achieve the desired learning
The present frameworks title learning levels by letter. Beginning with A, or
"Foundations," the frameworks increase in detail and difficulty by spiraling the same set
of content themes through Level F. Each level of ESOL instruction is now called a
"Literacy Completion Point (LCP)." State funding allotments for administrative funding
and teacher employment depend on the number of individual clients who complete each
LCP at an adult education center. The paper copies of the frameworks function as
checklists, maintained in each individual student's class portfolio, that the teacher initials
and dates upon teaching each respective competency. By the end of a given trimester four
out of five competencies under each standard must be checked in order for the student to
pass to the next LCP level. Since most adult ESOL positions in public schools are filled
with part-time appointments, there is tremendous pressure on teacher accountability to
have as many students as possible complete each LCP.
The frameworks are comprised of headings, or standards, that label the categories
of the specific learning competencies, which are stated in behavioral terms. Standards for
all levels are grouped under the general listings of "Workforce Development Skills,"
"Life Skills," and "Academic Skills," respectively. In effect, there are now seven
articulated levels of ESOL that all address the following content areas and standards in
Workforce development skills: These four skills are needed for the workplace.
O Obtaining employment
0 Maintaining employment
0 career advancement
I applied technology
Life Skills: These ten skills are needed for daily living.
I interpersonal communication
I telephone communication
I health and nutrition
I concepts of time and money
D transportation and travel
I safety and security
D consumer education
I government and community resources
I environment and world
I family and parenting
Finally, frameworks for all levels include the standards for Academic .\/il/, listing them
under the standards as: "English skills necessary ..."
0 to listen, speak, read and write effectively;
I to apply standard grammar structures;
D for development of pronunciation skills.
For a more detailed view of the specific individual competencies that constituted the
learning objectives in actual classroom experiences of the study participants, see
Data Collection Methods: Interview and Observation
I chose a qualitative case study methodology in order to focus on the learners'
priorities and interpretations of their environment situated in the interrelation between the
participants' learning experience and the contexts that surround them as mothers, wives,
and workers in a new country (McCracken 1988). In case studies, the data sources
include not only interview and observation, but also analysis of documents, in this study,
writing samples, and other discourse samples produced by the participants (Dornyei
2001, p. 239). The data collection took place in the natural settings of the respective
classrooms, and I tried my best not to interfere in the teaching and learning. "A
naturalistic observation would need as its database the everyday lesson with its usual
participants in real time..." (McDonough & McDonough 1997, p. 114).
Participant selection commenced in September 2001. Personal interviews and
first classroom observations took place throughout October and continued into the
following trimester, concluding in April 2002. Adult education centers in Miami-Dade
County operate on a year-round semester schedule with 2-week interim breaks occurring
during the middle of August and at the end of December. In January, one of the
participants did not return for her second trimester. Although she did not attend classes, I
was able to maintain contact with her through the refugee-assistance coordinator.
Another participant moved out of the area at the beginning of February. According to
student records, she did not re-enroll in any other program within the school district and
was no longer available to the study.
The first phase of data collection began with individual interviews with each of
the participants through which I began to gather information to answer the first research
question, "What are contextual influences that frame and shape the four women's
experiences of learning English in their ESOL classrooms?" Interview questions, as well
as later informal conversations, probed a participant's personal background, social
contexts in which she was attempting to learn English, support network of family and
friends, and her classroom attendance. I included questions about a participant's
educational and professional backgrounds because past schooling success or failure may
inform the analysis of the learners' attitudes and feelings in their present classroom
placements. In addition to the initial interviews, the ongoing conversations and data from
the later interviews with the refugee-assistance coordinator provided information about
the learners' attendance pressures during the course of the trimester.
Observations of classroom activities constituted the second phase of data
collection and were scheduled throughout the data collection period. I often observed a
participant over the course of a week, several times during the trimester. Beginning in
November, I videotaped classroom activities and interactions among learners and
teachers, focusing particularly on those contexts that framed the participants' involvement
in learning opportunities. Videotapes and observational field notes provided rich data for
analysis in order to answer the second and third research questions, "What language
learning strategies do the learners develop or employ in the classroom?" and, "What are
their classroom opportunities for language learning?."
Two 45-minute conversations introduced another opportunity for data collection
by inviting the four participants together to discuss topics related to the research
questions. I had hoped that changing factors of influence and attitude to language
learning might be revealed during the discussion sessions. Unfortunately, all four women
were not able to attend the discussions; three shared their opinions and experiences at the
first meeting and two were present at the second. The social service program
coordinator, a Cuban immigrant herself, led the conversations, which I audio and video
recorded, and later transcribed. She offered the group the comfort and perspective of
another person from the same background and gender. I did not attend the conversation
sessions because I felt that the female coordinator had a different functional relationship
with her clients than I would have as a researcher. I also considered that the participants
might be more forthcoming talking with the coordinator rather than with me, a male
I provided the coordinator with a topic protocol for each session in English and I
asked her to process the themes through her native Spanish and present questions in her
own words. The eight topics covered three general domains: (a) decision and pressures to
attend; (b) learning strategies; and (c) satisfactions of learning.
O What keeps you coming to school everyday?
D How do you feel about your progress?
D Whom do you study with or who helps your English language learning?
D Who supports you in your learning outside of school?
D What do you do to learn English?
D What causes you satisfaction in your learning?
D What causes you frustration in your learning?
D How do you feel about continuing to study English?
The coordinator closely followed my suggested topic protocols, and her native
language processing contributed authenticity to her conversation with the participants.
After the sessions I asked the coordinator to reflect on what happened during the
conversation with the participants. I wanted to know how she felt in her role as
discussion leader and how she was able to process and "translate" the topics I provided
from English into Spanish, her native language.
