National Writing Project

Me and the D: (Re)Imagining Literacy and Detroit's Future

By: Danielle Filipiak
Publication: English Journal
Date: May 2014

Summary: A teacher-artist pair from the Detroit Future Schools program chronicle their journey implementing a culturally relevant, digitally oriented, and collaboratively focused literacy curriculum. They document the success that they had empowering their students to claim agency and redefine their relationships with themselves and their communities by tapping into the rich everyday literacies that their students possessed, rather than focusing exclusively on a rigidly conceived academic literacy. Dense with theory, this is a rewarding read for educators concerned with addressing the needs of students who are not well served by the status quo.


With these understandings in mind, we devised thematic units (see Table 1) that connected video, graphic design, and audio projects with eleventh-grade English coursework and participatory pedagogical practices such as student-led facilitation, transcription analysis of classroom dialogue, and sociological investigations of community. Additionally, we created three essential questions that facilitated ongoing reflection throughout the year:

  • What is the relationship between language and power, and how does that manifest itself in my life?
  • What role does education play in the health of a community?
  • How can I use my literacy practices to rewrite my world?

This model of praxis (Freire 33) paired action-oriented themes—discover, create, resist, and transform—with reflective questions central to students' experience, generating a dialogical space wherein youth both acted and reflected on what mattered most in their lives.[...]

Vicente told us at the end of the year, 'This program brought me to school some days. There was days I wasn't gonna come and I thought, 'I gotta do my group media project.' And I didn't do it for a grade; I did it because I categorized it as important.' What motivated him most was not a system of punishment and reward, but a learning community that he felt invested in and affirmed by."

About the Authors

DANIELLE FILIPIAK is a doctoral student in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She taught English in Detroit for 10 years, and served as a Connected Learning Ambassador for the National Writing Project's Digital Is website.

ISAAC MILLER is a teaching artist with Detroit Future Schools and a writer-in-residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

Filipiak, Danielle and Isaac Miller. "Me and the D: (Re)Imagining Literacy and Detroit's Future." English Journal 103:5 (2014) 59-66. Copyright ©2014 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

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