Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The purpose of this study was to explore the possibilities and limitations of “amplifying” critical literacy practices within an urban high school English and creative writing class. This action research project defamiliarized English education and created conditions for participants to imagine and perform alternative possibilities by bringing together critical research, community involvement, creative writing and performance in an extended class with high school, university, and community-based collaborators. Participants were high school juniors, partnering teachers, university-based student teachers, and community members who collaborated to form the English Amped program in the 2014-2015 academic year. Ethnographic methods were used to collect data through field notes, semi-structured interviews, photographs, writing samples, questionnaires, and audio recordings. Findings demonstrated that the socially structured and habituated alienation of working-class students of color in urban schools delimited the ways that participants imagined and enacted critical literacy in school. Historically-based and persistent experiences of school as it is limited the legibility of school as it could be. The de-familiarization of traditional schooling provoked both euphoria and anxiety for participants. English Amped produced thresholds of contact between differently positioned people, institutions, ways of knowing, and forms of experience. Over time, these thresholds helped English Amped participants to experience performances of possibility that generated new repertoires of critically grounded knowledge and forms of relationality. Participants could later draw on these repertoires to produce more sustained forms of solidarity, agency, and well-being. Performances of possibilities helped students, teachers, and teacher candidates to experience increased agency and connection, which in turn helped participants to navigate the anxieties of critical literacies in school. This study points to the humanizing and emancipatory possibilities of critical literacy projects that construct collaborative, cross-institutional networks embedded deeply within urban high schools. Ultimately, English Amped demonstrated that the proliferation of critical literacy in urban public high schools may grow from concrete sites of practice and networks of relationality that enable people to create alternative repertoires over time, and thus co-perform transformative possibilities of school as it could be.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Weinstein, Susan