Academic journal article High School Journal

Creating Transformational Spaces: High School Book Clubs with Inner-City Adolescent Females

Academic journal article High School Journal

Creating Transformational Spaces: High School Book Clubs with Inner-City Adolescent Females

Article excerpt

Transformation is the act of changing in form, nature or character. It is the process in which we learn something new or are so affected by an event or a conversation that our own selves are no longer the same. Many experiences can cause this transformation: a loss, a tragedy, or an interaction with a friend, loved one or stranger. Transformation can also occur through watching a movie, seeing a play or reading a powerful book. As teachers and administrators, we continually hope that our students' lives are transformed through the power of education. Yet oftentimes, transformation may seem somewhat unattainable due to the increasing pressures and obstacles that are not under our control. Whether situated within the schools themselves, in the surrounding environments, or in the homes of our youths, these hurdles may seem insurmountable and overwhelming. The purpose of this article is to explore how we can Create transformative spaces for young adults, and where we can enhance young adults' academic and social and emotional development simultaneously through the unique space of a book club. In highlighting the voices of 12 Latina and African-American inner-city high school girls, I work to demonstrate how a book club provides a forum where affective and cognitive development cannot be separated, in that these two processes are inseparable and enhance one another. In essence, this study is about efficiency and transformation, where educators can work to promote literacy while also addressing students" social and emotional issues.

A Call for Book Clubs: Understanding the Need for Transformative Spaces

Adolescence is a difficult, transitional period that can be saturated with turbulence and emotional upheaval. Not only are young adults experiencing physical changes, but they are going through changes in their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral systems (Allen & Land, 1999). Adolescents start to see increases in the differentiation of self and the other, often beginning to establish autonomy, thus developing a consistent view of their identities. They also may find themselves dealing with more complex problems related to adulthood, often resulting in heightened susceptibility to mental health problems and to such issues as peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, low self-esteem, and sexual activity (Doll & Doll, 1997). Unfortunately, due to pressures of standardized testing and covering mandated curricula and lack of resources for emotional and social work, many of our students grapple with their problems in isolation which often affects their performance in school and their interactions with others. Thus, it is one of my goals to reveal how the girls in a book club used these spaces to understand and deal with their own struggles with identity, family, and peer relationships. As will be discussed in the following analysis through conversations about texts and the girls' connections to the characters and each other, I will provide evidence of how the girls discussed these complex issues with one another, so as to transform their own current, lived experiences.

It is my other goal to demonstrate how the girls not only worked on their emotional and social issues, but also their academic development. The books the girls self-selected and read primarily were chosen because of the problems they were dealing with at the time of the study--issues surrounding their identities, their families, and their peers. Based on extensive analysis, these are the three topics about which the girls talked about most frequently. Yet, the catalysts for these topics were the books themselves. Through reading the texts and through conversations with one another, the girls also worked to transform their academic development as well--specifically in the area of literacy.

Nationwide, concern has surfaced around addressing the literacy needs of secondary education students, as often youth struggle to access a variety of complex texts that are required in the classroom (Alvermann, 2001; Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). …

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