Narrative Experiences of High School Students Labeled Long-Term English Learners

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D)


Curriculum and Instruction

Date of Award

Spring 2019


Using a transformative framework that illuminates the lives of individuals who have been marginalized and defined by others rather than themselves, this narrative inquiry study has created a space for the voices of three high school students labeled long-term English learners (LTELs) to bring their own perspectives and narratives forward as a starting point for discussion and debate. Of the over 5 million English learners (ELs) in the United States, the vast majority are students labeled LTEL, born and schooled in the U.S. but who still do not meet the state criteria to be reclassified as fluent English speakers. Quantitative studies have repeatedly emphasized the achievement gap between general education students and those labeled LTELs and their increased risk of dropping out of school. Building upon four pillars, Dewey's experiential learning, Freire's ideas on transformative education, Cummins' seminal work on second language acquisition, and Clandinin and Connelly's three-dimensional concept of experience, the current study used semi-structured interviews as well as student artifacts to restory the students' lives. Findings demonstrated the strong connection all of the students felt with their parents' native country and how these connections had positively influenced their lives, allowing them to serve as ambassadors and bridges between two cultures. They navigated easily between Spanish and English and were also learning a third language, Chinese. The families were deeply engaged in their children's educations and often made great sacrifices so that their students could have all the educational opportunities available to them. In their journeys as ELs, all the students had struggled with academic English, and, in spite of the struggles, they persevered, creating clear dreams for their futures and plans for pursuing those dreams. All three students considered themselves language learners, even though they were all at different proficiency levels on a continuum of language acquisition. Implications for stakeholders, teachers, administrators, and policymakers were presented along with recommendations for future research.


Sherri Colby

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Education