University of Illinois at Chicago

Nurturing Student Agency: Pedagogical Structures Emerging Through Co-Teaching

Download (1.62 MB)
posted on 2022-08-01, 00:00 authored by Jenna N Koritsaris
Science classrooms continue to privilege narrow conceptions of science, and students of color are frequently identified by teachers as disengaged or uninterested in science–part of a deficit narrative socially constructed over time. In this design-based research study, I explored the development and implementation of culturally relevant and justice-centered science curriculum and pedagogy in my Assisted Biology class with mostly students of color, and specifically: (a) how student involvement in the planning and implementation of science lessons unfolded and supported expressions of student agency; and (b) how students used knowledge gained within the science classroom, in conjunction with their own experiences and interests, to shape and interrogate structures in the science classroom and in society. The conceptual framework that guided this study was built on several theoretical perspectives including conceptions of equity in science education, science identity construction of students of color, the structure-agency dialectic, and justice centered, culturally relevant, and reality pedagogies. A first round of data collection occurred in the first semester of a school year during the energy unit, and a second as students worked on their second-semester-long Ted Talk projects. Several themes emerged that captured ways in which structures and student agency intermingled. Co-generative dialogue, small group work, and student designed and facilitated lessons fostered relationships and built community within the science classroom, bringing issues of social justice to surface and guiding the transformation of the science curriculum. Students’ development of their own Ted Talks on topics of interest and passion, with peer and teacher support and guidance, offered them opportunities to not only address social injustices and oppressive structures, but also develop and express both representational and residential agency. Expressions of agency became more common and strengthened as the year went on, eventually including expressions of residential agency. Narratives composed on four students’ ways of engaging in science class showed varied forms of evolution of agency expression. Student designed and facilitated lessons, supported by the creation of a comfortable classroom community, helped create a cosmopolitan science classroom. Implications for research, practice, and policy are discussed in the context of the study’s findings and conclusions.



Varelas, Maria


Varelas, Maria


Curriculum and Instruction

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Phillips, Nathan Thomas, Michael Mitchener, Carole P Morales-Doyle, Daniel

Submitted date

August 2022

Thesis type



  • en

Usage metrics


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager