Freedom and form: The language and literacy practices of two Mexican schools



    1. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA
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    • ROBERT T. JIMÉNEZ is an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He teaches courses on qualitative research methods, second-language literacy, and bilingual education. His published work has examined the strategic processing of bilingual Latino readers, and he is now interested in the ways that historical, transnational, and economic factors influence the literacy leaming of linguistically diverse students. He is also interested in the potential of alternative literacy practices to promote these same students' personal and political goals. He may be contacted at 303 Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1310 S. Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61820, USA, or by e-mail at


    1. Universidad de las Américas-Puebla, Mexico
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    • PATRICK H. SMITH is professor of Applied Linguistics at the Universidad de las Americas, Puebla. He teaches courses on bilingualism and bilingual education and research methods in applied linguistics. His research examines biliteracy and schooling in Mexico and the United States, focusing on the funds of linguistic knowledge held in linguistically diverse families and communities, and their potential as tools for pedagogical change. He may be contacted at the Departamento de Lenguas, Universidad de las Americas, Puebla, Cholula, Puebla, 72820, Mexico, or by e-mail at


    1. Universidad de las Américas-Puebla, Mexico
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    • NATALIA MARTÍNEZ-LEÓN has conducted research on the influence of monolingual and bilingual schooling on children's language and literacy competence. Most recently her research has focused on how the transnational migration of Mexicans to the United States affects their bilingualism. She is also interested in how linguistic landscapes, or environmental texts, influence the way Mexican children see, use and develop their literacy. She can be contacted at


This study examined the language and literacy practices in two Mexican schools over a period of approximately six months. Our project was guided by the theoretical notion that these practices reflect both societal influences and some of the ways that a given society itself is shaped. We applied this idea to the linguistic interactions that we recorded in four classrooms, two beginning primary classrooms and two grade 4 classrooms. Classroom observations, teacher and administrator interviews, school-produced documents, and publicly displayed texts constituted the data corpus. Findings indicated that students were provided with considerable freedom in terms of their spoken language which contrasted greatly with the emphasis on form in the production of written language. Reading constituted a middle ground depending on whether students were directed to read silently or aloud. We concluded that these practices shaped a particular type of literate habitus, one that positioned both teachers and students to accept as natural the idea that, at best, schooling could provide only partial access to the kinds of linguistic capital valued by dominant interests. On the basis of our findings, we recommend a retheorization of these language and literacy practices in terms of how they might be reformulated to challenge the dominance of particular literacies. Retheorizing these practices requires deeper understanding of the types of literate capital available to students in specific locations, and also that asymmetries between these types are not merely questions of knowledge or technical mastery, but also questions of power and access to power.