Friendships and Learning for Immigrant and Refugee Students

How did the intimate relationships you built (friends, someone you respect, someone you love) affect your learning?  

When I was doing a research project at a school, I noticed an interesting pattern. Immigrant and refugee students who were seen as “quiet” “shy” or “needing help” looked like completely different people when they were working with friends. They told jokes, laughed more, and they also helped others.

I was conducting video-based ethnographic study focusing on newly arrived immigrant and refugee students’ mathematics learning in groups, over an academic year. When I visited the school, I was also observing how students played together during recess –and how they formulated playmates or friends during recess. I came to be interested in how those two spaces of school learning intersect. 

By using the analysis of a longitudinal trajectory of learning for students who were labelled as “English language learners,” I highlighted the significance of spaces of friendship to reframe their marginalized identities and their experiences of learning mathematics.

What was the highlight of this study?

  • When these students built friendships with peers and worked with their friends, the characteristics of interaction changed (e.g., higher frequency of other-monitoring questions and reciprocity in conversational turns).
  • In the interactions with their friends, those students offered their ideas and were positioned as contributors to the discussion. The space of friendship can be a unique space that can open up our “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86), as friends can care for the mutual development.
  • Friends groups were more on “on task” contrary to my initial assumption

This study taught me the value of attending to our “mundane” acts of care and friendship in conceptualizing learning.

Based on: Takeuchi, M. A. (2016). Friendships and group work in linguistically diverse mathematics classrooms: Opportunities to learn for English language learners. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25 (3),411-437doi: 10.1080/10508406.2016.1169422

Citation: Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

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