Paper Summary

Direct link:

Learning From Transformative Literacy Practices of Black Boys to Reframe the Purpose and Practice of Literacy Education

Sat, April 9, 8:15 to 9:45am, Marriott Marquis, Floor: Level Two, Marquis Salon 10


Purpose and Theoretical Perspectives
In response to dominant conceptualizations of Black boys associated with metaphors of criminality and deficiencies (Ferguson, 2001), I explore what happens when educators instead begin with a stance of recognizing, embracing, and “regarding lovingly” (J. Staples, personal communication, April 18, 2015) the humanity of Black boys. To do so, I consider how a small group of Black third grade boys were so moved by reading about Colombian children who lacked access to books that they marshaled every literacy resource available to raise awareness and to raise funds in response.

Methods and Data Sources
This paper draws from a larger study of a teacher inquiry group I facilitated with four K-6 teachers. The methodological frameworks of the study included participatory action research (Cammarota & Fine, 2008) and teacher inquiry communities (Goswami, Lewis, Rutherford, & Waff, 2009). Over 16 months, I served as the facilitator of the inquiry group and also conducted fieldwork in the teachers’ classrooms. Data sources include fieldnotes from the teachers’ classes, audio transcripts of inquiry group meetings, and interviews with the teachers. Data analysis began with thematic coding (Boyatzis, 1998) of the data set. This paper centers on what happened when one teacher in the group, Meredith, a K-4 reading specialist in an urban district, shared a nonfiction text called “Alfa and Beto: The biblioburros” (Morrow, 2013) with the boys in her reading group. Based on the real life story of Luis Soriano, this text explores how Luis and his two donkeys bring books to children in rural Colombia.

To represent my findings, I construct a “telling case” (Mitchell, 1984) to analyze how the boys’ responses to the text shed light on the possibilities of pursuing literacy education responsive to Black boys who desire literacy texts that illuminate the world and literacy opportunities that enable them to make a difference. Meredith’s students, positioned in their school as “struggling readers” and as “at-risk,” were so moved by reading about the biblioburros that they collectively came to believe that they needed to take action. After researching, reading, and writing about the biblioburros, they made a presentation to their entire school and launched a fundraiser to raise money. By seeking out a text with a human dilemma at its heart and then watching and listening closely as the boys responded to the text, Meredith created a context in which the boys could experience literacy as a socially transformative practice.

Scholarly Significance
Educators and anthropologists can learn from this steadfastness in working toward humanizing practices within the often dehumanizing spaces of schools (Irizarry & Brown, 2014) in order to create the conditions necessary to allow Black boys to flourish as leaders, intellectuals, and advocates. I conclude by discussing implications, including, providing critiques of literacy education as isolated skills; encouraging teachers to become ethnographers of literacy in their students’ communities; and inviting teachers to study the literacy traditions and epistemologies in contexts beyond schools.