NEGOTIATING THE REAL AND THE IDEAL:
FOUR ELEMENTARY TEACHERS AND THE INFLUENCES ON
THEIR LITERACY TEACHING
SUSAN JAYNE GOFORTH WEGMANN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Susan Jayne Goforth Wegmann
I would first like to thank my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is my
life. I am thankful for His presence and Comfort as He lives His life through
mine. It is because of Him that "I live and move and have my being."
I would also like to thank Dr. Jane Townsend, my advisor, who pushed me
to synthesize, asked the hard questions, and helped me become a better
teacher by modeling the magic that happens when we encourage students to
wonder. From my first breath as a doctoral student to my last efforts finishing my
dissertation, Dr. T saw fit to guide me with gentle reminders of our mutual love
for teaching and learning. I learned a great deal in her classes and even more in
her office, the scene of many discussions about children, learning, teaching, and
"the big picture." I am grateful for her sincerity, humor, and guidance.
I would also like to thank the other members of my committee. Dr. Ginger
Weade supported my first attempts as a researcher and kindly guided my
thinking with insightful questions. She mentored me when I was a fledgling
graduate student and often reminded me of that school is a cultural place, worthy
of our attention.
Dr. Barbara Pace has also been a guide, a friend, and a fellow teacher. I
appreciated her open-door policy during my beginning stages of course work.
She gave me the gift of time, when I am sure she was busy with her own
Dr. Robert Sherman helped me understand how my love of teaching could
be translated into an investigation of teaching practices. He encouraged me to
think deeply about teaching in order to understand it.
Dr. Ben Nelms also shared his valuable time with me, helping me
acclimate myself to the world of higher education. I appreciate his thoughtful
questions and genuine interest in my well-being.
I would also like to thank my dear family, without whom I would have
never have been successful: my husband, Steve, for encouraging my dreams
and being a servant-leader in our home; my children, Lauren and Chris, for
providing happy distractions and helping me focus on the truly important things in
life such as soccer, cheer leading, band, Veggie Tales, and peanut butter and
jelly sandwiches; my Mom and Dad, for always encouraging me and ever
listening to my struggles and victories; my three brothers and families for loving
me, teasing me, and reminding me I am their little sister; and finally, my church
family at First Baptist Belleview, for lifting me up in prayer and grounding me in
the knowledge that Christ is our all in all.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................... ................... iii
ABSTRACT ................................................................................................. vii
1 INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND ........................................... 1
Statement of the Problem............................... ............................. 6
Purpose of the Study......................................................................... 6
Research Questions............................... ..................................... 7
Scope and Significance of the Study.............................................. 8
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE............................................................. 10
O ve rview ........................................................................................... 10
Theories of Teaching........................................................................ 11
Classroom Enactments..................................................................... 28
Teachers' Perceptions of Influences on Literacy Events ............... 39
O ve rview ........................................................................................... 4 9
3 METHOD................................................................... ...................... 51
P ilot S tudy......................................................................................... 52
S etting.................................................................................... 54
Particip nts....................................................................................... 58
Data Cdllection............................................................................. 60
Data Analysis Procedures....................................... ................... 66
Definitions of Terms.............................................. ..................... 73
4 IDEAL CONCEPTIONS ............................................................. 77
Spectator and Participant Stances .......................................... .... 78
Introduction to the Teachers................................................ ............ 82
Summary of the Four Teachers.................................................. 88
Ideal Literacy Conceptions......................................................... 89
5 ENACTED LITERACY LESSONS............ .............. ............ 107
Spectator, Participant and Pretender Events.................................... 107
Overview of Teachers' Ideal and Enacted Conceptions................... 154
6 INFLUENCES ON THE LITERACY CURRICULUM.......................... 158
Standardized Tests.................................. ........................................ 160
Students' Interests ........................................................................... 167
Internal Influences............................................................................. 170
Sum m ary of Influences...................................................................... 172
7 CO NCLUSIO N ................................................................................. 175
Summary of the Results................................................................... 175
Stances and Events in the Classroom............................................. 177
Sources of Influence................. ................................. 182
Lim itations of the Results................................................................. 186
Implications for Educational Practice............................................... 188
Implications and Questions for Future Research.............................. 205
A QUESTIONS FOR INTERVIEWS.................................................. 215
B SAMPLE TRANSCRIPT................................................................... 217
C SAMPLE EXCERPT OF TEACHER INTERVIEW .......................... 219
D SAMPLE EXCERPT OF STUDENT INTERVIEW........................... 221
E SAMPLE EXCERPT OF FIELD NOTES .......................................... 223
R EFER ENC ES ...................................................................................... 224
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................... 238
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
NEGOTIATING THE REAL AND THE IDEAL:
FOUR ELEMENTARY TEACHERS AND THE INFLUENCES ON THEIR
Susan Jayne Goforth Wegmann
Chair: Jane S. Townsend
Major Department: School of Teaching and Learning
This study investigated teachers' personal notions of ideal literacy learning
opportunities, the actual literacy activities teachers implemented, and the
influences behind any differences between their ideal and enacted curricula.
The purpose of the study was to clarify concepts, to examine teachers'
underlying assumptions about literacy, to describe and analyze teachers' ideal
and real literacy curricula, and to analyze the enacted literacy curriculum.
The qualitative design of the study enabled a description of four
elementary teachers' ideal conceptions of literacy learning along with a
description of their enacted literacy lessons. The teachers were each
interviewed three times and were observed while enacting two complete literacy
learning cycles. Three students from each classroom were also interviewed.
The data sources included verbatim transcripts of teacher and student
interviews, transcripts of selected classroom interactions, curricular materials,
and student and teacher artifacts that were generated during classroom
observations. Close examination of oral classroom interactions showed
spectator, participant, and pretender events that occurred in each classroom, as
a result of the particular stance of teachers and students.
This study focused on curricula, roles of teachers and students, and
assessment. Results showed that the enacted curricula was shaped by
influences, such as the pressure to produce high standardized test scores, an
urging to use the lessons in the basal reading teachers' edition, and the
necessity to cover state-produced lists of standards. It includes important
implications for literacy teaching and teacher preparation programs such as the
* Teachers need to resist the pressure to rely heavily on the DRA for literacy
* Teachers need to support oral classroom interactions that call on varying
roles for teachers and students, such as those found in participant events.
* Teachers need to explore the sources of influences they feel and then
discern whether or not the sources are supporting literacy development as a
to-and-fro transaction, based on meaning-making.
* Teacher educators need to assign activities that call for active participation on
the part of preservice teachers so that they can engage in the kinds of
learning that they can one day implement.
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
Educators, parents, and administrators expect elementary-aged students
to attain a certain level of literacy. Most educational experts also agree that
literacy acquisition in elementary school is foundational. However, debates
revolve around definitions of literacy, methods of literacy instruction, and
assessment of literacy ability (Aaron, Chall, Durkin, Goodman, & Strickland,
1990; Bogdan & Eppert, 1996; Didsbury, 1994; Flippo, 1999a; Langer, 1984;
Resnick & Resnick, 1977; Street, 1984, 1999).
Some say literacy is the ability to read and write, to make sense of, and to
compose written language. Literacy attainment, though, may be more complex
because the processes of reading and writing overlap, yet differ (Calfee, 1998;
Morrow, Wilkinson, & Smith, 1994; Roen, 1992; Rosenblatt, 1978/1994; F.
Smith, 1988). Reading and writing are influenced by a stance or orientation
toward the text, that may change during reading or writing; prior experiences;
background knowledge; and present experiences and feelings. The relationship
between reading and writing is so strong that learning about one supports
learning about the other (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991) and integrating reading and
writing increases learning of both processes (Morrow et al., 1994).
Reading, writing, and speaking are complexly organized chains of
utterances, or meaningful units of communication (Bakhtin, 1986). The units are
never passive; they are always in answer to, and in anticipation of, a question
and they are always purposeful. Readers and writers ultimately select their own
purposes or choices for reading and writing, that determine their stance, the
position from which they approach a literacy event. Informed by background
knowledge and prior experiences, a person's stance affects the nature of the
literacy event by determining how a reader or writer organizes responses and
how s/he builds meanings. In school settings teachers may try to impose a
particular stance for reading or writing on their students, potentially increasing or
diminishing the quality of literacy lessons. A person's stance, which may change
during the course of the event, is part of the internal processes of reading and
writing and may be resistant to outside influence. Teachers may or may not be
successful when trying to impose a particular stance. But research provides
evidence that teachers influence students' interpretations of text by encouraging
a particular stance, that also influences the quality of literacy learning.