Concurrently with data collection, I transcribed all interview recordings as soon as
possible. I maintained participant/observer records in four forms as recommended by
Spradley (1979): the verbatim or raw data account of observations; an expanded account
transcribed into field observation protocols; a research journal; and a running record of
My first responsibility was to my informants, and I was reminded of Spradley's
(1979, 1980) ethical guidelines regarding ethnographic work. As I discovered their
interests, concerns, and choices I was conscious of my responsibility to safeguard their
rights and sensitivities. The participants knew the nature of this study from the start as I
attempted to represent their experiences. Privacy and confidentiality were guarded at
every turn and I have used pseudonyms to protect their identities. My experience has
shown that upon discovery that I had been an ESOL teacher, the participants exhibited
immediate trust in my efforts. I recognized the authority and respect that participants
seemed to assign to my "teacher identity" and how that attitude made them potentially
vulnerable to exploitation.
Data Analysis Procedures
The women's experiences within their learning environments delimited the scope
of this study, which was not intended to be an evaluation of the instructional context or
refugee-assistance program. The primary data source for the study came from the
interview protocols, observational field notes, and recordings. I conducted all
transcription and translation of collected data from the audio and video recordings, which
constituted the primary level of analysis. The body of raw data amounted to
approximately 225 pages of interview and focus group transcripts, 106 pages of field
notes, 4.5 hours of classroom and focus group video recordings. An additional source of
data was provided in the many pages photocopied from the participants' class notebooks.
As a longtime ESOL teacher, I endeavored to step outside my frame (Goffman 1974) in
order to "make the strange familiar and the familiar strange" (Webb 2000). Additionally,
my own frame analysis extended to awareness that my own masculine identity could
influence my perceptions and later analysis of the data. I needed to understand the
women's experiences as much as possible though their talk rather than by relying on my
own interpretations. I employed a grounded theory approach, bracketing my
preconceptions of ESOL teaching and learning (Williams & Burden 1999, Berger &
Kellner 1981, cited in Hutchinson 1997) in data collection and analysis of the protocols
of field observations and classroom recordings. I continually re-evaluated the data as they
accumulated. As with any qualitative study, I could not predict or prescribe my findings,
and I strove to resist premature prediction before more thorough data analysis.
Comprehensive analysis of interview protocols, classroom interaction transcripts,
notebook evidence, and observation field notes, taken as an interrelated body of
information, revealed answers to the research questions. I read the transcripts repeatedly
looking for answers to the participants' motivation, patterns of classroom behaviors, and
strategy use. I reviewed the videotapes to confirm my findings. The pages from
participants' notebooks provided many concrete examples of language learning strategies.
Using the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) (O'Malley &
Chamot 1990) as a comparative framework I was able to identify patterns of observable
learning strategies from the notebooks and field observations. The resulting common
representative patterns provided a basis of classifying behaviors into codes (Watson-
Gegeo 1988). I organized the codes into three sets of domains: (a) personal backgrounds;
(b) participant classroom activities; and (c) classroom environment.
Personal background domains included information about educational
experiences and previous English language learning, social and family networks,
immigration and resettlement experience, present English language learning, and worries
and satisfactions since arrival in the U.S. I paid particular attention to any information
that would be connected the learners' contexts that influenced their attending English
classes in the U.S. The second set of domains, classroom experiences, provided a frame
for discussion of what the learners did in their classrooms, what activities occurred, how
they constructed new knowledge, and how participants interacted with the teachers and
classmates. I examined the learning modalities of reading, writing, and oral discourse.
Classroom activity domains included themes of silence, cooperative behaviors, issues of
inquiry, and test taking. Finally, the data revealed issues related to classroom
environments. I could not ignore analysis of the classroom environment as an important
force in affording learning opportunities and strategies for the four participants. I
examined and categorized codes of the language learning environment, inquiry support,
assessment, and styles of classroom management and control.
Appropriateness of the Method
Reliability depends on triangulation among participant observation field notes,
classroom audio recording, and interview protocols (Hutchinson 1997, Shimuhara 1997).
Diversity of method and triangulation of evidence from interviews, classroom
observations, writing samples, focus group discussions, and videotaped segments
provided rich and thick data for analysis. Four case studies conducted over the course of
seven months, which encompassed approximately one and one half trimesters of the
participants' enrollment and attendance offered the opportunity for both synchronic and
diachronic reliability. Synchronic reliability refers to observations within the same
period of time; diachronic implies observation over a period of time (Kirk & Miller
1986). The seven-month period of data collection permitted diachronic, albeit limited,
reliability by observing possible changes in attendance motivation and a variety of
classroom experiences during the course of the participants' language learning.
My personal experience as an adult ESOL instructor in Miami-Dade County
Public Schools inspired my desire to tell part of the story of recently arrived Cuban
migrants. I am fluent in Spanish and have spent almost my entire professional career as a
teacher, curriculum writer, and teacher trainer in Miami. Living and working in Miami-
Dade County for nearly 20 years has provided me with a broad perspective of Cuban
exile realities and the opportunity to work closely with individuals from the last two
vintages of Cuban immigrants during their entry into U.S. society.
I sought answers to research questions regarding the contexts of the four women'
lives in order to understand participation in their beginning level adult ESOL program,
opportunities to learn, and the language learning strategies they employed. In order to
answer the research questions, I:
0 conducted interviews of the participants;
I observed them in their classrooms over the course of two trimesters;
D videotaped the participants during classroom activities;
D photocopied the participants' notebook for evidence of learning strategies;
I had the program coordinator conduct two conversation sessions with the participants.
The videotapes were helpful in the coding process because I could consult them
for clarification of events that were no longer fresh in my mind. Participants' notebooks
offered concrete evidence of strategy use and how the learners processed some of the new
information they were receiving. Notes from ongoing conversations and data from the
focus groups provided a view of the women's complex and changing perspectives as they
invested their time attending their classes. By the end of the study in April 2002, only
two of the original four women in the study remained to finish their LCP-B (ESOL I)
The four women, Angelica, Dora, Marina, and Damaris, who agreed to assist me
in the study were among the latest "refugees" to settle in the Miami Cuban cultural and
political enclave. They did not enter a neutral space to begin their resettlement process.
