VOICES, VALUES, VIEWS: A NARRATIVE ETHNOGRAPHY OF A VOLUNTEER LITERACY PROGRAM STUDENT INVOLVEMENT GROUP

Open Access
Author:
Smith, Juliet Anne
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Degree:
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
September 05, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Fred Michael Schied, Committee Chair
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Chair
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • adult education
  • literacy
  • participatory education
  • narrative ethnography
Abstract:
Employing a narrative ethnography methodology from a theoretically critical perspective, I studied a student involvement group at a federally-funded volunteer-based literacy program in Central Pennsylvania. By eliciting narratives from participants and taking part in a range of group activities over a nine month period in 2004-2005 and then returning to the field for follow up interviews in early 2006, I am able to juxtapose the benefits, challenges, and contradictions that arise as literacy students, English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, and the volunteer coordinator work together to create and sustain this group. Specifically, I found that individual members benefited from participating in the group in several ways: individual members felt emotionally supported, were provided opportunities to enhance and expand their literacy practices, exercise varying levels of power within the program, and become more aware of and to become involved in macro-political issues via discussions of the 2004 Presidential elections and involvement with the adult learner national organization, Voice for Adult Literacy United for Education (VALUE). By tapping into the members’ rich social networks, ideas and resources, Sunnydale Literacy Program benefited in terms of gaining greater public awareness and recruiting more tutors and learners. In turn, when learners helped the program, they gained skills, confidence, and a sense of ownership. Challenges in sustaining the group arose as members confronted the cultural, lingual, ideological, and ability-related differences among them. One example is that the ESL learners (all Spanish speakers) and literacy students were frustrated by the language barrier between these two groups. Members also struggled with giving up their traditional roles as defined by the typical federally-funded program. The practitioner still tended to be the professional caregiver and students at times still acted as clients seeking services. I conclude with several pages of reflections on my experience of researching this group, suggestions for working through these challenges, and recommendations for future studies.