The meaning of literacy for first-year African-American college students

Date of Completion

January 2002


Education, Educational Psychology




Educational experience influences meanings of literacy for African American college students. Meanings of literacy impact individual reading and writing performance and methods of acquisition. Prior to entering college, some African American students receive reading and writing instruction focused primarily on vocabulary building and the construction of summaries related to the text. These educational experiences produce in African American students meanings of literacy characterized by memorization, summarization, and retelling of facts. Consequently, upon entering college some African American students under perform on literacy tasks, where text analysis, active problem solving, and critical thinking are used. ^ This research uses phenomenological interviewing to examine meanings of literacy for six first-year African American college students as they transition into college-level English courses. Findings reveal that meanings of literacy evolve as African American college students experience literature in the college classroom. Changes in meanings of literacy also impacted student performance in the college English classroom. Specific instructional experiences in college-level English classroom allowed these students to recognize literacy as complex interactions between texts, personal experience, and sociocultural influences. Factors of culturally sensitive instruction in the college classroom were found to influence the six first-year African American students' meanings of literacy. These factors included: content integration, knowledge construction, equity pedagogy, prejudice reduction, opportunities for empowerment and critical thinking, and community integration. This research holds promise for the use of culturally sensitive instruction in college English classes to enhance the literacy performance of African American students. ^