In this chapter, I will present a view of the contexts of the women' lives in order to
understand their participation in beginning level adult ESOL program. What were
contextual influences that framed and shaped the women's experiences of learning
English in their ESOL classrooms? An overarching reason for this question is that
teachers know very little about the contexts of learners' lives as they come and go in their
classrooms (Gass 1997). However, curriculum guidelines for adult ESOL stress the
necessity for teachers to know their students in order to organize and plan instruction to
fit the needs and goals of the learners (FL DOE 2000a).
The first part of this chapter I present portraits of the four participants followed by
a discussion of the personal aspects of investment in learning English and integration in
their new places of residence, factors that surrounded each woman in her resettlement and
language-learning experiences. The second part of this chapter highlights aspects of the
women's lives lived in exile and and includes discussion of the role that gender played in
the Cuban revolutionary rhetoric and government policies that shaped the four
participants' life experiences and schooling as they were growing up. Social forces
inherent in migration and Cuban governmental policy situated the women's experiences
in a historical context because the four participants, all close in age, left Cuba during the
The data revealed that social networks, sources of support, professional
aspirations, matrimony and maternity formed the contexts of the four women's choices of
enrolling in the school. Their contexts were further complicated by their own uncertain
expectations of their new lives in Miami and the overwhelming task of learning a new
language. The women (a) negotiated pressure from spouses, (b) assisted their children in
Cuba financially through remittances, (c) attempted to make sense of the uncertainties of
crossing cultural and linguistic borders, and (d) anticipated eventual acceptance within
the greater English-speaking society.
On a personal level, appreciation of support from established family and friends
already settled in the Miami Cuban exile enclave was among the immigration factors that
the four women held in common. An ethnic enclave is a "distinctive economic formation,
characterized by the spatial concentration of immigrants who organize a variety of
enterprises to serve their own ethnic market and general population (Portes & Bach p.
202). All four entered an exile space, their new surround, where as Cuban entrants, they
had deep historical connections. It is typical that those who came before provide the first
line of support for newcomers upon arrival. Immigration and refugee researchers
Zolberg, Suhrke, and Aguayo (1989) confirm the positive role of personal connections.
They list among the factors that have attracted subsequent vintages of Cuban migrants to
Miami: (a) the post-Revolution establishment of the Miami enclave, "Little Havana;" (b)
migratory networks between Florida and Cuba since the beginning of the twentieth
century; and (c) family ties of the established community (p. 188). It is within such
surrounds that the four women had begun to find their own places in Miami.
All four women spoke of the debt they owed to those in their families and social
networks who, having left Cuba, had since established themselves successfully in Miami.
Support is not only considered in material or financial means, but also, for the
participants in the study, emotional and informational. The women received
encouragement from their children and spouses to attend school and learn English. Their
familial connections and personal inspirations led the women to enroll at The Language
School, possibly their first contact with a community-based institution in the U.S. The
four women's experiences, situated as they were in the historical space of the enclave,
extended to the school for English language instruction, as well as to the social service
program for the counseling and material support they received there. The school that
they attended, a part of the same exile space, owes its establishment to the U.S.
government funding for education of Cuban immigrants fleeing Castro's revolution in
1961, and the social service program was originally intended, prior to 2000, to serve only
Cuban and Haitian refugees.
"...Pero ahora mismo es la mente estd nueva. Pero, bueno, yo quiero ir apoco a
poco. Yo hard todo." (...But right now, it is the mind that is new. But, well I want to go
little by little. I will do it all.) ---Angelica
Angelica sits, as she usually does, in the middle seat of the middle row of her
"Foundations ESOL" classroom (technically speaking, Literacy Completion Point-A
(LCP-A), the beginning level of the Florida Adult ESOL Curriculum Frameworks). She
holds her well-thumbed Spanish-English dictionary in her hand as she writes in her
notebook. She whispers and nods to her classmate, Carmen, who has been talking softly
to her. She is attending her first trimester of formal English learning in a classroom filled
with women and a few men. All students, most of whom are native Spanish speakers, are
seeking the same goal, to learn the dominant language of the United States in an
American city where 54% of the population speaks Spanish as the home language (2000
U.S. Census). She removes her wire-framed glasses and runs her hand through her short
curly hair. The teacher, Ms. R. taking roll, calls Angelica's name. "iPresente!" she
Angelica was a 45-year old Cuban refugee and new English language learner. She
and "tres otras muchachas," (three other girls), her friends, came to the school to enroll
together. Never having studied English made learning it now that she was in her 40's a
big challenge. During her life and employment in Cuba she had had no need for English
or any other foreign language. She said with a sigh, "Pero no tenia nada que ver el
ingles. Aqui me hacefalta." (But I didn't have to see anything of English. Here I need
it.) (Angelica interview transcript). "Yo estaba sorda. LleguW aquiy era ni nada. Y me
queda asi." (I was deaf. I arrived here and there was not anything [to comprehend]. And
it remains for me so.) (Angelica interview transcripts).
Outside of the classroom, Angelica had few opportunities to practice the English
that she claims she needed. In the month since she started her Foundations ESOL class
she became comfortable learning English in Ms. R's class. She stretched her legs under
her desk and whispered something to Carmen who asked to borrow Angelica's dictionary.
Before enrolling for this class, it had been a long time since she last sat in a classroom.
As a young woman Angelica completed her general education course, having
attended high school in her hometown in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara. She
had married very young and soon her only child, Roberto, was born. Later she returned
to school to complete the requirements for the Cuban equivalent of a high school
Hice de la secundaria, que no se lo que... como un high school. Despuds me
case muyjoven, tuve mi hijo... Entonces, ya de poco, empece a los veintipicos de
afos, porque lo terming elpreuniversitario.
I did the secondary [education program], that I don't know, like high school.
Afterwards I got married very young, had my son. Then in a little while, I began
[working] at twenty something, because I finished the "preuniversity." (Angelica
Without preparation for any specific employment, Angelica worked for many
years as an administrative secretary and payroll clerk for a large sugar processing plant in
central Cuba. She and her husband, Alberto, were happy but had to make do with few
material goods as they reared their son together. She claimed that she had had no dreams
for the future in Cuba, and that the family existed from day to day, resolviendo, to use the
popular Cuban word for "making do as best one can." Economical and political realities
made it difficult for her to think of concrete goals for herself.
