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Teaching and Teacher Education 21 (2005) 33­48

Teaching and learning in rural Mexico: a portrait of student responsibility in everyday school life

Lynn A. Bryana,Ã, H. James McLaughlinb

a b

Department of Science Education, University of Georgia, 212 Aderhold Hall, Athens, GA 30602-7126, USA Department of Elementary Education, University of Georgia, 427 Aderhold Hall, Athens, GA 30602, USA

Abstract In this study, we examined on the sociocultural environment and personal experiences of children from a rural Mexican escuela unitaria (one-room, one-teacher school), because many of our immigrant children come to the US from rural Mexican communities. We present a portrait of everyday school life in which students assume responsibility: (a) for oneself, (b) to classmates, (c) for making decisions related to curriculum, and (d) to family and community. The findings have implications for challenging teacher beliefs about culturally diverse students and for supporting educational professionals in developing more culturally responsive teaching. r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Mexican education; Rural education; Student responsibility

1. Introduction El Bosque, Veracruz is similar to thousands of small towns in the mountainous landscapes of rural Mexico. While the area is rich in natural resources with fruit trees, fertile land, and fish from the River Actopan, El Bosque is economically poor. Simple stucco dwellings line the main dirt road through town. There are no telephones and computers in the homes, not even in the school. Family dwellings are close in proximity

ÃCorresponding author.

E-mail addresses: [email protected] (L.A. Bryan), [email protected] (H.J. McLaughlin).

and many of the families share common ancestry. Most families survive in El Bosque by picking mangoes, papaya, and chayote, and by raising corn, beans, and chickens. Each year, 15­20 men from El Bosque migrate within Mexico or to the United States. This year, some of those families may find their way to a new life in Georgia. With a prosperous agricultural industry and an emerging status as a center for manufacturing and exporting, the State of Georgia had the thirdhighest rate of increase in the Latino population of any state in the United States from 1990 to 2000 (300%), and the highest rate from 2000 to 2002 (18.7%). The population self-identified as ``Mexican'' increased 426% from 1990 to 2000. The

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34 L.A. Bryan, H.J. McLaughlin / Teaching and Teacher Education 21 (2005) 33­48

county in which we reside, Clarke County (where the University of Georgia is located), has experienced a 332% increase in its Latino population since 1990 (US Census Bureau, 2000, http:// The challenges associated with the rapid change in demographics, especially in Georgia, have sparked a call in all fields of education to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the educational and cultural backgrounds of Latino learners in order to support their learning through culturally relevant pedagogy (Gay, 2000; Howard, 1999; ´ Ladson-Billings, 1994; Valdes, 1996). Pedagogy that meets the needs of culturally diverse immigrant children in our classrooms is rooted in a guiding principle of equity and excellence. Numerous US national and statewide standards-based reform documents emphasize this principle. For example, in the National Science Education Standards, the National Research Council (1996) states: ``Science in our schools must be for all students: All students, regardless of age, sex, cultural or ethnic background, disabilities, aspirations, or interest and motivation in science, should have the opportunity to attain high levels of science literacy'' (p. 20). One of the central purposes of the Standards for English Language Arts is ``to ensure that all students are offered the opportunities, the encouragement, and the vision to develop the language skills they need to pursue life's goals, including personal enrichment and participation as informed members of our society'' (National Council of Teachers of English, 1996, p. 1). Similarly, The Principles and Standards for School Mathematics include a fundamental assertion that, ``All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding. There is no conflict between equity and excellence'' (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000, file://localhost/Volumes/NCTM%20Standards/Standards/document/chapter1/index.htm). The excerpts from this sample of content standards for teaching and learning embody an ideal that all students can achieve understanding in subject areas if given the opportunity, and reject the notion that anyone should be excluded from opportunities to learn and succeed in school.

Certainly, the goal of achieving equity and excellence in the education of all students is not limited only to US classrooms, nor does it apply only to Mexican immigrant children. Teachers and teacher educators around the world encounter challenges associated with changing demographics and designing instruction to meet the needs of students from various backgrounds that differ from the mainstream. Recent international studies have examined issues of teaching and learning with respect to immigrant children--e.g., Pakistani students in the UK (Huss-Keeler, 1997); various ´ immigrant groups in Spain (Santos-Rego & PerezDomi´ nguez, 2001); ethnically diverse students in England (Mac an Ghaill, 1996); Asian students in the UK (Bhatti, 1999); Asian children in the US (Park, 1995, 1997); Aboriginal children in Australia (Hewitt, 2000); Aboriginal children in Canada (Ruttan, 2000); Japanese students in Canada (Yokota-Adachi & Geva, 1999); and Moroccan children in the Netherlands (Eldering, 1997). In each of these studies, children who immigrated to a new country came with social practices from their communities and families that were not compatible with the nature of schooling in their new country. Diverse student groups bring with them their own ways of knowing, thinking, and communicating that are representative of their sociocultural environments as well as personal experiences (Ballenger, 1997; Lee, 1999; Lee, Fradd, & Sutman, 1995). At the same time, teachers and teacher educators hold beliefs and expectations about these students, which may result in instructional practices that limit immigrant children's opportunities for an equitable and excellent education (Author, 2002). If immigrant students' ways of knowing, thinking, and communicating are not honored in the classroom, they receive the message that the ways in which they learn and the cultural knowledge they bring to the classroom are not valuable (Ballenger, 1997). Is, then, science, language arts, mathematics, or any other subject truly for all? Culturally relevant pedagogy must incorporate sociocultural knowledge of the lives and experiences of the students for whom the pedagogy is being developed (Gay, 2000; Osborne, 1996).


