Language, Literacy and Project Based Learning: An Ethnographic Case Study of a New Tech Classroom in a High School on the US/Mexico Border

Nora Lee Paugh, University of Texas at El Paso


This ethnographic case study sought to understand how English Language Learners used their language and literacy practices within a project based learning (PBL) classroom to complete their PBL tasks. Studies revealed the impact of how English language learners within a PBL learning environment were able to use their language and literacy as a social practices that led to successful student engagement (Call & Sotillo, 1995; Campbell, 2012). This study was conducted at Wilson High School, located along the US/Mexico border. The focus of the case study was a 9th grade combination English/World Geography class of the school’s inaugural New Tech Program. Using a purposive sampling, four focal English Language Learners within the case were selected and followed throughout the study. This study was grounded in the sociocultural theories relevant to language and literacy practices. Most significantly, this study focused on the code-switching and translanguaging practices that ELLs used to make meaning and communicate with others. In Zentella’s seminal study, Growing up Bilingual (1997), she identified three linguistic exchanges in the head, out of mouth and on the spot that pertained to intentional code-switching as a social practice aligned to identity. These linguistic exchanges were applied to the languaging practices of the focal students and analyzed using Discourse Analysis to understand how the students negotiated meaning and understanding. Various ethnographic tools were used to conduct the study that revealed three significant findings. The students used their translanguaging practices to communicate informally and formally within the academic classroom. Secondly, the students engaged in higher order thinking to solve their project tasks. Finally, various literacy events functioned as pivots that triggered a show of solidarity and status as reflected in the students’ languaging practices. The implications of this study revealed a need for further research to compare/contrast code-switching and translanguaging within the classroom environment.

Subject Area

Language arts|Bilingual education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Paugh, Nora Lee, "Language, Literacy and Project Based Learning: An Ethnographic Case Study of a New Tech Classroom in a High School on the US/Mexico Border" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10808665.