Date of Award

Spring 5-9-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Secondary Education



Committee Chair

Dr. Megan Adams

First Committee Member

Dr. Nita Paris

Second Committee Member

Dr. Ryan Rish


This study sought to understand the influence of institutional structures of tracking and ability-grouping on the social worlds of an English language arts classroom – to understand how students construct and express identities against the backdrop of academic hierarchies, and to observe how these academic identities shape social patterns in the classroom. Drawing on dialogic and identity-focused literacy practices, this study used a design-based research methodology with ethnographic tools to observe the potential for literacy events to open more inclusive pathways to participation, beyond the social patterns that often marginalize students who do not fit conventional academic definitions of success. Data collection included video-recorded classroom observation, audio-recorded discussions, writing samples, and participant interviews to gain a wider perspective of students’ experiences with school. Findings revealed the challenges of shifting classroom activity away from the “rulebook” by which students have learned to “do school,” particularly in upper high school where the ever-present anxiety over college admissions reinforces the competitive pressures of GPAs and academic level. Dialogic activities that flatten hierarchies and question meritocracy encountered resistance from students privileged by those structures, and also from students marginalized by them. Further research over a longer duration might improve the usefulness of the design and research, and lead to the flattening of hierarchies within and beyond the classroom.