Academic journal article High School Journal

"We Hatched in This Class": Repositioning of Identity in and beyond a Reading Classroom

Academic journal article High School Journal

"We Hatched in This Class": Repositioning of Identity in and beyond a Reading Classroom

Article excerpt

This article presents a case study of development of reading identity in Angelica, a 15 year old Latina. The paper explores the literacy experiences in school that positioned Angelica as a struggling reader. It also examines the efforts of significant others in school and out-of-school contexts, as well as her own efforts, to contest this identity. In particular, it analyzes the pedagogical practices of Angelica's ninth grade reading teacher that were pivotal in Angelica' s repositioning of her reading identity in school. Moving beyond teachers exploring with their students the broad construct of academic identity, the article argues for critical exploration of disciplinary identity as part of an academic curriculum. It offers some suggestions for doing so. The paper also advocates for building students' academic identities in the out-of-school contexts of their lives. In departure from typical approaches, it stresses that students should take a significant role & deciding how to extend their academic learning and identities into outside-school spaces.


A group of urban adolescents have been assigned to a ninth grade reading class because they have been positioned (Davies & Harre, 1990) by standardized test scores as below grade reading level. When they talk about their identities as readers and writers, some say they "struggle" with reading and writing and others conclude that they "don't like to read and write." But some of these youth resist the institutionally ascribed positional identity (Holland, Lachichotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) of struggling reader and maintain that they are readers and writers despite what the test scores and reading course label imply. Their teacher, Molly, (all names are pseudonyms) agrees with this final assessment--that all her students, including those who entered her class thinking otherwise, are readers. Molly's pedagogical practices facilitate her students' rejection of the socially constructed label of struggling reader (McCarthey, 2001; Triplett, 2007) and the reconstruction of their academic identities as readers. This article examines the development of reading identity in Angelica, a 15 year old Latina adolescent, culled from her earliest literacy memories to her year spent in Molly's class. The paper explores:

* Angelica's transactions with multiple reading identities produced from her engagement in an array of literacy experiences in school and out-of-school contexts

* Molly's pedagogical practices that scaffolded Angelica's reconstruction of a strong identity as a reader in academic as well as out-of-school contexts.

A Theory of Identity as Socially Constructed and Positional

Identity is historically dependent, socially enacted, and culturally constructed understandings or objectifications of the self or a group (Holland et al., 1998). These self or group understandings are produced from the interaction of individuals' personal worlds with collective spaces and social relations (Holland et al., 1998). Holland et al. called these collective spaces figured worlds. The home, its surrounding community, and the school are distinct but overlapping figured worlds in which young people develop reading identities. Identities develop over time, are influenced by numerous social and cultural experiences, and are expressed according to social and cultural norms. Identity is neither static nor singular. Each individual possesses a number of role identities or positional identities--positions that she understands herself to occupy in and across social worlds. In positioning theory (Harre & van Langenhove, 1999), subject positions are always taken up in social groupings of at least dyads. If one person is positioned in a particular way then others are positioned complementarily. Thus, positional identities are not only self-ascribed but assigned to individuals by co-participants in social practices within figured worlds. …

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