Media Literacy and Academic Literacy: Bridging the Gap

Emerging Leader Fellow: Joslyn Young, 2010-2011

Nationwide, and in the Philadelphia area, adolescents are underperforming on literacy assessments.  By 11th grade, only 11 percent of Chester-Upland School District students and 37 percent of Philadelphia School District students score proficient in reading on required state tests.   Advocates for low income and minority urban youth identify improving adolescent literacy as both an educational and social necessity because students must be academically literate to graduate high school and socially literate to participate in civic life.  While students engage in social literacy much of the time, educators are struggling with how to (re)engage adolescents in academic literacy.

Joslyn Young and Research for Action (RFA) conducted applied research in two after-school programs where youth are highly engaged in literacy activities through multi-media production such as film and radio.  By investigating the out-of-school settings in which youth are motivated to engage in literacy activities, RFA and Joslyn identified elements of these programs that might be transferable to an academic setting.  The project focused on two sites: Chester Voices for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union.  The project’s research methodology included a literature review of alternative literacy work; observing students and conducting two sets of interviews with them; a survey of students and their parents; and helping students at Chester Voices for Change develop their own “literary biographies.”  Joslyn documented her findings in a report, presented them at the two sites and developed a research brief for educators and education advocates.