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Reading in the Crawl Space: A Study of an Urban School’s Literacy-Focused Community of Practice


by Chantal Francois — 2013

Background/Context: The pressure to understand “what works” to advance adolescents’ reading development has increased as the Common Core State Standards’ call for youth to grapple with a range of complex texts. While we have learned more about promising reading programs and interventions for adolescent students in schools, few programs have had a demonstrable impact on middle and high school students’ reading achievement. As a result, categorical reading underperformance among youth persists in schools nationwide (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010), and is worse in urban schools (Neild & Balfanz, 2006). Instead of examining the effects of a reading program in isolation, we may need to turn our attention to understand how those programs are lived and enacted within the contexts of their school cultures.

Purpose and Research Questions: This study depicts one urban school’s efforts to support its middle and high school students in reading. Two research questions guided this study: 1. What are the current practices designed to provide a sociocultural context conducive to growth in reading skills at Grant Street Secondary School? 2. How do various organizational members (i.e., students and staff) perceive and experience these practices at Grant Street Secondary School? Though a range of factors influenced students’ reading at the school, this paper provides an in-depth portrayal of another instructional component — independent reading — that emerged in my analysis as vital to the way students and staff oriented themselves around literacy.

Research Design: Because the theoretical frame for this study assumes that literacy is social and situated, my research design reflected an effort to describe interactions related to reading, the domains where reading activity circulated, and perceptions of those interactions. As such, I drew upon three sources of qualitative data: interviews from staff and students, ethnographic observational data, and documents. These three sources of qualitative data enabled me to describe the literacy activities at the school and locate them in the larger school organizational and cultural processes.

Conclusions and Recommendations: This study suggests that students may benefit from daily, sustained time for independent reading time that is instructional. This study also suggests that coordinated efforts across school staff may ensure youth’s positive interactions with texts. This study also holds implications for school-based research focused on disciplinary literacy. Ultimately, this research reconceptualizes our understanding of effective instructional practices for adolescents, emphasizing a multidimensional approach that highlights the role of reading as a social activity.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 5, 2013, p. 1-35
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16966, Date Accessed: 9/23/2014 6:19:03 AM

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About the Author
  • Chantal Francois
    Rutgers University
    E-mail Author
    CHANTAL FRANCOIS is an assistant profession in the Learning and Teaching Department in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. Her research interests include adolescent literacy, sociocultural perspectives on literacy, reading and writing instruction, and urban school culture. Francois’s work has appeared in Harvard Educational Review and Education and Urban Society. She is the co-author of Catching Up on Conventions: Grammar Lessons for Middle School Writers.
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