Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Allen Webb, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jonathan Bush, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ashley Boyd, Ph.D.


English literature, teaching


This dissertation presents researched backed, social justice oriented teaching strategies secondary English teachers can implement to encourage their students to think critically and take action on issues that matter to them. Foundational to this research is critical inquiry which encourages students to not read or listen to information passively, but rather to investigate, critique, explore, and ask questions of what they are reading. This approach is necessary when encouraging students to dispel myths and stereotypes, understand questions of rights and justice, and find the right way to be involved. The English classroom is an ideal place for students to do this work because they read texts that present ideas that are reflected in the real world. This dissertation addresses canonical and young adult literature, and other potential classroom texts including media, film, and historical documents and studies.

Chapter One: Background and Key Concepts for Teaching with a Justice-Oriented Approach describes the purposes and opportunities of schooling and key concepts that will be explored in each chapter. Chapter Two: Reading The Outsiders Through a Social Class Lens: Using Critical Inquiry to Investigate Causes of Social Class Inequality presents strategies for teaching the novel The Outsiders and encouraging students to ask questions about social class inequality and dispel myths and stereotypes. Chapter Three: Night, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I am Malala: The Power of the Public Narrative details teaching strategies for teaching the Holocaust narrative Night by Elie Wiesel. The chapter suggests pairing the book with other powerful narratives and assigning a public narrative as a writing assignment. This genre of writing allows students to reflect on their own circumstances, name issues that they face, and imagine steps that can be taken to create a more equitable society.

Chapter Four: Representation and Power: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Marrow Thieves is about representation and perspective in texts. The chapter encourages teachers and students to ask important questions about whose perspective books portray and how that representation can at times be problematic if stories silence voices. Finally, Chapter Five: Possibilities and Challenges for New Social Justice Teachers: Goals and Concerns of Preservice and Early Career Teachers looks at secondary English teachers embarking on social justice teaching. The chapter features interviews conducted with preservice teachers as they were being prepared for social justice teaching during methods courses, internships, and during their first year teaching as they reflected on how they were prepared and then implemented strategies to be social justice teachers.

Drawing upon theory, scholarly research, the author’s own teaching experiences, and interviews conducted with preservice and early career teachers, this dissertation addresses effective and applicable strategies for social justice teaching in secondary English. The teaching ideas will help students to be critical readers and thinkers, effective writers and speakers, and empowered to take action in social issues they see and experience.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access