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2. Purpose In order to learn more about the schooling experiences of Mexican immigrant children, we developed a four-phase, multiple-case research agenda that focuses on la vida cotidiana (everyday life) in four rural schools and communities in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. The overarching purpose of our research is two-fold. First, we aim to contribute to the paucity of Englishlanguage research that focuses on the sociocultural environments and personal experiences of children in small rural schools--a context in which many Mexican immigrant children gain their schooling experiences. We expect that our findings will support educational professionals in anticipating and facilitating diverse students' passages into potentially unfamiliar cultures of schooling. Additionally, we endeavor to expand the knowledge base about teaching and learning in rural Mexican schools. This research will be especially informative for the professional development of: (a) Mexican teachers, particularly first-year teachers whose government-appointed assignments are most often in rural schools, and (b) teachers who strive to develop pedagogy that is relevant to the lives of Mexican immigrant children. In concert with the outlined purposes, the central question that frames our research agenda is: In the context of la vida cotidiana (everyday life) in each of four rural Mexican schools, what are the sociocultural aspects of schooling and community that influence learning in the classroom? Additionally, three subquestions guided us in examining the central question: (a) What are the roles of students and teachers in school life? (b) What are the roles of students and teachers in community life? and (c) What is the relationship between community and school? This paper reports findings from Phase I of our research, a study in one rural site named El Bosque (a pseudonym).

from late August to early July, with a number of holidays dotting the calendar. ``Complete'' primary schools in Mexico consist of grades one through six (some isolated schools have fewer than six grades). As a result of rapid urbanization over several generations, many Mexican children attend schools where they have a different teacher for each grade level. However, there remain tens of thousands of multigrade schools (multigrados), in which one or more teachers each instruct more than one grade. Of these multigrade schools, thousands are one-room schools (escuelas unitarias), with one teacher for grades one through six. El Bosque is an escuela unitaria. Nationally, nearly 40% of all schools are either escuelas unitarias or multigrados, but in some states the percentage is much higher (Ezpeleta & Weiss, 2000). 3.1. Overview of the community and school of El Bosque El Bosque is located approximately 30 miles from the capital city of Xalapa, Veracruz. Approximately 270 people live in the small community. In spite of the poverty, there is a sense of unity in the town and strong support for education. El Bosque's primary school is set among colorful stucco and cement block houses in the middle of the main street in town. In front and to one side, there is a cement courtyard that serves as a site to play ball games, offer food and drink to the children at the morning break, and perform public ceremonies for events such as Father's Day or the Fiesta for the Patron Saint. Inside, there is one large room, approximately 200 Â 600 , with a back door that leads to the recently built bathrooms and a small green space behind the school. The primary school in El Bosque has about 30 students in six grade levels, led by a teacher named Alberto. In the classroom, students are grouped by age, with between two and seven students in each group seated at desks. One-half of the room is devoted to these desk arrangements, with two large chalkboards on adjoining walls. The other half is more open; it is the space reserved for a small ``natural history museum'' (consisting mostly of animal skeletons), the class meetings led by students, discussions of educational videotapes

3. The contexts of El Bosque In Mexico, students generally attend school for 200 days, four hours a day. The school year runs


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shown on a television set donated by Alberto to the school, and small-scale construction projects. Maestro Alberto. Alberto has been a maestro (teacher) in rural Mexican schools for 25 years. When we generated these data, he was in his sixth year at the school in El Bosque. He is a quiet man whose face reflects his seriousness of purpose. During more than a hundred hours of observation in the school, we never heard him raise his voice beyond a normal projection, rarely saw him smile while teaching, and seldom heard him offer praise to the students. At the same time, he is a man in constant action: monitoring the room; reading with fourth grade students at their desks; drawing geometric figures for the second graders' math lesson; exhorting the sixth grade students to continue working; helping third graders construct a data table for their habitat observations; and leading a choral response in a grammar activity with the first graders. Although there is a federal curriculum, Alberto believes that he should adapt the curriculum to incorporate local knowledge and students' responses to activities. For example, one afternoon we took a ``science hike'' with the students, along the riverbank just outside of town. When we inquired about how he would follow up in the next day's lesson, Alberto said: ``That depends on them (the students), on how intense the experience was--or what they talked about. And also from the stories that they are going to write and draw, and they are going to summarize or they can comment on their work--or what they are going to talk about at home'' (Interview, 2/7). Alberto's response reflects his ability to be flexible in planning, as he often makes decisions about activities depending on how students respond to what happened. Alberto's philosophy of teaching fits well within the context of teaching students in six grade levels, which requires him to rely on students doing their work while also helping peers and younger ones. Often, students must generate ideas and build an understanding before his intervention. Because of these characteristics, we consider Alberto to be an ``experienced constructivist'' teacher (Simmons, et al., 1999) in whose classroom ``teacher and students negotiate understanding of key ideas

based in student's ideas and content'' and who emphasizes ``connections constructed by students with [the] teacher's guidance to [the] real worldy'' (p. 954).

