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Centre for Urban Schooling

Engaging Literacies

Identity Texts as Catalyst and Medium for Academic Performance

Big Question:

To what extent can the creation of texts tied to students’ identities and engagement with technology tools increase students’ literacy engagement and sense of academic accomplishment?

Researchers: Dr. James Cummins and Saskia Stille
Research Theme: Schooling, Student Achievement, and Academic Achievement

This case study was designed to explore innovative ways of enabling students to engage with literacy by mobilizing their home language resources and prior knowledge, and by using digital technology tools such as PowerPoint, iMovie, and digital story telling software to publish and disseminate students’ work. Working collaboratively with English as a Second Language (ESL) and classroom teachers at the elementary level, our team of university-based researchers assisted teachers in integrating knowledge media into literacy teaching and learning activities, and assisted students in the creation of bilingual “identity texts.” We use the term identity texts to describe the products of students’ creative work or performances carried out within the pedagogical space orchestrated by the classroom teacher. Students invest their identities in the creation of these texts which can be written, spoken, signed, visual, musical, dramatic, or combinations in multimodal form. The identity text then holds a mirror up to students in which their identities are reflected back in a positive light.

Watch the full interview with
Dr. James Cummins

Watch the full interview with
Saskia Stille

Dr. James Cummins presents
study findings at the 2009
TOESL Ontario Conference

Saskia Stille presents
study findings at the 2009
TOESL Ontario Conference


Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

The project is embedded in a set of theoretical frameworks that highlight the role of societal power relations in the achievement trajectories of students from marginalized social backgrounds (Cummins, 2009). These power relations, conceived as operating along a continuum from coercive to collaborative, express themselves in the patterns of identity negotiation orchestrated by teachers with their students (Cummins, 2001). Classroom interactions that enable students to create identity texts, which showcase their intellectual, linguistic, and artistic talents, challenge the devaluation of identity that many bilingual/ELL students experience in contexts where their home languages are not explicitly acknowledged as intellectual and cultural resources.


Research Question and Methods

The research focused on the following research question: To what extent can the creation of identity texts and engagement with information and communication technology tools increase students’ literacy engagement and sense of academic accomplishment?
Teachers, students, and researchers collaborated in this action research project. The research team worked directly with students in helping them use various technology tools to create their identity text projects. Sources of data for the research included field notes on the interactions and outcomes that were observed, as well as document analysis, individual and group interviews, and planning notes.

Read significant findings


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