Supporting Rural Adolescent Voices in the Secondary English Language Arts Classroom

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this qualitative study was to employ a sociocultural, anti-deficit, and dialogic rural theoretical framework to examine the ways teachers seek to support the lived experiences of rural adolescent students in the secondary English language arts classroom as students make meaning with the content of the curriculum. This study worked with the social constructs of rurality (Azano, 2011; Azano and Biddle, 2019; Corbett, 2007; Gruenewald, 2008), critical literacy (Freire, 1990, 2018; Gee, 1990), and learning-centered pedagogy (Fecho et al., 2021) to develop insights into ways that teachers navigate opportunities and challenges in contemporary rural schools. The study focused on secondary English language arts teachers teaching in rural school districts. The participant selection criteria included being employed fulltime as an English language arts teacher at a secondary rural high school, having taught for at least three years, and identifying as teaching from a learning-centered pedagogical stance. All three participants taught at rural North Carolina high schools. The method used was adapted from the three-phase interview approach (Seidman, 1990), with an intake interview, a midpoint interview, and a final interview. The midpoint interview was adapted to consist of three separate post-classroom observation interviews. The post-classroom observation interviews were preceded each round by a co-planning lesson and a classroom observation. There were three stages of data generation, spanning from February 2021 to May 2021. To learn about participants' experiences supporting rural student voices, triangulation (Guba and Lincoln, 1981) was used through multiple data sources: teacher interviews, collaborative lesson planning, classroom observations, post-observation conferences, field notes, memos, and email correspondences. Thematic analysis (Maxwell, 2013) was used to analyze and code the data. From the data analysis, three understandings were generated about the ways in which rural English language arts teachers support students in the classroom. Participants were (1) supporting student voice through instructional design, (2) attending to biases and seeking to dialogue within the classroom, and (3) utilizing lived experiences and literacies. The implications of the study include that rural students can face stereotypes due to the deficit mindset of rurality (Azano et al., 2021a, 2021b, Azano and Biddle, 2019; Theobald and Wood, 2010) and that the utilization of bringing their lived experiences into the classroom can serve as a means to help them make meaning with the content of the classroom. The English language arts classroom can be a space for students to be supported through the use of a learning-centered stance that seeks to collapse traditional hierarchies in the classroom (Fecho et al., 2021).



rural education, secondary English education, English language arts, student voice, rural literacies, place