Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Bárbara C. Cruz, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl R. Ellerbrock, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarah M. Kiefer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen J. Thornton, Ph.D.


Advanced Placement, Civics Education, Curriculum Design, Social Studies


As technological advances provide minute-by-minute updates of current events and personalized media feeds push the boundaries of political polarization, the task of social studies educators to provide students with the tools to become effective citizens becomes increasingly important. Undergirded by theories of psychosocial identity development, civic identity development, and the promotion of identity exploration in the academic curriculum, this qualitative multiple case study attempts to examine the processes of adolescent identity exploration and civic identity development in relation to the assignments and activities in a twelfth-grade Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government classroom. Classroom observations, teacher and student interviews, and artifact collection over the course of a three-month research period informed the development of individual case studies and cross-case analysis. The findings in this study demonstrate support for Rubin’s (2007) civic identity typology, and also indicate that the frequent use of whole class discussion was supportive of identity exploration for students in different statuses of civic identity. Additionally, all participants perceived support from their AP U.S. Government teacher and reported enhanced identity positions and more active attitudes toward civic participation at the conclusion of the research period. The findings suggest that the promotion of identity exploration in the social studies classroom is both possible and practical, but require intentional teaching. The study recommends the frequent and purposeful use of whole class discussion of controversial issues in the social studies classroom, and an awareness and appreciation for adolescent identity exploration in the development of social studies curriculum and classroom activities.