4. Research on Mexican schools Rockwell (1991, 1995, 1998) and Bertely and Corenstein (1998) have summarized the range of qualitative research studies conducted in Mexican schools over the last 25 years. A number of studies have taken place in secondary schools (grades 7­9), such as those by Herr and Anderson (1997) and Laible (1998). Zorilla (1997) and others analyzed education in prepas or bachilleratos (grades 10­12). Some researchers have compared schooling in Mexico and the US (Cifuentes & Murphy, 1994; Maci´ as, 1990; Pugach, 1998; Rippberger & Staudt, 1999, 2003). It is important here to note Levinson's insightful study of student culture and the formation of a ``schooled identity'' in a Mexican secondary school (Levinson, 1996, 2001). Levinson rightly resisted the temptation to import reproduction theory and other ``radical European sociological categories'' to the site of rural schools in Mexico (Levinson, 2001, p. 333). At the same time, he employed a detailed analysis of everyday school interactions and students' beliefs about the processes of schooling to reflect critically on the state's purposes and on students' socioeconomic trajectories in life. Rockwell (1998) noted that one of the strongest lines of research has come from people in the Department of Educational Research and from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology, both in Mexico City, which focuses on the culture of schooling in public primary schools (grades one through six). Researchers engaged in this sort of documentation have emphasized different aspects of schooling. Much of the research focused on teachers' practices and on the conditions of teaching. These studies portrayed a frequent lack of sufficient resources, especially in poor rural schools, and the difficult working conditions and bureaucratic hurdles that teachers often face (Aguilar, 1995; Ezpeleta, 1992; Sandoval, 1995). Other researchers


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have studied how teachers adapt the national curriculum and use time during the school day (Edwards, 1995), and how they teach subjects such as science (Candela, 1995, 1997). The research most closely related to our work is that of de Haan (1998), Ezpeleta and Weiss (2000), ´ Galvan (1998), Martin (1994), Paradise (1994a, b), and the authors in Rockwell's collection (1995), all who conducted in-depth ethnographic studies of academic and social interactions in Mexican elementary schools. To Rockwell (1998), this sort of research requires a ``move toward articulating the multiple and complex cultural processes actually documented in everyday school life'' ´ (p. 11). Galvan's (1998) study of the interactions of teachers and parents and de Haan's (1998) Vygotskian analysis of learning in an indigenous community are fine examples of ethnographic work in one community. Ruth Paradise's influential work (1994a,b) documented the relations between students and teachers in an indigenous Mazahua community. Paradise grappled with the issue of ``cultural compatibility'' (and incompatibility) between school life and community life. Like many rural schoolteachers, some of those in Paradise's studies were ``outsiders'' born and educated in urban areas. They had to learn about parents' perspectives on education, and teach the federal curriculum while trying to adapt it to local conditions. The teacher in our study was also from the outside, a commuter from a nearby city who accepted the norms and patterns of life in El Bosque while also challenging the students and families to work together and build up the school. His approach fit neatly within the long history of rural teachers as social change agents in Mexico (Vaughan, 1997). Finally, Ezpeleta and Weiss's (2000) analysis of 13 small rural schools, including four escuelas unitarias, offered an in-depth look at how teachers organize their time, represent the content, use the national textbooks, and utilize direct instruction. They found that teachers in multigrade classes took a variety of approaches, sometimes grouping students by age, sometimes across ages, and sometimes by ability level, loosely defined. In the community of Rancho Viejo in their study, the teacher used a combination of grouping and

encouraged some cross-age interactions, as was true in El Bosque. These examples of previous qualitative research have enhanced our understanding of schools in Mexico. However, most studies published in English were undertaken in urban sites or in secondary schools. Also, research on rural primary schools usually occurred in schools with more than one teacher, and rarely analyzed sociocultural issues related to students' actions in school. This leaves a gap in what we know about Mexican schooling, a necessary gap to fill considering that many immigrant children in the US come from rural Mexican communities. The main thrust of our work is to extend knowledge by documenting the everyday lives of teachers and students in multigrade rural schools--crucial sites for individual and community development in Mexico.

5. Methodology 5.1. Theoretical perspective This study is grounded in a theoretical perspective that coordinates educational literature on sociocultural perspectives (Cobb, 1994; Konold, 1995) and cultural models (Gee, 1990). As researchers have gained insight into the social aspects of learning, they have become increasingly aware that social and cultural understandings lie at the heart of making meaning (Cobb, 1994; Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1991). These social and cultural understandings, or ``cultural models,'' influence communication in the classroom and in the community (Gee, 1990). Similarly, cultural models influence our understandings as we observe classrooms and interact with and participate within communities. Hence, this lens applies to both the sociocultural influences on the participants as well as the contextual, collaborative, and social organization of the research itself. We employed a sociocultural perspective because we believe that: (a) what we observe participants doing and saying can only be understood in terms of the norms of the society of which the participants are a member; and (b) a broader cultural perspective will help us understand why


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certain practices and interactions occur (Cobb, 1994; Gee, 1990; Konold, 1995). 5.2. Research design This study is part of an on-going research agenda conducted using an interpretive, multiplecase study research design in which each of the sites constitutes a case of teaching and learning in the everyday life of rural Mexican classrooms. A multiple-case study design allows us to develop an in-depth understanding of the interpretations and experiences as they naturally occurred for the research participants, while preserving the idiosyncrasies and complexities of each particular case (Stake, 1994). 5.3. Site selection We chose El Bosque as the site for this study for several reasons. First, we were interested in examining teaching and learning in a rural Mexican school because many immigrant children from Mexico gain their first schooling experiences in rural school. Second, teacher education faculty from the Escuela Normal Veracruzana (ENV), the primary teacher education institution in the state of Veracruz, recommended El Bosque as a possible site for research. Our colleagues at ENV thought that El Bosque would be a particularly rich case to examine, because the teacher, Alberto, was a 25year veteran teacher in his sixth year at the school in El Bosque. In 1999, the second author began visiting the school to become familiar with the community members, the school, the students, and Alberto. After six visits of varying lengths (one week to six months) to the community over a twoyear period, we commenced our research. We believe El Bosque is a particularly telling case of teaching and learning in rural Mexican schools, but we do not claim that it is, in any form, a typical case. 5.4. Data sources We employed several data collection methods including non-participant observations, partici-