Estapalabra [metas] en Cuba si se usa much. Alli todo los en Cuba se tratan a
hacer metas. iPero no se cumplen niguno! [Se rie.] Todo espor meta, yo se de
aqui son \nile Es distinto. Aqui Yo, personalment, no tenia ninguna. Alli
todo lo que trata es vivir. Pero tfu nopueda aspirar a nada. Porque hay que
aspirar. Unpais done no hay nada... El sistema. El que lleva todo de eso no
puede pensar en nada. Alli uno vive, lo que en diario...
That word [goals] they do use a lot in Cuba. There, all those in Cuba try to set
goals. They don't accomplish even one! [She laughs] ...Everything is by goal, I
know here [in the U.S.] are dreams. It's different. Here. I, personally, didn't have
any [goals in Cuba]. There, all one does is try to live. But you can't aspire to
anything. But you have to aspire. A county where there is nothing. ... The
system. He who has to deal with all that cannot think about anything. There one
lives, for the day... (Angelica interview transcript).
Angelica's life changed drastically when she decided to leave Cuba for the sake of
her son's future. Roberto's pending graduation from the university in Cuba prompted her
to find a way to leave Cuba in any way possible. Roberto, 25 and a student of philology,
had delayed his graduation from the university because he was waiting for his parents to
sponsor his emigration to the U.S. As a university student, Roberto could not apply for an
exit visa on his own because he owed his education to the state. If he were to graduate
prior to leaving, the Cuban government would not permit his exit from the country unless
he could repay the tuition cost for his entire state-funded education. For the sake of her
son and under the pressure of passing time, Angelica finally made a quick decision to
leave the island legally by traveling to Spain where her father was a citizen.
Her departure did not come without a personal cost and temporary trauma. The
Cuban government granted her an exit visa to visit her father in Madrid only after she
was forced to divorce her husband. She would have to travel to Spain as an adult
dependent of her father, a Spanish citizen. Leaving her now "ex"-husband and son
behind, Angelica flew to Spain. Soon after, she boarded a flight to Miami where her
mother and many other members of her large, extended family had settled in exile since
Hay que salir asi, con mi padre y como hija soltera. Por eso tuve que
divorciarme, divorciar a todo lo mio, entoncesparapuede llegar aqui. Pero,
bueno, la meta da esto, no me importaba llegar soltera, casada, viuda, JiCmo
I have to leave like that, with my father, as a single daughter. For that I had to get
divorced. Divorce everything that is mine, then in order that I could arrive here.
But well, the goal makes this [necessary]. It didn't matter to me how to arrive as
a single woman, married woman, or a widow any way I can! (Angelica
As do many, more recent Cuban emigres, Angelica had a network of family
already in Miami (Zolberg, et al. 1989). Most of her relatives had arrived at a time when
the U.S. government policy showed favor to all Cuban exiles. The special
accommodations provided by the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 guaranteed almost
unquestioned rights of residency to all Cubans who fled the Castro regime, no matter the
means. Cubans who arrived in the successive waves between 1962 and 1994 were
welcomed with open arms (Garcia 1996). After el Verano de Crisis (the Summer of
Crisis) when, between May and September 1994, over 34,000 Cubans crossed the
Straits of Florida on makeshift rafts, the political and immigration climate that had
favored Cuban exiles for so long suddenly ended (Ackerman 1996, Masud-Piloto 1996,
Mesa-Largo 1995). The resulting diplomatic agreement between the Castro and Clinton
governments six years ago had a direct effect on Angelica and her family's plans to enter
The Tarnoff-Alarcon Agreement, a result of emergency immigration negotiations
to stem the unrestricted tide of Cuban balseros [rafters] made it necessary for all Cubans
seeking entry into the U.S. after May 2, 1995 to register in Cuba for El Sorteo de Visas,
popularly known as El Loto. ElLoto (visa lottery) provides 20,000 visas per year to
registrants whose names are selected at random in a national drawing.
The May 2, 1995, decision radically changed a 36-year-old policy designed to
welcome Cubans to the US as political refugees in order to discredit and
undermine Fidel Castro's revolution. Overnight and without warning, Cubans
arriving illegally in the US were no longer welcomed, nor even considered special
(Masud-Piloto 1996,p. 128).
Although both Angelica and her husband had registered for El Sorteo, she felt
that she could not afford to wait for the vagaries of winning the visa lottery. With no
other safe and immediate alternative but to enter the U.S. illegally through Spain,
Angelica was undaunted in her desire to help her son. Leaving Cuba as she did was just
another way of resolver, doing her best to manage under the existing conditions of life for
the sake of her son.
No quise seguir en aquelpais, porque, seguro que una personajoven alli es
[pause] troncado. El termino de su carerra. Te corta. Que ya terminal, future,
no tiene trabajo. Entonces, a mi hijo ya alli la [pause] no tiene vida sea a el.
I didn't want to continue in that [Use of aquel implies a large distance]country,
because, for sure that a young person there is [pause] split apart. It's the end of
one's career. You are cut off and that's the end. [pause] You don't have a future;
you don't have ajob. Then, for my son being still there, life may be like that for
him. (Angelica interview transcript).
Angelica arrived in the U.S. in April 2001. As a Cuban entering illegally through
a third country, Angelica was not expecting a warm welcome from the U.S. government.
Arriving as she did almost six years after the immigration policy change of May 1995,
Angelica was regarded as an "illegal entrant" and was temporarily incarcerated in the
Krome Detention Center, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's holding
camp for undocumented aliens, located on the remote edge of the Everglades. She was
interned at Krome in compliance with the diplomatic agreement signed by the Clinton
and Castro governments almost six years before.
She had anticipated a temporary stay at Krome. As an illegal Cuban entrant
claiming political asylum, her case was processed quickly, and in a few days she was
released into the custody of family members with the immigration classification of
"asylee." As she waited for her son's (indefinite) arrival in the U.S., Angelica maintained
her confidence that leaving and making a new life in the U.S. would secure his future by
offering him more options in life when he finally would arrive.
