Teen Culture, Technology and Literacy Instruction: Urban Adolescent Students’ Perspectives


  • Jia Li University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • Catherine Snow Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
  • Claire White Strategic Educational Research Partnership, MA




New technologies, social media, teen culture, language and literacy, technology adoption, age differences, middle school students, urban schools


Modern teens have pervasively integrated new technologies into their lives, and technology has become an important component of teen popular culture. Educators have pointed out the promise of exploiting technology to enhance students’ language and literacy skills and general academic success. However, there is no consensus on the effect of technology on teens, and scant literature is available that incorporates the perspective of urban and linguistically diverse students on the feasibility of applying new technologies in teaching and learning literacy in intact classrooms. This paper reports urban adolescents’ perspectives on the use of technology within teen culture, for learning in general and for literacy instruction in particular. Focus group interviews were conducted among linguistically diverse urban students in grades 6, 7 and 8 in a lower income neighborhood in the Northeastern region of the United States. The major findings of the study were that 1) urban teens primarily and almost exclusively used social media and technology devices for peer socializing, 2) they were interested in using technology to improve their literacy skills, but did not appear to voluntarily or independently integrate technology into learning, and 3) 8th graders were considerably more sophisticated in their use of technology and their suggestions for application of technology to literacy learning than 6th and 7th graders. These findings lead to suggestions for developing effective literacy instruction using new technologies.

Author Biographies

Jia Li, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Assistant Professor, at the Faculty of Education, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Catherine Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

Dr. Catherine Snow is the Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She focuses on conditions that support the development of language skills related to literacy success, especially for children and youth attending urban schools and those who do not speak the school language at home.

Claire White, Strategic Educational Research Partnership, MA

Dr. Claire currently serves as the co-developer and program director at the Collaborative for Educational Services, MA for Word Generation, an academic language program designed to improve reading comprehension and writing outcomes for struggling readers and ELs in grades 4-8. She completed her doctoral dissertation at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Latino parents' support for their children's literacy development. Her research focuses on improving classroom instruction for language minority children.