Performative Youth: The Literacy Possibilities of De-essentializing Adolescence

May 04, 2020
By Educator Innovator

Our May reading for the 2019-20 Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN Marginal Syllabus describes what happens when educators and youth partner together to explore historically situated views of adolescence. This article details the ways in which one educator, Rachel (a pseudonym), redesigned her AP English curriculum to support students in reading a variety of texts using a “Youth Lens” (Petrone, Sarigianides, & Lewis, 2004). Rachel’s instructional and curricular innovations helped familiarize students with the genealogy of adolescence, understand the ways that discourses around adolescents/adolescence function in the world, question the implications of these discourses for themselves and their peers, and explore the possibilities for performance and taking action. Sophia Sarigianides examines the effects of enabling students to access these alternative discourses and describes what emerged in the context of one literacy classroom.

This is the seventh month of LEARN 2019-20, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month of the 2019-2020 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published in four different NCTE journals, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the the 2019-20 syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by the National Writing Project.

May topic: What is possible when youth are asked to engage in the discourse about what is meant by “adolescence”?

For Atticus, learning that thinkers reshaped their ideas of adolescence at a specific time unsettled the idea of adolescence as a stable life stage, as an inevitable “truth.” With this new information, Atticus had more questions: What were youth people like or how were they thought before all these changes to the concept?

Performative Youth: The Literacy Possibilities of De-essentializing Adolescence

As part of our close study of this text, Sophia Tatiana Sarigianides joined the Marginal Syllabus team to talk about her article and broader research about youth, adolescence, and the implications of her work for youth agency and learning in literacy education.

In May, we read about Rachel, an educator whose interest in young adult literature led her to question how youth are described in literary texts, as well as how adolescence has been historically and culturally constructed. Based on learning from Sarigianides in a graduate course, Rachel takes up this question with her students and engages them with both academic research and an analysis of YA literature. Through Rachel and her students’ reading and analysis in their AP English course, the youth start to form an understanding of the discourses of adolescence, how these discourses function in the world and their impact on youth, as well as how to develop their own performances of “adolescence” that they then share through action research projects for a University audience. The research presented here unpacks both the learning as reported by the students as well as the curriculum structures designed by Rachel and her reflections.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “Performative Youth: The Literacy Possibilities of De-essentializing Adolescence,” and annotate the text with your own thoughts, reactions, and questions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month of May. We also encourage you to use this reading and the opportunity to annotate however the Marginal Syllabus best suits your interests—organize a study group among colleagues, bring a class you are teaching to participate in this online discussion either publicly or privately, engage as an individual, or connect this text and conversation to other interest-driven activities.