Angelica, chuckling, reported that she had not "remarried" her husband in Miami,
but lived with him, moving in together after he arrived legally in the U.S. via El Sorteo de
Visas a few months after she did. They lived in the Little Havana section of Miami in a
small house owned by one of her aunts. Alberto worked with a family-owned painting
and wallpapering company. Angelica remained unemployed. Her extended family in
Miami was large, and she appreciated the great source of material and emotional support
they had provided since she and her husband arrived. Her grandparents (since deceased),
mother, and a host of other relatives had resided as exilios (exiled ones) in Miami since
the early 1960's. Her extended family became her principal social network.
Muchafamilia. Muchas tias. Ymi madre estaba aquiya tambin... Yo tengo tios
aqui, que llevan treinte y picos, cuarenta ui ,, en este pais,... Casi todo estdn
aqui. Todo en Miami. Si, sipor esopudemos, [pause] lo aventuramos. Por lo
menos, tenemos apoyo aqui.
A lot of family. Many aunts, and my mother was here already, too... I have
uncles (and aunts?) [tios: uncles, but in plural form can semantically be gender
inclusive.] here that have been here for thirty-some, forty years in this country...
Almost all are here. All in Miami. Yes, yes for that we could, [pause] we risked
it for at least we have support here. (Angelica interview transcript).
As she talked about the support she was receiving from her family members, she
elaborated on the sacrifices she perceived they have made, difficulties they had endured,
and the successful lives they built having immigrated earlier in the history of the Miami
Cuban exile. She reminded me, with admiration, that they began their new lives in
Miami at a time when Spanish was not the dominant language.
En aquella epoca, la gente ir a trabajar, no sabian el idioma, no tenian tiempo ni
de estudiar. Habian muchas posibilidades... Enter todo, dificil salir de alli, pero,
me da aumento mejor aqui, por el apoyo que tener.
At that time, the people going to work, they didn't know the language, they didn't
even have time to study. There were many possibilities ... Overall, it's difficult
leaving there [Cuba], it gets better for me here, by having the support. (Angelica
She continued speaking fondly of her grandparents' adaptation to life in Miami
after they arrived from Cuba in 1969. Her words painted a portrait of admiration for their
tenacity to build a life, as older people, without the social foundation of an established
Spanish-language community. She acknowledged her need for English, but underscored,
with humor, the more pressing linguistic barriers that her grandparents faced at the time
of their arrival in the later 1960's.
Bueno, todavia no tengo la experiencia de trabajo, pero hasts cuando tui vas a
una tienda te sientes malpor no sabes inglks. Porque tui vas a comprar una
cosa... Yaqui tengo la experiencia por los familiares mios que legaron ya
mayores, y han comido comida de perro. i Te lo dan la pica tan graciosa en
saltine cracker! iNo, yo me no quiero!
Well, I don't have work experience [in the U.S.], but when you go to a store you
feel bad because you don't know English. Because you go to buy something...
And I have the experience of my relatives who came as older people, and have
eaten dog food. They offer you a piece so graciously on a saltine cracker! No, I
don't want that! (Angelica interview transcript).
After having successfully completed the requirements of the Foundations (LCP-
A) level of ESOL, Angelica moved out of the area and left the school suddenly at the end
of her first month of ESOL I (LCP-B). By the end of the data collection period, she had
not rematriculated at any other adult center in the district. Although she withdrew from
the study, I had collected a wealth of interview and classroom observation data on her
learning experiences that contributed to analysis of her contexts and opportunities to learn
English during her time at the school. At last contact, Roberto remained in Cuba.
",Qud quiero cambiar? Aprender el idioma. Eso es el principal. Y trabajar en lo
que me gusta a mi." (What do I want to change? To learn the language. That's the
principal thing. And to work at what is pleasing to me.) ---Dora
The classroom is packed with about 40 students. Twelve new students have
joined the class this morning, just over a month into the trimester. Dora is here, with
determination, to learn English. She sits, arms folded on top of her desk covering her text
and notebook as she watches her teacher, Mr. O process the newcomers and enter their
names in his roll book.
Bueno, elprimero %u ilc es estudiar el inglds, saber inglds, y, a ver, como yo
puedo trabajar de mi en \h'/ ti/, mi profesi6n.
Well, the first dream is to study English, know English, and well, how I can work
in my teaching, my profession (Dora interview transcript).
She glances around the room watching her classmates. Her long blonde hair
drapes over the back of her chair where she sits in the center row of six rows of desks
facing front. Next to her, in the adjacent row, her husband of twelve years, Raul, is
reading in his textbook. The pair attends the Foundations level, LCP-A, ESOL class
together almost every day. Mr. O finishes his administrative task with the new students
and returns to the lesson. Dora and her classmates begin repeating, in unison, the lines of
the text dialogue after their teacher. Dora nods her head and taps the end of her pencil in
rhythm with his words as she mimics his cadence and intonations.
Dora, 42, was well acquainted with classrooms. She taught high school biology
for many years and held the Cuban equivalent of a master's degree in Education. In her
hometown of Havana she had completed her high-school requirements and then began
university studies in pursuit of her degree, Licensiatura en Biologia. After graduating,
she entered her profession well prepared to teach. Dora emphasized the time she had
invested in her university studies, iSiete ahiii, de carrera! Despuds del colegio (Seven
years of the major! After high school.) (Dora interview transcript). She displayed her
diploma proudly on the wall of her tiny apartment.
As a biology major, Dora had some English instruction throughout her secondary
and higher education, but she did not speak it and showed limited comprehension of
spoken, conversational English during the study. Her discipline, biological science, in a
global sense relies extensively on classical and international research, vocabulary, and
texts with many cognates based on Latin and Greek. Most of her school English involved
reading texts, and she explained that one of her classes was taught in English.
Bueno, siporque he tenido un aho complete en la carrera. Tenia una asignatura
en ingles, y que habia que leer todos los dias.
