Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Comparative Literature

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

This study examines participatory literacy practice in secondary English language arts classrooms. While literacy achievement in this context is often measured according to a student’s ability to receive and repeat predetermined information within the scope of mandated curricula and standardized tests, this study attends specifically to classroom literacy practice that centers authentic, unanticipated, dialogic student response. Within its consideration of literacy practice, this study applies the Bakhtinian notion of unfinalizability to consider those conditions that allow for learning experiences that are not predetermined but are rather uniquely, unpredictably, and unrepeatably co-constructed by individual students, student groups, and teachers. These unfinalizable learning experiences make space for students to engage in not only response but responsibility, another Bakhtinian notion, both in the classroom and in the world beyond. Semi-structured interviews with nine English language arts and social studies teachers from California and Louisiana, conducted in 2021, provided insight into pedagogical approaches that, through unfinalizability, make participatory literacy and authentic responsibility possible in public school classrooms where institutional and structural barriers often otherwise limit these opportunities. This project considers the historical inheritances of American schooling that define and frame contemporary in-school practices, tracing the threads of formulae and compliance inherent in schooling structures as they are experienced by students and teachers. The study also examines the ways in which teachers use pedagogical approaches, like those connected to dialogic reading discussion and project-based learning, to carve out unfinalizable spaces for the flourishing of student responsibility and creativity. The project’s findings indicate that in order to promote classroom life through authentic student responsibility, the carving out of unfinalizable spaces must be accompanied by the teacher’s decentering of themselves. Teachers in responsible classrooms must recognize and honor the unique identities and contributions of their individual students and be equipped to facilitate complex, unpredictable, and nuanced learning experiences in order to place students and their learning at the center of classroom practice.

Committee Chair

Weinstein, Susan

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