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Cynthia J Lewis

Summary of Expertise

Critical sociocultural theory; Critical literacy; Identity, emotion & learning; Critical discourse analysis; Classroom discourse; Classroom ethnography; Literary response and English education.

Research Interests

My research draws on critical sociocultural theory to examine the following:

1.  how identity, agency, and power shape learning.

2.  how educational inequities are produced through micro-interactions

3.  how classroom interaction can be leveraged to support equity, access, and opportunities to learn.

4.   the sociocultural dimensions of literacy learning in and out of school, with a special focus on critical literacy and critical media analysis and production

I have conducted classroom ethnographies based on partnerships with schools and teachers in both urban and rural settings. These studies address macro-level issues related to equity, access, and opportunities to learn through detailed analyses of patterns of classroom discourse. Recent publications have focused on the role of emotion in students’ critical engagement with media texts and ideas. My current research uses Cultural Historical Activity Theory to examine the role of interaction and other components of activity across school, library, and community settings when digital media creation is central to engagement in learning. 


Biography, Education and Training

Ph.D. University of Iowa, Language, Literacy, and Culture
M.A. University of Iowa, English (emphasis on nonfiction writing)
B.S. University of Illinois, English Education

Honors, Awards and Grants

I have served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Literacy Research Association, the executive board of the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy (NCRLL), a member of the Standing Committee on Research (NCTE), and President of the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research (NCTEAR).

I have served on the editorial advisory boards for all of the primary literacy research journals, currently serving on the boards for Research in the Teaching of English and The Journal of Literacy Research. I also serve on the editorial board of Critical Issues in Language Studies and Education Sciences In the past, I have served on the editorial board of Reading Research Quarterly, Written Communication, Pedagogies, an International Journal.

I have won awards for my leadership (Educational Leadership Award, University of Minnesota) teaching (Robert H. Beck Faculty Teaching Award, University of Minnesota), advising/mentorship (AERA, Division G Mentoring Award and the Outstanding Academic Adviser Award, University of Minnesota), and scholarship (Promising Researcher Award from NCTE; The Edward B. Fry Book Award from the Literacy Research Association, awarded twice for two different books). I also was the recipient of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship.

My research has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the W.T. Grant Foundation.

Selected Publications



de Roock, R. S. & Lewis, C. (2024). Literacy, racial capitalism, and the politics of good feeling, Race Ethnicity and Education, DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2024.2323783.


McLean, C., Lewis, C., & Pandya, J.Z. (2022). Critical literacy in theUnited States of America: Provocations for an anti-racist Education. In J.Z. Pandya, R. A. Mora, J. Alford, N. A Golden & R. S. de Roock (Eds.). The critical literacies handbook (pp. 245-253). New York: Routledge.


Lewis, C. Crampton, A., & Scharber, C. (2021). The sociocultural role of imagination in critical digital literacy. Pedagogies: An International Journal.


Lewis, C. (2021). Heteroglossia, Emotion, and the Transformation of Signs. In D. Sumara & D.E. Alvermann (Eds). Idease that changed literacy practices: first-person accounts from leading voices. Gorham, ME: Myers Education Press.


Casanova, S., Blanco, V. A., Takimoto, A., Vazquez, A., Covarrubias, R., London, R., Azmitia, M. & Lewis, C. (2021). Learning in the counterspace of not school. Educational Studies, 57:5, 459-475. 

Lewis, C. (2020). Emotion, critical literacy, and the transformation of signs: The fundamentals of language arts. Language Arts 


Crampton, A. & Lewis, C. (2020). Artists as catalysts: The ethical and political possibilities of teaching artists in literacy classrooms. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 19(4).

Lewis, C., & Bigelow, M. (2019). Mobilizing and languaging emotion for critical media literacy.  In R. Beach & D. Bloome (Eds.), Languaging relations across social worlds: Retheorizing the teaching and learning of literacy and the language arts. New York: Routledge.

Ngo, B., Lewis, C. & Maloney Leaf, B. (2017). Fostering sociopolitical consciousness with minoritized youth: Insights from community-based arts programs. Special issue on “Disrupting inequality through educational research.” Review of Research in Education,1, 358-380. 