Well, yes, because I had it [English] for a complete year during my major. I had a
subject in English and had to read every day (Dora interview transcript).
She enjoyed teaching biology and was proud of her participation with a team of
Ecuadorian marine researchers who had been conducting work on shrimp breeding in the
Cayos, the unspoiled islands along the northern coast of Cuba. In spite of her
satisfactions, pressures of life and work in the Cuban economic and educational system
eventually became too great for her to bear. The high school where the government had
assigned her to teach was very far from her home in Havana. (As a government
employee, she had no choice in her school assignment.) Given Dora's extensive
education and professional training as a teacher, her meager salary made her feel under
appreciated by the system while the lack of materials and equipment to teach her subject
made her sense that her efforts with her students were futile.
...Porque ganaba muy poco y no me sirvia de nadaaa, lo que estudik, para
trabajar, y despues se pusieron muy malo trabajo... Yo tenia que trabajar hace
sesenta y siete kilometros de la casa todos los dias en carro. Yo me tenia levantar
a las cuatro de la mahana, llegaba a la casa a las diez de la noche....
Because I earned very little and it did noooothing for me, what I had studied in
order to work, and after that they put me in a very bad job... I had to work 67
kil6metros from home [traveling] every day by car. I had to get up at four o'clock
in the morning, arriving home at ten o'clock at night... (Dora interview
Dora owned her own house in Havana where she lived with Raul and her teenage
daughter, Yessica. Raul's son, Raulito, 19, frequently visited. Having cared for him since
he was six years old, she considered him a member of her nuclear family. Dora had
inherited the house from her father, a semi-private delivery truck owner. She and her
husband also ran an art studio near the Cathedral Plaza in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana,
the historic zone popular with foreign tourists). Dora and Raul realized that economic
conditions were deteriorating and both entered their names in El Sorteo de Visas, the
lottery by which they hoped to win one of the 20,000 annual exit visas. The random
lottery selections are made on individual bases; married couples are not necessarily
granted exit visas together (U.S. Department of State, 2000). Such a fate caused the
family a heartbreak when Raul and his son received their visas and left for Miami in
January 2000. Dora and Yessica remained in Cuba.
Dora waited almost a year for her fortune when, in November 2000, her own visa
was granted through the El Sorteo. She had not seen her husband in eleven months and
missed him as she waited in uncertainty for her chance to join him in Miami. When it
came, winning the visa posed another serious emotional decision. Yessica at 17, was a
minor and could not expect government permission to leave Cuba, under her mother's
immigration sponsorship, until she reached the age of 21.
The agreement that had established El Sorteo de Visas prohibited Cuban
government harassment of visa applicants as they waited for their fate (U.S. Department
of State, 2000). Yessica, however, as the daughter of a visa recipient, was barred from
attending high school in the government system and was expelled from her high school.
Also, Dora's emigration constituted a legal abandonment of her privately-owned home.
The house, an inherited private domicile, could not be bought or sold by law; as Dora
left, the government authorities confiscated it as abandoned property. Yessica was forced
to live with her grandmother, Dora's mother, in an apartment in central Havana. Dora
carried her worries and longing for her daughter to Miami.
Rail and his son had been living in a tiny two-room efficiency apartment above a
garage in Little Havana. When Dora arrived at the airport, Raul met her and took her
directly to her new home, a tight squeeze for three people.
jDel aeropuerto vine para aqui! /Ay, ay, ay! Porque ya vivia Rafil.
From the airport I came here! Ay, ay, ay! Because Raul was living here already
(Dora interview transcript).
After Raulito, a student at the local community college, moved to live with his mother
when she later arrived from Cuba, the couple had more space in their cramped quarters.
Dora, who had seemed very close to Raulito, clearly missed his daily presence in her life.
Since her arrival, Dora had been working as a banquet server at a large hotel in
the city. Her main concern was for her daughter's wellbeing and education. Since the
government in Cuba discontinued Yessica's educational support and barred her from
attending regular government schools, Dora sent much of her earnings to Cuba to care for
Yessica's needs and to pay a tutor to give Yessica private instructions, thus enabling her
to complete her high school requirements. The remittances were a necessary burden for
Dora. At the end of the study, Dora had received surprise word that her daughter would
be permitted to leave Cuba and that mother and daughter would be reunited shortly.
Dora's job as a banquet server presented few opportunities to use English on the
job because all of her coworkers spoke Spanish. The banquet guests offered little chance
for English language practice because Dora needed only a limited repertoire of words and
phrases specific to her interactions with the guests. She sometimes reached out to guests
to help her understand, yet complained of feeling limited or threatened in English
Entonces cuando me piden algo, yo se la llevo. Entonces, si no entiendo, yo le
digo, porque se yo le digo alli, "0, &Si/',ta, c6mo te llama ?"
Then when they [guests] ask me for something, I bring it to them. If I don't
understand, I tell her, because I tell her there, "Oh, ma'am, how do you call
? (Dora interview transcript).
Dora claimed she was content and seemed almost resigned to her job as a server.
She had no complaints of pressing demands, and the job allowed her another place to
socialize and to earn money, an aspect she mentioned frequently, for her daughter's
...Me siento bienporqueee, me llevo con todo lo compahero (sic) de trabajo,y
entonceee, me gusta el trabajo no se. ...Es como la mzisica... Conozco otra vida
que no veia... A veces me veo otra vida de felicidad de cargando esta bandeja.
Bueno, eso es lo que tenemos ahora, pero lo me importa es ganar dinero.
... I feel good becaaaaause, I get along with all my coworkers, and wellll, I like
the work, I don't know, ... It's like music. I am acquainted with another life that I
didn't use to see... Sometimes, I see myself in another life of happiness carrying
this tray. Well, that's what we have now, but what matters to me is earning
money (Dora interview transcript).
Dora's extended family in Miami was small; she was close to only one maternal
aunt in Miami and corresponded with a few cousins living in New York. She had
received some material support from family and friends.