pant observations, video taping, interviewing, still photography, and collection of written documents. Non-participant observations. We conducted 50 total hours of non-participant observation in El Bosque during February 2001, June 2001, October 2001, and May 2002. The second author conducted over 100 h of observations during the previous four years. We collected field notes concerning class environment, class activities, and teacher and student activities; reactions and interpretations about observations; and quotes of students' comments during small and large group discussions. Participant observations. We participated in several local events including family and community meals, fiestas, and mountain hikes. All participation was initiated by invitation from the teacher, families, or community groups such as the ´ Comite de Madres (Mothers' Committee). Videotaping. During our visits in February 2001 and June 2001, we shot 22 h of video footage of naturally occurring classroom instruction and six hours of footage in the local communities. Immediately following each visit, we reviewed each videotape, recorded events in chronological order (every 1­30 s of footage), and documented our analytical memos about key events, ideas, and emerging patterns. Interviewing. We conducted eight informal conversational interviews with Alberto. We audiotaped three interviews, and translated and transcribed the three interviews immediately following each visit. Extensive field notes were recorded for the remaining five informal conversational interviews. Still photography. We recorded 250 still digital images of classroom and community life in El Bosque. Written documents. We collected Alberto's planning notebook that included his daily plans, written reflections, and questions generated by his students. 5.5. Data analysis We carried out the data analysis by repeatedly reading the written data sets and repeatedly reviewing the video footage. We sought patterns,


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developed categories and subcategories to help organize the data, and coded the data. Our analysis of the data was directed by continuously revisiting the guiding questions for this study. To strengthen the confirmability and credibility of findings, we pursued confirming and disconfirming evidence from the multiple data sources (Erickson, 1986). We confirmed findings and conducted member checks of all data with Alberto.

labeled, ``Cumplido'' (completed). Below are a few examples of the unedited text of the students' compromisos (Field notes, 2/9; Digital Photo, 2/9): ´ Rosita: Mi compromiso es aser mi comicion y aser mis tareas y cuidar las cosas de la escuela y no ponchar los balonesy ´ Katerina: Mi compreto a que aga mi comicion todos los di´ as es abrir las cajas de los vanos ~ ayudarle a Lupey Rosita: My commitment is to do my job and to do my homework and to take care of the things in school and to not puncture the ballsy Katerina: My promise is to do my work everyday and to open the doors of the bathrooms and to help Lupey Marcella: y y tanvien me comportmeta a no peliar. Marcella: y and also I promise not to hit other student. When the occasion was applicable, Alberto advised a student to reflect on his/her compromiso rather than reprimanding the student with firm commands or scolding. For example, when Eduardo (a husky, fourth grade boy who sometimes was aggressive with other children when not concentrating on his studies) was provoking younger children to misbehave in class, Alberto referred to Eduardo's compromiso to talk less when doing his work. Alberto asked Eduardo whether he remembered what he had committed ´ to do. Eduardo replied, ``Si, maestro'' (``Yes, teacher'') and the episode was over (Video RB5, 6/14). Alberto also promoted students' development of responsibility to oneself in the form of selfmonitoring. Children had the autonomy to move, converse, group, and regroup themselves during most of the instructional day. Alberto did not call out names or come to students' desks simply because they were talking or out of their seats. Instead, he routinely encouraged students to monitor the progress of their own academic work, in both private and public settings. For example, the following exchange between Alberto and Angel (a fifth grader) took place as Alberto was

6. Findings and interpretations Students in El Bosque engaged in many of the same activities as in any school with which we were familiar. They read textbooks, wrote in response to teacher-directed prompts or questions at the end of a chapter, answered the teacher's questions, asked their own questions, and turned in homework that had been assigned. Students also played during recess, talked to each other during appropriate and inappropriate times, sang songs, and told stories. However, we also saw everyday activities that differed from most schools in which we have worked in the US Many of these activities took place as a result of the classroom structure of multiage grouping, the cultural influences of a rural Mexican community, and the role of Alberto, the teacher. All of the activities involved ways in which students took on responsibility: (a) for oneself, (b) to classmates, (c) for making decisions related to curriculum, and (d) to family and community. 6.1. Responsibility for oneself Students in El Bosque were explicitly responsible for monitoring their own behavior in school. One of the major agreements that children make to themselves and publicly share at the beginning of each school year is called a compromiso (commitment). Walk into the one-room school in El Bosque and one will see a chart that includes hand-written entries by each child that summarize the compromiso made to improve his/her behavior or character in some way. There is a column labeled, ``A cumplir'' (to complete), and a column


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casually walking between visits to student groups (Video CP4, 2/8): ´ Alberto: Que haces, Angel? Alberto: What are you doing, Angel? (Angel looks up from his seat.) (Angel looks up from his seat.) ´, ´ Alberto: Que que haces? Alberto: What, what are you doing? Angel: Nada. Angel: Nothing. Alberto: Nada? Entonces, mejor si vas Alberto: Nothing? Then, it's better to go a tu casa si no vas a trabajar. home if you're not going to work. Alberto's tone during this exchange was not harsh, but rather direct and serious. He did not joke around with students, and he did not use sarcasm in conversations with them. Alberto simply communicated his expectations to the students. In the case of Angel, Alberto expected him to complete a family tree during this class period. The short exchange between them was enough for Angel to halt the unimportant things he was doing and get to work. Toward the end of class, Angel eagerly approached Alberto with the completed assignment, and the two of them sat in the room discussing Angel's family tree while the rest of the class was outside for the morning break. Another way that Alberto encouraged students to be responsible for themselves was through students' public performances in class. Alberto often incorporated in his lessons opportunities for students to present their work to each other. Students were required to stand at their desk and address their classmates. Alberto often asked questions and commented to the ``performers'' in a way that encouraged their development of selfmonitoring skills. Students were challenged to become more aware of the importance of what they say and the quality of their responses. For example, students regularly kept a diario, a daily journal in which they recorded what they did in school, what they were learning, questions they had, and on occasion their response to some community occurrence. Every two or three days, different students read aloud to the whole group from their diario. As in other situations, Alberto