Different possible stances, individual background knowledge and
experiences, and students who switch stances make it likely that there are as
many different transactions (Rosenblatt, 1978/1994) with texts as there are
students in a classroom. These variables make literacy much more than reading
and writing: simply put, developing literate abilities is a complicated endeavor.
In an effort to embody the complexity of reading and writing, and for the
purposes of this study, literacy may be defined as the state of being able to
participate fully in a to-and-fro interplay between person and text that results in a
coherent understanding. This interplay between person and text may occur
when a person is reading, writing, listening, or speaking. Moreover, text can
signify the printed word or the oral (and/or possibly nonverbal) interactions of two
or more people. Being literate is being able to do the following, though not
necessarily in a linear manner: assume an appropriate stance toward a text;
understand, interpret, or live through the text; and/ or create a new text. As a
result, students in an elementary classroom may be doing many things
simultaneously, while participating in literacy learning. Consequently, studying
the enacted literacy curriculum (the activities and language used during reading
and writing lessons provided by teachers, undertaken by students, and able to
be observed by researchers) is a complicated endeavor.
To investigate the enacted literacy curriculum in classrooms, it is helpful to
view literacy opportunities through the lens of the purposeful, social nature of
literacy and language that Bakhtin (1986), Bruner (1986), and Vygotsky (1978)
characterized. Oral classroom interactions manifest the social nature of literacy
learning and may support or constrain literacy development. Interactions can be
analyzed according to the purposes of speech, in two broad categories of
participant and spectator stances. A participant stance is one in which teachers
and students actively try to complete actions, explore possibilities, or build
connections between their personal lives and texts. A spectator stance, on the
other hand, is one in which teachers and students focus on the text at hand as
outside observers. (See Chapters 3 and 4 for a further discussion and definition
of these two stances.)
Moreover, literacy learning events, which can include oral interactions and
transactions with printed texts, make up the enacted literacy curriculum.
Students' literacy abilities do not necessarily develop when teachers provide
literacy learning instruction, but teachers influence the quality of literacy events
by providing opportunities for students to construct and interact with texts and
new knowledge. As with any other learning event, students construct knowledge
based on their prior knowledge, emotional state, and personal linguistic-
experiential reservoir (Rosenblatt, 1988), among other factors. Because literacy
development is not assured when teachers provide opportunities, teachers may
struggle to help all students become literate.
I investigated this struggle, or maneuvering between what teachers
believe will help students learn best (their personal notions of ideal literacy
learning opportunities) and the actual literacy activities they implement (the
enacted curriculum). Unfortunately, researchers have documented a
tremendous difference among how teachers think students become literate; the
teaching methods they use; and what researchers, administrators, and peers
encourage them to do (Engel, 1990; Goodman, 1986).
In a recent pilot study, I found disjunctions between what five teachers
thought were ideal literacy lessons and their enacted curricula. For example, a
fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Price (all names are pseudonyms) reported that she
would like to "sit down with them and say, 'Okay, we're just going to enjoy the
day, and sit here, and I'm just going to work with you and I'm going to read,' and
we're going to work through things." This remark suggests that her ideal literacy
learning curriculum includes large amounts of time with students in order to help
them understand reading and writing activities. Her comment also implied that
the actual literacy curriculum in her classroom was different from her ideal
literacy curriculum. I verified this difference during a day-long observation in her
classroom. When I asked Ms. Watson, another fourth-grade teacher in the pilot
study, to describe an ideal classroom arrangement, we had the following
SW: How would your room look different if you could change it?
Ms. Watson: You probably wouldn't have a formal classroom setting.
You'd have to come up with some way to--like a stage
area. Let children be creative, and come up with their own plays,
so they could perform.
SW: Why would that be good?
Ms. Watson: Because it would include all their skills. I mean, they'd
have to be able to read, they'd have to be able to write, they could
use their creative writing for [the standardized writing test], they
could actually incorporate math into it... So you could just
incorporate it--integrate it throughout the curriculum.
Ms. Watson seemed to agree with the idea of integrated language arts
instruction that builds on close relationships among reading, writing, speaking,
and listening; and purposefully integrates literacy concepts into every subject
(Morrow et al., 1994). From this interchange, she seemed to agree with Bruner
(1986), Vygotsky (1978), and others who believe that learning should be focused
on the child and should be purposeful, so that children can make or construct
their own meaning. Ms. Watson's ideal conceptions of literacy integrated all of
the content areas, and offered students choices about what they would do. Yet,
when I observed her classroom practices she used a predetermined, skills-
oriented, basal reading program in which there was little student choice and no
integration of subject matter. Ms. Watson, whose ideals and enacted
conceptions were similar to those of the five other teachers in the pilot study,
seemed to conceptualize better ways to teach but did not put them into action.
Statement of the Problem
Many teachers believe they know the best ways of providing opportunities
for literacy development, yet often they do not enact them. The problem for this
study is that teachers' ideal literacy learning opportunities are typically
transformed before they are implemented; teachers may then enact less than
ideal literacy instruction. Unfortunately, two results of this problem are that
instructional opportunities may constrain students, rather than support their
attempts to develop literately, and hence, students may not learn what they need
to know in order to become literate adults.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was as follows:
* To clarify concepts (such as "literacy" and "participant stance").
* To examine teachers' underlying assumptions about literacy teaching and
learning (through examining their ideal and real literacy curricula).
* To describe and analyze reasons for the possible differences between their
ideal and real curricula.
* To identify practical applications of teachers' assumptions and theories in the
enacted literacy curriculum.
Hence, the focus is on four teachers' perceptions of various issues surrounding
literacy teaching and learning.
Although teachers' perspectives are central to understanding classroom
learning (Mulcahy-Ernt & Stewart, 1994), many research studies do not
emphasize teachers' perceptions of the move from ideal to real curricula (Street,
1999; Wharton-McDonald, Pressley, & Hampston, 1998). Instead, most studies
evaluate literacy learning by analyzing the enacted curriculum, students' learning
processes, or predetermined outcomes of learning. Teachers' perspectives
typically have been omitted from systematic analysis. Wharton-McDonald and
colleagues (1998) argue that we can learn from professionals in any field by
studying their "privileged understanding of what they do" (p. 103). For this
reason, I decided to study teachers' perceptions or "privileged understandings" of
literacy teaching and learning. In short, this study seeks to enlarge our
understanding of teachers' perceptions of ideal literacy learning, their enacted
literacy curriculum, and the influences that transform their ideal into their enacted
After reflecting on the research concerning literacy teaching and learning,
interviewing five elementary teachers about their ideal conceptions of literacy
instruction, and observing five teachers' enacted literacy curricula in a pilot study,
I wondered why there were noticeable differences between real and ideal literacy
curricula. I wondered about possible sources of influence that altered teachers'
ideal literacy curriculum before it was implemented. I also wondered about
elementary teachers' perceptions of the nature of literacy teaching and learning
and the sources of influence they had to deal with daily.
The following questions emerged to guide my investigation:
1. What are selected teachers' ideal conceptions of literacy and literacy learning?
2. How do teachers enact literacy lessons and how do their enactments relate to
their ideal conceptions of literacy teaching and learning?
3. What are teachers' perceptions of the forces that influence their enacted
The first question allowed me to investigate teachers' personal ideal
conceptions of literacy learning. The second question compelled me to observe
literacy teaching in action and to compare teachers' personal conceptions of
literacy with their enacted literacy lessons. The third question focused on
teachers' perspectives of various influences on literacy instruction and how these
influences sculpted classroom interactions, instruction, and learning. This
question allowed me to explore possible reasons why differences existed
between teachers' ideal and real literacy lessons.
