Expanding Tolerances for Wobble: Pushing Through Tensions to Provide Critical Literacy Pedagogy
Secondary English language arts (ELA) teachers are in unique positions to support their students in critical literacy practices so youth can use reading and writing to advocate for social change and use what they learn in class to make the world more equitable (Morrell, 2005; 2008). This is possible if secondary ELA teachers embrace the full liberatory potential of their subject and if they intentionally enact critical literacy pedagogy (Morrell, 2008; 2017). Unfortunately, current sociopolitical discourse surrounding teaching, particularly surrounding what texts are deemed appropriate to be included in schools (see Limbong, 2022; Stout, 2022), and the outcry against the alleged teaching of critical race theory in secondary classrooms (see Colarossi, 2021) mean Secondary ELA teachers hoping to provide critical literacy pedagogy must do so in subversive ways (Dyches et al., 2020). Teaching against an increasingly restrictive status quo causes tensions for teachers (Borsheim & Petrone, 2006).
When teachers experience tension in their teaching practice, they can respond in ways that support their professional growth (Fecho et al., 2005). Therefore, in an effort to support current and future secondary ELA teachers in providing critical literacy pedagogy, even in oppressive teaching contexts, this study used a multiple-case study design (Yin, 2018) and Fecho and colleagues’ (2005) concept of wobble (i.e., tensions teachers experience) to seek to understand what wobbles teachers experience as they try to enact critical literacy pedagogy, how they respond to their wobbles, and how they expand their tolerances for wobble to continue providing their students with opportunities to engage in critical literacy.
Using qualitative methods (Merriam, 1988), data were collected during 12 semi-structured interviews and over 20 classroom observations of each of the three participating teachers’ literacy instruction. Additional data were gathered through transcriptions of audio-recorded classroom observations and daily email debrief conversations with each participating teacher. Data were coded using initial coding, axial coding, and theoretical coding processes (Charmaz, 2014; Saldaña, 2016). Theoretical coding and cross-case analysis (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) produced the study’s findings, which expand Fecho and colleagues’ (2005) theory of wobble.
This dissertation provides insights into the tensions, or wobbles, secondary ELA teachers committed to providing critical literacy pedagogy (CLP) in restrictive teaching contexts may experience. It also provides insights into potential productive ways for secondary ELA teachers to respond to their tensions so they can remain committed to CLP. Additionally, this dissertation provides implications for teacher preparation programs, as well as for administrators and school districts to support their ELA teachers in working toward fulfilling the liberatory potential of English language arts instruction.