Through my scholarship, I seek to understand the sets of conditions that support minoritized adolescent learners as they work to (re)position themselves along desired life pathways and storylines. This research agenda necessitates investigation of the undesired ways learners might be socially positioned in particular learning spaces based on their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, location, or linguistic resources, among other categories of identity, but does not end here. While existing scholarship has documented the negative effects these undesired positioning practices can have on learners, my agenda hones in on what I term "(re)positioning": the identity work minoritized adolescent scholars do to be "read" in particular ways and achieve their preferred outcomes. Growing from this empirical work are additional research interests in critical literacy practices and approaches to a justice-oriented teacher education that can connect with and support learners’ desires and (re)positioning work.
The need for research on student (re)positioning stems from the fact that adolescent scholars of color in urban schools are often framed as "at-risk" in a way that locates deficiencies in people as opposed to social processes. Although my scholarship is focused on these social processes and is not restricted to a type of learning environment, I am particularly interested in researching alternative learning spaces due to the ways that learners are often positioned within these environments. More often than not, deficit models positioning working-class and poor adolescent scholars of color as intrinsically lacking are used to account for disparities in academic achievement in these educational programs. Alternative education spaces are variously termed "second-chance" schools, continuation schools, or vocational programs, and the learners are often referred to as "over-age/under-credited" youth in the research and policy literature. In U.S. educational systems, there are more than 600,000 adolescents in such learning spaces, which primarily serve students ages 16-21 who have previously been, for a multitude of reasons, unsuccessful in formal education. The assumption of innate deficiencies can limit the potential to earn an education that allows one to fully participate in civic, communal, and economic life. Furthermore, these learners are the least likely to receive learning opportunities that engage critical literacy, understood here as the analysis, critique, and potential transformation of processes and systems that shape everyday life, opportunity, and what counts as knowledge. Critical literacy has the potential to support efforts to (re)position oneself when facing undesired interpellations of who one is or might become. My scholarship is predicated upon the conviction that the experiences and understandings of these young scholars can meaningfully inform critical literacy praxis and a teacher education that is responsive to learners’ needs and desires. Further, this scholarship contributes to broader debates on how to work towards equity and justice in and through education.
This research agenda emerges from 15 years of practitioner work as a secondary literacy educator and teacher coach in New York City. Teaching and mentoring teachers of working-class and poor youth of color in urban schools, I became interested in the identity work of high-performing adolescents as well as young learners with much potential for excellence. Some of these learners would say things like "I'm not a good enough student to go to college," despite strong academic achievement. Existing scholarship points to resistance to continuing colonizing practices, the internalizing of low expectations, lack of access to academic support and resources, or ethno-racialized, classed, or gendered (among other) discourses of who gets to be seen as a worthy or strong student as the explanatory locus for such utterances. The understandings and experiences of the adolescent scholars themselves remain largely absent from this body of research, and my agenda seeks to build knowledge on how these young people understand themselves to be positioned within educational disparity discourse. More importantly, my research seeks to highlight the resources, including literacies, that adolescent scholars employ as they work to (re)position themselves along desired storylines of who they are. As multiple factors can cultivate, enable, or restrain student (re)positioning, my scholarship also investigates enactments of critical literacies (including digital and media literacies), language ideologies, justice-oriented teacher education, teacher agency and activism, and culturally responsive pedagogies. My empirical research thus contributes to the specific fields of adolescent literacy, urban education, and English education.
Peer-reviewed Conference Presentations