“You Have to be Bad or Dumb to Get in Here”: Reconsidering the In-School and Out-of-School Literacy Practices of At-Risk Adolescents

Principal Investigator: J. David Gallagher
Michigan State University


The purpose of the study was to explore the texts and purposes for literacy in the lives of the students who are “struggling” in a classroom at an urban school, and to come to an understanding of how these practices come into contact with the school practices in one English classroom.
My time in the school and in the classroom offered many insights into the literate lives of these adolescents that were not recognized as useful resources by the school or classroom teacher. Failing to acknowledge students’ variety of literacy practices may have serious outcomes for students and for schools. One obvious outcome is that students will likely be seen by themselves and by others, inaccurately, as deficient of literacy, as not holding the requisite literacy behaviors needed for competence.Understanding “at-risk” youth as active participants in a variety of fluid communities, we will develop a richer understanding of the resources that they bring with them to the classroom, and how they makes sense of and adopt particular literacy practices.


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