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A Case Study of Adolescent Females' Perceptions of Identity in an After-School Book Club

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Holly S Atkins
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. Semistructured 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.

Table of Contents

List of Tables v

List of Figures vi

Abstract vii

Chapter One: Introduction to the Study 1 The Personal and Professional Meet at the Crossroads of Research 1 Background of the Study 2 Purpose of the Study 7 Overview of the Theoretical Framework 9 Exploratory Questions 10 Significance of the Study 11 Definition of Terms 14 Overview of the Methodology 17 Assumptions 18 Limitations of the Study 19 Chapter Summary 22

Chapter Two: Review of Literature 25 Sociocultural Theory 27 Overview and Historical Background 27 Sociocultural Theory and Literacy 29 New Trends in Sociocultural Theory 32 Reader Response Theory 33 Overview 34 Experience-Based Views of Reader Response 36 Process-Based Views of Reader Response 37 Text-Based Views of Reader Response 39 Social Theories of Response 39 Adolescent Females and Identity 40 Theoretical Background 41 Identity Viewed as Part of Life Cycle Stages 41 Identity Viewed as a Dynamic “Self-Structure” 43 Identity as Exploration 44 Personal Identity and Discursive Practices 45 Female Identity Development: Relationship-Based 47 Book Clubs 50

ii Background 50 Women and Book Clubs 51 Literature in the Lives of Adolescent Females 51 Female Readers and Textual Relationships 52 Reading as “Doing” 54 Adolescent Females and Book Clubs 55 Book Clubs as Pedagogical Practice 57 Chapter Summary 60

Chapter Three: Method 64 Purpose of the Study and Exploratory Questions 64 Theoretical Research Framework 65 Design of the Study 65 Case Study Design 65 Participants and Site 67 Book Selection 72 The Role of the Researcher 77 Procedure and Data Collection 82 Participant Reader-Response Journals 83 Participant Interviews 84 Credibility 85 Peer Debriefer 87 Researcher Reflective Journal 88 Member Checking 90 Qualitative Analysis Strategies 91 Constant Comparative Method 91 Found Data Poems 92 Analysis/Description/Interpretation 94 Getting From Here to There 96 Dissertation Timeline 96 Estimated Dissertation Expenses 97 Chapter Summary 100

Chapter Four: Presentation of the Data 102 Notes for the Reader: Transcription Conventions 106 Context 108 Case Study: Book Club 109 Meeting the Book Club—From My Researcher Reflective Journal 109 Background on the Book Club 110 Participant Self-Identity Statements about the Book Club 111 Perceptions of Identity 114 Identity as a Sociocultural Construct 115 Identity as Developmental 116 Influences on Participants’ Self-Identity Expression 119 Physical Attributes of the Social Environment 119

iii Attitudinal Attributes of the Social Environment 120 Introduction to Participant Case Studies 126 The First Case: Sarah 127 Meeting Sarah—From My Researcher Reflective Journal 127 Background on Sarah 128 Self-Identity Statements 131 Perceptions of Identity 135 Identity as a Sociocultural Construct 135 Identity in the Text World 137 Identity as Developmental 140 Influences on Sarah’s Self-Identity Expression 141 Physical Attributes of the Social Environment 141 Attitudinal Attributes of the Social Environment 142 The Second Case: Bianca 143 Meeting Bianca—From My Researcher Reflective Journal 144 Background on Bianca 145 Self-Identity Statements 147 Perceptions of Identity 148 Identity as a Sociocultural Construct 148 Identity in the Text World 150 Identity as Developmental 153 Influences on Bianca’s Self-Identity Expression 154 Physical Attributes of the Social Environment 154 Attitudinal Attributes of the Social Environment 155 The Third Case: Lacey 156 Meeting Lacey—From My Researcher Reflective Journal 156 Background on Lacey 157 Self-Identity Statements 159 Perceptions of Identity 161 Identity as a Sociocultural Construct 161 Identity in the Text World 163 Identity as Developmental 165 Influences on Lacey’s Self-Identity Expression 167 Physical Attributes of the Social Environment 167 Attitudinal Attributes of the Social Environment 167 Cross-Case Analysis 170 Participants’ Perceptions of Identity 171 Influences on Participants’ Self-Identity Expression 172 Chapter Summary 176

