Reading the world and the word after school: African American urban adolescents' reading experiences and literacy practices in relationship to media texts

Jeanine M Staples, University of Pennsylvania


A growing number of African American urban adolescents are conceptualized as “disengaged” or “at-risk” readers. Fox many of these youth, the traditional reading engagements privileged in school do not provide sufficient opportunities to learn. Consequently, there is a growing need to investigate alternative contexts and relationships through which students can participate in meaningful intellectual work. This means moving beyond a focus on traditional print texts and cognitive skills and taking into account the varied ways adolescents make meaning and construct knowledge, particularly as they develop literate lives outside of schools. Conducted over 15 months, this study explores the literacy practices of “at-risk” African American urban adolescents as they engaged media texts in an after school program. My methodology evolved from a culturally responsive, spiritually grounded, Black feminist pedagogy. I used qualitative approaches to understand literacies as aspects of social practices developed by individuals who constituted a community of readers. These practices were embedded within teaching/learning spaces and informed by a particular community pedagogy and ethos. Through analysis of these students' social practices, I examined how participants both created a community of practice and established their own pedagogy within the multiple and fluid spaces of “after school.” I discuss the intersections that existed among students' literacy practices and the spirit, repositioning literacy as not only a sociocultural practice and political tool for social justice, but also as a spiritual endeavor by which students interpreted and complicated the ideas, conceptions, and understandings they drew from stories. I also illustrate how students used orality as a critical literacy practice and (co)constructed responsive, conversational counter stories to deeply consider and (re)imagine (re)presentations of social constructs as they were depicted within stories. My study reconceptualizes “disengaged” or “at-risk” adolescent readers as adept cultural critics, critical thinkers, and collaborative inquirers of various texts. Three main conclusions from this research are: African American urban adolescents assembled contexts for engagement where diverse social practices were valued and pedagogy was culturally responsive; community ethos affected the nature of learning when engaging stories; and a broad range of texts and collaborative oral practices fostered deep engagements among these students.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Literacy|Reading instruction|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Staples, Jeanine M, "Reading the world and the word after school: African American urban adolescents' reading experiences and literacy practices in relationship to media texts" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3175657.