held the students to high standards and often publicly critiqued their effort (but never their actual writing skills). He said ``Muy pobre'' (``Very poor''), when a student's journal showed insufficient effort, and then directed the student to write more (Video RB7, 6/14): Muy pobre, en el sentido de que hablan de que llegaron, que se Very poor in the sense that you are saying that you arrived, that you left, fueron, que se jugaron, pero no dan detalles de que hicierony ´ ´ + que tema y que aspecto serio? that you played, but you're not giving details about what you were doing (academically)-- what theme and what serious aspect? Alberto often communicated to his students that they should be responsible for their own learning: ``Write more about what you are doing in school, not at home or out of school;'' ``Write more what you're learning;'' ``Write more what you're trying to learn'' (Video CP2, 2/7; Video CP4, 2/8; Video RB8, 6/15). His requests that they reflect on and discuss their learning fostered students' metacognitive awareness--in order to be responsible for one's learning, one has to be aware of the process of learning. In addition to using public performance as a way of holding students accountable and nurturing students' thought in their diario responses, Alberto also used public performances to teach students to take responsibility for their own opinions. Students in El Bosque were often allowed to make choices about how they would group themselves for activities, what components of the curriculum they wished to work on, who they wished to serve as class leaders, and other important decisions that influenced the daily operations of the class. When students voiced a choice, Alberto often required the students to present a rationale or evidence to support their choice. When students gave a brief or inadequate rationale, Alberto encouraged them to extend their responses: ``You still have thirty seconds to speak. What more can you tell us?'' (Video CP2, 2/7). Everyday life in the classroom of El Bosque afforded students numerous opportunities to take


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and/or develop responsibility for themselves. By allowing choice in the classroom, Alberto communicated to the students his confidence in their competence to handle responsibility. His critique of their work communicated his high standards. The combination of choice and critique invited students to make those high standards their own. 6.2. Responsibility to classmates In addition to being responsible for one's own actions, another striking feature of everyday school life in El Bosque was the way in which students were responsible for each other as a group and as individuals. Students' responsibility for each other as a group was often expressed in regularly occurring asambleas (class meetings). For example, one type of asamblea occurred several times a year when students gathered to nominate and determine class officers. The current class president began the meeting by soliciting nominations for and voting on a class president. Usually a fifth or sixth grader held this position. Once the new president was elected, s/he took over the meeting, which entailed taking nominations, providing a forum for discussion of nominations for other offices, and conducting an open-ballot vote. By the end of the voting, each student held a class responsibility (as class president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, overseer of the natural history museum, caretaker of the library, or manager of the bathrooms, etc.). During these asambleas, Alberto stood several meters in back of the students, behind a low bookshelf and desks. The only time that he interjected a comment into the discussion was to inform the students of the ``budget'' each person had to work with for his/ her assigned responsibility (Field notes, 2/8; Video CP6, 2/8; Video RB11, 6/10). In addition to carrying out responsibility for others in a large group setting, students had responsibility for others on an individual basis. Several times a week during the instruction that we observed, Alberto sent students from one age group to observe and talk with students from other age groups. For example, students in the sixth grade were asked to investigate what younger students were learning. The older ones stood by

the desks of the younger students, listening to them as they read. The older students were responsible for checking the younger students' writing, ascertaining the younger ones' progress, asking questions, and helping them if needed (Field notes, 6/15; Video RB7, 6/15). This activity appeared to our eyes to be unstructured, in the sense that Alberto designated no timeline and provided scant direct supervision of what occurred. Nonetheless, the younger students carried out the task of reading and sharing their writing with the older students, while the older students took seriously the responsibility of monitoring the younger students' progress. A second example illustrates a reverse situation. While fourth grade students were busy constructing geometric models with clay balls and straws, Alberto asked the second grade children to break from their math work to observe the fourth graders. The second graders eagerly but quietly stood behind and to the side of their fourth grade classmates to watch them construct three-dimensional cubes, two-dimensional pentagons, and other geometric figures (Field notes, 6/15; Video RB7, 6/15). While three second-grade girls silently observed, Katrina and Maria, fourth graders, narrated their thought processes involved in constructing a cube. With all of the primary grade children attending the same school, it was natural to see students take responsibility for their classmates, especially when their classmates were siblings. One touching example of how this responsibility played out in the El Bosque classroom involved a sibling pair, Evarito, and his older sister, Olinda (Video CP4, 2/ 8; Video CP9, 2/9; Video RB7, 6/14; Video RB8, 6/ 15). Evarito was in first grade at the time of the study and was mentally impaired (there was no special education in this community). He spent much of each day that we visited the classroom writing monosyllabic words and drawing pictures under the supervision of Alberto. Occasionally, Evarito stood up from his seat and wandered around the room, quietly watching other children work on their assignments. On her own initiative and from Alberto's directives, Olinda frequently asked Evarito to sit with her or talked with him if he seemed agitated. When the class dispersed for