Chapter Five: Discussion, Implications, and Recommendations 179 Finding Meaning in the Individual Case 180 Learning from Sarah 181 Learning from Bianca 185 Learning from Lacey 189 Learning from the Book Club 193

iv Cross-Case Issues 196 Perceptions of Identity 196 Influences on Self-Identity Expression 200 Implications for Practice 204 Literacy as a Sociocultural Construct 204 Classroom Discussions 206 Literature Selection 208 Teacher Education 210 Recommendations for Future Research 211 Participants 211 Reader Response Journals 213 Book Selection 216 Literacy as a Sociocultural Construct 217 Role of the Researcher 218 Chapter Summary 219 Final Reflections 222

References 226

Appendices 244 Appendix A: Book Club Flyer 245 Appendix B: Informed Consent Form 246 Appendix C: Amelia Bloomer Project Sample Annual List 252 Appendix D: Amelia Bloomer Project Criteria 255 Appendix E: Participant Book List 258 Appendix F: Initial and Final Interview Protocols 261 Appendix G: Sample Interview Transcription and Analysis 263 Appendix H: Example of Researcher Reflective Journal Entries 265 Appendix I: Peer Review Form 267 Appendix J: Categories and Codes 268 Appendix K: Sample Participant Reader Response Journal 269

About the Author End Page

List of Tables

Table 1 Langer’s Envisionment Building Stances 38

Table 2 Exploratory Question 1 and Study Design 82

Table 3 Exploratory Question 2 and Study Design 83

Table 4 Dissertation Timeline 97

Table 5 Estimated Dissertation Expenses 100

Table 6 Participants’ Self-Identity Statements 127

Table 7 Case Study Participants’ Collective/Unique Self-Identity 171 Statements

Table 8 Perspectives on Identity and Influences on Self-Identity 172 Expression

vi

List of Figures

Figure 1 Example Convergence of Multiple Sources of Data 111

Figure 2 Sarah’s Perceptions of Identity, Influences on Self-Identity 195 Expression, and Self-Identity Statements

Figure 3 Bianca’s Perceptions of Identity, Influences on Self-Identity 199 Expression, and Self-Identity Statements

Figure 4 Lacey’s Perceptions of Identity, Influences on Self-Identity Expression, and Self-Identity Statements 204

Figure 5 Participant Positions within Erickson and Gilligan Identity 212 Development Theories

Figure 6 Components of Effective Book Clubs Meet Developmental 240 Needs of Adolescents

vii

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

viii 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

ix 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.

1

Chapter One

Introduction to the Study

The Personal and Professional Meet at the Crossroads of Research.

A young girl and her mother walk hand in hand down the quiet street in a small Florida beach community. As the youngest child with four older siblings, “just the two of us” Friday nights visiting Long Key Library with her mother are treasured moments for Holly. The year is 1964. Forty-five years later, Holly will be a middle school language arts teacher pursuing a doctoral degree in English Education. Her research will reflect the lifelong passion for reading whose seeds were planted along the pathway mother and daughter traveled on their weekly visits to the local library: girls and literacy. This story – my story, is the narrative woven throughout my life. With the many changes I’ve experienced in over 50 years of living, the one constancy has always been the presence of books. Friends, confidants, sources of knowledge, laughter, and inspiration – books are my touchstones. As a doctoral candidate, I have naturally turned to books once again for my research. As a teenager in the 1970s, the women’s movement formed an important foundation for my adolescence and exploration of what it meant to be female. The words of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and others provided me with a window into a concept of womanhood I lacked from my own mother. While I will always value her for instilling in me that lifelong love of reading, my mother saw a woman’s life as defined

