Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Secondary Education

Major Professor

Jane Applegate

Keywords

case study, reader response, sociocultural learning theory, young adult literature

Abstract

Abstract

Reading is a perennial educational hot topic - but now extends for beyond early literacy to the secondary level. Reading researchers are growing in our knowledge of how to reach and teach struggling adolescent readers yet too often success in literacy is measured solely by performance on standardized tests. Literacy is seen on one hand as a one-dimensional set of skills students need to possess to be successful in school and their future workplaces. A more expansive view of the importance of literacy and what it means to adolescent females' growth as individuals and members of communities is needed.

This study focused on selected adolescent girls' perceptions of identity through reading, responding, and discussing literature featuring strong female protagonists. Semi-structured interviews conducted with each of the female participants at the beginning and end of the study, reader response journals in which participants composed weekly responses to their reading, transcripts of the weekly book discussions, field notes, and entries in a researcher reflective journal form the data for this study, emphasizing the focus on the meaning these individuals brought to the phenomena studied: identity exploration within literacy events.

This study addressed questions of the how and why of a literary event, and involved a variety of data, thereby making a case study methodology an appropriate choice. Selected participants were the focus of individual case studies and the book club itself was the focus of an additional case study. Self-identity statements and background information gathered on each of the three case study participants helped shape portraits of these adolescent girls, whose perspectives on their own identities were both convergent and divergent. The same proved true when addressing the two exploratory questions: The participants appeared to hold identical perspectives on identity, yet stated unique, varied perspectives on environmental elements influencing their self-identity expression. All three case study participants viewed identity as a developing, evolving process highly influenced by societal standards and expectations - especially for females. The girls also saw the social environment as affecting identity in the frequent mismatch occurring between what the individual perceives as his or her self-identity being expressed and how others in the environment perceive the identity.

Psychosocial theories of human development acknowledge that an individual's identity is both located within and without. The participants in the book club all shared this perception of identity as a sociocultural construct. However, the girls' diverse self-identity statements and range of perspectives indicate the need for a new model of female adolescent identity development. This new model needs to reflect girls and their sociocultural worlds of today. Finally, the experiences of the five girls in the book club study indicate the common misperceptions existing concerning the nature of adolescent identity. Again, unlike Erickson's concept of identity as undeveloped in adolescence and shifting with each storm and crisis, the girls in the study indicate the need for a different perspective.

Classrooms are unfortunately often bereft of the type of space provided for the girls in the book club. Within this space the girls engaged in deep, thoughtful, critical responses to literature while expressing their self-identities and exploring other's identities. As adolescents, these five girls were provided space by and with a trusted adult to engage in what is acknowledged to be a critical element in human development: identity exploration. To meet the needs of all students, teachers should arrange discussions in both small group and whole class structures. However, successful discussions - those which offer students rich opportunities to engage with text, make connections, derive personal meaning, explore and express self-identity - these discussions will only occur when the teacher has considered not only the physical environment but also the attitudinal environment.

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