Research on Effective Teaching and Learning: Using Literacy Education to Empower Young Citizens

Dr. Nicole Mirra was awarded an NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. Dr. Mirra’s research on Digital Democratic Dialogue: Re-Imagining Youth Civic Engagement through Participatory Politics aims to facilitate the re-design of civic education curriculum and instruction in public schools to foster equity and social action.


Her research interests lie at the intersection of literacy and civic engagement and how these two fields interact across classroom, community, and digital learning spaces.

“I believe that literacy skills are important not only for college and career but also for cultivating the next generation of leaders in civic life,” said Dr. Mirra. “Much of my research and writing has emerged from the tradition of Youth Participatory Action Research in which young people are not the objects of research but rather are conducting research themselves on issues that are important to them in their daily life. They are really using literacy to uplift their voices and the voices of their community to advocate for change, which I find powerful.”

Dr. Mirra’s research interests were inspired by her experience as a classroom teacher. She taught English at the high school level and, while she initially believed that her role was to transmit her love of literature to her students, she quickly realized that she had a much bigger responsibility to her students.

By listening to her students, she learned that many felt that their knowledge and points of view were not being valued outside the classroom in public life. “And so I began my work to guide them to use their literacy skills to advocate for themselves and their communities,” stated Dr. Mirra.

Dr. Mirra is collaborating with six high school English teachers across the country on the Digital Democratic Dialogue (3D) Project. This study connects students and teachers via interactive digital media platforms so that they can discuss specific civic issues that concern them, and wonder together about how to form a new kind of democratic dialogue that is more compassionate than what is often seen in our nation’s politics.

“The 3-D project really challenges the idea that schools are the training ground for the real world – schools are in fact the real world,” said Dr. Mirra. “Young people are coming to class deeply interested in their society. They are troubled by what they see and want to learn how to do better. Sometimes as teachers we get lost in the minutia of the day-to-day grind of teaching, and I try to use my research to remind us that our work should be oriented to helping young people achieve their full potential not just personally or professionally but civically as well.”

“I have been working with the teachers in the 3D project to collaboratively write curricula, blog posts, and a book about our work together,” said Dr. Mirra. “My vision is that in a decade there will be more collaborations like this between university professors and educators, and that all teachers realize that their role in the classroom goes beyond teaching a single subject and extends to empowering the next generation of citizens.”