Negotiating literacy learning in an urban secondary school classroom

Hannah Winston, University of Pennsylvania


This interpretive study addresses questions about New Literacy (Willinsky, 1990) classroom practice by looking closely at reading and writing teaching and learning in a classroom that has been restructured to encourage students to co-construct the curriculum and knowledge with each other and their teacher. The research questions and the motivation for this study emerged from my experiences as an urban educator, a classroom English teacher, who reflects on practice in order to offer others an “inside” (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1993) view of the complex interactive-reactive relationship between knowledge and teaching. To form interpretations of how individuals engaged in literacy learning tasks and constructed meaning, I relied on measures that were contextualized, embedded, or situated in practice. Specifically I designed an ethnographic study of reading, writing, and learning in order to understand how six senior high school students in a unit of an Alternative Comprehensive High School negotiated literacy and the variety of social aims they achieved. The students were expected to read book-length literature they freely selected and to write about their reading/learning experiences in literature response journals and learning logs. My research data were the wealth of documentary material produced by my students and myself as we exchanged information in dialogue journals (Staton, 1988). This data was supplemented by my own observations, by their entries in learning logs, by interviews with students and by an abundance of other classroom generated material. My results as a teacher were mixed, in that some students responded more positively than others to the teaching methods, although it was apparent that a great many of them gained considerable confidence and skill in writing and reading through the support and personal interaction these methods involved. In keeping with my reflexive teaching methods, this research documents the strengths and the weaknesses, the advantages and the problems of this kind of work in these conditions.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Curricula|Teaching|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Winston, Hannah, "Negotiating literacy learning in an urban secondary school classroom" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9936814.