Reading Research with a Purpose

I can remember when I used to just sit down with an interesting article and read slowly, letting the words wash over me, visualizing the researcher’s study, the participants, the theoretical ideas. I’d read and re-read, underline, star, paraphrase things for myself, circle and box critical terms. But most importantly, I had TIME – time to read and think about what I was reading. 


Which is why I chose to read research for this project. It let’s me slow down again. I need more slowness in my life.

I digress.

So I could blog about the 1 million things I did while reading the first six pages of Margaret Hagood’s (2001) article entitled, Critical literacy for whom? which appeared in the third issue of the 41st volume of the journal entitled: Reading Research and Instruction. 

  • I listed connections to other texts I’ve read.
  • I noted that I’ve never read ANYTHING in this journal.
  • I noted that I’m very familiar with this author, her work, and her use of terminology – in fact, she’s someone I’d say I inadvertently am modeling myself after in many ways. We share a research lens, so to speak.
  • I started outlining big concepts she was telling me she would be discussing in the article’s body, but put my notes in the margins, so I could quickly scan my notes on the article and refer back. 

This last bullet is a perfect segue to the point I’d like to focus on for this post. My process could not escape from my purposes for reading. I selected this article because it is an article written by the editor of a journal – one that deals with theoretical concepts I’m working with in my own research and writing and one that will help me make the necessary revisions to an article I’m hoping to publish. I read this article (or this chunk of this article) with this purpose. Because of this purpose and theory at the foreground of my attention, I planned to pay VERY close attention to the ways Margaret Hagood conceptualizes the relationships between literacy, identit/ies, and subjectivit/ies. This meant reading with a ridiculously close eye for language use like “production” “construction” “identity” v. “identities,” etc.. As I read, I worked to paraphrase these relationships, highlight salient quotes, map out the relationships she was describing, read and re-read the descriptive examples she gave to illustrate these concepts AND their relationships. I also kept an eye out for those summative one and two-liners writers throw in – lines that encapsulate everything in a way that really sings for me as a reader.

So what did this translate to?

The 6 pages I read included the abstract, introduction, “An Overview of Critical Literacy” with a subsection entitled: Critical Literacy and Identity Production. The article has more subsections, but today this is where I start and stop (pages 247-253).    

In the article’s introduction, Hagood explains that she is working to explore the problematic dimensions of critical literacy. She explains that many in the field of critical literacy explore the dangerous consequences of well-intentioned literacy curricula, the ways texts contribute to problematic self-concepts, and limit the ways people see themselves or the world around them. The field of critical literacy holds that texts are not neutral compositions, rather they position people and worlds in a range of potentially harmful ways and teachers should teach young people to identify these textual messages. This is something I work to do in all my classes. You can see me doing this with Little Red Riding Hood for my Children’s Literature class here if you’d like.

As I read through Hagood’s introduction, I let alot of this digest of the critical literacy field wash over me. I was familiar with this synopsis of the field and believe strongly that the world of critical literacy has many ways it can develop and acknowledge a broader set of perspectives on what counts as critical literacy.  When I got to the last paragraph of the second page, I snapped into focus as she mentioned that she planned to, “illustrate how differences in conceptualizations of identity and subjectivity, though often subtle, produce different constructions of adolescents as literacy users, different iterations of critical literacy, and different problems and dangers” (p. 248). This was a useful roadmap for the article and her argument.

The next section “AN OVERVIEW OF CRITICAL LITERACY” pushed me to note: “explore subjectivity” “stereotypical identities” “formations of self” in the margin. Again she pointed out a roadmap of three tenets that hold the concept of critical literacy together, so I got my pen and my number brain out and put a number by her words that would draw my eye next time I had to skim to cite this article: 1) Critical literacy is a field focused on “the alleviation of human suffering” v. the field of critical reading which “emphasizes the psychological and cognitive development of higher order thinking skills related to comprehension” (p. 249). 2) “literacy is assumed to be political practice influenced by social, cultural and historical factors (Barton & Hamilton, 2000; Street, 1995)” (p. 249). 3) Critical literacy aims to right social wrongs and “effect change” toward social justice. I shortened these for myself in the margin: CL v. C Reading, L = Political practice, Effect social change/social justice

The subsection that makes up the remainder of the reading I blog about in this post is titled, “Critical Literacy and Identity Production” In this section, I worked hard with my pen. Here she laid out traditional concepts of identity as a fixed, stable, autonomous, rational, logical self. This concept was juxtaposed with categories that produce identities, like nationality, gender, etc.. For my purposes, I paid most attention to the ways Hagood used identities and identity after the stable definition. Flexible identities, multiple identities, and their production and performance are what I’m interested in. It’s important to note that in this section, she begins to talk about her own study and one student, Timony. She uses her case of Timony, his interests in pop culture, identities, and subjectivities, to flesh out the concepts she is working with. Following Timony helps the reader get a real sense of what she’s talking about, check understanding, apply understanding, and puts abstract concepts into play, so questions can emerge.  I noted in the margin that:

  • rational stable categories = “identity producing mechanisms”
  • identities are “noticeable ways of being.”
  • Identity “markers” produce Timony as a “kind” of person.
  • Identity as conceptualized by some researchers is fragmented not holistic.
  • Fragments of identity are contrasted with the possibility of multiple identities.
  • Institutional discourses of school produced identity for Timony as a student. Did he take this identity up?  
  • Discourses of qualitative research produced identities for Timony of student to Margaret’s teacher and as guinea pig or participant, to Margaret’s researcher.

Hagood goes on and the big ideas I was left with were: 

  • Identities are produced in texts (spoken, visual, digital, print, etc.) – in discourses or interpellations
  • The teachers working with Timony used his text choices and clothing to evidence ways they positioned Timony as lazy and an underachiever

I reacted to this idea of available identities being produced in texts because this concept leaves out the participant’s interpretation of the text as it makes identities available. The big question I go into the next section with is, “How does Hagood account for/accommodate individuals’ interpretations of text, i.e., not only available identities, but how they make meaning of the identities within texts?” Specifically, where is the reader as an active, agent and meaning-maker? 

As I read along in this section, Timony was front and center. His teachers position him as an underachiever, he talks back and identifies the rationale for dressing as he does. He remarks at the ways they’re disturbed given recent Columbine shootings, but also points out that he’s different. Timony really propels the section and the reader, but I focused on the concepts getting worked out (my agenda as a reader).

What I’m hoping I’ll be able to do better in the next post is include visuals or a useful video. I’m realizing this print text discussion of my process can get DRY……….


2 thoughts on “Reading Research with a Purpose

  1. Dr. Johnson,

    I really enjoyed the parts on annotation that you wrote and what things come to mind as you read. Your blog is a bit lengthy and was NOT expecting it to be this long. I feel like my blogs are too short now. Hopefully I can be as eaborate in my response as yours. The blog could use some tweeking in that its kind of hard to follow your thinking on some parts since i have not read the article myself . A little more clarity would be helpful. Maybe like summarizing the text or quote before your analysis would help me follow your reading as opposed to analyzing line by line. Somewhere in there I got a little lost. Your humor shines through in your writing. Happy Blogging. 🙂


    • Your points are well taken, Jesus. I’m sure I could synthesize and edit more. I’ll work to do that this time. I’ll also work to provide a little more background on the text. Thanks for the heads up!

      Dr. Johnson

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