Literacy Practices Among Sudanese Refugee Families

Principal Investigator:
Michigan State University

Kristen Perry studied the literacy practices of refugee families from Southern Sudan who had young children and lived in Michigan. In Michigan, refugees from Southern Sudan represent diverse attributes and experiences--they represent many Sudanese ethnic backgrounds; they took a variety of refugee pathways to the United States, sojourning in countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Kenya, and Ethiopia; some have extensive experience with formal education (including college degrees), while others had few if any opportunities for schooling; and most speak several languages, including Arabic, English, and various tribal languages. Perry's study used two broad research foci to understand literacy practices in this community: (1) literacy practices of southern Sudanese refugee families and the literacy landscapes they reflect, and (2) negotiation, sense-making, and appropriation of literacy practices between homes, communities, and schools by Sudanese refugee children. The focal participants in this study were families with young children attending either kindergarten or first grade in Michigan. The parents in each family represented various levels of education attained before arriving in the U.S., from some elementary school through professional degrees. Results indicated that these families engaged in a variety of different types of literacy practices. The analysis of this project focused specifically on literacy brokering, in which individuals seek informal help with the texts they encounter in their everyday lives. The adults in these families were educated and literate in Arabic, and they could speak, read, and write English with varying degrees of fluency. However, they often needed help understanding texts and literacy practices in the U.S. context. To do this, the families relied on literacy brokers who could help them understand linguistic, cultural, and genre aspects of the texts they encountered and the practices in which they needed to engage on a regular basis in the U.S. The parents often relied on their young children - who were not yet fluent readers and writers themselves - to broker these texts. For a paper based on the results of this project, Perry earned the National Reading Conference's J. Michael Parker Award for contributions to adult literacy research in 2007.


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