Academic journal article English Education

Developing Curriculum to Support Black Girls' Literacies in Digital Spaces

Academic journal article English Education

Developing Curriculum to Support Black Girls' Literacies in Digital Spaces

Article excerpt

What have you learned about equality and freedom in America? I really want you to consider all of the learning experiences we had with literature, digital tools, social media, and classroom conversations to help you name some of your understandings and list questions you still have. What informs your perspective about freedom and equality in America?

This question was posed by Ms. Jones (all names and places are pseudonyms), the fifth-grade teacher I worked with in this digital literacies study, to her students before they began working with a partner on a project related to a poem by Langston Hughes. Questions like these are foundational for the work that happens in her classroom and the partnership we created a few years ago. When I began my inquiry into digital pedagogies with Ms. Jones in a large urban school district, I was trying to understand how she developed curriculum, learning experiences, and pedagogies for print-based and digital texts that encouraged students to question power structures that lead to restricted opportunities for marginalized groups. I wanted to know if students were able to create digital texts that probed the intersection of power, language, and identity and whether they would better understand how to engage with, respond to, critique, and create multimodal manifestations of their thinking.

As I began to document and analyze data from this inquiry, I sat with a small group of Black girls to discuss the spoken word poems and podcasts they were creating about their lives. I realized after I left their group how little I knew about their interests and the specific ways they were going to utilize digital tools to complement and complicate the messages in their poems. It was at this time that I decided to shift my focus to the work they were doing with digital tools in hopes of making their thinking visible for analysis. In particular, I wanted to better understand how they were individually and collectively enacting Black girls' literacies across modalities and which modal choices were given leverage on particular digital platforms. Considering the significant participation and savvy digital literacy practices that Black girls and women take up across social media platforms to address issues of identity, achievement, safety, self-expression, and social justice (e.g., #SayHerName; #BlackGirlMagic; #BlackLivesMatter), I also wanted to learn more about what affordances each tool provided as a means for making visible their academic knowledge.

Scholars such as Muhammad (2015) and Richardson (2002) have contributed to an understanding of Black girls' literacies and practices; however, we still have scant knowledge about how Black girls use digital tools to advance their literacy development. In a world that is rapidly changing and engaging in more multimodal interactions, exploring the digital literacy practices of Black girls is a necessary next step. To address the gap in scholarship, this qualitative study, grounded in Black girls' literacies (Muhammad & Haddix, 2016; Muhammad, 2012; Richardson, 2003), focuses on how classroom curriculum can be inclusive of digital literacies and support Black girls as they take up tools to author complex texts that counter mainstream narratives of Black girls' achievement. Specifically, it builds on Muhammad and Haddix's (2016) conceptual framework for Black girls' literacies, which contextualizes literacy as a social practice that reflects cultural power dynamics within texts and provides insight into the following questions that guided this study:

1. What are the affordances of designing curricula that engage Black girls' digital literacies?

2. How do Black girls enact critical literacy practices in digital spaces?

To these aims, I provide an overview of Black girls' literacies as a theoretical framework; outline the methodology for the study, including instructional unit overviews; share findings from a qualitative study of a fifth-grade classroom to better understand how the nine Black girls in the class enacted critical literacies across digital platforms and modalities to address social issues; and then conclude with recommendations for literacy teachers to help them advance the use of digital tools and criticality in their classrooms. …

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