2 only as it related to others: wife first, then mother. The voices of the women’s movement spoke to me in ways I’d never heard before. Choices. You have choices. I look at my own daughters now and know that the society in which they grew into their own young womanhoods has changed significantly since my own days. In many ways, the walls that boxed in far too many females in my day have fallen away. Or have they? Are they gone, or have they simply changed forms? These are questions I wonder as I watch my third-year law school daughter enveloped in the latest episode of “Project Runway.” My research must reflect my passion. And so the marriage of books and women produced a study of five female adolescents reading, writing, talking … and exploring what it means to be female. Background of the Study In 1994, Mary Pipher published her groundbreaking work Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Pipher joined other voices in asking what was happening to female teenagers. Standardized tests revealed these young girls equaled or out-performed their male counterparts up until the junior high/middle school years. At that point, a dramatic decrease in scores among young women occurred – especially in the areas of math and science. Pipher pointed to a variety of reasons why the “selfhood” of adolescent girls needed saving and how this could be accomplished. A number of national movements were born in response, in part to her recommendations. “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” (now known as “Take Your Child to Work Day”) is one such event that stays with us today. “Project Ophelia” groups can also be found in cities

3 throughout the country. Female adolescent self-esteem has even become part of a national marketing campaign for Dove Soap. Sixteen years have passed since Reviving Ophelia. One wonders: How are our young girls doing now? Harvard psychology professor Dan Kindlon asked that same question. The answers he arrived at can be found in his text, Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World (2006). According to Kindlon, Pipher’s Ophelia girls have all but disappeared. They have been replaced, instead, by what he terms “Alpha Girls” – young women between the ages of 13 and 22 who are intellectually strong, self-confident, and ready to take on the world. Of course, a careful reading of Kindlon’s text reveals significant details that lead naturally to further questions. By his own admission, Kindlon’s Alpha Girls represent only about 20% of all adolescent females. How are the other 80% faring? As someone who had spent the past 15 years working with adolescents (many of whom fit Kindlon’s model of high-achieving, outwardly self-confident females), I knew that there was much more to painting a full and accurate portrait of these girls than the broad brush strokes Kindlon had employed. What had I seen in my years as a language arts teacher reading and writing with my students? Adolescents who participated enthusiastically in class discussions – the first hands raised to respond to a question are just as likely to be from girls as from boys. Working in small groups, these girls seemed to lack any hesitation in expressing their opinions -- eye-rolling and open disagreement with ideas presented by their male group members was not uncommon. If I had been a casual observer in my classroom I may have agreed with Kindlon’s assertions; I might have been tempted to join him in bidding

4 adieu to the dismal situation presented in the American Association of University Women’s 1992 study entitled “How Schools Shortchange Girls.” In Reviving Ophelia, Pipher shares the following findings from the AAUW work: In classes, boys are twice as likely to be seen as role models, five times as likely to receive teachers’ attention and twelve times as likely to speak up in class ... as children go through school, boys do better and feel better about themselves and girls’ self-esteem, opinions of their sex and scores on standardized achievement tests all decline. Girls are more likely than boys to say that they are not smart enough for their dream careers. They emerge from adolescence with a diminished sense of their worth as individuals. (1994, p. 62) But I am not a casual observer. In over 15 years as a middle school language arts teacher, I have never been merely the dispassionate dispenser of information to students. The classroom community I strove to create with my students each year meant I formed relationships with my students. I knew them. And knowing them, listening to them, I heard a narrative incongruous with Kindlon’s claims. Listening to my girls, I was far from ready to dismiss the AAUW study in favor of Kindlon’s. Kaycee’s story is one such narrative. In two years as Kaycee’s language arts teacher, I came to know her well. A passionate reader and writer, Kaycee often greeted me at the door to my classroom before school began – breathlessly urging me to read a poem or short story written the night before. About a month into her eighth grade school year, Kaycee arrived one morning with her shoulder-length hair cut so it barely brushed the nape of her neck. She smiled broadly, tousled her hair, and asked/stated, “Don’t you just love it, Miss A?” Later that night, I checked my email to find a message from

