Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Thomas V. O'Brien

Committee Chair School



This capstone project aimed to determine if low-performing African American college students’ (1) mastery of reading skills and (2) level of classroom engagement are elevated if they are taught with literature that is culturally relevant literature to them. Students participating in this study were forty-three college freshmen at The University of Southern Mississippi enrolled in fall 2019 in a 3-semester hour remedial reading course entitled “Intermediate Reading.” All students enrolled scored below 16 on the American College Test (ACT), which aims to measure college readiness. In the 2019-2020 academic year, African American students were enrolled in this course at a ratio of 4.95 to 1 compared to non-African American students. For this capstone project, an action research model was selected. The researcher sought to determine (1) students’ levels of mastery of four reading skills (analyzing, decoding, vocabulary, and the discovery of theme), and (2) if students’ engagement in class differed if culturally relevant literature was used versus when it was not. The study found that students who matched the protagonist more closely with regard to culture and gender had the biggest gains where engagement, understanding, and performance were considered.