Adolescent Boys' Literate Identity: Volume 15

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(17 chapters)
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Adolescent. Boys. Literate. Identity. Each carefully chosen word of this book's title generates interest: adolescent, because it is a turbulent stage of life; boys, because they are thought to be “left behind”; literate, because it suggests being and doing literacy; and indentites, because studies in self-making are prevalent in almost every discipline in the arts and social sciences. However, Mary Rice does more than merely present these four isolated areas. She masterfully weaves them together in such a way that the reader is able to enter into her teaching world and the lives of five ninth-grade males with whom she works closely. Dialogue about negotiating roles, shifting tensions, exchanging edibles, overcoming irony, reconsidering literate narratives, and reimagining boys' stories in classrooms ensues.

The foundation for narrative inquiry comes from Dewey's (1938) assertion that life and education are organically entwined. From this notion comes the concept of narrative inquiry as an interest in lived experience – that is, in lives and how they are lived (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. xxii). In addition to the work of Dewey, narrative inquiry has a long intellectual history both in and out of education (Clandinin & Connelly, 1990, p. 2). Contributions from other research fields include MacIntyre's (1981) ideas about narrative unity and Mitchell's (1981) comprehensive outline of the field of narratology. Several years later, Polkinghorne (1988) contributed an understanding of narrative analysis and Coles (1989) argued for the legitimacy of the literary ideas of narrative. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) built narrative inquiry as an educational research design from these notions. They specify that, as researchers, knowing about our experiences and knowing about the academic literature relevant to our own questions can be brought together to create new understandings.

I earned my bachelor's degree in English from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, with minors in geography and linguistics. I did not complete coursework in education during my baccalaureate studies. During these years, I worked summers as a journalist at a newspaper in Oregon and completed an internship with I was employed in the folklore archive at BYU, where I gained experience with ethnographic research techniques. I also served as an associate publisher for an on-campus magazine with international circulation published by the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at my university. My duties at this publication included taking research articles and revising them for a general audience. My senior year in college, I was a research assistant in the geography department where I both edited and contributed a chapter for a book about United States city systems based on Carville Earle's historical geography methods.

The skills that Brandon deployed during the geography game are also skills that help him achieve success in school. These skills include (a) the emotional sensitivity to discern the will of the class in continuing to play, (b) an awareness of what he would have to do to prolong the game, (c) the social sophistication to decide who he wanted to move to his new team, (d) the ability to notice and capitalize on the decision-making processes of others, and, of course, (e) geographic knowledge. These skills are potentially valuable in contexts outside of the community and it is likely that he learned and practiced them there. I observed these skills through his story. Although the list of them is long and impressive, the fact that he was able to alchemize them in the context of school for a purpose he set himself is what made me awestruck.

The rationale for conducting a study of this nature with ninth graders emerges from Erikson's (1956) eight stages of man. Erikson was particularly concerned with the idea of socialization as an impetus for identity development. Adolescents, according to Erikson, are in a peculiar position, because it is the time where all the other stages of childhood have to be resolved again. Successful negotiation of the identity-making stage requires young people to consider stories of themselves in a variety of future roles as they explore those roles socially. Because the stages must be re-resolved, ninth graders, in a psychosocial sense, are potentially facing similar crises to those first encountered in ages two and three. In this stage, young people are trying to resolve tensions around balancing the need to assert themselves socially while monitoring their own actions to conform to acceptable societal norms.

A story that Robert told in class during this research exposes the tension of simultaneously studying literacy and identity when submission and control are also processes at work in the story. There are two pieces of this story. In the first part of the story, Robert relates the narrative. The second part consists of the details of the story he told. Both pieces can be used to illustrate different elements of the tension between studying literacy and identity as a single construct labeled literate identity. In addition to suggesting a metaphor for literacy and identity, Robert's story navigates the constructs of submission and control that Wong (2008) discusses in terms of the aesthetic of motivation. The tension between submission and control when coupled with an exploration of literacy and identity has implications for the notions of resistance to literacy in the field of boys' literacy as well as the being and doing of literacy for the boys in this study.Our class began with the students congratulating Robert on his storytelling. When I inquired further, I found out that Robert had started to tell the legend of Cupid and Psyche in a previous class, but he had run out of time. The rest of the students expressed interest in hearing the story, either for the first time, or to know the end. Initially, his telling ebbed and flowed. He apologized for his lack of fluency and explained he was trying to provide us the parts of the story we would find the most interesting. Eventually he settled into a rhythm and finished 50 minutes later. (Reconstructed field note, December 2009)

Bourdieu (1986) identified and explained the various forms of capital that exist in a society. He defines capital as “assets that are available for use in the production of further assets” (p. 241). The following explanation of capital provides background for making connections between Bourdieu's forms of capital and the plotlines the boys in this study employ for displaying literate identity.

A poem written by Brandon opens space on the literacy landscape for initiating an exploration of the boys' self-positioning in their literate narratives as comedic heroes. This space on the literary landscape outlines the ways in which characters in literature can be positioned when the plot of the story suggests distribution should occur. After exploring how characters function in literature, according to Frye (1957), it is easier to see how the boys use a similar self-positioning in their narratives when literacy is the boon – intended for distribution.The Moon, The Lake, and the LoonLily pads span the shore in a curtain of green,Accented by yellow flowers with watery sheen.In the heart of the lake floats the black speckled loon—guardian and ghost beneath the silver twilight moon.A sea of pine trees shield the outer world awayfrom this inner earth unchanged day by day.The lament of the loon pierces the heart and soul;capt'ring the body and mind beyond control.Leaving haunted beauty, wishing to be back soon.In the land of the moon, the lake, and the loon.(Brandon's in-class assignment, May 2009)

The opportunity to learn (OTL) as a concept in education has been evolving since at least the 1960s. The OTL research suggests that when students are allotted more opportunities to learn, they learn more (e.g., Harrison, 1968). The admonition from OTL researchers is often a call for an expanding definition of opportunity as well as a plea to educators to provide more opportunity of all types. Following the line of logic of the OTL research, the students in this study composed their literate identities because they were given greater opportunity to story themselves as literate as well as to distribute literacy. If that is the case, then even hurtful experiences, like when Robert was asked to redo his assignment because Superfoot was judged as inadequate, became an opportunity to relive and retell the story of his literate identity in either a positive way. The OTL research raises a question about what opportunities for storying are in the hands of the teacher in a classroom, which are in the hands of the student, which are in the hands of family members, and which are in the hands of those increasingly peripheral to the classroom milieu. Uncovering understandings about how teachers open opportunities on the landscape of the classroom for developing narratives of comedic literate identity may lead to more sophisticated strategies for dispensing occasions for students to compose comedic literate identities.

Mondays in my classroom typically have time reserved for personal storytelling, but students are allowed to share whenever they feel so inclined during the week in class. At the beginning of the year, I am the major storyteller in class so that I can model appropriate aspects of delivery such as content appropriateness and time allotment, but as the students become familiar with me and with each other, they assume responsibility for the storytelling that occurs in class.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God's Grandeur”As Emerson asserts, seeing people as benevolent and virtuous is, in fact, the most accurate way to see them.Mary Rice

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Advances in Research on Teaching
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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