5 Kaycee with these brief instructions: “Please read my attached story. It’s sort of about me, but not really. Maybe just a little.” Titled “My Hair,” Kaycee’s personal narrative was divided into five sections: “The Beginning, “Gone,” “Why?” “The Stares,” and “Me.” Kaycee’s words reflect developmental psychologists’ view of adolescence as a time of identity exploration (Erickson, 1963, 1964, 1968; Marcia, 1966, 1980; Grotevant, 1987; Gilligan & Brown, 1992; Gilligan, Lyons & Hanmer, 1990) – and how even a haircut can be part of the ongoing process of discovering who we are and what it means to be female. Kaycee wrote, As I cautiously peered into the mirror before me, I did not recognize the person trapped inside its glassy confinements…I couldn’t believe that I had actually gone through with it, getting all of my long hair hacked off. Suddenly, a vicious thought occurred to me. My hair was shorter than most boys…My neck was now bare, my ears peeking through my “guy cut.” I started playing with it, and saw that its full potential was grand and explosive. Huge...I grasped the thought that my opinion was the only one that mattered…This was the me that I’d wanted, still wanted. Kaycee, winner of an all-state music competition, top student in her academic classes, bubbly, outgoing… and reflecting Pipher’s assertion about girls such as her: Ironically, bright and sensitive girls are most at risk for problems. They are likely to understand the implications of the media around them and be alarmed. They have the mental equipment to pick up our cultural ambivalence about women, and yet they don’t have the cognitive, emotional and social skills to handle this

6 information… It’s this attempt to make sense of the whole of adolescent experience that overwhelms bright girls (p. 43). For Kaycee, her new hairstyle was empowering. Yet that empowerment was gained through adopting what she viewed as a physical male characteristic: short hair. Through her “guy cut,” Kaycee appropriated the male-centered view of adolescent identity development (Erickson, 1963, 1964, 1968) with an emphasis on separation from others. Yet the section titled “The Stares,” reflected her discomfort with this appropriation, and the importance she continued to place on relationships – a feature of female adolescent identity development (Gilligan, Ward & Taylor, 1988; Gilligan & Brown, 1992). Kaycee wrote, People were watching me, horrific expressions on their typically dismal faces…Others, they thought I was courageous, a girl with guts. It still didn’t stop the stares from penetrating me from all angles…I peered into the mirrored windows as I strolled by them, but it was hard for me to recognize the young woman who stared back. Clearly, Kindlon’s observations needed deeper, alternative perspectives. Instead of relying solely on one-on-one interviews with adolescent girls, what would be the result if a researcher gathered a group of girls together once a week to explore gender and the issue of what it meant to be a young female today? What if the discussion centered on books? What if that discussion took various forms and included writing as well as speaking? What rich understandings would emerge? Would we find Ophelias or Alpha Girls? Perhaps both.

7 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to describe and explain selected adolescent girls’ perspectives on identity through participation in an after-school book club. Participation in a book club for the present study was defined as reading agreed-upon texts, writing personal responses to the text, attending meetings with other club members, engaging in discussions about the text with members, and writing responses following the discussions – elements often found in classroom-based small group literature discussions. While often touted as a pedagogical best practice, small group, student-centered literature discussions such as these have found favor among many elementary and middle school teachers and numerous studies have focused on the benefits for students who participate in such groups (Daniels, 2002; Raphael & McMahon, 1994). At the same time, research indicating the benefits of single-gender education, too, has led many administrators to restructure classroom populations to provide spaces for girls-only and boys-only learning (Cairns, 1990; Colley, Comber, & Hargreaves, 1994; Granleese & Joseph, 1993; Harker & Nash, 1997; Lee & Marks, 1990). Although scholars have shown the effectiveness of both literature discussion groups and single-gender learning environments, scant attention has been paid to a marriage of the two. Further, what research does exist in this area fails to adopt a sociocultural frame as Galda and Beach (2001) have advocated: “Texts, readers, and contexts, each inseparable from the other, are also inseparable from the larger contexts in which they are enacted” (p.66). Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia remains a relevant, seminal study for educators and others concerned with adolescent female development. Gilligan’s assertions about

8 adolescent females, too, are as relevant today as they were in 1992: “Girls at this time have been observed to lose their vitality, their resilience, their immunity to depression, their sense of themselves and their character.” (p. 2) Yet much of the focus of academic literature reflects a shift to males as the sole object of educators’ concerns (Pollack, 1990; Fletcher, 2006; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002), pointing to further need for studies focusing on females. I do not present these five girls participating in this study as representative of all girls, or even all adolescent girls. As a veteran teacher and a researcher, though, I know the greatest learning always comes from listening to the students themselves. Every time I do so, I come away with new insights and understandings. Even brief, hallway chats elicit ideas I’ll think about the entire drive home. In this study, therefore, I walked in the research footsteps of those who value the often-silenced voices of adolescent females (Gilligan 1982, 1993; Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Barbieri, 1995). Gilligan (1982) spoke for herself and other members of her research group who spent five years interviewing young female students at the Laurel School – listening to the voices of young girls to develop a theory of women’s psychological development – when she stated, Our claim, therefore, in presenting this work is not that the girls we spoke with are representative of all girls or some ideal sample of girls, but rather that we learned from this group of girls and young women, and what we discovered seemed worthy of others’ attention. (p. 23) And so it was my intention with this particular study to listen to and learn from a group of adolescent females as they read and discussed books and explored their identities as