Defamilia o amigos, que ya estaban. Nos ayudaron unas amistades, y a mi, la
familiar mia. Me regalaron dinero, ropa, me dieron cosas de la cocina.
Among family or friends who were already [here]. A few friends helped us, and
my, my family. The gave me money, clothing, and they gave me things for the
kitchen (Dora interview transcript).
Dora relied on the new neighbors for social interaction. She did not socialize outside her
Spanish-speaking neighborhood where she enjoyed the friendship and support from her
elderly neighbors and landlord.
Aqui no tengoproblema. Todo me quieren, aqui todas laspersonas mayores. Yo
soy reina del dueho que me adora a mi.
Here I don't have a problem. All love me, here all the older people. I am a queen
to the landlord who adores me [me adora a mi: emphatic semantic structure.]
(Dora interview transcript).
Dora and Raul were working at the same hotel where he became a bartender and
enjoyed speaking English in his gregarious manner. Dora preferred to remain quiet when
Raul spoke; he clearly enjoyed talking and did most of it when the couple was together.
Raul was an artist who works in the Afro-Cuban naif style of the Yoruba (West African
tribal) tradition. He explained that he and Dora often worked together on their fanciful
depictions of the Cuban landscape inhabited by insects and other creatures offering gifts
to los orishas (gods) such as Chang6, Yemayd, and Elegguii and others that comprise the
pantheon of the Santeria religion. Raul often created the schematic compositions and
Dora applied the vibrant tropical colors to complete the works. She also produced her
own original compositions. She showed me a portfolio of photographs from exhibitions
held both in Cuba and internationally.
After Dora and Raul successfully completed Mr. O's Foundations ESOL (LCP-A)
class, they decided to attend separate classes for the next level of instruction, LCP-B. It
was then that I learned of Dora's fear of speaking English and the profound frustration
that she felt as a learner. We sat talking one day when I proposed, in English, that we
begin to converse using Spanish and English, bilingually switching codes as necessary, to
practice both languages. She did not comprehend me, and I repeated my proposal in
Spanish. With downward glance, Dora replied that she is afraid to speak English in front
of every one Raul, her teacher, and other English speakers.
Sensing her discomfort, I changed the subject, and asked her about the research
on shrimp she had told me about in a previous conversation. I asked her about some of
the details of the research, and she smiled broadly as she explained that they were
studying growth and methods for artificial insemination for shrimp farms. "Cuba raises a
lot of shrimp," she said. I shared a little about the ESOL ecology class that I used to offer
and how we, the students and I, would wade into Biscayne Bay with nets in order to
investigate the sea grass habitats. With tongue in cheek, she asked me when I would be
back to teach that again and then we both laughed.
I asked her if she had read anything related to biology in Spanish or English since
she left Cuba. Dora replied, in a lamenting tone, that she didn't try to read anything about
biology in English because it frustrated her to know all those things in Spanish, and not
be able to read in English. I recommended the present month's (February 2002) National
Geographic because it featured a wonderful article on Cuban coral reefs of the Cayos, the
islands where she had assisted in the research project. She had never heard of National
Geographic magazine, but went on to talk about the extensive reefs in Cuba. As we
talked I interjected some thoughts about Biscayne Bay, giving some examples of animals
and plants that grow there. The name for "horseshoe crab" in Spanish escaped me, but I
described it for her. The animal, at least from my description, was a mystery to Dora. I
then drew the animal, top and bottom views. Although I thought I drew the creature well,
she still did not recognize it. Intrigued, she would consult her dictionary, she said. Dora
completed LCP-B in April 2001.
"Llegar a lugares que me hablan en ingles y me queda asi mirando, no se, no se
aunque me hagan gestos." (Arriving at places where they speak to me in English, and I
remain as such, looking, I don't know, I don't know, although they make gestures to me.)
Shafts of sunlight stream across Marina's hands as she sits paging through her
textbook at her desk next to the window. Her dark wavy hair and glasses are silouetted
against the tropical brightness of the morning. As she does everyday, Marina has taken
two buses with her husband, Federico, to cross the city for their English lessons at The
Language School. The couple does not own a car and must depend on public
transportation. Federico is in a level four (LCP-E) class the same time that Marina
attends Ms. R's Foundations ESOL (LCP-A) class Monday through Friday. Today, as
always, her classmate, Julia, about the same age as Marina, sits directly in front of her.
Marina leans forward to talk to Julia, calling her attention to something in the book she is
perusing in front of her. Julia turns in her chair to see what Marina is indicating with her
index finger. Julia nods and whispers something as Marina smiles back at her. There are
about thirty students present, most of them women. Angelica is one of Marina's
classmates, but the two never interact and keep to their own small groups within the
Coming to school, Marina has started her usual busy day. After class ends at
10:45 AM, she and Federico make the trip home together on the two buses. Marina
prepares a quick lunch for them and lays out the makings of their evening meal. He has
always depended on her to handle most of the domestic chores. However, since they
arrived in Miami, she has taught Federico to prepare his own rice for dinner. They eat,
and then dress and leave for work he at the Miami International Airport as a baggage
handler and Marina at a local Cuban supermarket as a cashier. Marina walks the few
blocks to the supermarket to begin her shift at 2:00 PM. She will walk home alone later
when she finishes working at 11:00 PM. The dangers of the late night walk alone are of
great concern and fear for Marina. Briefly, she also taught piano at a local music store,
but she claims that the meager pay was not worth her effort.
Marina was employed for many years as an accountant for a large polyclinic in
her small town of San Jose, Havana Province. A devout Christian, Marina also enjoyed
her work as a music minister and piano teacher in her Baptist church community. At 49,
she was the oldest of the four women participating in the study and could recall many
details of her life in Cuba as a small child before Fidel Castro's coup of January 1, 1959.
Her father was, and remains at the age of 80, devoted to La Revoluci6n. Marina in 1962,
at the age of 12, had decided that she wanted to leave Cuba, but her father's dedication to
the revolutionary cause prevented her earlier exile. She remained in Cuba with her
parents and sister. Marina prepared to be an accountant during her high-school years and
claimed to have studied English "unpoquito," a little.
