Supporting Interests and Sharing Power: Insights from a Scottish Youth Program


  • Daniela Kruel DiGiacomo University of Kentucky



interest-driven learning, adult–youth relations, relational pedagogy, youth development


Light Up Learning (LUL) is a youth program in Scotland that supports young people in pursuing their curiosities and exploring their interests in a school-based informal learning setting. This article draws on interview and participant observation data to examine the social organization of teaching and learning activity within LUL. As a school-based program focused on supporting youth in pursuing their interests through the cultivation of a caring adult–youth relationship, LUL offers an empirical case that brings together insights from youth development and interest-driven learning research. Examination into the verbal and material interactions that shape adult–youth interactions yields insight into how to challenge normatively hierarchical power dynamics between teachers and learners toward the instantiation of a more relational pedagogy. By employing the pedagogic moves of continually foregrounding youths’ interests, honoring youth expertise, and making space for youth’s ideas, LUL youth workers created an environment within a school setting where youth felt both free and supported to learn through deeply and widely pursuing their interests.


Allen, C., DiGiacomo, D., Van Horne, K., & Penuel, W.R. (2018). Pursuing interests and getting involved: Exploring the conditions of sponsorship in youth learning. Digital Education Review, 33, 120-129.

Azevedo, F. S. (2011). Lines of practice: A practice-centered theory of interest relationships. Cognition and Instruction, 29(2), 147-184.

Azevedo, F. S. (2013). The tailored practice of hobbies and its implication for the design Of interest-driven learning environments. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 22(3), 462-510.

Baldridge, B. J. (2019). Reclaiming community: Race and the uncertain future of youth work. Stanford University Press.

Barron, B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecology perspective. Human Development, 49(4), 193-224.

Barron, B. (2010). Conceptualizing and tracing learning pathways over time and setting. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 109(1), 113-127.

Blum-Ross, A., & Livingstone, S. (2016). From youth voice to young entrepreneurs: The individualization of digital media and learning. Journal of Digital and Media Literacy, 4(1-2), 1- 21.

Bransford, J., Brown, L., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. National Academy Press.

Brown, A. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2), 141-178.

Chávez, V., & Soep, E. (2005). Youth radio and the pedagogy of collegiality. Harvard Educational Review, 75(4), 409-434.

Cole, M., & Distributive Literacy Consortium. (2006). The Fifth Dimension: An after-school program built on diversity. Russell Sage Foundation.

DiGiacomo, D.,& Penuel, W. R. (2018). Organizing learning environments for relational equity with new digital media. In (Eds.) P. Resta & T. Laferrière (Eds.), International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education (2nd ed.). Springer International.

DiGiacomo, D., Van Horne, K., Van Steenis, E., & Penuel, W. R. (2018). The material and social constitution of interest. Learning, Culture & Social Interaction, 19, 51-60.

Eccles, J., & Gootman, J. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. National Academies Press.

Erickson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 119-161). MacMillan.

Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games+ good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning, and literacy. Peter Lang.

Gutiérrez, K. D., Morales, P. Z., & Martinez, D. C. (2009). Re-mediating literacy: Culture, difference, and learning for students from nondominant communities. Review of Research in Education, 33(1), 212-245.

Halpern, R. (2002). A different kind of child development institution: The history of after-school programs for low-income children. Teachers College Record, 104(2), 178-211.

Halpern, R. (2005). Instrumental relationships: A potential relational model for inner-city youth programs. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(1), 11-20.

Hamilton, L., & Brown, J. (2005). ‘Judgement day is coming!’: young people and the examination process in Scotland. Improving Schools, 8(1), 47-57.

Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational psychologist, 41(2), 111-127.

Honig,, M. & McDonald, M. (2005). From promise to participation: Afterschool programs through the lens of socio-cultural learning theory. Afterschool Matters Occasional Paper Series, 5, 1-26.

Ito, M., Arum, R., Conley, D., Guttiérez, K., Kirshner, B., Livingstone, S., Michalchik, V., Penuel, W., Peppler, K., Pinkard, N., Rhodes, J., Salen Tekinbaş, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green, J., & Watkins, S. C. (2020). The Connected Learning Research Network: Reflections of a decade of engaged scholarship. The Connected Learning Alliance.

