Emerging Scholarly Writers: Students Give Behind-Scenes Look into the Creation of Youth-full Productions

Youth-full Productions: Cultural Practices and Constructions of Content and Social Spaces Kankana Mukhopadhyay’s father always told her experience can’t be bought, it can only be gained. Mukhopadhyay, now a Ph.D. student in human development, has learned the truth to this first-hand as she and thirteen other doctoral students at the Warner School of Education, along with Associate Professor Nancy Ares, recently moved their compilation of research from an advanced doctoral seminar in teaching and learning to publication this past year.

For all of the students in the class, this was their first time to go through the book publication process. Mukhopadhyay says, “It was an extremely positive experience of learning and collaboration. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to be an author for the first time.”

After a year and a half of meetings outside of the classroom, many at Ares’ home, the book Youth-full Productions: Cultural Practices and Constructions of Content and Social Spaces (Peter Lang Publishing), edited by Ares, was published.

Youth-full Productions comes at the subject of social and cultural practices from many angles and touches on a variety of fields of study and disciplines. From mathematics, literacy, and science learning to different theoretical ideas drawn from cultural studies, social theories, and a variety of social sciences, the chapters, written by the students in collaboration with senior scholars from Warner, the United States, and the United Kingdom, were a collection of arguments around the same theme: marginalized youth engage in cultural practices outside of school that are valuable resources for learning inside the classroom.

For some students like Alice Harnischfeger, a Ph.D. student in teaching and curriculum, the book gave them the opportunity to co-write with other colleagues for the first time ever. Harnischfeger, who collaborated with two other doctoral students, Emily Daniels and Rabia Hos, on her chapter, says the greatest experience for her was learning to co-write.

“It was a really positive experience because I find writing in a group can often present challenges, depending on people’s different writing and personality styles, and for the three of us it was positive because we each brought different things to it and we were all cooperative and easy to work with so it was a fun experience,” explains Harnischfeger who taught in K-12 schools for 26 years before coming to Warner.

Harnischfeger, whose chapter on youth as active agents closely mirrors the direction of her own dissertation research, says that she hopes the book helps others to see youth as being culturally and socially rich students who have a lot of assets and agency. “When we look at problems in school, we’re often looking at them from the deficit model,” she says. “I don’t think we go to kids enough. We try to solve problems without going to them initially, and I think they can tell us so much more.”

The chapters, which originated in a spring seminar taught by Ares and co-designed by her students, began to evolve when students chose fields to focus on that for the most part aligned with their research interests. Former high school English teacher Burke Scarbrough, on the other hand, is an example of how his chapter diverged from his own dissertation interests to focus on a new discipline, mathematics.

“It seemed like a daunting subject area, particularly about what youth bring, because there are such strong ideas about math is what you do in school,” says Scarbrough, who is a teaching and curriculum Ph.D. student at Warner. “I took this on as a challenge.”

Scarbrough had an opportunity to play an even larger role as the only student author of the chapter, “Numeracy and Youth Cultural Practices.”

“In my case, it was a wonderfully positive experience of feedback from my two senior scholar writers and also a lot of freedom and control of putting the chapter together,” he adds. “It was a nice supportive structure for me to put together an argument, but also knowing that they as senior scholars in this field weren’t going to let me fail.”

The experience also gave him an opportunity to see what connections among disciplines and fields are available and to look at these social and cultural theories more broadly, not just to think about what they mean for literacy, but to think about what they mean for different school subjects and for youth in general. “It was a great chance for me to apply some of the theories that I really care about more broadly than just to the one subject area that I have a professional background in so that was really useful,” he explains.

Relatively few studies focusing on students struggling with school have actually looked at what kids are up to in their lives, what type of relevant math, science, or literacy is taking place outside of school, and more importantly why they are good at it. “Our approach focuses on what youth are already doing and figures out what that means for these concerns we have about what they are not doing,” says Scarbrough. “It is important that we start with what kids are already up to, figuring out why it works, why it’s important, and why they are successful at it. When learning works, it’s always because we are making connections to where youth come from.”

Giving doctoral students the opportunity to publish and take a lead to be first authors in work for publication is an important part of academia that is not built into many graduate programs, but Scarbrough says that Warner comes closer to making this a part of the experience for doctoral students than any place he’s seen.

“This opportunity merely grew out of students joining a class and a professor acknowledging that our work was more important than simply being filed away with a grade assigned to it. That was really meaningful for me,” he adds.

The Warner School is committed to supporting and preparing doctoral students for successful future careers as scholars. “By providing students with ways to capitalize on opportunities at Warner, such as collaborating on research, presenting at a conference, and getting published, we are not only enhancing their doctoral experience, but we are giving them a competitive edge when they look for jobs and supporting their development of ideas, research agendas, and professional networks that can be expanded throughout their careers,” adds Ares, who helped guide students and their senior scholars throughout the publication process.

Contact: Theresa Danylak
(585) 275-0777

Tags: doctoral student, doctoral student experience, Nancy Ares