Theses Doctoral

Tracing Agency in a Middle School, Youth Participatory Action Research Class

Filipiak, Danielle Renee

This dissertation study explored the literacies and socialization practices that middle school youth used while engaging in a school-wide Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) class. The primary aims of the dissertation were to contribute to literature on YPAR and to examine the literacy and socialization practices that young people drew upon as resources in developing agentive identities.
Relying on what is named as an agentive ecological approach, this study built upon sociocultural theories of literacy and learning to emphasize young people’s development of agency through their shared participation in a YPAR class that was shaped not only by the multiple identities they carried with them into the classroom, but also by factors such as the pedagogy of the teacher, the philosophies of school administrators, and the sociopolitical context of school. This study also relied on the ongoing traditions of critical literacy and critical pedagogy to highlight the ways that YPAR served as a mediator of important critical literacies that allowed students to learn about and directly respond to the social, historical, and cultural contexts of inequality that they encountered.
Situated in one of New York City’s most ethnically diverse middle schools, this critical ethnographic study used multimodal and ethnographic methodologies to excavate the experiences of 7th and 8th grade students enrolled in a newly implemented YPAR course at their school. In this year-long course, students were apprenticed as critical social researchers of educational issues while simultaneously provided with opportunities to utilize digital media tools toward civic ends. Methods for this study included 112 hours of participant observation where the researcher captured field notes, weekly memos, and photographs of classroom life across six months of the course; three semi-structured interviews each with six randomly selected students enrolled in 13 sections of YPAR; and multimodal literacy artifacts that included YPAR film materials, Google Classroom assignments, photographs, and digital stories. Three focus group interviews were also conducted with a group of students selected for enrollment in a “YPAR filmmaking course”, where they were tasked with creating a film about the impact of YPAR on the school. This group had a unique vantage point in that that they participated in iterations of YPAR across all three years of their middle school experiences, affording a much needed phenomenological perspective. Finally, two semi-structured interviews were conducted with the teacher of the course, who also provided curriculum and planning documents for analysis.
Constant comparative method and Critical Discourse Analysis were the primary methodological tools used to analyze the data in the study. Major findings revealed how the cultivation of critical literacies in the YPAR course afforded youth the opportunity to identify and respond to barriers in their educational contexts, allowing them to assert more humanizing portraits of themselves and their communities. Moreover, students’ leveraging of digital media tools toward civic ends permitted them space to offer perspectives concerning issues like Islamophobia and global violence, assisting them in the brokering of sociopolitical identities that changed the way they saw themselves, others, and the world surrounding them. Findings from the YPAR filmmaking class revealed the ways that youth constructed stories about imagined futures and their perceived role in shaping those futures, signaling new ways that critical digital literacy practices might be cultivated in service of healthy social, civic, and academic identities.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2024-06-22.

More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Morrell, Ernest
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 26, 2018