"From Fact to Fiction to Action: Generating Prosocial Attitudes and Behaviors Using Young Adult Literature" Alice Hays PhD Defense
Committee: James Blasingame (Chair), Sybil Durand, Beverly Chin. :: ABSTRACT: This dissertation investigates the impact reading Young Adult Literature (YAL) has on students' empathetic responses as well as their capacity to take action regarding a social justice issue chosen by the student. Drawing on data from a 10th grade honors classroom at a Title 1 school in the Southwest, this ethnographic case study investigates how students use YAL to formulate knowledge construction, empathetic responses, action plans and personal healing. Data for this research includes ethnographic fieldnotes, semi-structured participant interviews, daily journals and a focus group interview. Throughout this study, the teacher and researcher worked together to develop a flexible curriculum that implemented YAL and social activist ideas, such as investigation into action plans and discussion surrounding ways to make change. Results demonstrate that students who had some prior experience with an issue, coupled with identification with a helper character from the novel were more inclined to attempt to take tangible, victim-focused action, whereas students with no prior experience with an issue or those who identified overtly with the victim in the novel were likely to create action plans that spread awareness for others who were unaware of the complexities of the issue. Additionally, the students who had little exposure to the social justice issue they chose demonstrated a level of productive discomfort and a shift in the way they perceived the complexities of the issue. The importance of YAL in the students' social and emotional growth, coupled with an opportunity to create civically minded citizens signals the growing importance of this type of literature in a socially minded world.