Scope and Significance of the Study
No universal ideal curriculum exists for any subject area. On the contrary,
each teacher described a unique personal vision of an ideal literacy curriculum
that was influenced by the teacher's personality, prior experiences, available
resources, and other such issues. Although a universal ideal curriculum does
not exist for literacy learning, I compared individual teachers' ideal literacy
curricula to their own enacted curriculum. By comparing and describing their real
and ideal literacy curricula, I encouraged these teachers to reflect on their ideal
literacy lessons in order to come closer to enacting them. This reflection is
significant for current educational practice because often teachers are not
encouraged to reflect on their own ideal conceptions; rather, they are
encouraged to use other people's ideal conceptions of reading and writing
curricula. In addition, oral interactions within the classroom may be interpreted
as supporting or constraining ideal enactments. To assume and encourage a
participant stance toward texts, in which language is used to build connections
and support inquiry (Lindfors, 1999), is to provide a platform for both teachers
and students to interact with texts in meaningful ways. This study is significant
because in it I reveal four teachers' personal perspectives about literacy teaching
and learning, the influences they experienced that transformed their ideal
conceptions, and the types of classroom interactions that may have supported or
constrained struggling students during literacy instruction.
DISCUSSION OF RELATED LITERATURE
Literacy experts do not agree on a single "ideal" theory of literacy
development (Resnick & Resnick, 1977). However, teachers create personal
conceptions of literacy instruction that are somewhat connected to their beliefs
about teaching (Clark & Peterson, 1986). The present study is a description and
analysis of selected elementary school teachers' literacy curricula, including their
idealized conceptions of reading and writing instruction, their enacted literacy
curriculum, and their perspectives on the forces that influence and alter their
enacted literacy curriculum. In order to survey the literature from the field that is
relevant to this study, I review the work of literacy experts from whom teachers
may find a basis for their ideal and enacted conceptions of literacy. I also review
the work of experts who have analyzed various sources of influence that
potentially shape literacy instruction in classrooms. Three areas provide a
foundation for this inquiry. One Theories of Teaching, explores current
pedagogical issues in literacy instruction. The second, Classroom Enactments,
shows that research on classroom discourse analysis can shed light on the
enacted curricula. The third, Teachers' Perceptions About Literacy, describes
the forces that may influence teachers' conceptions of ideal and real literacy
Theories of Teaching
Frequently, principals, researchers, and teachers praise one instructional
method as an ideal way to teach literacy. Numerous methodologies and
philosophies are touted each year as the way to teach (Chall & Jacobs, 1996;
Routman, 1994). But, apparently, no one method can successfully teach every
child in every circumstance. If teachers read current research about teaching
and learning, which of the many methods, if any, will they use?
One way to organize a discussion of the multitude of methods of literacy
instruction can be based on the stance, or orientation, of the individual teacher or
learner. James Britton (1993) described two stances that readers may assume
while reading: participant and spectator. I borrowed these terms to describe the
stances of students and teachers in light of various theories of teaching. (In
Chapter 4 I use these terms to describe the classroom interactions that occurred
during my observations.)
A spectator stance describes students and teachers who view text from
the outside, similar to a spectator at a sporting event. Teachers who design
lessons around a spectator stance often enact a teacher-centered curriculum
with limited opportunities for students to use language for various purposes.
During a spectator stance, teachers and students typically make use of Mehan's
(1979a) Initiate Reply Evaluate (IRE) pattern in class discussions. Within this
pattern, teachers typically initiate a topic (by asking a question), students
typically reply to the teachers' question, and the teacher evaluates the student's
response. In other words, a spectator stance limits both teachers' and students'
roles. For example, the role of the teacher within a spectator stance is ordinarily
to ask students questions about a text, to evaluate students' replies, and to
initiate new topics. Students' roles are limited to responding to teachers'
questions. Moreover, a spectator stance is not necessarily determined by the
topic of the lesson. For instance, a spectator stance may be assumed while
discussing a story plot if the discussion focuses on teacher-directed, discrete
questions; especially if students are not encouraged to inquire about their own
However, teachers and students could also assume a participant stance
while discussing the plot of the story. A participant stance is characterized by
learners using language for various purposes in order to "get things done"
(Britton, 1993, p. 101). If the teacher assumed and encouraged a participant
stance, a discussion of a story plot would look quite different from a spectator
stance. For example, in a participant stance, the teacher would allow various
topics to emerge during the class discussion, encourage students to express
their opinions, value multiple perspectives, and/or prompt students to express
their own personal inquiry and wondering (Townsend, 1991). In other words,
teachers who encourage a participant stance create opportunities for learners to
interact with texts in order to actively construct knowledge. Students who
assume a participant stance have varied, complementary roles. For example,
students may express their opinions about various topics, connect a new topic
with a personal experience, clarify their own ideas with the help of the teacher or
other students, and/or share their personal inquiries. Students and teachers who
assume participant stances in literacy lessons tend to use their language in
various ways and for various purposes, similar to an athlete at a sporting event
who is actively engaged in the event.
The stance that teachers encourage, whether participant or spectator, is
determined, in part, by the instructional methods the teacher chooses to use.
While it is beyond the scope of this study to review all teaching methodologies, I
have chosen two popular teaching approaches that exemplify each stance. The
spectator stance is represented by the Directed Reading Activity (DRA) and
Direct Instruction (DI). The participant stance is represented by integrated
language arts instruction and literature-based instruction. Next is a description of
each method, a discussion of pertinent research studies, and a look at how
experts rate the effectiveness of each.
The Directed Reading Activity (DRA) and Direct Instruction (DI) are
currently used in most elementary classrooms in the United States (Karolides,
1992; 1997). They both involve students assuming a spectator stance toward
reading and writing, yet the nature of instruction is distinct in each.
Directed reading activity
The instructional pattern found in most basal reading books is the most
common form of elementary school literacy instruction. According to most
studies, 75% to 90% of elementary teachers use the lessons within basals as
their major form of literacy instruction (Baumann & Heubach, 1996; Chall &
Squire, 1996; Hoffman et al., 1998). Lesson topics in most contemporary basals
contemporary basals include subjects that have been traditionally called reading
(lessons on reprinted stories covering various themes and genres); writing
(lessons on various genres and styles); and English grammar (lessons on verbs,
nouns, pronouns, and so forth).
Since the 1940s, basals have undergone a metamorphosis (Koskinen,
McCartney, & Hoffman, 1995). In the early 1940s, basals were written by
scientific behaviorists who sought to present words and letters systematically
through vocabulary-controlled stories. This method was characterized by Betts
(1946, reported in Tierney, Readence, & Dishner, 1990) as having five common
steps through which reading lessons progress:
* Readiness for reading. Teachers introduced students to new concepts or
* Guided silent reading. Teachers asked students to read through a portion of
* Word recognition skills and comprehension checks of silent reading.
Teachers discussed skills such as finding the main idea of a paragraph or
predicting what may happen during the next portion of text. Teachers also
informally assessed students' comprehension of the portion of the story
they read silently.
* Silent or oral re-reading for a new purpose. Students re-read the story, either
individually or aloud with the entire class.
* Differentiated follow-up activities. Teachers discussed reading skills,
especially ones that students had not yet mastered.
According to Tierney et al. (1990) the DRA framework is still the basis for most
basals in use today, though most contemporary basals have added writing and
English grammar components.
In general, researchers found that the basals did not supply teachers with
lessons that encouraged students to respond to literary text aesthetically, (or
savoring the reading experience while living through the event), nor did they
provide practice with complex written texts (Barr & Sadaw, 1989; Baumann,
Hooten, & White, 1999; Miller & Blumenfield, 1993). Instead, these researchers
found that basal reading books used an implicit method in which teachers would
point out patterns in vocabulary words or encourage students to focus on the
intent of a character, without directly providing answers. In one study, Miller and
Blumenfield (1993) analyzed two widely-used basal series in Grades 1 through 5.
They analyzed the main idea and cause/effect tasks that were suggested in the
two basal series. They found that the basals included supplemental materials,
manuals, and activity ideas, and did not offer suggestions for teaching how to
understand complex texts. They determined that the reading selections and the
practice opportunities in the basal reading books were not conducive to helping
students transfer reading skills to complex texts in other subjects. They also
concluded that teachers who were concerned with developing students'
comprehension of complex texts would have to considerably modify the
suggestions for instruction found in basal reading books.
