Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Associate Professor

Literacy, Culture, and International Education Division

Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania

Phone: 215-898-9309 || Twitter: @Ebonyteach

Email: ebonyt@gse.upenn.edu

Professional Biography

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas taught elementary language arts, high school English, and creative writing in public schools for several years after graduating from Florida A&M, a historically Black university in Tallahassee, Florida. She noticed that her urban students were critical evaluators of both course texts and pleasure reads, rationalizing why they preferred to read certain genres over others. When Dr. Thomas moved to a wealthier, rapidly integrating district, she observed the ways her teacher talk negotiated either cross-cultural solidarity, empathy, and community around literature or led to conflict, misunderstanding, and student disengagement. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2010, she returned to the regional urban research university where she earned her master's degree and spoke at conferences about how she used functional language strategies to assist her diverse, first generation students in developing powerful literacy pedagogies useful for working with some of the nation's most academically underserved students.
From her experiences in the classroom, teacher research, and dissertation study, Dr. Thomas came to believe that the language students and teachers use, the literacies that they engage in both inside and outside of school settings, and the literature and other texts they read and interact with must be reconsidered during this early 21st century era of social change and societal redefinition. In her work, Dr. Thomas synthesizes postcolonial, critical, and critical race theory with data from her empirical research in classrooms to examine the ways that literature is positioned in schooling and society today. As children’s and young adult literary empires continue to dominate publishing and Hollywood, she strongly believes that the field has the potential to become one of the most effective postcolonial, critical, and activist projects of all.

Research Interests and Current Projects

Dr. Thomas’s program of research is most keenly focused on children’s and adolescent texts (broadly construed), the teaching of African American literature, history, and culture in K-12 classrooms, and the roles that race, class, and gender play in classroom discourse and interaction. She is also conducting empirical, digital, and archival research for two monographs: a critical volume about the ways that children and teens of color are represented in early 21st century speculative fiction, comics, and multimedia, and a pedagogical volume about how to wrestle with traumatic historical events such as slavery in the teaching of literature.

Dr. Thomas has published her research and critical work in the Journal of Teacher Education, Research in the Teaching of English, Qualitative Inquiry, Linguistics and Education, English Journal, The ALAN Review, and Sankofa: A Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Her work has also appeared in Diversity in Youth Literature: Opening Doors Through Reading (ALA Editions, 2012), her co-edited volume Reading African American Experiences in the Obama Era: Theory, Advocacy, Activism (Peter Lang, 2012), and A Narrative Compass: Stories That Guide Women’s Lives (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Dr. Thomas is a former NCTE Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellow (2008-2010 Cohort), serves on the NCTE Standing Committee on Research (2012-2015), and was elected by her colleagues to serve on the NCTE Conference on English Education's Executive Committee (2013-2017). Her early career work received the 2014 Emerging Scholar Award from AERA's Language and Social Processes Special Interest Group. In 2014, she was also selected as a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.

Selected Publications

Thomas, E.E. & Stornaiuolo, A. (2016). Restorying the self: Bending toward textual justice. Harvard Educational Review, 86(3), 313-338.

Thomas, E. E., & Warren, C. A. (2015). Making it relevant: How a Black male teacher sustained professional relationships through culturally responsive discourseRace Ethnicity and Education.

Thomas, E. E. (2015). “We always talk about race!”: Navigating race talk dilemmas in the teaching of literature. Research in the Teaching of English, 50(2), 154-175.

Thomas, E. E., Reese, D., & Lesesne, T. S. (2015). Re-envisioning and (re)reading: Examining problematic texts. The ALAN Review42(3), 68–72.

Levy, B., Thomas, E. E., Drago, K., & Rex, L. A. (2013). Examining studies of inquiry-based learning in three fields of education: Sparking generative conversation. Journal of Teacher Education64(5), 387–408.

Thomas, E. E. (2013). Dilemmatic conversations: Some challenges of culturally responsive discourse in a high school English classroom. Linguistics and Education24(3), 328–347.

Thomas, E. E. (2013). African American children’s literature: Liminal terrains and strategies for selfhood. In J. Naidoo & S. Park (Eds.), Diversity in youth literature: Opening doors through reading. New York, NY: American Library Association Editions.

Thomas, E. E., & Brooks-Tatum, S. R. F. (Eds.). (2012). Reading African American experiences in the Obama era: Theory, advocacy, activism. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Sassi, K., & Thomas, E. E. (2012). "If you weren’t researching me and a friend...": The Mobius of friendship and mentorship as methodological approaches to qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry18(10), 830–842.

Thomas, E. E.  (2012). The next chapter of our story: Rethinking African American metanarratives in schooling and society. In E. E. Thomas & S. R. F. Brooks-Tatum (Eds.), Reading African American experiences in the Obama era: Theory, advocacy, activism. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Thomas, E. E., & Sassi, K. (2011). An ethical dilemma: Talking about plagiarism and academic integrity in the digital age. English Journal, 100(6), 47–53.

Thomas, E. E. (2011). Landscapes of city and self: Place and identity in urban young adult literature. The ALAN Review38(2), 13–22.

Rex, L. A., Thomas, E. E., & Engel, S. (2010). Applying Toulmin: Teaching logical reasoning and argumentative writing. English Journal, 99(6), 56–62.

Thomas, E. E. (2009). The pleasures of dreaming: How Lucy Maud Montgomery shaped my lifeworlds. In R. S. Trites & B. Hearne (Eds.), A narrative compass: Women’s scholarly journeys. Urbana & Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Thomas, E. E. (2008). Everything she knew: Race, nation, language, and identity in Philip Pullman’s The Broken BridgeSankofa: A Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature7, 50–57.

Sassi, K., & Thomas, E. E. (2008). Walking the talk: Examining privilege and race in a ninth-grade classroom. English Journal97(6), 25–31.