From the “Good Kids” to the “Worst”: Representations of English Language Learners Across Educational Settings



    Assistant Professor
    1. University of Georgia Athens, Georgia, United States
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Linda Harklau is assistant professor of language education at the University of Georgia. A past recipient of the TESOL Distinguished Research Award, in her work she focuses on the experiences of English language learners in secondary and postsecondary education.


Based on year-long ethnographic case studies following U.S. immigrants in their last year of secondary school and first year in a 2-year community college, this article contrasts prevalent institutional images of what it means to be an English language learner in these two educational settings. The article draws on the notion of representation, or archetypal images of learner identity, arguing that representation offers a means of understanding how seemingly self-evident and unchanging identities emerge in a particular social context out of ever-evolving processes of identity (re)creation. The article compares representations of ESL student identity in the two educational institutions and illustrates the manifestation of these representations in class curricula and spoken and written interactions. Prevalent institutional images of ESL student identities were appropriated and recreated by students and educators in one context and resisted by students in another. Contending that representation is an inevitable part of human meaning making and identity formation, the article suggests that images of students and of their backgrounds, experiences, and needs not only inform curriculum but also have significant consequences for students' identities and attitudes toward classroom learning.