Similarly, Karolides (1997) found that teachers who exclusively used the
questions found in basals typically overlooked aesthetic aspects of literacy
transactions. He maintained that textbook questions influenced teachers and
students to assume a predominately efferent stance (Rosenblatt, 1938/1983)
when reading, or reading to retain information for a later use. To guard against a
solely efferent stance toward literature, Probst (1992) suggested that teachers
modify the basal suggestions by broadening the range of students' written
responses to the stories in order to "enable them to realize their own potential for
understanding and shaping themselves and their worlds" (p. 126).
Baumann and Heubach (1996) explicitly studied teachers' modifications of
basal reading books. The researchers investigated Shannon's (1987) earlier
claim that basal reading books and materials "deskill," or limit teachers' decision-
making about, control of, and responsibility for their enacted literacy curricula.
Baumann and Heubach asked teachers to respond to 26 Likert and open-ended
questions concerning how teachers enacted the suggestions in their basal
reading books. In this self-report study, the authors concluded that the more
than 550 teachers who responded to the survey were not "deskilled" by basal
use. On the contrary, Baumann and Heubach described the teachers as
"discriminating consumers who view basal readers as just one instructional tool
available to them as they plan literacy lessons" (p. 522).
In sum, researchers have characterized the DRA found in basals as
encouraging a spectator stance that limits students' interactions with print, peers,
and teachers. Generally, experts advocate modifying DRA lesson plans to
include various responses to texts and to provide opportunities for analysis and
synthesis of ideas and concepts. Moreover, some researchers maintain that
basal reading books "de-skill" teachers, making teachers dependent on the DRA
for their enacted reading and writing curriculum. On the whole, experts
investigating the DRA approach contend that teachers need to become
"discriminating consumers" of basal reading book suggestions.
A second method common in elementary classrooms that encourages a
spectator stance is Direct Instruction, or DI. Direct Instruction refers to "the
practice of deliberately demonstrating and bringing to learners' conscious
awareness those covert and invisible processes, understandings, knowledge,
and skills over which they need to get control if they are to become effective
readers" (Cambourne, 1999, p. 126). In the 1950s, teachers became more
directive and explicit in drilling students in part because "Johnny" could not read
(Flesch, 1955) due to the poor quality of basal textbooks. Later, Hirsch (1987)
also condemned the implicit instruction found in the DRA of basal reading books
and advocated teaching students directly from a predetermined list of skills.
Based on schema theories of memory and reading, he maintained that students
must be able to marshal a list of concepts from their background knowledge in
order to become literate Americans. Hirsch contended that "every citizen needs
to have immediately at hand a critical mass of specific information in order to
possess that skill of skills which is literacy" (Hirsch, 1987, p. 144). One method
that Flesch and later Hirsch suggested was the Direct Instruction of literacy skills.
In 1967, a 28-year longitudinal study began that ultimately proposed DI as
the most effective way to develop literacy skills (Berieter, 1981; Grossen, 1996).
Project Follow Through, part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, cost nearly
one billion dollars and involved over 20,000 students in kindergarten through
grade three. Its goal was to determine the best teaching methods with which to
"follow through" the Head Start pre-kindergarten program. Nine wide-ranging
teaching methods from DI to the Open Classroom Model were implemented in
139 communities all over the United States. Each school chose a particular
method to implement, and teachers received training in how to implement the
method. During the study, teachers also received ongoing support. All students
in the same school were taught using the same type of instructional method.
Teachers pre-tested students at the beginning of kindergarten and at the end of
their third-grade year to compare three aspects of teaching and learning: Basic
Skills, Cognitive Skills, and Affect. Based on the test results, the Direct
Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading, (DISTAR), was
reported to be the most effective method of instruction (Grossen, 1996). The
DISTAR method consisted of pre-programmed questions and verbal student
answers in small-group settings that helped to teach reading skills based on
phonics and the alphabetic system. According to Becker, Engelmann, and
Thomas (1975), students who received DISTAR instruction performed
significantly better on the tests Project Follow Through researchers designed.
Since 1965 and the beginning of Project Follow Through, DISTAR has
evolved into Direct Instruction (Engelmann, 1968), Explicit Instruction (Chall,
1999), and Intentional Teaching (Slavin, 2000), among other methods.
According to Slavin (2000) these approaches to teaching share the following
1. State learning objective and orient students to the lesson-the teacher
explicitly verbalizes the intent of the lesson.
2. Review prerequisites-the teacher attempts to access and build on students'
background knowledge, especially in vocabulary and comprehension lessons.
3. Present new material-teachers explicitly state academic concepts giving
examples and non-examples.
4. Conduct learning probes--teachers assess whether or not students grasp
the concepts in the lesson and quickly correct students' misunderstandings.
5. Provide independent practice--teachers provide ample time for individual
work (or "seat work"), without teachers' input.
6. Assess performance and provide feedback-teachers evaluate students'
understanding of the concepts formally (using quizzes, tests, etc.) and offer
7. Provide distributed practice and review-teachers design practice to
accommodate individual students' weaknesses. Teachers also review at the
end of the lesson, in order to further evaluate students' understandings.
Direct Instruction is an approach to teaching in which goal-oriented
lessons are carefully structured by the teacher who encourages students to
attend only to the lesson at hand. At the heart of DI classroom discourse is a
spectator stance in which teachers mainly ask pre-determined questions about
specific topics. In addition, students typically answer teacher-generated
questions and are not encouraged to vary their stance. Yet, numerous studies
conclude that DI is the most effective way to teach reading and writing in
elementary schools (i.e., Becker et al., 1975; Engelmann, 1968; Foorman, 1995;
Foorman, Fletcher, Francis, & Schatschneider, 1998; Meyer, Gerstein, & Gutkin,
1983; O'Connor, Notari-Syverson, & Vadasy, 1998).
The pre-programmed questions and verbal student answers inherent in DI
exemplify the spectator stance. But, DI is not accepted without controversy (e.g.,
Taylor, 1998; Thelen, 1999). Like the DRA, DI provides limited possibilities for
students to explore topics of interest or express their own opinions, thereby
limiting students' potential for literacy growth. Teachers who assume and
encourage DI lessons mostly initiate topics of discussion and evaluate students'
answers, unlike teachers who assume and encourage a participant stance.
The participant stance is firmly grounded in a whole language philosophy
that emphasizes student participation and meaning-making. To whole language
advocates, literacy is the constructing, understanding, and communicating of
meaning. Teachers who adhere to this philosophy generally reject the notion of
reducing reading and writing to isolated subcomponents that should be taught in
succession, as DI and DRA proponents maintain. Rather, whole language
advocates suggest creating classroom environments in which the use and
meaning of language are emphasized.
Whole-Language does not support reading and writing curriculum that is
overly structured or constrained by attempts to sequence a hierarchy of
reading and writing experiences. The use of controlled vocabulary aimed
at giving students control of a predetermined set of words is seen as
being artificial, meaningless, and misdirected. Likewise, the isolation of
skills and the tendency to teach skills to mastery are seen as
inappropriate. (Tierney et al., 1990, p. 27)
In part, whole language stems from the works of John Dewey and the
ideas on which he based the Progressive movement. Dewey (1997) suggested
that "under existing conditions far too much of the stimulus and control proceeds
from the teacher, because of neglect of the idea of the school as a form of social
life" (Dewey, 1997, p. 19). His comments discredit the prevailing IRE patterns
within the spectator stance because most of the "stimulus and control" originates
from the teacher and school discourse is not seen as a "form of social life." He
goes on to say that "language is the device for communication" and not simply
the expression of thought (p. 21). Dewey advocated teachers listening for their
students' interests, using students' interests as catalysts for lessons, and building
on students' ideas and expressions, in other words assuming a participant
More recently, Goodman (1986) maintained that whole language
instruction is meaning-centered with a focus on students' language use.
Goodman and Goodman (1986) asserted the following principles for reading and
writing in a whole language classroom:
1. Readers construct meaning during reading. They use prior learning
and experience to make sense of the texts.
2. Readers predict, select, confirm, and self-correct as they seek to
make sense of print.
3. Writers include enough information and detail so what they write will
be comprehensible to their readers.
4. Three language systems interact in written language: the
graphophonic (sound and letter patterns), the syntactic (sentence
patterns), and the semantic (meanings). They can't be isolated for
instruction without creating non-language abstractions. All three
systems operate in a pragmatic context, the practical situation in
which the reading and writing is taking place.
