Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Resisting Readers' Identity (Re)Construction across English and Young Adult Literature Course Contexts

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Resisting Readers' Identity (Re)Construction across English and Young Adult Literature Course Contexts

Article excerpt

Young adult literature [class] has definitely supported me as a reader. English has not helped at all because English class just . . . they give you boring books, so it is kind of hard for you to want to read if you don't have a good book. But in young adult lit, you pick whatever books you want to read. In English class this year, I haven't read any books. In young adult lit, I have read about four or five books [from January to May]. . . . The young adult lit class has made me want to read more. Just because of the fact that you get to choose the books you want to do, and it is such a fun and relaxing class.

This excerpt comes from an interview with Nia (pseudonyms are used throughout this paper), a high school junior labeled by school authorities as struggling. At the time of our study, she was enrolled concurrently in a traditional English course and a young adult literature (YAL) elective that encouraged reader independence and autonomy.

Nia's language reflects a complicated tension experienced as she navigated two course contexts. She attempted to manage differing classroom norms, defined in one space by the assignment of "boring books" that made it "kind of hard for you to want to read" and in the other by the creation of a "fun and relaxing" setting that made students "want to read more." Nia also engaged with differing power dynamics across these contexts. In describing the traditional English class, Nia noted that "they give you" the books you will read, with "they" referring to teachers who determined texts for full-class reading. In contrast, Nia identified the YAL class as one in which "you pick whatever books you want to read," with "you" referring to students who self-selected titles of interest. As Nia navigated these norms and manifestations of power, she described repeatedly enacting agency as she decided whether to accept or resist them. Perhaps most significantly, Nia recognized the impact of these differing contexts-the norms, power positionings, and her response to them-on the development of her identities as a reader; she articulated clearly that the YAL course experience supported her as a reader, while the traditional English experience did not.

Our research indicates that, through participation in a course experience that invited resisting behaviors by honoring individual reading preferences, Nia and other readers labeled as struggling redefined their identities in meaningful ways. This phenomenological case study (1) explores the disconnect that students perceived between their reading identities and experiences in traditional English classes and (2) analyzes how participation in a young adult literature elective provided them space in which to enact identities and exhibit agency in ways different from those afforded them in their English classes.

Literature Review

Personal, social, and institutional values combine through discursive norms to shape readers' identities in school (Dillon & Moje, 1998). Schools as institutions of socialization influence identity construction by positioning readers in particular ways (Vetter, 2010) and assigning particular reading identities (Hall, Johnson, Juzwik, Wortham, & Mosley, 2010). Students, however, bring their own histories and understandings of these positionings and identities into the classroom (Zacher, 2008). Moreover, students vary in the degree to which they accept their assigned positionalities (Alvermann, 2001). Hall's (2010) multiple case study, for example, explored how middle school readers labeled as struggling and their content-area teachers worked together on classroom reading tasks during an academic year. This work revealed how students engaged in particular behaviors-selected silence or refusal to try various reading strategies-that protected their social status in the classroom but reaffirmed their externally perceived identities as struggling readers, identities they themselves desired to change. The students "believed that they lacked the identity capital associated with good readers" and "knowingly refused to engage in actions they believed would allow their respective audiences to identify them as poor readers," even when these actions might have helped them achieve the positive reading identities they desired (Hall, 2010, p. …

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