Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Peggy Albers - Chair

Second Advisor

Diane Blecher

Third Advisor

Gertrude Tinker Sachs

Fourth Advisor

Mary Ariail


The purpose of this study was to examine the Spanish-speaking newcomer middle school students’ perceptions of school, expectations from school, and attitudes toward school. Of particular concern was how these students’ perceptions, expectations, and attitudes developed over a 5-month period. The theoretical framework for the study was derived from Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory; second language acquisition (SLA) theories (Dulay & Burt, 1973; Krashen, 1982; Johnson, 1996; Long, 1985; Schumann, 1978); and Norton’s (1997) theory of identity, investment, and imagined communities. The participants in this study were 4 Spanish-speaking middle school students enrolled in an Intensive English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class for students who have recently arrived in the United States, their parents, and the teacher-researcher. The study took place during the 2006-2007 school year at a diverse metropolitan city in the southeast region of the United States. Data sources included student and parent tape-recorded oral interviews, informal interviews, field notes, ethnographic participant observations, field notes, and a researcher journal. Through constant comparative analysis (Creswell, 2006), data were analyzed for themes relating to students’ perceptions, expectations, and attitudes. These themes were analyzed using the sociocultural and SLA frameworks. The analysis of the findings indicated that most participants entered U.S. schools with preexisting positive perceptions about school and that they maintained these positive perceptions during the time of the study. The data revealed that the participants had high expectations from school and overall positive attitudes toward school. An analysis of the data demonstrated that the participants’ new school environment was a critical factor in their perceptions, expectations, and attitudes. Implications of the study include the importance of honoring students’ culture, previous learning experiences, and language abilities in order to facilitate SLA, literacy development, and teacher-student relationship development.


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