5. Comprehension of meaning is always the goal of readers.
6. Expression of meaning is always what writers are trying to achieve.
7. Writers and readers are strongly limited by what they already know,
writers in composing, readers in comprehending. (p. 38-39)
The whole language philosophy is characterized by student-selected
learning, hence it advocates giving students choices about what they will read,
write, and learn (Atwell, 1991, 1987; Berthoff, 1981; Bruner, 1986; Calkins, 1983;
Townsend & Fu, 1998; Goodman, 1986; Graves, 1994; Moffett, 1983; F. Smith,
In the 1960s Goodman (1965) studied 100 first-, second-, and third-
graders by focusing on their reading mistakes, or miscues. Contrary to popular
notions at that time, he found that the better readers used context more heavily
then less able readers. The better readers he studied depended on the other
words within the text, the previous paragraphs, and picture clues to help
formulate their interpretation of print. These readers produced meaning-based
"mistakes." For example, if a picture of a duck was beside a paragraph about a
dog, better readers tended to say the word "duck" in place of the word "dog,"
apparently to make the picture fit with the story. Because of Goodman's
findings, researchers began to study how context affects learning and students'
desires to make sense of texts. This emphasis on meaning evolved over time
into what is known today as the whole language movement.
Whole language teachers and researchers are those who attend to whole,
meaningful texts instead of isolated discrete parts of texts. They also integrate
reading, writing, speaking, and listening into each aspect of literacy learning. In
addition, whole language teachers encourage and maintain a participant stance
toward texts. They use classroom discourse as a scaffold for learning by
sampling students' questions, opinions, and interests.
Several teaching methods have evolved from whole language ideas.
Because of the contextually bound and personally meaningful nature of whole
language, it is nearly impossible to list the progression of specific methods that
embrace the whole language philosophy, as I did during the description of DI and
the DRA. It is possible, however, to describe two approaches to learning that
incorporate whole language principles and a participant stance: integrated
language arts and literature-based instruction.
Integrated language arts instruction
One instructional method that exemplifies a participant stance is
integrated language arts instruction. Integrated language arts instruction is
characterized by student participation and meaning-making in literacy
transactions across the curriculum (Alvermann, 1994; Glazer, 1994; Mulcahy-
Ernt & Stewart, 1994; M. W. Smith, 1994). Integrated language arts instruction
builds on a close relationship among reading, writing, speaking, and listening by
purposefully integrating literacy activities into every subject of the school day
(Morrow et al., 1994; Pearson, 1994). Experts who propose integrated language
arts instruction maintain that learning should be meaning-oriented, child-
centered, functional, and purposeful for children since children construct the
meaning of texts (Becker & Riel, 1999; Bruner,1986; F. Smith, 1977; Wells,
1986). A primary goal of the integrated language arts approach is to develop
motivated students who read and write across the curriculum for academic
pursuits and for pleasure.
A recent study compared participant and spectator stances by
investigating integrated language arts instruction and DI. Sacks and
Mergendoller (1997) studied two classes of kindergartners who were at-risk of
dropping out of school at some later point in their lives. In one, an integrated
language arts classroom, the teacher encouraged students to assume a
participant stance and self-select the order and content of their own learning. In
the other classroom, the teacher encouraged students to assume a spectator
stance by implementing a DI methodology that focused on teacher-determined,
isolated skills and a limited oral discourse. The authors found that the
kindergartners in the integrated language arts classroom were more interested in
school and showed greater improvement on early reading achievement scores
than did the kindergartners in the DI classroom.
In contrast, O'Connor et al. (1998) argued that a spectator stance and DI
had a long-term positive effect on at-risk kindergartners. O'Connor et al.
observed kindergartners in a DI phonics-oriented classroom. The researchers
followed the same students in the next academic year to evaluate their retention
of phonics concepts. They found that students retained most of the prior
phonics knowledge the second year.
In the O'Connor et al. study, a spectator stance and DI were praised; in
the Sacks and Mergendoller study, a participant stance and integrated language
arts were praised. Although they both studied literacy development, subtly, yet
fundamentally, the two studies differed. The Sacks and Mergendoller study
relied on classroom observation plus an early reading inventory to measure
students' successes with literacy development. In contrast, O'Connor et al.
measured students' retention of skills by administering an objective test that
included only discreet phonics skills. The limited nature of the evaluations
O'Connor et al. administered may not describe the complete literacy picture for
these students. It may also indulge in a kind of circular reasoning: we train
students to exploit certain behaviors and when they do, we make assumptions
about their learning that are not warranted by the measures employed. What
comprised the long-term positive effect that O'Connor et al., found? Did discreet
phonics skills or actual literacy development characterize this effect? If literacy
development and being able to participate in a reading/writing transaction is the
target, then attention to meaning and student-selected learning, such as found in
an integrated language arts approach, may well be ideal (Sacks & Mergendoller,
1997). Not only are studies such as these two indicative of complex
disagreements in the research community, they also illustrate the confusion that
teachers face when deciding how and what to teach.
Another approach in which teachers and students assume a participant
stance is literature-based instruction. In its purest form, "children read books,
explore language used for a purpose, and actively participate in the reading
process" (Goforth, 1998, p. 391) that uses "real" books. Using constructivist
principles, literature-based instruction emphasizes meaning and student choice.
Teachers who support literature-based instruction advocate giving students
opportunities to read and write in response to quality children's literature.
Literature-based instruction is also known as Literature Circles (Short, Harste, &
Burke, 1996), Book Clubs (Raphael & McMahon, 1994), and Literature
Discussion Groups (Routman, 1994). Furthermore, Authors' Circles (Villaume &
Brabham, 2001) is a writing program developed from literature-based instruction
in which students use a writing workshop approach (Calkins, 1994) to discuss
their own writing.
In studies focusing on the use of literature in elementary classrooms,
researchers reported increases in positive student attitudes toward reading
(Sacks & Mergandoller, 1997; Thames & Reeves, 1994), meaningful student
responses to literature (Hickman, 1981; Many & Wiseman, 1992), and effective
reading comprehension strategies (Baumann et al., 1999), among other
improvements. After surveying 396 students, Bottomley, Truscott, Marinak,
Henk, and Melnick (1999) found that those students who received predominately
literature-based instruction enjoyed literature more and perceived themselves as
more competent readers and writers than those students who received basal
instruction only. In other words, students who were encouraged to assume a
participant stance through literature-based instruction benefited more than those
who were instructed from the basal reader and who assumed a spectator stance.
Nevertheless, to say that all students who are part of a literature-based
classroom automatically assume a participant stance is an overstatement and an
oversimplification. Some researchers maintain that students' and teachers'
stances should be a mixture of participant and spectator. Price (1998) described
a first-grade teacher who incorporated DI into her literature-based reading
curriculum. Over the course of four years, Price observed this teacher explicitly
teaching "strategic lessons," or DI within a literature context (p. 21). In a holistic
context using children's literature as a base, this particular teacher attended to
the alphabetic code, which she defined as knowledge of letters, sounds,
patterned digraphs, and predictable letter combinations. Price reported that
students who were taught in this manner successfully switched stances and
benefited from the various methods in which they were taught. McNinch and
Gruber (1996), Morrow et al. (1994), and M. W. Smith (1994) agree that a
balanced approach combining DI and literature-based instruction is an effective
method for literacy teaching.
Researchers, such as Price, do not agree that there is a fixed chasm
between the DRA approach and an integrated approach to teaching. Flippo
(1999b), for example, argued that the so-called "reading wars" and contentions
among experts in reading and writing were not as divisive as they appeared in
the media. Flippo analyzed 11 experts' notions about literacy instruction, asking
them to create lists similar to Frank Smith's (1973) "Twelve easy ways to make
learning to read difficult." The 11 experts held three philosophical positions: four
from a more DI perspective (those who maintained that teachers should
encourage a spectator stance), three from a more whole language perspective
(those who maintained that teachers should encourage a participant stance),
and three from an integrated perspective. Flippo concluded that these eleven
experts agreed in principal on a majority of pedagogical aspects. "Practices that
experts believe 'would facilitate learning to read' focus on combining reading and
writing, as well as talking about and sharing books and making all language
instruction purposeful and meaningful to children" (p. 27). In short, Flippo's
conclusions imply that these experts would agree that a participant stance, in
which teachers and students remain open to various perspectives, embrace
differing opinions, and actively use language for diverse purposes, is beneficial
for literacy instruction.
