Newcomer English Language Learners in High School Choral Music Education: An Ethnographic Case Study

Lisa Ann Serna, University of Texas at El Paso


This five month long ethnographic case study seeks to add to the limited literature on Newcomers enrolled in choir (Carlow, 2006), by understanding the role a focused choral music education plays in their ability to listen, speak, read, and write in the English language. The study also seeks to contribute to the literature connecting language learning and choral music education. The purpose of the study was to understand Newcomer English language learners’ (NELs) experiences of practice and performance in high school choir, as it relates to language learning and social belonging. Cultural Historical Activity Theory framed my study which allowed me to explore the activity system of NELs in a focused choral music education. Using purposive sampling, the study included four NELs enrolled in choir and was conducted at Desert City High School, located on the U.S.- Mexico border. Newcomer English learners are a fast-growing population in public schools (Short & Boyson, 2012). Newcomers face both social and academic challenges, as it has been determined that it takes three to five years to socially develop a new language (Cummins, 1984; Echevarria, Short, & Powers, 2006). This study revealed that NELs face extreme systemic challenges during the registration and scheduling process of coursework. Findings suggest that having a bilingual counselor is not sufficient to help NELs placed into the right courses, especially for elective coursework. Findings further suggest that choir provided an opportunity to develop social capital, something that assisted the NELs gain confidence in their ability to sing and speak in English. Through the actions of bonding, bridging, and linking, the NELs were able to build their self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-knowledge in order to perform tasks they had never thought they could achieve. Findings also suggest that performance preparation assisted in the language learning process for the NELs in the chorus by developing communicative competence in the forms of linguistic, discourse, and strategic. An important finding is how the students used their Spanish phonology to understand and make meaning of the English phonology in preparation for their performances.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Music education|Secondary education|English as a Second Language

Recommended Citation

Serna, Lisa Ann, "Newcomer English Language Learners in High School Choral Music Education: An Ethnographic Case Study" (2019). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10686825.