Literacy as social (media) practice: Refugee youth and native language literacy at school

Martha Bigelow, Jenifer Vanek, Kendall A King, Nimo M Abdi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Research indicates that immigrant and refugee students benefit from use of their native languages in education. Nevertheless, what this means in practice has infrequently been examined by researchers, and teachers often struggle to find ways to use their refugee students’ native languages as resources that encourage the development of the native languages as well as academic language and literacy in the new language. This small-scale, exploratory project employed an innovative, five-day critical media literacy curricular unit, and then examined how it served as a context for native language and English literacy development. Participants were 14 adolescent newcomers to the U.S. from Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia, all speakers of Somali with limited or interrupted formal schooling experiences. Participants had varying but mostly beginning levels of print literacy skills; yet as recent migrants, most used social media to interact with others locally and globally, in multiple languages, oral and written. As described here, our efforts to foster peer-to-peer Somali language communication resulted in multilingual interaction across a range of social and academic purposes in the classroom. These research findings highlight how in-class use of social media analysis can serve to achieve multilingual and (critical) literacy learning aims.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-197
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Adolescents
  • Bilingualism
  • ESL
  • Facebook
  • Immigrant
  • Social media

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