Crampton, A., Lewis, C., & Tierney, J. D. (2017). Proper distance and the hope of cosmopolitanism in a classroom discussion about race. In R. Naqvi and J. Rowsell (Eds.), Literacy lives in transcultural times. New York: Routledge.


Majors, Y, Lewis, C., Tierney, R., & Beach R. (2017).  Moving forward with exceptional literacy research amidst educational policy changes. Journal of Literacy Research, 49, 302-313. 


Lewis, C.  & Crampton, A. (2016). Emotion as mediated action in doing research on learning. In M. Zembylas and P.A. Schutz (eds.), Methodological advances in research on emotion and education (pp. 137-150). New York: Springer Publishing.


Lewis, C. & Crampton, A. (2015). Literacy, emotion, and the teaching/learning body. In G. Enriques, E. Johnson, S.
Kontovourki, & C. Mallozzi (eds.), Literacies, learning, and the body: Bringing research and theory into
pedagogical practice (pp. 125-131). New York: Routledge.


Ketter, J. & Lewis, C. (2015). Stabilizing and destabilizing the “ideal” teacher in a rural teacher book group: Protective guide, moral exemplar, and purveyor of middle class values. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 12, 77-109.


Lewis, C. & Causey, L. (2015). Critical engagement in digital media studies: A nexus of practice. In E. Morrell & E. Scherff (Eds.), New Directions in Teaching English: Reimagining Teaching, Teacher Education, and ResearchNew York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.


Boldt, G., Lewis, C., Leander, K. (2015). Moving, feeling, desiring, teaching. Forum. Research in the Teaching of English, 49, 430-441. 


Lewis, C., Pyscher, T., & Stutelberg, E. (2014). Critical sociocultural perspectives in English education. In J. Brass & A. Webb (Eds.), Reclaiming English language arts methods courses: Critical Issues and Challenges for Teacher Educators in Top-Down Times (pp. 22-39). New York: Routledge.


Lewis, C. & Tierney, J. D. (2013). Mobilizing emotion in an urban classroom: Producing identities and transforming signs in a race-related discussion. Linguistics and Education, 23, 289-304.


Lewis, C., Doerr-Stevens, C., & Tierney, J. D., Scharber, C. (2012). Negotiating identities in the market economy: An analysis of critical literacy and media production.  In J. Avila & J. Zacher Pandya (Eds.), Critical digital literacies as social praxis: Intersections and challenges. New York: Peter Lang.


Lewis, C. & Ketter, J.  (2011/2004).  Learning as social interaction: Interdiscursivity in a teacher-researcher book group.  In R. Rogers (Ed.), An introduction to critical discourse analysis in education (pp. 117-146).  New York: Routledge. 2ndEdition.


Lewis, C., & Dockter, J. (2010). Reading literature in secondary school: Disciplinary discourses in global times. In S. Wolf, K. Coats, P. Enciso, & C. A. Jenkins (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. New York: Routledge.


Lewis, C., & del Valle, A. (2008).  Literacy and identity: Implications for research and practice. In Christenbury, L., Bomer, R., & Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent literacy research (pp. 307-322).  New York: Guilford Press.


Lewis, C., Enciso, P., & Moje, E.  (Eds.) (2007).  Reframing sociocultural research on literacy: Identity, Agency, and Power.  New York: Routledge. Awarded 2007 Edward B. Fry Book Award, Literacy Research Association.


Lewis, C.  (2001).  Literary practices as social acts:  Power, status, and cultural norms in the classroom. New York: Routledge. Awarded 2002 Edward B. Fry Book Award, Literacy Research Association.

Teaching Interests

I enjoy working with students at all levels. At the undergraduate level, I have taught courses on language and learning, the social contexts of learning, and literacy research and practice.  At the masters level, I have taught research and practice in the teaching of English and writing , classroom interaction, and ideology in young adult literature.  At the PhD level I have taught courses on sociocultural learning theory, critical discourse analysis, and research on classroom discourse.