Coming to America: Adolescent English Learner's Journey Through Identi
Oct 25, 2015 Other 2019 Views
Coming to America may seem lightheartedly amusing and exciting in the 1988's Eddy Murphy comedy film, but to an adolescent it can be a time-sensitive challenge he or she needs to quickly resolve in order to secure her place in the new land and in the new developmental stage of being an adult. Identity formation is a complex process, as Erik Erikson put it, "located in the core of the individual and yet also in the core of the communal culture; a process which establishes, in fact, the identify of those two identities" (Erikson, 1959). But if identity formation are intertwined in such a multifaceted way, how does an adolescent, who is a newly arrived immigrant and also an English Learner, deal with this struggle of defining who they are, what their culture will be, and what the self will ultimately be?
The answer may not be an easy one. The multiple "me's" that emerge-such as, the home me, the school me, the peers me, and the various selves that adolescents quickly learn to manage in order to cope with their ever-changing contexts, leads to what Kenneth Gergen (1991; Lightfoot et al, 2008) calls the saturated self, as the adolescent struggles to find their true self.
As this crisis emerges, there are four coping patterns that adolescents may display, as James Marcia proposed (1966). Understanding these four levels of identity formation will empower educators to serve adolescent English learners as they try to cope with their surrounding cultures (which are contradicting in language, in customs, and sometimes in values) and changing self.
Identity achievement : adolescent have gone through a period of decision making and actively pursuing their own positions, thoughts and goals. Around 9% of underclass and 21% of upper-class students will display this pattern.
Foreclosure : adolescent will transfer their parents' or families' identity into their own. Around 37% of underclass and 36% of upper-class students will display this pattern.
Moratorium: this marks an identity crisis and confusion. Around 14% of underclass and upper-class students will display this pattern.
Identity diffusion: this marks a cynical attitude towards positions and beliefs, sprung from a frustrated attempt to find a self identity. Around 39% of underclass and 29% of upper-class will display this pattern.
I believe that, for adolescents, differentiated instruction must not only take into consideration their learning styles and academic needs, but also, just as importantly, it must take into account where they are in their journey of self (or identity) discovery. Are they exhibiting signs of identity diffusion or moratorium? Are they foreclosing their own identity search, and simply accepted their families' expectations? Have they achieved their own identity? As educators begin to see adolescents in this continuum of identity formation, differentiating instruction to meet their needs become easier and clearer.
Erikson, E. (1959). Identity and the life cycle: Selected papers. New York: International University Press.
Gergen, K. (1991). The saturated self: Dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. Basic books.
Lightfoot, C., Cole, M., & Cole, S. R. (2008). The development of children. Macmillan.
Marcia, J.E. (1996). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551-558