Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Kelly Chandler-Olcott


Theory, Adolescents, Refugees, Secondary Schools, SIFEs, Writing

Subject Categories

Reading and Language


This ethnographic case study uses life history and qualitative methodologies to offer biographical profiles that highlight perspectives on writing of eight Black African- born male youth with limited and disrupted formal education enrolled at a secondary school in northeastern United States. Participants from Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia relocated to the U. S. through refugee services between 2003 and 2006. At the time of the study, they were enrolled in mainstream English classrooms with American-born peers. Students with interrupted and limited formal education (SIFEs) like these young men are a growing yet understudied demographic in urban schools (DeCapua & Marshall, 2010; Fu, 2007).

Through the use of writing activity genre research (Russell, 2009), New Literacies Studies (Gee, 2000; New London Group, 1996), and postcolonial theory (Said, 1978; Spivak, 1998), the study illuminates participants' perspectives on writing and makes suggestions for teaching adolescent youth, especially immigrant populations (Campano, 2007; Gutiérrez, 2008). The findings suggest that youth like these young men need help with navigating double binds (Engeström, 2009; Russell, 1997) experienced between home and school and benefit from stretch, skill, drill, practice, play, and reflect approaches to build writing proficiency. Participants desired more authentic writing opportunities in school where they could communicate with purposes and audiences that mattered to them. Participants wrote out of school, sought to learn genres that could benefit their families' lives, and wished for more inquiry-based writing instruction in school. Their reports suggest history and global realities of the 21st century should be better linked to pedagogy and that teachers need a better understanding of the complexities of race and how languages privilege and inhibit marginalized youth.


Open Access