Queering the curriculum: Critical literacy and numeracy for social justice Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Pennell, Summer
    • Affiliation: School of Education
  • For this post-critical ethnography and Participatory Action Research (PAR) study I collaboratively developed and studied a middle school social justice course with students in fifth through seventh grade, called Math for a Cause. This study used a combination of several theoretical frameworks: social justice pedagogy, queer pedagogy, critical literacy, and critical math. Much of the research on critical literacy has focused on literacy within single disciplines, making the interdisciplinary combination of literacy with math in a social justice-focused class a unique contribution to the field. Furthermore, this is one of few queer pedagogy studies with middle school students. I created the curriculum for the twice-weekly course (which met for a ten-week trimester) with a collaborating teacher and a fellow doctoral student specializing in critical math. Students used critical literacy skills to research social justice topics, learned to ‘read’ numerical data like traditional print text, and created and solved their own math problems from this research. In addition to collecting student work, taking field notes, and writing reflections after each class, I conducted interviews with: a student focus group prior to the course design; four focal students twice during the course; the collaborating teacher; and a focus group with teachers at the school. I collected and transcribed audio recordings from student group work, wrote analytic memos after each of our three units, and recorded reflective conversations with my collaborator. I analyzed the data set with open and deductive coding using MaxQDA software. Findings revealed that queering critical literacy along with math allows students to have a broader, more abstract view of knowledge and learning, which in turn allows them to engage in critical inquiry. Student learning stemmed from what I call processing, an enactment which incorporated dialogue, reflection, and engaged play. Through processing, three major interlocking themes emerged: resisting the average (learning that an ‘average’—a social norm or a mathematical average— is not always best, and does not represent the full picture); recognizing the puzzle (learning to see the world and their own knowledge in abstract ways and to ask ‘why?’); and abandoning closure (learning that there is no one right answer or way of solving problems). This implies that using an inquiry-based and student-led curriculum that challenges assumptions can help students embrace new concepts and engage in learning in a sophisticated manner. This study also shows that collaboration is possible, and valuable, between seemingly disparate disciplines such as math and literacy. Implications are discussed for both teacher educators and practicing educators.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Noblit, George W.
  • Trier, James
  • Bettez, Silvia
  • Hughes-Hassell, Sandra
  • Bolick, Cheryl
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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