Theses Doctoral

Cultivating literacies of access and liberation: A case study on the use of oral language, hybrid literacies, and culture in the 21st century

Johnson, Jennifer K.

This multi-year critical ethnographic study examined the development and use of oral languages, and academic, digital, and critical literacies among high school debaters who participated in the Ivy League Debate Institute (ILDI), an intense academic apprenticeship for low-income Black and Brown youth attending public high schools in a large northeastern city. The study documented and analyzed a high school intervention that sought to foster powerful readers, writers, speakers, and engaged citizens through critical debate education that embraces new literacies, critical theory, empirical research, community-based literacies, and Hip-Hop culture. In addition to documenting the language and literacy practices of the majority of students participating in the apprenticeship during an eight week summer workshop, the research also followed a subset of ILDI students over the course of three years as they participated in after school trainings, weekend debate tournaments, public presentations, and researched and practiced at summer debate institutes.
Drawing upon African American literacies and rhetoric(s) and sociocultural and critical education theories, this research investigated the role of critical debate in the development of participants’ academic literacies, civic engagement, and identities. A sociocultural lens that views learning as changing participation over time in communities of practice (Lave, 1991) was used to analyze a wide range of data: field notes and researcher memos from after school meetings and events; video recordings of meetings, public presentations and debate tournaments; online correspondence; student generated speeches, academic essays and research notes; and semi-structured interviews with participants elucidating on the role of the debate apprenticeship in the development of academic and critical literacies.
The study reveals the role of the critical debate apprenticeship in supporting students to become more dexterous users of multiple literacies, languages, and discourses, and to leverage these resources in academic and civic spaces for self- and social justice advocacy. The study expands what counts as academic discourse and literacy development to create more room for cultivating both literacies of access and social justice. Combining student-led instruction in evidence-based advocacy skills and print-based and new literacies with oral language and Hip-Hop can support participants in employing diverse cultural and linguistic practices and academic, new, and critical literacies to develop well-reasoned and persuasive texts that speak to social injustices, offering new possibilities for literacy education in high schools, first-year college classrooms, preservice teacher training, and in out-of-school spaces.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Morrell, Ernest
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 6, 2016