Date of Award

Spring 3-13-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Secondary Education



Committee Chair

Dr. Scott Ritchie

First Committee Member

Dr. Jennifer Dail

Second Committee Member

Dr. Ryan Rish


The definition of what is considered literacy is ever changing as is the literacy practices that are welcomed into a classroom space by ELA teachers. This collective case study explores the social positioning, trajectories, sedimentation, and negotiation of students’ identities, agency, and relationships in an English language arts (ELA) classroom that welcomes students’ unsanctioned literacy practices and is framed using the tenets of participatory culture and care ethics. The ELA classroom is a space particularly positioned well to foster student identity exploration; however, an ELA teacher may inadvertently curtail or even suppress student identity exploration when deciding what is taught, how it is taught, and when it is taught. In addition, any teacher—and I argue particularly an ELA teacher—is positioned to foster students’ relational growth through the establishment of caring relationships in a classroom space.

The study is founded in sociocultural theory which views literacy to be multiple, multimodal, and multilingual as situated in and across social and cultural contexts. With a sociocultural approach in mind, I conduct an eight-week-long collective case study of four high school students situated in a suburban high school located in the Southern United States in order to understand the trajectories their identities, agency, and relationships take in an ELA classroom intentionally designed to welcome any unsanctioned literacy practices into the classroom through the making of zines. I observed their zine making over the course of eight weeks, and throughout that time I collected several sources of data, including video and audio recordings, written viii reflections, formal and informal interviews, a researcher’s journal, and their zine artifacts. In the inductive analysis of the data, I notice recurring themes such as the students’ negotiation of identity and agency when creating zines and their negotiation of their relationships with their peers when sharing and discussing their zines.

Findings reveal that students can and do negotiate their identities using what they might perceive as typically unsanctioned literacy practices that are not always readily recognized in an ELA classroom. Students also can and do draw from the lived experiences to help them negotiate their actions in the classroom, including how much they participate or engage in discourse with their peers and teacher. In addition, students who are exposed to the literacy practices of their peers and share their own can and do develop more caring, empathetic relationships with their peers and teacher. As the four participants engaged in zine making, each was unique in which literacy practices they used and how they used them to negotiate their identity, how they positioned themselves and took up, resisted, or rejected how others positioned them, and how they negotiated their relationships in the classroom. These findings are particularly important to understanding how a classroom attempting to use the tenets of participatory culture as a framework for assignments and curriculum design may be beneficial to student identity work. However, I argue educators should be wary of romanticizing participatory culture, as its tenets are more aspirational than tangible depending on the educational setting and context. It is more important to concentrate on exploring meaningful connections between students and their literacy practices and their relationships to one another in support of those practices.

This study offers new understandings and insights into the literacy practices of students and how those practices are connected to the negotiation of their identities, agency, and relationship trajectories. It calls for future longitudinal studies that may determine further ix nuances to the relationship between literacy practices and student identity formation as well as studies that look closer at the impact of identity exploration in the ELA classroom on students gaining deeper knowledge of the ELA curriculum and the differences in how male and female students may take up identity exploration