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morning break, Olinda made sure that Evarito had a snack and monitored his participation in outdoor activities (bouncing the basketball, playing games, sitting in the shade). Olinda never appeared to be inconvenienced with the responsibility of taking care of her brother. She never raised her voice to him and never appeared to ignore him. From our perspective, no stigma was attached to spending time with younger siblings at school in El Bosque. Taking responsibility for others was a common feature of the classroom in El Bosque. Students had a strong sense of unity within school that mirrored the unity within the community outside the four walls of the classroom. In his book, Educating for Character, Lickona (1991) described responsibility to and for others as an ethic of interdependence, ``the feeling that one person's problem is everybody's problem'' (p. 105). In the El Bosque classroom, students as individuals explicitly assumed a measure of responsibility for each other's welfare as evidenced, for example, in the way that they took seriously the task of teaching and learning from each other. The regularly occurring asambleas were a manifestation of the responsibility that the students as a group undertook to set goals and organizational structure for the class that considered the good of the class as a whole. 6.3. Responsibility for making decisions related to curriculum Although teaching and learning in escuelas unitarias is guided by a national curriculum, Alberto employed a number of ways to allow freedom and require students to assume responsibility in making curriculum-related decisions. For example, students regularly prioritized the day's or week's classroom activities, deciding as a group what they should accomplish. At least once a week, the entire class began their instructional day with a meeting to determine what they would work on and the priority of accomplishing the tasks. The meetings were led entirely by students, directed by the class president. First, the president called the meeting to order. Then, students from all grades offered ideas for different activities that they

wanted to work on. For example, one class meeting was held two days before the biggest community event of the year, the Fiesta Patronal, which is a celebration of Lourdes, the patron saint of El Bosque. Students developed the following list of ideas for what to work on during that particular school day (Field notes, 2/8; Video CP5, 2/8): Continuar con ciencias naturales Continue with natural science Hablar del paseo Talk about the (nature) walk Rifa Raffle ´mulas Decorate the Adornar la escuela con fla school with banners Escribir a las visitas Write about the visits Carteles Posters Two of these activities, ``continue with natural science'' and ``talk about the nature walk,'' referred to the most recent science lesson in which the class took a walk along the river to examine indigenous flora. One of the activities they suggested, ``write about the visits,'' pertained to writing about us (the researchers) in their daily journal. The remaining activities concerned the children's responsibilities for preparing for the upcoming Fiesta Patronal. Throughout this time, Alberto stood at the back of the group, never intervening during the discussions and voting. If a student talked out of turn or began focusing attention on something else, an older student, usually a sixth grader, would call the student's name and ask him/her to pay attention. After a list of activities was completed, the students who made proposals stood and addressed the class about their reasoning for assigning priority to their activity. After a student finished his or her argument, classmates had the opportunity to retort. Finally, Alberto interjected with, ``Necesitamos una propuesta concreta'' (``We need a concrete proposal''). Students voted on the list, and assigned first priority to making preparations for the raffle, designing posters, and constructing banners for the upcoming festival. At the end of the day, Lena, the current class president, walked over to the list of national standards posted on the wall and checked off the objectives that they had covered in the science part of the day's class. In Alberto's classroom, students were expected to be


L.A. Bryan, H.J. McLaughlin / Teaching and Teacher Education 21 (2005) 33­48 43

aware of the academic curriculum and to make some of the decisions about how and when to address standards within the curriculum (Video RB12, 6/19). Another way in which students were responsible for curriculum-related issues was evident in the special tasks and roles that students completed as part of the school day. On the wall to the left of the back door was a list of comisiones (regular tasks) for the students to carry out (Field notes, 2/9; Digital Photo, 2/9). These tasks were determined during a teacher-led discussion with the students at the beginning of the school year. Students volunteered or were nominated to be responsible for making sure that their assigned comisiones were completed whenever it was time to work on them. One of the tasks that would be unusual in US schools was checking and cleaning the bathrooms. The community raised money to construct a bathroom complex in the 1998­1999 school year. Just behind the school, set on a concrete block, are five small bathrooms with toilets, three shower stalls, and two drinking fountains. The facilities are more modern than those in any family's house we visited in town. On a regular schedule and as part of a normal school day, students washed out the fountain and toilet bowls, swept and washed the floors, and took the towels home for their families to wash. These comisiones are a central feature of Alberto's social curriculum (Authors, 2003). In taking responsibility for making decisions related to curriculum, students in El Bosque were actively involved in creating a classroom environment for learning. They participated in democracy, as described by Dewey: ``Democracy is much broader than a method of conducting government. It is a way of life. Its foundation isy faith that each individual has something to contribute'' (Dewey, 1947, p. 59). Indeed, the children in El Bosque regularly engaged in experiences where individuals' participation, thoughts, and ideas were valued, and individuals had opportunities to contribute to the collective life of their classroom. Although Alberto was ultimately in charge of the classroom and had the definitive input in students' learning, allowing student to hold the responsibility for making curricular

decisions supported and empowered them in their learning. 6.4. Responsibility to family and community Student responsibility in El Bosque was not confined to the classroom. As school and community life intersected in El Bosque, so did student responsibility within school and to the community. For example, students had special tasks to prepare for school and community events (which were not seen as separate in El Bosque). They fashioned pinatas, made banners for the inside and outside ~ walls, helped their family members sweep the front walkways and clean the main street, and prepared the equipment used for announcing and playing music. These tasks were performed during and after school hours. While Alberto assumed a leadership role in community decisions about how to organize the events, students were responsible for contributing to preparing, participating in, and cleaning up after special community functions. The arts were a central part of the curriculum in primary schools that we visited. In El Bosque, the students practiced and performed traditional Mexican dances--the boys with colorful bandannas slung around their necks and wearing white pants, the girls with slatted fans and bright dresses (Video RB13, 6/19). They also prepared modern dances attuned to pop hits from Mexican ``Top 40'' radio, complete with gyrating hip movements and hip dark glasses (Video RB9, 6/17; Digital Photos, 6/12). The older girls often choreographed new dances and taught them to the younger girls. Students took pride in the details of their performances, including props, make-up, and costumes. For example, the hand-sewn ensemble for a musical performance to the fast-paced, popular hit, ``La Vaca'' (the cow), proved to be a show-stopper, complete with cow ears, cow spots, and cow tails for each first- and second-grade dancer (Video RB9, 6/17). These dances were done for groups of visiting educators and for commu´ nity events such as Dia de los Padres. Students in El Bosque belonged to a shared world inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom. They had responsibilities that provided


