In this multi-case study, nine adolescent (high, medium, and lower academically performing) African American males at a single-gender urban middle school participated in semi-structured interviews using Photo Elicitation methods (Prosser, 2011) to reflect on their experiences with Enabling texts, activities, and contexts. Enabling Texts (Tatum, 2008) move beyond a solely cognitive focus—such as skill and strategy development—to include a social, cultural, political, spiritual, or economic focus. Considering a socio-cognitive perspective allowed for the exploration of both the cognitive and sociocultural dimensions of literacy, without limiting the analysis to one or the other. Data sources included: a) portfolio and school record artifacts, b) individual semi-structured interviews, and c) biographical survey data. Data collection and analysis were comprised of portfolio and school data completed during the 2010-2011 school year, as well as multiple and sequential interviews and survey data collected during the spring of 2013. Three African American males for each subgroup: high, medium and lower academically performing, were selected based on their availability to participate in the study, interest, and percentage point growth from previous year’s standardized testing data. Due to the study’s emphasis on gaining a deeper understanding of the student’s experience, this study integrates the theoretical perspectives of phenomenology with the more coherent and systematic, yet reflexive data analysis steps of Constructivist Grounded Theory (CGT): initial, focused, and axial coding (Charmaz, 2006).
Overall, findings suggest urban adolescent African American males perceptions of contexts, texts, and pedagogies differed based on their achievement levels, however there were several similarities across all cases, which students found to be Enabling. By focusing on the students’ perception of their literacy experiences with various texts, pedagogies, and contexts, the author makes the similarities and differences between high, medium, and lower performing students more visible. Implications for key stakeholders (principals, teacher educators, educators, parents, and students) emphasize the importance of gaining a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between adolescents’ literacies and the experiences that shape them.