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Reading Girls: Living Literate and Powerful Lives

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this qualitative study, the authors merge two bodies of previously separated scholarship: (1) a socio-cultural understanding of adolescent girls in light of the shifting meaning of ideal girlhood, and (2) the participation and success of adolescent girls in school-based literacy activities. They apply these fields of inquiry to explore the following questions: (1) What does it mean to be a young woman/girl in middle school? (2) What does it mean to be a young woman/girl reader in middle school? (3) What does it mean to be a young woman/girl in literacy circles and discussion groups? To answer these questions, the authors collected observational and interview data in two classrooms (one grade 6 and one grade 8) from January to June. From the analysis of the data, the authors identify profiles that typify the girls with whom they interacted, capture the girls' roles during literature discussion groups and other classroom events, and frame the influence of teachers' actions on the girls.

Introduction

Girls. Reading. Reading girls. Girl power. Instead of posing these ideas as having defined boundaries and unique ideas linked to them, we think they warrant a consolidated consideration. Therefore, we conducted a qualitative study that merges these two bodies of previously separated scholarship:

(1) a socio-cultural understanding of adolescent girls in light of the shifting meaning of ideal girlhood, (2) the participation and success of adolescent girls in school-based literacy activities.

Often the first body of literature remains theoretically focused (Inness, 1998; Walkerdine, 1990), and when it is empirically applied, the focus is often on popular culture (e.g., Inness, 1999), extracurricular activities (Adams & Bettis, 2003), or a more general understanding of female identity in school (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Orenstein, 1994). Specific academic practices are rarely considered.

Recently, best-selling author and Harvard psychologist, Dan Kindlon, considered the current status of girls in Alpha girls: Understanding the new American girl and how she is changing the world (2006), and argued that a new psychology of girls (i.e., a psychology of emancipation) has produced a girl very different from the girl in crisis who dominated the media in the early 1990s. This alpha girl is poised to change the world, economically, politically, and socially. Kindlon viewed this new girl as a hybrid, one who embodies the best traits of masculinity and femininity. Thus, she is confident, assertive, competitive, autonomous, future oriented, risk taking, as well as collaborative, relationship oriented, and not obsessed with boyfriends or her physical appearance.

Recently, best-selling author and Harvard psychologist, Dan Kindlon, considered the current status of girls in Alpha girls: Understanding the new American girl and how she is changing the world (2006), and argued that a new psychology of girls (i.e., a psychology of emancipation) has produced a girl very different from the girl in crisis who dominated the media in the early 1990s. This alpha girl is poised to change the world, economically, politically, and socially. Kindlon viewed this new girl as a hybrid, one who embodies the best traits of masculinity and femininity. Thus, she is confident, assertive, competitive, autonomous, future oriented, risk taking, as well as collaborative, relationship oriented, and not obsessed with boyfriends or her physical appearance.

Those scholars who consider adolescent girls' literacy activities often neglect the discursive practices of ideal girlhood and investigate girls' literacy practices as if they exist in a gender-blind vacuum. When literacy scholars do consider gender, the lines of inquiry take several turns. Some note the gendered predispositions held by boys and girls toward reading (Appleman, 2006). For example, Smith and Wilhelm (2002) unveiled the practical way that many young men look at things they do. …