"What if this really happened?" Using critical literacy practices and dystopian fiction to mediate self-efficacy with at-risk readers




Wilcox, Sherri Kirkland

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At-risk students are oftenn unmotivated and disengaged from literacy activities. They are sometimes below grade level and feel inadequate to accomplish the complex reading tasks with which they are confronted in high school; therefore, they often will not even attempt to do the work (Bandura, 1986). Students who are assigned to a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) are at-risk not only due to the commonly cited factors such as being a member of a minority culture, being Limited English Proficient, or having low socioeconomic status, but also for behavior issues which require their removal from their home campus. This action research study was conducted in order to determine what happens to these students’ self-efficacy for reading and their identity as readers when critical literacy practices were used in combination with dystopian fiction.

Two published tools were used to gather information regarding students’ self-efficacy and identity as readers at the beginning of the study, student artifacts were collected and analyzed throughout the study, interviews with small groups were recorded and transcribed, and notes were collected during individual conversations with students.

Field notes were kept of observations during the study. A reflexive research diary was kept during the planning of the research project and to maintain records of my thinking as a researcher. Also a daily journal was maintained during the classroom teaching phase of the research project. The data were coded using the elements of critical literacy as outlined by Lewison, Flint, and Van Sluys (2002) as well as for self-efficacy, identity, engagement, and motivation as readers. Open coding was used to identify additional trends and patterns.

Themes of the findings are as follows: high school students who are at-risk in two or more areas are often behind in skill level from their peers, but want to feel like a successful part of a community of readers; these at-risk students need reading tasks that are relevant, interesting, and important in order for them to be motivated to attempt the tasks; and these students are motivated to try again once they have experienced real success at literacy tasks that are appropriate to their age and grade level.



Education, At-risk, Critical literacy, Dystopian fiction, Motivation and engagement, Reading identity, Self-efficacy