"A life within a life": Adolescents' perspectives on friendship and literacy

Jolene Therese Malavasic, Syracuse University


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the connection between adolescents' friendships and their academic literacy practices. The rationale for the study stemmed from the lack of research considering (a) the ways adolescents' friendships informed the kinds of literacies they enacted both within and outside the school setting, and (b) how these relationships influenced adolescents' completion, adaptation, rejection and sometimes redesign of teacher-orchestrated academic literacy instructional practices.

Grounded in symbolic interactionism (Blumer, 1969) and identity theory (Gee 2000/2001), the study's informants were eighth and ninth grade students at a suburban junior high school. Data included field notes from in-school classroom observations and face-to-face interviews. Data collection also included online documents and artifacts such as dialogue journals and personal notebooks. Data were analyzed inductively and recursively to address the research questions. The friendship patterns and literacy practices of 30 informants, 14 males and 16 females, were explored.

Several themes emerged from data analysis. First, these young adolescents made strategic decisions regarding when, where, and with whom they would employ friendship and literacy practices. They were adept at appropriating spaces during the school day to create and sustain friendships and to enact literacy practices with friends. Sometimes these enactments reflected an assigned task, while other enactments were not consistently sanctioned by conventional school standards. Finally, these adolescents enacted identities that shaped and were shaped by their friendship networks and literacy practices within and outside school. Implications for classroom teachers and researchers based on these findings are discussed.