Vol 32 (2012): Special Issue: Making Educational Oral Histories in the 21st Century

Exploring Oral History Methodology as a Culturally Responsive Way to Support the Writing Development of Secondary English Language Learners

M. Kristiina Montero
Wilfrid Laurier University
Maria A. Rossi
Upper Grand District School Board


Oral history methods have been used extensively in classroom contexts since the late 1960s to promote the study of social studies and history at middle, secondary, and post-secondary levels. Oral history methodology, focusing on English language learners’ personal stories, has received little attention in research or practice. Through an instrumental case study we explored areas of writing development that could be addressed by drawing on oral history methods with secondary English language learners. Sixteen students from 13 different countries participated in topical oral history interviews about their lived immigration and schooling experiences. Students edited and revised their transcripts to produce written narratives for publication in a class book. We found that students more readily focused on revising the content and form of their narratives when treating the transcripts as an initial draft of their writing; the transcript alleviated the cognitive constraints of producing an initial rough draft. In their revisions, students conducted additional research to clarify content and attended specifically to the form of the narrative to ensure that their ideas were clearly communicated. Based on our research findings, we argue that drawing on oral history methods contributes to a culturally responsive pedagogical practice for working with English language learners that validates the students’ lived histories by legitimizing their stories as a content to be studied in the ESL classroom.