If classroom teachers investigate contemporary theories of teaching and
learning, they will be faced with differing opinions about students' stances and
the most effective literacy curricula. Researchers who support a spectator
stance claim that students learn best when teachers follow a predetermined
sequence of discrete literacy skills. In contrast, researchers who support a
participant stance claim that literacy learning should focus on meaning-making
and student participation. Still others maintain that a balanced approach (or a
combination of stances) is the best way to address literacy teaching and
There is no universally agreed upon method to effectively teach for
literacy development. We can, however, observe the enacted literacy curriculum
for clues leading to what actually occurs during literacy lessons and how some
enacted methods are more effective than others. It is appropriate, then, to turn
to research on oral classroom interactions in order to determine what kinds of
literacy activities are enacted and how students and teachers use language as a
tool for learning.
"To a great extent, the language used by teachers and students in
classrooms determines what is learned and how learning takes place" (Wilkinson
& Silliman, 2000, p. 338). Language is used for varying purposes, in varying
contexts, and with varying ease (Cook-Gumperz & Gumperz, 1982; Halliday,
1975; Wilkinson, 1982). Because of this variability, studying language in
classrooms can be a complicated endeavor. Teachers create a classroom
atmosphere and set a tone for classroom interactions (Aulls, 1998). To describe
student expression, nonverbal and written communication, and the rich contexts
of classroom interactions, some researchers have used the ethnographic
techniques of sociolinguistic research (i. e., Cazden. 1988; Heath, 1983; Mehan,
1979a). These researchers focused on similarities and differences in children's
ways of talking and making sense. Weade and Green (1989) maintained that:
To make such explorations possible, an ethnographer will often make
permanent records (e.g., audio-tapes, videotapes) to supplement field
notes. These records permit in-depth analysis of (1) how events are
accomplished and information communicated, (2) factors that support
and/or constrain participation, access, and learning, and (3) social and
cognitive norms and expectations for participation. In addition, the
ethnographer may use participant interviewing and document analysis to
obtain the fullest picture possible of daily life, its demands and routines,
and to triangulate data. From this data, the ethnographer develops "a"
(not "the") grammar of the event. (p. 21)
One way to look closely at a "grammar of the event" is through analyzing the
nature of oral classroom interactions.
Researchers have described classroom interactions for several decades.
In order to study language in use in the late 1960's, Flanders developed the
Classroom Interaction Analysis (CIA) coding system (1970). This was one of the
first instruments that targeted teacher/student interactions in classrooms. Each
utterance, or group of words spoken for a particular purpose, was coded during a
classroom observation to determine a particular function for speaking. At the
end of a given observation period, researchers tallied the results and, using the
tallies, could describe the most frequent use of language in that particular
lesson. While this offered a systematic way of analyzing oral language, critics
maintained that CIA coding limited possible categories of student expression,
ignored both nonverbal and written communication, and often disregarded rich
contextual cues (Gee, 1991; Mehan, Hertweck, Combs, & Flynn, 1982).
Bellack, Kliebard, Hyman, and Smith (1966) found that the most
predominate type of teacher/student interaction was characterized by teachers
asking factual questions, students answering questions, and teachers evaluating
students' answers. The "rules of the language game of teaching" (p. 237) that
Bellack et al. described involve
one person called a teacher and one or more persons called pupils. The
object of the game in the classrooms observed is to carry on a discourse
about a subject matter, and the ostensible payoff of the game is
measured in terms of the amount of learning displayed by the pupils after
a given period of play..... The person playing the role of teacher follows
one set of rules; a person playing the role of pupil follows a somewhat
different set of rules... In fact, the basic rule is that if one is to play the
game at all, he will consistently follow the rules specified for his role. (p.
Hoetker and Ahlbrand (1969) later clarified the "rules" and labeled the
most common form of student/teacher interaction "recitation," or teacher-
centered interaction. During recitation, students frequently answered their
teachers' questions but had few other reasons or opportunities for speaking.
Recitation is commonly found when teachers assume and encourage a spectator
Also in the 1960s researchers began to realize that young children were
capable of abstracting systems of rules that they could use to generate their own
language, a shift from the behaviorist claim that children simply memorized and
repeated words they had heard previously (Lindfors, 1991; Pinnell & Jaggar,
1991). Because of this shift away from a behavioristic study of early language
development, researchers began to observe children in natural settings, such as
classrooms, to better understand language-in-use in particular contexts. My
understanding of the participant stance has been informed by this research
because a participant stance frequently occurs when children are talking and
learning in a natural setting (Heath, 1983; Kutz, 1997; Wells, 1986). Interaction
among children or between children and teachers who assume a participant
stance is characterized by learners relying on a more knowledgeable other in
what Vygotsky (1978) called a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Talk in the
ZPD uses moves inherent in a participant stance because children may wonder,
connect new topics with personal experiences, express opinions, and/or clarify
their own opinions.
Language use within a participant stance is supported by communicative
competence, or building an intuitive knowledge of appropriate interactions in
various contexts (Hymes, 1974; Lindfors, 1991). Communicative competence is
nurtured through real-world interactions for authentic purposes. Hymes
suggested that speakers need to have more than grammatical competence, or a
mechanical knowledge of how language works. He, along with more
contemporary researchers, proposed that proficient speakers need to know how
language is used by a speech community to accomplish their purposes for
speaking (Kutz, 1997; Pinnell & Jaggar, 1991). Proficient speakers display
communicative competence while making sense within their speech
communities. Most researchers agree that communicative competence is
learned unconsciously, implicitly, and in various contexts (Kutz, 1997; Lindfors,
1991; Strickland & Feeley, 1991). Hence, Pinnell and Jaggar (1991) maintain
that the purpose of instruction should be to
help students develop a repertoire of strategies (forms) for different
functions of language that would enable them to select a particular
strategy in a given context, to communicate using that strategy, to
evaluate the effectiveness of that strategy and modify it, if necessary, and
to do so while simultaneously engaged in social dialogue. (pp. 697-698)
Research on early language acquisition has shown that children learn how
language is used while they are using language for real purposes within social
situations (Cazden, 1988; Lindfors, 1991; Mehan, 1979a; Pinnell & Jaggar, 1991;
Snow, 1977), not while studying discrete, isolated parts of language. In other
words, children acquire language "over time, unconsciously, through participation
in meaningful interactions with the people around them" (Kutz, 1997, p. 226).
Researchers of communicative competence who encourage teachers to provide
an interactive classroom environment most often study language in naturalistic
Research on language use in natural settings suggests that any portion of
talk can serve many purposes (Aulls, 1998; Cazden, 1988; Halliday, 1975;
Mehan, 1979a; Townsend, 1991). For Halliday (1975), who studied the oral
language of his preschool child, language use was based on seven functions:
1. An instrumental function to satisfy basic needs.
2. A reaulatorv function to influence the behavior of others.
3. An interactional function to mediate relationships with others.
4. A personal function to express self.
5. A heuristic function to explore the environment.
6. An imaginative function to pretend and imagine other possibilities.
7. An informative function to inform others.
These functions are a starting point, but Halliday's list does not include all of the
potential moves that a proficient speaker might use during a participant stance.
For example, Halliday did not include students and teachers expressing curiosity
about a topic, a fairly common move in a participant stance. Strickland and
Feeley (1991) built on Halliday's list of functions and contended that students
need opportunities to use a full range of language functions in their learning
environments. They argued that "if schools are to foster children's language
development, children need opportunities to use their language resources and to
build on them. Yet studies suggest that the restrictive environment of the school
is not conducive to language development" (p. 290). In short, recitation is a
prominent pattern of oral discourse in today's schools, reflecting a restrictive
environment for student and teacher expression (Brown, 1991; Cazden, 1988;
Galda, 1990; Gallas et al., 1996).