44 L.A. Bryan, H.J. McLaughlin / Teaching and Teacher Education 21 (2005) 33­48

them with positive experiences of being an integral part of community, whether the community was their group of classmates or the larger geographic community of El Bosque. The vigor with which they completed tasks or performed for public events, and the seriousness with which they took their responsibilities was indicative of their commitment to one another and the community in which they lived. Students' sense of responsibility to the community was strong. However, even stronger was their sense of responsibility to family. In an unsolicited correspondence to the second author, a student named Mariella from El Bosque provided an update on her studies which was accompanied by touching remarks that reflected her sense of responsibility to her family (Personal communication, 8/02): [S]abe ya pase al tercer semestre y le voy a achar mas ganas que nunca, aunque en el primer ´ semestre no reprobe ninguna materia, espero ´ que en este logre subir de calificacion, para asi´ poder recompensar el esfuerzo de toda mi familia en especial de mis padres y hermanos y claro de todas las personas que confian en mi´ . [Y]ou know I am in the third semester and I am going to give more effort than ever, although in the first semester I did not fail any subject, I hope that I have managed to raise my grades (class standing), in order to be able to repay the support of all my family especially my parents and brothers and all the people who have faith in me. Like Mariella, many of the children of El Bosque feel a responsibility for succeeding in school. Working hard and performing well in school are examples of the many ways that the children communicate respect to their families and appreciation for the support that their families provide.

7. Discussion and implications In this paper, we do not want to gloss over the daunting conditions of teaching and learning in El Bosque, and the difficulties associated with teach-

ing in the conditions of rural Mexican classrooms. Everyday Alberto had to be creative and resourceful in using the limited educational materials (much of which he purchased from his miniscule salary). Parents had very little money to offer the school, although they were willing to contribute in the form of manual labor for school projects. Furthermore, working with more than 30 children in six grades, in only a four-hour day, meant that Alberto often could not spend as much time as he desired with particular students, so he utilized peer tutoring as a tool. Finally, with six groups of students engaged in a myriad of activities, the classroom could become loud and students sometimes wandered around for a time before settling in to work. While this is not a study of family and community life, we wish to point out that in a traditional rural community there can be a dynamic tension between the goals of the teacher, who is usually from outside the community, and the everyday social patterns of parents. On one hand, Alberto promoted student questioning and decision-making during the classroom activities, yet on then other hand, his students seldom were allowed to take such actions in their homes. Children in El Bosque were socialized to respect adult authority and do as they were told, although they functioned under few time constraints or rigid rules. Our research revealed that students in the rural community of El Bosque were responsible in a variety of ways: to oneself, to each other, for making curriculum-related decisions, and to family and community. As depicted in the many of the classroom examples, Alberto played a major role in helping children learn how to act responsibly. One fundamental aspect of his teaching that fostered students' learning to be responsible was how Alberto alternated between taking a directive stance and an observational stance. During the asambleas, for example, he observed the whole time unless students requested that he intervene. Then at the end of the asamblea, he directed them to explain what they chose to do, and why. The same pattern applied in group work--he watched what students were doing or asked them to explain in detail before he commented on their work or


L.A. Bryan, H.J. McLaughlin / Teaching and Teacher Education 21 (2005) 33­48 45

directed them to do something. The onus was on the students to be responsible without constant intervention. The significance of these findings for teachers and teacher educators becomes evident when the findings are juxtaposed against prevailing beliefs and attitudes about students from diverse backgrounds. Research clearly demonstrates that teachers from many countries hold beliefs about culturally diverse students based on characteristics such as race, culture, ethnicity, language, and class (Author, 2002). One of the most commonly held beliefs by both practicing and prospective teachers is the belief that students from culturally diverse backgrounds are less capable than other students. Such negative beliefs serve as a barrier to effective instruction. (Carr & Klassen, 1997; Gomez, 1993; Huss-Keeler, 1997; Marshall, 1996; Olmedo, 1997; ´ Ruttan, 2000; Santos-Rego & Perez-Domi´ nguez, ´ 2001; Solomon, Battistich, & Hom, 1996; Valdes, 1996). Far too many educators attribute school failure to what students from culturally diverse backgrounds do not have and cannot do. For example, teachers construct simpler goals for their instruction and simpler methods of teaching. Culturally diverse children are afforded less freedom in the classroom, given less opportunity to interact with one another, and most often required to passively ``receive'' their education (Solomon, Battistich, & Hom, 1996; Stevens & Palinscar, 1992). Our findings offer an intercultural challenge to prevailing educational ideas related to responsibility. For example, ``holding students accountable'' is generally construed to mean that students should turn in homework and comport themselves well in school. These notions of accountability are present in El Bosque, but students also are held to a high standard of being responsible to and with others, and being socially responsible in numerous ways. Everyday, the classroom is a site for public responses and group deliberations; students must think and respond to each other's comments, and show their work to their classmates. In addition, the notion of ``schoolwork'' assumes a different form in El Bosque. Children's central role in preparing for and participating in community events, and their leadership in school

