Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 2008 Issue »

    The Complex World of Adolescent Literacy

    Myths, Motivations, and Mysteries

    Elizabeth Birr Moje, Melanie Overby, Nicole Tysvaer, and Karen Morris
    In this article, Elizabeth Birr Moje, Melanie Overby, Nicole Tysvaer, and Karen Morris challenge some of the prevailing myths about adolescents and their choices related to reading. The reading practices of youth from one urban community are examined using mixed methods in an effort to define what, how often, and why adolescents choose to read. By focusing on what features of texts youth find motivating, the authors find that reading and writing frequently occur in a range of literacy contexts outside school. However, only reading novels on a regular basis outside of school is shown to have a positive relationship to academic achievement as measured by school grades. This article describes how adolescents read texts that are embedded in social networks, allowing them to build social capital. Conclusions are framed in terms of the mysteries that remain — namely, how to build on what motivates adolescents’ literacy practices in order to both promote the building of their social selves and improve their academic outcomes.

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    Elizabeth Birr Moje is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture in Educational Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is also a faculty associate in the university’s Institute for Social Research and a faculty affiliate in Latino/a studies in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Her research interests involve the intersection between the literacies and texts youth are asked to learn in the disciplines and those they engage with outside of school. She also studies how youth construct cultures and enact identities through their literacy practices outside of school. Moje is coeditor of the forthcoming Handbook of Reading Research, Volume IV (with P. D. Pearson, M. Kamil, and P. Afflerbach). Her other published volumes include Reframing Sociocultural Research on Literacy: Identity, Agency, and Power (coedited with C. J. Lewis and P. Enciso, 2007) and All the Stories We Have: Adolescents’ Insights on Literacy and Learning in Secondary School (2000).

    Melanie Overby is a postdoctoral fellow working on the Social and Cultural Influences on Adolescent Literacy Motivation and Development project at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include adolescent literacy, social identity formation and socialization, and literacy in informal learning environments. Overby’s dissertation explored familial racial-ethnic socialization using narratives provided by cultural museums.

    Nicole Tysvaer is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s School of Education. Her research focuses on adolescent literacy, out-of-school learning, community service, and school and community partnerships. She has more than a dozen years of experience working nationally and at the local level with educational enrichment programs that serve children and youth. Tysvaer also coordinates the Real Media Leadership Literacy Training program, a youth-led multimedia community mapping program in Detroit.

    Karen Morris is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Program in English and Education at the University of Michigan. Karen was a high school English and math teacher for four years before she returned to graduate school. Her academic areas of interest include grammar and writing instruction and standard language ideology.
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    Spring 2008 Issue


    Why Adolescent Literacy Matters Now
    Jacy Ippolito, Jennifer L. Steele, and Jennifer F. Samson
    Adolescent Literacy
    Putting the Crisis in Context
    Vicki A. Jacobs
    Teaching Disciplinary Literacy to Adolescents
    Rethinking Content-Area Literacy
    Timothy Shanahan and Cynthia Shanahan
    Redefining Content-Area Literacy Teacher Education
    Finding My Voice through Collaboration
    Roni Jo Draper
    Cognitive Strategy Instruction for Adolescents
    What We Know about the Promise, What We Don’t Know about the Potential
    Mark W. Conley
    The Complex World of Adolescent Literacy
    Myths, Motivations, and Mysteries
    Elizabeth Birr Moje, Melanie Overby, Nicole Tysvaer, and Karen Morris
    Toward a More Anatomically Complete Model of Literacy Instruction
    A Focus on African American Male Adolescents and Texts
    Alfred W. Tatum
    Implementing a Structured Reading Program in an Afterschool Setting
    Problems and Potential Solutions
    Ardice Hartry, Robert Fitzgerald, and Kristie Porter
    State Literacy Plans
    Incorporating Adolescent Literacy
    Catherine Snow, Twakia Martin, and Ilene Berman
    Beyond Writing Next
    A Discussion of Writing Research and Instructional Uncertainty
    David Coker and William E. Lewis