Creating Camouflage: An exploration of adolescent girls' literacy practices and identities

Rachel E Nichols, University of Pennsylvania


For many young people, the traditional literacy practices privileged in school are not serving their needs and interests. Consequently, there is a growing need to investigate other settings and relationships through which literacy work is happening. In particular, adolescent girls' writing lives—and their lives as constructed through their writing—are underexplored. Furthermore, there is a call for secondary literacy theory to move beyond a focus on print and to take into account the multiple and varied modes through which adolescents make meaning. Conducted over one school year, this study explores the collaborative processes of the conception, design, and production of a school-affiliated literary/art magazine. The methodology builds from feminist pedagogy and uses ethnographic approaches that examine literacies as aspects of and embedded within social practices. Through analysis of a group of adolescent girls' social literacy practices around dialogue, writing, art, and design, this research examines how the participants both create a community of practice and establish their own pedagogy within the multiple and fluid spaces of the magazine. It reveals how their literacy practices simultaneously serve in the construction of their identities and contribute to the creation of the publication through: the reappropriation of schooled literacy practices; simultaneous negotiation of words, images, and design; development of a metaphor to create and represent meaning; and, articulation of established conventions in new ways—all of which complicated the in-/out-of-school dichotomy. The context also provided rich, student-centered, arts-based literacy engagements and created a setting for democratic use of voice, knowledge production, and social relations. This study explores the benefits of a literacy space that privileges feminist educational practices and interrogates the roles and relationships as constructed by a feminist practitioner-inquirer. It contributes to literacy research by finding that feminist educational spaces are possible and can be dynamic in a secondary school-affiliated setting; to theories of adolescent literacy by arguing that, as pedagogues, young people have much to contribute to our understandings of how meaning is made; and to the field of out-of-school literacies by suggesting what becomes possible when space is made for students' in- and out-of-school worlds to coexist.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Nichols, Rachel E, "Creating Camouflage: An exploration of adolescent girls' literacy practices and identities" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3137315.