Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning



Content Description

1 online resource (x, 178 pages) : illustrations (some color), forms.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Kelly Wissman

Committee Members

Virginia Goatley


Arabic-speaking students, Culturally sustaining pedagogy, Freedom space, Literature about the Middle East, Reader-response, Translanguaging, Arab American children, Culturally relevant pedagogy, Books and reading

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Reading and Language


This dissertation explores a group of first and second grade (rising second and third grade) Arabic-speaking students’ responses to literature about the Middle East in an elementary public school in the northeast of the United States. It examines the students’ engagement throughout multiple contexts (grade-level classroom, English as a New Language classroom, and culturally sustaining context) across 14 months. The study’s theoretical framework included transactional theories of response (Rosenblatt, 1978), culturally sustaining pedagogy (Paris, 2012), and translanguaging (García, 2009). Through the methodology of practitioner research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009), I adopted a critical inquiry stance through being close to my participants, reflecting on practices, and analyzing engagement. Data sources included audio transcriptions, field notes from participant observations, interviews and students’ artifacts. The findings of this study revealed how culturally sustaining literature and read-alouds can influence the students’ literary engagement. The Arabic-speaking students shared differently across multiple contexts. In the grade-level and English as a New Language classroom contexts, students listened, smiled, repeated some words to themselves, and silently dramatized their responses. In the culturally sustaining context I facilitated, students shared more detailed and elaborated responses. During the read-alouds, they became active responders to literature as they actively shared their dramatizations, questions, and predictions, using their comfortable language(s). Their engagement in the culturally sustaining context reveals that students do not only need to see themselves in books, but also a freedom space where they can be more fully themselves. The culturally sustaining context supported the focal students’ identity, cultural and linguistic pluralism, and critical consciousness (Zoch, 2017). The findings of this research study call for concrete reforms in education and social environments where students can bring the full range of their linguistic and cultural resources to bear on their learning. The findings serve to extend the call for the need to rethink practice and reconsider the role of schools in establishing a democratic community.