TRANSNATIONAL CLASSROOM RESEARCH: COMPARING CLASSROOMS ALONG THE U.S.-MEXICAN BORDER (ARIZONA-SONORA)
In the U.S. state of Arizona, schools have long enrolled large numbers of Mexican migrant and immigrant students but the unprecedented migration of the last thirty years significantly increased pressure on Arizona teachers and teacher educators to deal with Mexican students enrolling in their schools. Adding to this pressure, the state severely restricted bilingual education programs and this resulted in placing Mexican migrant students with teachers who were not certified in bilingual education or in teaching English as a Second Language. Now all teachers have Mexican migrant students in their classrooms and need to learn more about them.
The purpose of the qualitative study reported in this paper was to identify classroom practices in Mexican schools that could be used by Arizona teachers teaching Mexican immigrant students in Arizona public schools. Data were collected from fifty-five classroom observations and teacher interviews in elementary and secondary schools in the Mexican state of Sonora which borders Arizona, over a nine month period during the 2008-09 academic year. Observation field notes included a daily running record of everything that happened in each of the fifty-five classrooms from the start of class until the end of the school day. Interviews with each teacher followed immediately and teachers explained why they did what they did during the day as well as talked about their goals, philosophy, and preparation for teaching. Findings from the study funded by a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Scholarship, are reported in this paper considering seven categories: instructional strategies, curriculum, assessment/evaluation, grading and reporting, parent involvement, and teacher student interaction. However, the format of the report uses a method similar to Mishler’s linguistic analysis of restructuring data from interviews and observations into a narrative format, in this case telling a story of primary and secondary classrooms in Sonora. The classroom itself was the unit of analysis and findings are presented from a holistic perspective rather than cataloging behaviors into the categories mentioned above. As a final level of analysis, in the descriptions of daily classroom practice, the author presents “points of contrast” between common classroom practices in Arizona and those observed in Sonoran classrooms. This method of presenting findings from this transnational study seemed to be a more useful way of “translating” information about classroom practice in Mexico into concrete recommendations for classroom teachers in Arizona and in fact, throughout the U.S. In discussing findings from this Fulbright study with Arizona teachers, the more holistic approach of describing what Sonoran classrooms are like, what happens in the classrooms, and what Mexican students are used to was more helpful than only comparing specific instructional strategies, curriculum, or teacher-student interactions.
This approach to analysis is important because few transnational comparative classroom studies are conducted from teachers’ professional perspectives. Indeed one issue related to comparative classroom research is that “external” researchers are often in the position of making recommendations for professional teachers without actually understanding their perspectives or daily work. This study was also different because its purpose was not to evaluate or judge classroom practice.