Mehan (1979a) described three parts to the pattern of recitation: Initiate,
Reply, and Evaluate (IRE). He believed that the IRE pattern contained two
adjacency pairs, or utterances that include an obligation to respond, such as
when a phone rings and a person feels compelled to answer. Mehan considered
the Initiation and Reply as one adjacency pair. For example, a typical classroom
Initiation is a teacher question ("What is 3 + 3, Sam?") that motivates the
responder to ReDly ("six"). The second adjacency pair consists of the first pair
coupled with an Evaluative response ("Good."). Mehan explained that much
classroom discourse reflects an IRE pattern, with these two adjacency pairs. He
raised questions about teachers employing an IRE pattern, especially when they
have one specific reply in mind (Mehan, 1979b). He claimed that the students'
display of knowledge may be limited by the structure of the IRE pattern. This is
the same limitation by which a spectator stance is constrained. Teachers who
advocate a spectator stance typically use an IRE pattern while initiating topics
and evaluating students' answers. Likewise, students who assume a spectator
stance typically answer teacher-generated questions and do not use their
language for a broad range of purposes. In other words, Mehan would agree
with the claim that a spectator stance following an IRE pattern, constrains
students' opportunities for expressing a full range of language functions and
thereby limits potential learning possibilities.
Bloome, Puro, and Theoduro (1988) described the recitation pattern as
part of a larger context of classroom lessons, the procedural display. They
viewed lessons as "cultural events that are accomplished through the
cooperative display by teachers and students to each other of a set of
interactional procedures that can be counted (interpreted) as doing a lesson by
teachers, students, and members of the community" (p. 266). In their study of
"doing lessons" in a seventh-grade social studies class and an eighth-grade
literature class, Bloome et al. described procedural display similar to a spectator
stance because "getting through the lesson is taken as equivalent to substantive
engagement with academic content" (p. 287). According to Bloome et al.,
procedural display does not emphasize engagement with content, in part
because of the limited possibilities for speaking. As Brell (1990) concluded,
without engagement in the content, learning is potentially less meaningful and
less likely to be transferred to other contexts. The study completed by Bloome et
al. described negative effects of limiting the possibilities for engaging with texts
during a spectator stance in procedural display.
Brown (1991) reported that recitation, which includes a spectator stance,
is so pervasive in schools that teachers and students think of recitation as a
natural way to speak during classroom interactions. He described the frustration
of teachers who tried to facilitate genuine discussions using a participant stance
as an alternative to an IRE pattern. They did not realize that they were breaking
all of the "rules" of discourse that are so common to school (i.e., a spectator
stance and the IRE pattern within procedural displays). Instead of enabling
discussions, the teachers he studied apparently confused students who were
trying to follow the rules of the school language game by maintaining a spectator
stance with an IRE pattern. The teachers in Brown's study grew frustrated, chose
to stop trying to facilitate discussions, and returned to a spectator stance and
recitation. He maintained that language in most schools describes the process
of teaching something, rather than expressing or reflecting on something. In his
"literacy of thoughtfulness" (p. xiii) Brown concurred with Halliday (1975), Mehan
(1979a), and Bloome et al. (1988), and advocated encouraging a discourse that
included uncertainty, disagreement, important questions, ambiguity, and curiosity
(all of which emerge from a participant stance) in order to prompt students to
synthesize and evaluate various texts and to give students opportunities to use a
full range of functions for speaking about, and engaging with, texts.
For nearly a decade, Heath (1983) studied the discourse patterns of
elementary students, both at school and in three home language communities.
She found that in some cases students' home language was vastly different from
their school language. At school, recitation and a spectator stance was
predominate, while at home various other language patterns prevailed, including
a participant stance that did not include recitation. This difference caused a lack
of continuity between language use at home and school. In addition, the
difference created problems for students and teachers during classroom
interactions. Not only were the language "rules" of school (Bellack et al., 1966)
unclear to "non-mainstream" students, Heath found that not knowing the rules (in
other words, not being communicatively competent within the school community)
limited students' participation as active constructors of language. Heath
recommended that teachers investigate the language used in their students'
homes and understand that students may or may not clearly understand a
mainstream use of language. She, along with other researchers (see Delpit,
1988; Friere, 1993; Moll, 1990), suggested that students, especially those whose
first language is not the mainstream language, would benefit from explicit
teaching of the language rules of those in authority, so that students could
become active participants of society at large. In other words, these researchers
claim that the IRE interaction pattern in schools may hinder those students
whose home language is vastly different from the language of those in power
However, not all researchers have focused on the limited classroom
discourses characterized by recitation. A small number of researchers have
described classrooms that reflect social-constructivist principles where teachers
and students engage meaningfully with texts and each other, assuming a
participant stance (e.g., Dillon, 1994; Donaldson,1978; Paley, 1997; Townsend,
1991). For example, Townsend (1991) investigated oral interactions during
several literary studies in a high school English classroom. She described how
one teacher supported genuine class discussions, or "a give and take of ideas
among all the participants, the presentation of multiple perspectives, and the
opening of possibilities with no requirement for closure" (Townsend, 1993, p. 5).
Townsend found that both teachers and students used language for a
wide range of purposes, including initiating topics for discussion, wondering
about a topic, inviting reflection, and expressing opinions. She described these
purposes by identifying 19 overlapping categories of language functions, which
revealed that their classroom interactions were characterized by a deep level of
engagement with the literary topic. "Although the teacher and students in this
study may be unusual, they clearly demonstrated active, sense-making
capacities at work in their interactions with one another" (Townsend, 1991, p.
116). Townsend found that a teacher can successfully enact literary lessons
without assuming a spectator stance or using a recitation pattern.
In sum, an analysis of classroom interactions, and the underlying concept
of communicative competence (Hymes, 1974), is vitally important when trying to
understand literacy instruction in classrooms (Alverman et al., 1990; Cazden,
1988; Gee, 1991). Research on classroom discourse has maintained that typical
interactions are characterized by a spectator stance and:
1. Follow a systematic set of rules (Bellack et al., 1966; Delpit, 1988; Heath,
1983) called the recitation (Brown, 1991; Hoetker & Ahlbrand, 1969).
2. Have a limited number of functions, or purposes for speaking (Halliday,
3. Are characterized by an IRE pattern (Mehan, 1979a, 1979b).
4. Fit into a cultural construct of a lesson, called a procedural display
(Bloome et al., 1988) which may or may not engage students in lessons.
Although the previous list describes most classroom interactions, there
are some notable exceptions (Dillon, 1994; Townsend, 1991) in which teachers
and students assume a participant stance by engaging in genuine discussions,
assuming a tentative stance, and displaying a variety of functions for speaking.
If, as the research in this section has shown, the recitation encourages a
spectator stance that limits the range of functions for speaking, and results in a
surface-only engagement with texts, why is recitation and a spectator stance the
most predominant style of classroom interaction? What forces act on teachers
to retain the recitation during classroom discussions? Because teachers provide
opportunities for classroom interactions, what are their perspectives on the
influences they experience? The next section describes both internal and
external influences on classroom enactments, curriculum, and literacy events.
Teachers' Perceptions of Influences on Literacy Events
Researchers have studied teacher planning extensively (see Borko,
Livingston, & Shavelson, 1990 for a review of teacher planning research) and
teachers' thought processes (see Clark & Peterson, 1986 for a review of
research on teachers' thinking). However, teachers' perceptions of literacy
events have received much less attention (Wharton-McDonald et al., 1998).
Even fewer studies have investigated teachers' perceptions of the sources of
influence on their literacy teaching. In order to describe teachers' perceptions of
these influences, I will describe the research that deals with internal and external
sources of influence that may persuade teachers to enact literacy events. When
planning and implementing literacy lessons, teachers may be influenced
internally by forces such as their own beliefs (stemming from their own
preparation as an educator, experiences as teachers and learners, etc.) and their
stances toward texts (whether participant or spectator). Teachers may be
influenced externally by other people (parents, administrators, peers, society,
committees, politicians, previous teachers) and materials (standards, tests,
teachers' editions). The curriculum is realized after the teacher mediates both
internal and external sources of influence. The teacher may make a decision
about lesson implementation based, at least in part, on these influences. The
next section will focus on several internal and external sources of influence
through which teachers must maneuver in order to enact literacy curricula.
Because I am interested in teachers' perceptions of various sources of
influence, I did not focus on research concerning possible differences between
teachers' professed beliefs (the beliefs they verbalized when interviewed) and
their attributed beliefs (those beliefs that observers ascribe as belonging to a
teacher, based on their behavior as they enact a lesson) (e. g., Schoenfeld,
1998). The research that follows relies on both professed beliefs and attributed
beliefs, as do most of my results in Chapter 4.
