Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

James Kirylo


This study examined the effects of a combined reader-response and close reading approach to social justice poetry on the empathy levels of secondary level English Language Arts students in my classroom. This action research study occurred over a six-week period during a Fall 2021 English elective course with six student participants in a high school within South Carolina. Research was conducted via a mixed methods approach that analyzed both quantitative and qualitative data from prestudy and poststudy Likert scales along with surveys, interviews, observation notes, and artifacts. The data revealed that student empathy levels were elevated after the study unit despite initial student antipathy towards poetry. The powerful and accessible focus of social justice poems along with a primarily reader-response-based approach likely served as a catalyst for this change. Offering students timely and relevant poetry while favoring a student-centered analysis model allows them to consider and relate to perspectives outside of their everyday lived experience and subsequently grow in their understanding of the “other,” which in this study resulted in increased levels of empathetic thinking.