She had quietly nurtured her dreams of life in Miami until, as a married mother of
two, she saw another chance during the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. She, Federico, and their
two sons were preparing to join the almost 100,000 other Cubans leaving for Florida by
boat from the port of Mariel in May 1980 (Garcia 1996). Again, Marina's dreams of
living in the U.S. were deferred. He older son, Gerardo, had just turned 15, making him
ineligible by Cuban law to leave the country. Boarding a boat for Florida as they had
planned would have separated the family, something that Marina said she could not have
tolerated. They decided to remain in Cuba.
In 1992, Marina partially realized her dream to see the U.S. on a church
sponsored visit to Baptist congregations in Tampa and Miami. Subsequently, she
returned in 1994, and 1996 during which she built warm relationships within Baptist
circles in both cities. She was offered a position of music minister in one Tampa church,
but turned it down because of her insecurity with her lack of English language skills. She
also could not abandon her family in Cuba.
Marina's life changed dramatically in 1999 when she and Federico, at the
insistence of their two grown sons, entered their names into El Loto, the visa lottery that
would provide them legal exit from Cuba and documented residency in the U.S. As fate
would have it, their names were selected in tandem not once, but three times. Marina
says that she resisted the temptation to leave at the first two chances, but her sons finally
convinced her to go. Her younger, unmarried son, Eduardo, had pointed out that his
name was entered into El Sorteo, and that he expected be in Miami soon, too.
A los cuatro o cinco meses me lleg6 la, en sorteo de visas, de la visa, y, bueno,
mis hijosfureon mds instistieron, "No, Mima, que no tienefuturo, aqui, a Ud.
pertenimos. ...Alld, y que tenga las posibilidades." ... Una decision bien dura,
pero tomamos asi. Yo creo que no estamos aquipor, por la casualidad, sino
porque Di6s nospermiti6 que estuvieramos aqui. Porque si no, sabiamos nada
de esas visas, para estamos aqui.
In four or five months I got the, in the drawing for the visas, and well, my sons
were insisting very much, "No, Mommy, it's that you have no future, here we
belong to you....there [too], and that you have possibilities." A very hard
decision, but as such, we made it. I believe that we are not here by, by
coincidence, but rather that God deigned that we should be here. Because if not,
we didn't know anything about those visas in order that we are here (Marina
Gerardo, the couple's older son was a Baptist minister, married, and the father of Marina
and Federico's two beloved grandchildren. He, too, eventually planned to leave, but at
the time of the study, his obligations to his congregation would serve to keep him and his
family in Cuba for the indefinite future.
Marina and Federico made their stay in the U.S. permanent in August 2000. On
their third chance, they accepted their exit visas and arrived to build a new life in Miami.
Marina explains the profound feeling of uprootedness she has experienced in
Porque es una, es una, una vida dife, es como uno se muriere hubiera vivir. La
sensaci6n cuando uno la, como uno llega aqui es que te muere y resucita en una
nueva vida, y que tiene que aprender a vivir, a caminar, a conducirte, es todo
nuevo. ... iComo un NINO! No sabia en, en, no hubo letrero alprincipio cuando
yo vine aqui de visit, no sabia abrir la llave. Las pilas de agua. ...No sabia
porque es caliente porque no SABIA. No, de verdad, no se ve en mi pais. No se
Because it's a, a different) life, it's as if one died (yet) had lived. The sensation
when one, uh, as one arrives here, you die and resurrect in a new life, and have to
learn to live, to walk, and to manage yourself is all new. ...Like a CHILD! I didn't
know, in, in, there was no sign at first when I came to visit, I didn't know (how) to
open the faucet. The water faucets. ...I didn't know because it's hot is why I
didn't KNOW. No, truly, one doesn't see that [hot water] in my country. It's not
known. (Marina interview transcript).
At first Marina and her husband lived with one of his cousins, but she was quick
to point out, and repeat, that they had stayed "isolamente veintiun dias!" (only 21 days!)
with his cousin before moving into a small house within a complex of rental properties
owned by the same relatives. Except for her parents who remained in Cuba, still loyal to
the Revolution, most of Marina's relatives were already residing in Miami when she and
her husband arrived.
...Los mds han legado, no somos tanto, somos dos hermanas, mi hermanay yo.
Mi sobrina, tengo una sobrina aqui. Misprimos, tengo tios, y una wi'l,,ht que,
ic6mo explico? ... que no es nada de lafamilia. Pero es mds quefamilia. Mucho
personas (sic) que los conozco de la iglesia de alld de me iglesia en San Jose que
...Most of them have arrived, we're not so many, we're two sisters, my sister and
I. My niece, I have a niece here. ...My cousins, I have uncles and aunts, a lady
that, how can I explain? ...who is nothing to the family. But she is more than
family. ...Many people that I know from the church from there in my church in
San Jose that are living (here) (Marina interview transcripts).
Marina had completed a 40-hour Child Development Associate (CDA) course (in
Spanish) for childcare certification at the school but had not begun to study English until
the start of this study. She said that her study time was limited because of domestic and
work obligations, and the vocational counselor had advised her to take the CDA class
instead of ESOL. He told her that she would be able to get a job. He had explained to her
that without the CDA certification she would have no possibility to get a job working in
the church day care center, a position that held only lukewarm interest for her as a trained
music minister. She reminded me that she could do other things she would like to study
computer office applications to find work eventually as an accountant. "People are worth
much," she said when talking about the many talents an individual might possess.
Marina felt that there is opportunity here, but she had thus far become demoralized
because of inability to find work that interested her and paid well. The reference was to
her boredom with her present position as a cashier at the Cuban supermarket near her
She worried deeply about her health care and expressed lack of understanding of
the health insurance issues for herself and her husband. She claimed she would think
about her preoccupation while attending Ms. R's class where she wished she could learn
more about how to negotiate the labyrinth of paperwork related to health insurance. In
her experience in Cuba, health care was provided by the medical care system free of
charge. Marina had been well acquainted with medical care management since she
worked for so many years as the accountant of a polyclinic.