activities, means that they are workers in the community. Gay (2000) calls for a different pedagogical paradigm in which teachers teach to and through their students' personal and cultural strengths, intellectual capabilities, and prior achievements. This requires knowing one's students, especially those of ethnically diverse backgrounds. At the same time, it requires being aware of our own subjectivities--''ways of making sense of the world that emanate from our ethnic, gender, and class backgrounds'' (Osborne, 1996, p. 293). James (2001) spoke of this same dual focus of reflection: first, learning about and reflecting on the community and school experiences of immigrant students, and then on our own ``identities, schooling experiences, and how all of these contribute to (our) understanding'' (p. 194). The way that we, as teachers, make sense of the world constitutes the cultural models from which we operate. In the US and many other industrialized Western nations, for example, cultural models of education emphasize the individual and autonomy. There are fundamental problems with the rhetoric of individuality in schools. While individual decision-making is considered a desirable skill, many schools enact rigid rules, value quiet classrooms where students sit in rows facing the front of the room, and provide few opportunities for students to take social responsibility. And it is all too easy to equate a tight family structure and protective parenting, which is prevalent in Mexican immigrant families, with a lack of independent thinking or individual goals. Our study presents a portrait of everyday school life in which students are capable of making decisions about their learning and participating in a democratic classroom environment--which may not match the images that teachers hold about Latino immigrant children and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Espinosa-Dulanto, 2002; ´ Pabon, 2002; Valdes, 1996). Finally, decades of research in student learning have promoted a view of learning whereby students construct their own understanding and meaning based on existing prior knowledge (e.g., Driver, 1991; Duit, 1991; von Glasersfeld, 1995; Gunstone, 1991; Gunstone & Champagne, 1990;


46 L.A. Bryan, H.J. McLaughlin / Teaching and Teacher Education 21 (2005) 33­48 Montero-Sieburth, M. (Eds.), Educational qualitative ethnographic research in Latin America: the struggle for a new paradigm (pp. 51­75). New York: Garland Press. Bhatti, G. (1999). Asian children at home and at school: an ethnographic study. New York: Routledge. Candela, A. (1995). Consensus construction as a collective task in Mexican science classes. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 26, 458­474. Candela, A. (1997). Demonstrations and problem-solving exercises in school science: their transformation within the Mexican elementary school classroom. Science Education, 81, 497­513. Carr, P., & Klassen, T. (1997). Different perceptions of race in education: racial minority and white teachers. Canadian Journal of Education, 22(1), 67­81. Cifuentes, L., & Murphy, K. (1994, February). International team teaching: A partnership between Mexico and Texas. Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Papers Presented at the National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Houston, TX. Cobb, P. (1994). Where is the mind? A coordination of sociocultural and cognitive constructivist perspectives. Educational Researcher, 23(7), 13­20. de Haan, M. (1998). Learning as cultural practice: how children ´ learn in a Mexican Mazahua community. Mexico, D.F.: CINVESTAV. Dewey, J. (1947). The problems of men. New York: Philosophical Library. Driver, R. (1991). Theory into practice II: a constructivist approach to curriculum development. In Fensham, P. (Ed.), Development and dilemmas in science education (pp. 133­149). London: Falmer Press. Duit, R. (1991). Students' conceptual frameworks: consequences for learning science. In Glynn, S. M., Yeany, R. H., & Britton, B. K. (Eds.), The psychology of learning science (pp. 65­85). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Edwards, V. (1995). Las formas del conocimiento en el aula. In Rockwell, E. (Ed.), La escuela cotidiana. Mexico, D.F.: ´ Fondo de Cultura Economica. Eldering, L. (1997). Ethnic minority students in the Netherlands from a cultural-ecological perspective. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 28, 330­350. Erickson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In Wittrock, M. C. (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching, (3rd ed) (pp. 119­161). New York: Macmillan. Espinosa-Dulanto, M. (2002). Are schools prepared to support excellence for nonmainstream children? Latino/a voices as a response. In Diaz Soto, L. (Ed.), Making a difference in the lives of bilingual/bicultural children (pp. 93­114). New York: Peter Lang. Ezpeleta, J. (1992). El trabajo docente y sus condiciones ´ invisibles. Nueva Antropologia, 42, 27­42. Ezpeleta, J., & Weiss, E. (2000). Cambiar la escuela rural: ´n evaluacio cualitativa del programa para abatir el rezago ´ educativo. Mexico, D.F.: CINVESTAV.

Osborne & Wittrock, 1983, 1985; Saunders, 1992). Students bring to each learning situation their own conceptions in addition to theories about how and why their conceptions make sense. Translated to classroom practice, this view of learning often emphasizes or is limited to the cognitive aspects of learning--acknowledging students' existing beliefs and knowledge about the content. Our study challenges teachers to expand their notions of what it means to acknowledge students' prior conceptions in the processes of teaching and learning. While recognizing and acknowledging existing content conceptions is undoubtedly important, it stands to reason that classrooms in which the instruction is culturally responsive will also reflect an understanding of the sociocultural process of learning within which culturally diverse children are used to functioning. Students in El Bosque, for example, are accustomed to a highly social environment where they have broad individual and group responsibilities. Classrooms that allow more freedom of movement and interaction may better facilitate the learning and social styles of rural Mexican immigrant children who come from schools like El Bosque. A more culturally responsive classroom will accommodate the interactional style of learning in which students are used to making choices and having responsibility, as opposed to more traditional classrooms that remove or limit student responsibility. Culturally relevant pedagogy must incorporate sociocultural knowledge of the lives and experiences of the students for whom the pedagogy is being developed. References

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