Kafai, Y., Desai, S., Peppler, K., Chiu, G., & Moya, J. (2008). Mentoring partnerships in a community technology centre: A constructionist approach for fostering equitable service learning. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16(2), 191-205.

Kirshner, B. (2015). Youth activism in an era of education inequality. NYU Press.

Kirshner, B., Pozzoboni, K., & Jones, H. (2011). Learning how to manage bias: A case study of youth participatory action research. Applied Developmental Science, 15(3), 140-155.

Kwon, S. A. (2013). Uncivil youth: Race, activism, and affirmative governmentality. Duke University Press.

Larson, K., Ito, M., Brown, E., Hawkins, M., Pinkard, N. and Sebring, P. (2013). Safe space and shared interests: YOUmedia Chicago as a laboratory for connected learning. BookBaby.

Larson, R. (2000). Towards a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55(1), 170-193.

Lecusay, R. (2015). Building zones of proximal development with computer games in a UC Links after-school program. International Journal for Research on Extended Education, 2(2).

McLaughlin, M. (2000). Community counts: How youth organizations matter for youth development. Public Education Network.

Michalchik, V., & Gallagher, L. (2010). Naturalizing assessment. Curator: The Museum Journal, 53(2), 209-219.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Sage.

Nakkula, M., & Toshalis, E. (2006). Understanding youth: Adolescent development for educators. Harvard Education Press.

Nasir, N. S. (2008). Everyday Pedagogy: Lessons from basketball, track and dominoes. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(7), 529-532.

Nasir, N. S., & Hand, V. (2008). From the court to the classroom: Opportunities for engagement, learning, and identity in basketball and classroom mathematics. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(2), 143-179.

Patall, E., Cooper, H., & Allen, A. (2010). Extending the school day or school year: A systematic review of research (1985-2009). Review of Educational Research, 80(3), 401-436.

Pekel, K. (2019). Moving beyond relationships matter: An overview of one organization’s work in progress. Journal of Youth Development, 14(4), 1-13.

Penuel, W. R., DiGiacomo, D., Van Horne, K., & Kirshner, B. (2016). A social practice theory of learning and becoming across contexts and time. Frontline Learning Research, 4(4), pp. 30-38.

Pinkard, N., Erete, S., Martin, C., & McKinney de Royston, M. (2017). Digital youth divas: Exploring narrative-driven curriculum to spark middle school girls’ interest in computational activities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 26(3), 477-516.

Rocha, E. (2006, February 13). More than just moments in time. Center for American Progress.

Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. Oxford University Press.

Scottish Executive. (2013). Determined to succeed: A review of enterprise in education.

Sefton-Green, J. (2012). Learning at not-school: A review of study, theory, and advocacy for e education in non-formal settings. MIT Press.

Spradley, James P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Stevens, R., Jona, K., Penney, L., Champion, D., Ramey, K. E., Hilppö, J., Echevarria, R. and Penuel, W. (2016, June). FUSE: An alternative infrastructure for empowering learners in schools. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Singapore.

Strand, K. J., Cutforth, N., Stoecker, R., Marullo, S., & Donohue, P. (2003). Community-based research and higher education: Principles and practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Vossoughi, S., & Gutiérrez, K. (2014). Studying movement, hybridity, and change: Toward a multi-sited sensibility for research on learning across contexts and borders. Teachers College Record, 116(14), 603-632.

Vygotsky, L. (1934/1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Walford, G. (2012). Privatization and privilege in education. Routledge.

Walkington, C., & Bernacki, M. L. (2014). Motivating students by “personalizing” learning around individual interests: A consideration of theory, design, and implementation issues. In S. Karabenick & T. C. Urban (Eds.), Interventions (Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Vol. 18), 139-176. Emerald Group.

Watson, C. (2010). Educational policy in Scotland: inclusion and the control society. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 31(1), 93-104.

Willis, P. (1977) Learning to labor: How working class kids get working class jobs. Columbia University Press.

Wortham, S. (2006). Learning identity: The joint emergence of social identification and academic learning. Cambridge University Press.

Zeldin, S., Christens, B. D., & Power, J. L. (2013). The psychology and practice of youth-adult partnership: bridging generations for youth development and community change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51(3-4), 385-397.






Feature Articles