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Reading While Black: Exploring the Voices of African American Struggling Readers

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posted on 28.06.2013, 00:00 by Tinaya York
This study explored the following questions, (1) Do early adolescent Black students see race as a factor in their reading ability? (2) Can early adolescent Black struggling readers’ narratives offer insight into the impact of their racialized experiences inside or outside of school? and, (3) How can making race central to the analysis of students’ experiences help us understand its impact on students’ reading achievement and inform policy, curriculum, and practice? Critical Race Theory was used to analyze the semi-structured interviews of early adolescent, struggling Black readers. It was determined that these young adolescent readers do not see race as a factor in their reading. Although race is not a factor for these struggling readers when it comes to reading, their voices do highlight that there are racialized contexts in which reading and learning how to read occur. Their voices teach us that three distinct domains are at work and need to be attended to when supporting these readers. They are: reader identity (who am I as a reader?), racial/cultural identity (who am I as a Black person?), and purpose for reading (why is reading important to my cultural and social identities? Why is reading important for me personally?). The purpose(s) for reading is foundational to developing both the racial/cultural identity and the reading identity. They do not necessarily need Black books, they need good books. They need safe social spaces within classrooms to develop their reading identity, they need the opportunity to see reading as empowering and they need access to a variety of cultural stories. Future research needs to increase the understanding of struggling Black readers. What are the best ways to develop Black early adolescents reading identities, their cultural/racial identities, and their purpose(s) for reading? Future research also needs to tackle how the tension between a historical context steeped in race and a current context steeped in post-racial rhetoric, will impact the literate lives of Black children. Continued work that brings Black voices to the forefront will help us all understand the nuances in learning to read that hopefully will positively impact Black children’s reading achievement.



Tatum, Alfred


Curriculum and Instruction

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

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Committee Member

Lynn, Marvin Pappas, Christine Stovall, David Watkins, William

Submitted date




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