Date of Award

Summer July 2009

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Marta Baltodano

Second Advisor

Martin T. Connell, S.J

Third Advisor

Yvette V. Lapayese


The purpose of this youth participatory action research (YPAR) project was to challenge the pedagogy of traditional literacy instruction for low-income Latino/a students, particularly the overuse of scripted curricula and standardized tests mandated through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Twelve student participants served as co-teachers and co-researchers as they created, implemented, and evaluated a critical literacy class based on the theoretical frameworks of critical pedagogy and critical literacy and the methodology of youth participatory action research (YPAR).

The YPAR Critical Literacy Group and research took place at one of a network of small, independent-study alternative schools called Future Horizons Charter High School (FHCHS, a pseudonym), located in southern California. Critical pedagogy and critical literacy formed a theoretical foundation upon which the students and teacher built a class based on the tenets of dialogue, problem-posing, and generative themes based on the interests of the student co-researchers. This alternative practice of co-creating knowledge with students was paramount in facilitating young peoples’ learning to think critically about their positionality within their political and social spheres. Critical literacy does not focus simply on the development of decoding and comprehension skills for reading, but students of critical literacy must “read the word and the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1997), grounding their acquisition of literacy skills through their own experiences and social contexts. This research examined the capacity of critical literacy and YPAR methodology to transform both learner and teacher.

The YPAR Critical Literacy Group at FHCHS positively impacted the student coresearchers. Elements of qualitative research, including interviews and transcription positively impacted the students co-researchers’ traditional literacy skills. Student coresearchers evaluated the course as a positive experience throughout, and engaged in and comprehended texts far above their traditionally-defined decoding and reading comprehension reading levels. Attendance and engagement in the class for the 4-month period was consistently higher in the critical literacy class than in other reading classes offered at the school. The students experienced preliminary transformation and early stages of critical consciousness from the beginning to the end of the course, evidenced by the evolution of their reflective writings and progressively sophisticated analyses of social injustice at the school and within the broader community.