Volume 7   Number 1     Springs 2013

School Culture, Struggling Adolescent Readers, and the Dialogical Self

Dawan Coombs
University of Georgia, Athens, GA (USA)
pp. 11-36

ABSTRACT. Sociocultural perspectives of literacy emphasize the role of the larger environment in the shaping of literacy practices.  As a result, some researchers theorize students don’t fail in school, but that schools fail students by denying them opportunities to practice literacy in personally meaningful ways. Evidence of such is manifest in the narrative identities of struggling adolescent readers. Identities result from the selective emplotment of events, signs, and symbols into narratives that help the individual make sense of the world and the self’s role in it.  Narratives, and the identities that result, represent the coming together of the stories individuals tell, as well as those told about them by collectivities and others. As a part of a larger multiple case study, this paper examines the narratives told by Sarah, a struggling adolescent reader, about her reading abilities.  Through a series of in-depth interviews and observations, transcribed, coded, and analyzed according to the preunderstandings used to emplot narratives, Sarah shared her perceptions of herself, her experiences in school, and reading. An analysis of Sarah’s stories demonstrates the role of the dialogical self in the emplotting of her narratives and indicates extensive dialogues with the larger school culture. Understanding the role school culture plays in struggling readers’ narratives offers opportunities to recognize discourses that alienate students who learn differently.  These understandings also offer teachers and researchers opportunities to question current practices and the extent to which they support students of all ability levels.

KEYWORDS: Dialogical self, Bakhtin, Identity, Literacy, Narratives, Struggling readers