This research is grounded in three theoretical perspectives.
The critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire (1970), a theorist who linked literacy to social justice and others in the critical tradition (McLaren, 2003; New London Group, 1996; Peterson, 2003).
Advocacy research . We base our work on the literature surrounding the emerging role of the school principal as practitioners and advocates for social justice (e.g.see Fennell, 1999; Shields, 2009). We use the work of Theoharis (2007) who theorizes that principals must act as advocates of social justice to enact meaningful change.).
In addition, we draw on critical and sociocultural perspectives of
The research project was an expression of praxis—reflection and action upon the world (Freire, 1970) in order to transform it, to make it better for some marginalized adolescent boys who struggled in school literacy and through it, my colleagues and I wanted, among other things, to use critical pedagogy to engage the participants in their own acts of criticality and transformation.
Critical pedagogy serves the goal of social justice because it is intended to and can lead to what Freire (1970) refers to as conscientização —“learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality” (p. 19).
The problem we perceived was the growing number of marginalized
adolescent boys who are not succeeding in school literacy and we
The research project was guided by sociocultural and critical views of literacy (Freire, 1970; Gee, 1996, 2004; Gutiérrez, 2008; Rogoff, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978). These complementary views of literacy assert that school literacies are situated, embodied, constructivist, dynamic sociocultural practices (listening, speaking, thinking, reading, writing, responding, valuing, acting etc.).
These sociocultural practices are learned from and between people (e.g., more knowledgeable adults and peers) over extended periods of time as they interact and carry out a variety of activities geared toward constructing meaning, acting in, and upon the world.
Can literature circles promote the literacy growth and development of struggling and marginalized adolescent boys?
What is the influence of engaging a principal, a school library specialist, and a participant researcher in a literature circle designed to promote critical reading engagement among a group of striving/marginalized adolescent boys?
What can we learn from/about the literacy practices and the interactions of adolescent boys engaged in a critical literature circle characterized by caring, connectedness, and explorations of the social construction of gender/masculinities, social justice, and equity?
Using the sociocultural process of literature circles (Daniels, 2002), the researchers, principal and students engaged in a book discussion group based on their reactions, thoughts, ideas, and feelings to the socially conscious texts they read.
In addition to guiding the students to make personal connections to the literature they read (e.g., social, class, race, culture, and gender), we were very much interested in initiating explicit conversations about social justice issues and the boys’ social construction of gender and masculinities.
Gives choice in the selection of reading materials (interest and needs)
Allows dialogue and meaningful exploration of texts.
Can be used to create a caring, nurturing, reading community
Encourages critical examination of texts
Is sensitive to problem-posing learning
Rests on making connections: text-to-self, text-to-text, text-to-world
Can lead to sustainable literacy development
Literature Circles: Modified and Contextually Tailored
Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections, digressions, and open-ended questions are welcomed.
The teacher(s) serves as a participant, guide, a member and is conscious of his/her power…Constant negotiations. This is a change…(We were more than facilitators). We provided guidance. We were in dialogue, we were in relationships with the students.
Evaluation is by teacher observation and student self-evaluation .
A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.
A caring relation requires the engrossment and motivational displacement of the one-caring, and it requires the recognition and spontaneous response of the cared-for (Noddings, 1996, p. 38).
Caring practices cannot be separated from knowing or doing because, in the human world, caring practice is always bound up in knowing and doing (Benner & Wrubel 1989, cited in Benner, Gordon & Noddings,1996).
I was thinking today about what participation in this project will do for me personally and professionally.
I am hoping that professionally I will become a better teacher/administrator. Most of my day and time is spent allowing teachers to do their job. I support what they do; their good work; and attempt to inspire and challenge them to grow professionally.
Participation will help me grow as I will learn, apply and practice a new strategy that of Literature Circles.
I will see a master in action, Barbara McNeil, and will learn from her and be able to model this with classroom teachers.
Personally, it will also have an impact as I will have the opportunity to make close connections and perhaps develop relationships with a group of boys that I normally would not have the opportunity to engage with in a meaningful and on-going way.
The boys asked about getting time to read in class. Some do not have a quiet place to read at home. I mentioned that I could provide a quiet place on a regular basis after school.
This speaks to our middle class assumptions about everyone having a quiet home and can find a place to read or do homework if they want.
I also know that some of these boys don’t have a positive adult male role model in their life. If I can be that and make a difference, however small, what a great reward that would be!
Today I heard a complaint. Students complained about the way they were being taught. Complained about the undemocratic process of having to read books that did not engage them; having no choice in the books they are to read.
How do I respond as principal?
Should students have choice all of the time? Can we balance a required reading list with a literature selection that allows for choice?
The project is of personal interest that has professional implications. I am volunteering my time and the school division has allowed the project to take place at FWJ but I am not getting paid for it. So, how do I justify ‘stealing’ moments during the day or week to feed my interest in it?
I’m trying to be a literacy leader. Yet, literacy leadership impinges on my other job. How do I get them to move closer together i.e. make my established or recognized traditional role more that of a literacy leader?
Met with a teacher earlier today to review her professional growth plan. She indicated that a boy in her class likes to read but is very reluctant to pick a novel. I pulled “Bang!” off of my shelf and suggested that she show him the book and see if he ‘bites’.
I now have novels in my office. Titles we’ve read; accessible text.
It has changed my discourse with teachers. I can suggest titles and ways of teaching; I can speak to students re: titles and make suggestions.
Some students with behavior issues are struggling readers. As I work more with some of them, I ask the question about their ability to read. Some are confused by the question but for others they admit their difficulty.
How can I engage my teachers and students to reader for enjoyment? Does the fact that reading is always connected with looking for answers to questions prevent students to read for enjoyment?
I look at how I perform masculinity. What kind of male role model do I want to be for these young men? It’s important that they respect me as most young people look up to their principal. When they place me on a pedestal, I want to be worthy of the honor. If I am doubly blessed in that they want to emulate me, I want to be proud of the young men that they have become.
I feel the same way about my son. This speaks to the personal nature of education and the personal nature of the project.
As Barbara and I spoke afterward, we discussed that the project would probably work better if it was embedded within a classroom; where the researcher or research team could work with a classroom teacher.
I have coached basketball at many levels and have developed relationships with students. But through the vehicle of lit. circles, the discussion has immersed us in a variety of topics so our relationship is deeper and richer as we speak openly.
The literature is the catalyst. The boy of 15 and the old man of 54 are in a dialogue about significant issues not just making small talk.
The boys read, conversed, connected, related to us and each other in nuanced ways, and grew..
The researchers also grew…Greater insights about the
complexities of literacy learning with adolescent boys in an
urban high school
The research was inspiring. We had fun! We are on to something…
Time (to read, for dialogue, to respond, for relationship work…)
Material conditions of the participants
Research design (e.g., after school versus in school)
Limitations of the research and researchers
Visiting the public library is not a sociocultural practice for any of the boys. The school library was not a significant part of their lives when we began the research. There was some change as the research progressed.
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