Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Johnson, Laura R.

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Counseling and Higher Education (CAHE)


This qualitative study elicited and examined the narratives of 15 adult immigrants

learning English in a grant-funded program. The purpose of the study was to listen to student

voices to understand persistence and investment from the perspectives of the students. The study

utilized a process called reciprocal ethnography whereby participants analyzed their journeys

with the researcher to determine what factors in their life histories, experiences, and identities

had led them to invest sufficiently in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in order to

reach levels of achievement that would allow them to transition into post secondary and career

certificate programs. The findings of the study challenge the notion that successful adults would

be those with privileged backgrounds including extensive academic experience, status, and

support networks. The success of this diverse group of participants questions the vision and

expectations of adult ESL programs of the potential students who may successfully make these

transitions and encourages programs to look beyond the more traditional factors that have been

utilized to predict student success.

The narratives of participants focused on barriers including environmental, situational,

cultural, and emotional challenges, and the ability to overcome these challenges was determined

by participants as instrumental to their success. Findings indicated that identity and power of the

learner is influenced by the social environment and that successful learners are those individuals

who have found ways to negotiate these often-inequitable structures. Participants had to

challenge the concept of others who concluded that their language skills, or interpretations of

them, defined their intelligence or their sense of worth in the community. These individuals had

to pursue their goals while being largely ignored or marginalized in their interactions with others.

Findings indicated a number of factors that supported participant investment in language

socialization and transition. These supports included turning points in their lives that required

increased expertise, mentors, and academic environments that acted as “sanctuaries” that helped

to counteract experiences and barriers in their social environments. These supports proved

critical in the ability of participants to maintain investment in their academic language


(Keywords: Identity, investment, language socialization, adult ESL, transition)


283 pages




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