Personal Narratives of African American Students with Learning Disabilities: Challenging “Privileged” Patterns?


  • Dorota Celinska Roosevelt University



personal narratives, African American students, learning disabilities, narrative coherence


Overrepresentation of African American students in special education has been related to the unfavorable academic outcomes and achievement gap for these students. In a search for a comprehensive account of the roots of these perpetuating concerns, narrative skills are of importance because of their relation to reading achievement and school engagement. Research on narrative performance of African American students with learning disabilities is scarce and possibly preventive of in depth understanding of these students’ unique, often culture-based, language and academic strengths and needs. This study compares personal narratives of African American and European American students with learning disabilities using two approaches: one traditionally favored in schools and one in accord with narrative styles of some African American communities. The participants were 41 school-identified students with learning disabilities in 4-7 grades from 15 urban and suburban schools. The results indicate that two groups are equally capable of producing personal narratives using the majority of narrative patterns of both narrative approaches. The minimal differences between the groups may be attributed to the culture-based preferences well documented in students without disabilities. Implications of recognizing the unique narrative profile of African American students with learning disabilities are discussed.

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Author Biography

Dorota Celinska, Roosevelt University

Dr. Dorota Celinska has received her doctorate in special education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her scholarly interests include discourse skills of students with learning disabilities, assessment in special education, and servicing students with learning disabilities. She is currently an Associate Professor of Special Education at Roosevelt University.