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All Our Voices : Developing Critical Literacy and Exploring Identity in a Secondary English Classroom


AOV focuses on building critical literacy skills by using two kinds of writing: narrative reflections and academic criticisms. The writing encourages students to critically analyze their own experiences, and then contextualize those experiences among a greater sociopolitical context. Students read "Their Eyes Were Watching God," a novel about an African-American woman on a search for happiness, and supplementary non-fiction texts in order to define and analyze their own identities, although any number of texts could have been used. When students were discussing and writing about themselves, they wrote for an audience of their peers, and when students were discussing and writing about others' identities, they wrote for a community of academics. This ability to switch registers for specific contexts is a necessary skill in the English classroom. The curriculum culminated in a project in which students created a video exploring their multiple identities. Participating students generally mastered only one register--formal or informal--and approximately half were able to critically analyze their own identities and experiences. However, almost all students complicated their concept of academic identity, defining a scholar as someone who questions and seeks answers rather than someone who merely succeeds in school. Student progress in the academic register after the implementation of the curriculum suggests this changed self-concept could be a precursor to academic achievement

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