9 females. Valuing the voices, I am confident that my own discoveries are “worthy of others’ attention.” Overview of the Theoretical Framework Engaging in research is a process of constantly making choices. A study describing and explaining the perspectives on identity of five eighth grade adolescent females reading literature featuring strong female protagonists in an after-school book club, and the variables that influence their perspectives experiences exploring their identities represents the overlap and intersection of multiple theories. In this study, reader response theory was the theoretical framework that informed the design, process, and analysis stages of this work. Selecting a single theory strengthened these components of the study and enabled me to address the exploratory questions clearly and directly. A more in-depth discussion of the framework is provided in Chapter Two, but a brief discussion at the onset is critical in beginning to understand the research. While reader response theory is a broad term that includes numerous contributors to its development, Louise Rosenblatt’s (1978, 1995) work is considered seminal to this area of literary criticism. According to Rosenblatt, reading is a relational, transactional event between the reader and the text. The concept of the transaction with the environment provides the model for the process in which reader and text are involved. Each becomes in a sense environment for the other. A two-way, or better, a circular, process can be postulated, in which the reader responds to verbal stimuli offered by the text, but at the same time he must draw selectively on the resources of his own fund of experience and sensibility to provide and

10 organize the substance of his response. Out of this new experience, the literary work is formed. (1978, p. 43) From this circular process, knowledge is not merely interpreted, but produced (Sumara, 2002). This knowledge includes knowledge of self. Sumara referenced Iser’s assertion that the reader-text relation involves an interpretive practice he termed a “literary anthology,” when he stated, With this phrase he (Iser) suggests that while the reader will always have an interpretation of the text she or he is reading, the interpretation itself participates in the ongoing development of the reader’s self identity. (p. 95) The tenets of reader response theory form the foundation of this study in data collection (journals, small group discussions), formulation of exploratory questions, and data analysis. Exploratory Questions In this study, I described and explained selected adolescent girls’ perspectives on identity through an after-school book club. Employing a view of female identity that is both socially situated and relationship-based (Gee, 1996, 2000; Harre´ & van Lagenhove, 1999; Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Gilligan, 1982, 1993), I considered both individual and group contexts. The questions that guided the study were the following: 1. What elements constitute selected adolescent girls’ perceptions of identity through an after-school book club? 2. What elements influence their self-identity expression?

11 Significance of the Study Reading is currently an educational hot topic – extending for the first time beyond early literacy to the secondary level. We are growing in our knowledge of how to reach and teach struggling adolescent readers (Alvermann, et al. 2000; Finn, 1999; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Moje & O’Brien, 2001), yet too often success in literacy is measured solely by performance on standardized tests. Literacy is seen 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. While this narrow definition and purpose of literacy retains a tenacious foothold, reader response theory, based on a perspective in which meaning resides not in the text, but as the result of a transaction between the reader and the text (Rosenblatt, 1978, 1995; Iser, 1978), has gained popularity as a pedagogical best practice in classrooms. Students are increasingly asked to make connections between the text and personal experiences and to write their personal interpretations of the text in journals, reflecting the influence of reader response theory. However, research has indicated that New Criticism remains firmly entrenched as a prevailing practice in secondary and undergraduate classrooms (Beach, 1993). In Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters, Dennis Sumara (2002) stated, too, that while many of the tenets of reader response theory, emphasizing the importance of literary engagement and readers forming relationships with texts, are now embraced by classroom teachers, there is much work still to do: In schooling contexts, readers have been encouraged to represent their identifications with characters and, as well, to demonstrate how these

Full document contains 284 pages
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. Semistructured 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.