Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Dr. Amy Seely Flint

Second Advisor

Dr. Tisha Lewis

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Lewis

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Joyce E. King


The aim of this comparative case study is to investigate the ways two Black middle class children negotiated their literate identities between school and church. This study is distinctive because it targeted an underrepresented population in-and-out of school. Currently, there are a few studies that focus on the Black church as a learning domain (Hale, 1994; Kelly, 2001; McMillion, 2001; McMillion & Edwards, 2000) and fewer literacy studies that research the Black middle class (Heath, 1983 & Williams, 1991 ). The disregard of the Black Middle class in literacy research is problematic because members are uniquely positioned as they have attained financial security but may participate in social and cultural practices that are unrecognized in schools. The questions explored in this study are: (1) How do children of the Black middle class negotiate and navigate their literate identities in church and school? And (2) What literacy practices do these children use in church and school settings?

The study is situated within the following frameworks: Critical Race Theory (CRT) that uncovers the distinctive experiences for people of color; Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) that examines human actions and interactions; and identity theory, which focuses on constructions of self in varied contexts. Data collection included semi-structured interviews of the children, parents, Sunday school and classroom teachers, observations of church and school literacy practices, artifacts from each context, and researcher memos. Qualitative data analysis included multiple rounds of coding, triangulation, and constant comparative analysis. The findings demonstrated that communal and individual practices encouraged diverse ways of engaging, relationships influenced how the children navigated each space, and children exhibited different identities in small groups or multi-aged groups. The broader implications from this study highlighted the significance of out-of-school literacy practices and the need for teachers to integrate community literacy practices into the curriculum.