Internal Sources of Influence
Clark and Peterson (1986) described the complex work of a teacher as
one whose "daily task is to understand and interpret the rapid flow of social
events in a classroom" (p. 281). This interpretation necessarily involves
expertise in academic knowledge and beliefs, or "a view of an ideal or alternative
state that contrasts with reality and provides a means of summarizing goals and
paths" (Calderhead, 1996, p. 719). Calderhead reasoned that "because of the
complex and multidimensional nature of classroom life, knowledge alone would
be inadequate in making sense of classroom situations and prioritizing problems
to be tackled and actions to be undertaken" (p. 719). Things such as
pedagogical knowledge, previous experience, and state of mind may internally
influence teachers, but teachers' beliefs are a large part of the internal sources
It is commonly assumed that teachers enact what they believe, though
experts do not agree on this issue. Teachers may enact lessons that are based
on their personal beliefs about teaching. For example, if a teacher assumes and
encourages a spectator stance while enacting a lesson on an isolated reading
skill, this probably reflects the teacher's belief that isolated skill practice is
beneficial to learners. (As a subsequent section will show, there is no simple
relationship between the enacted curricula and teachers' beliefs. In other words,
sometimes teachers are compelled to enact literacy lessons that do not reflect
their personal beliefs about teaching.)
Teachers' beliefs are apparent in the enacted curricula. Some studies
indicate that teachers implement literacy curricula that closely reflect their
personal beliefs about teaching (Allington, 1991; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Fang,
1996; Lehman, Freeman, & Allen, 1994; Thomas & Barksdale-Ladd, 1997).
From the field of reading research, when studying fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-
graders, Richardson, Anders, Tidwell, and Lloyd (1991) found that classroom
practice consistently reflected teachers' beliefs. They concluded that the
teachers who used a skills-based method of reading instruction personally
believed that isolated skills practice was important. On the other hand, teachers
who used literature-based instruction believed that reading and writing
development occurred most logically when using literature. These findings were
later supported by Lehman et al. (1994) who studied 19 K-2 teachers. Analyzing
the results of a survey to ascertain the teachers' beliefs about teaching and a
questionnaire to gather information about their enacted curricula, Lehman et al.
found that teachers implemented what they believed.
In another study that found a direct relationship between teachers' beliefs
and their enacted curricula, or the activities that teachers plan and students
undertake, Thomas and Barksdale-Ladd (1997) interviewed students and
teachers from two kindergarten classrooms about literacy. This study differs
from the others in that it sampled students' conceptions of literacy and compared
them to their teachers' beliefs about literacy. Thomas and Barksdale-Ladd found
that students' conceptions of literacy closely reflected their teachers' conceptions
of literacy. Thomas and Barksdale-Ladd concluded that students internalized
their teachers' beliefs about literacy learning by participating in the enacted
literacy curriculum. In other words, teachers' beliefs influenced how students
made sense of literacy activities by influencing the enacted curricula. These
findings concurred with Richardson et al. (1991) and Lehman et al. (1994) who
found that teachers' enacted curricula typically reflected their personal beliefs
about teaching and learning.
Teachers' beliefs may not be apparent in the enacted curricula. However,
other studies have suggested that teachers' beliefs are not always directly
enacted, nor are teachers' perceptions of classroom events always easy to
interpret. Some studies found a correlation between teachers' beliefs and their
enacted literacy curricula, yet most maintained that the enacted curricula is
swayed by an eclectic mixture of teachers' beliefs and external influences (Davis,
Konopak, & Readence, 1993; Duffy & Anderson, 1984). Ridley (1990) found that
when teachers make a change in either beliefs or practices, one may not reflect
the other for a period of time. Other researchers have found discrepancies
between what teachers say and what they enact. This discrepancy complicates
a simple connection between teachers' beliefs and their enacted curricula
(Alverman et al., 1990; Davis et al., 1993; Duffy & Anderson, 1994). Lenski,
Wham, and Griffey (1998) maintain that teaching and teachers' beliefs have
complicated roots in social interaction. "Since teaching practices are socially and
contextually mediated, teachers are deeply influenced by their prior experiences
as students, their professional education, and their personal beliefs about
effective teaching" (p. 218). Duffy and Anderson (1984) found that the
connection between teachers' beliefs and instruction is "governed by a complex
set of contextual factors" (p. 97) such as students' ability levels, instructional
stance of the teacher (which they described as content-centered and pupil-
centered), and "numerous constraints and pressures" (p. 103). So teachers'
beliefs can be, but are not necessarily, visible in their instructional plans and
Although beliefs do not have to be visible to be acted upon or to influence
thinking, those beliefs that are visible are more likely to influence action and
thought. One reason why teachers' personal beliefs may not be acted upon is
that teachers may not ever fully clarify what they believe, even to themselves.
This can produce confusing internal messages about important issues in
teaching. For example, Miller (1990) documented six educators' struggles to
become teacher-researchers and to clarify their own beliefs about teaching.
Over a period of three years, these teachers met weekly to discuss the research
they carried out individually. Only after consistently meeting for one year were
these teachers able to describe their personal beliefs about teaching. Often
teachers cannot easily "create the kind of space where dialogue can take place
and freedom can appear" (p. 1). These spaces are apparently necessary and
important for reflection and awareness of personal beliefs. So, one reason why
teachers may not enact curricula that is close to their personal beliefs about
teaching is that they may not take the time or have the resources available (such
as study groups or college classes) to fully clarify their beliefs.
In sum, teachers' personal beliefs about teaching impact their enacted
curricula, though the degree of the impact and the nature of the beliefs may be
difficult to assess. Researchers generally agree that teachers put curricula into
place that in some way agrees with their personal beliefs about teaching.
External Sources of Influence
Along with internal teachers' beliefs, external sources also may influence
teachers' enactments of literacy events. Among other things, external sources
may take the form of other people or materials on which teachers feel compelled
to base their literacy curriculum (Allington & Walmsley, 1996; Flippo, 1999a). No
investigation of external sources would be complete without a discussion of the
current political climate and the growing pressure on teachers to prepare
students for standardized tests. A thorough discussion of the politics that cause
external pressures on teaching is beyond the scope of this study. Nevertheless,
a political issue that influences the enacted curricula in elementary schools is the
widespread and increasing use of standards and subsequent standardized
In the mid 1990s, a national committee appointed by then-President Bill
Clinton devised a set of national standards called Goals 2000. The standards
listed benchmarks and behavioral objectives that all students needed to meet in
order to be promoted to the next school grade. After the Goals 2000 were
determined, each state was compelled to put curricula into place that would
teach students directly from the standards. One result of Goals 2000 was that
individual states distributed the national standards to local school districts and
insisted that all school districts had to implement the standards. Soon after,
most individual school districts presented teachers with lists of standards based
on the national benchmarks and behavioral objectives.
Some teachers, writers, and researchers were glad to have a specific plan
of action toward which teachers and students could move each year (Foorman et
al., 1998). Local districts hired people to write curriculum guides and teach
workshops geared toward implementing the national standards in local
classrooms. Local school districts around the nation spent several million dollars
training and informing teachers about ways to implement the standards.
However, other teachers, writers, and researchers warily approached
Goals 2000 standards and subsequent lists from state and local districts
(Allington & Walmsley, 1996; Ohanian, 1999). They worried about diverse
students who were outside of the mainstream, because teachers often used non-
traditional teaching methods to help them develop literacy abilities. Ohanian
(1999) claimed that teachers using non-traditional methods could not easily
teach traditional standards. For example, those teachers who use a Direct
Instruction approach would easily be able to translate the standards into the
classroom. Students have little input in the content of DI lessons, so teachers
can easily implement lessons that use standards as the content. Conversely,
those teachers who base instruction on students' input would have a difficult time
teaching through all of the standards in a given year. Similarly, Allington and
Walmsley (1996) argued that external sources of influence, such as standards or
mandated instructional methodologies, could not significantly improve classroom
instruction unless teachers were involved in relevant decision-making processes,
more than merely receiving the list of standards at the beginning of the year and
being expected to cover them.
Another external influence that most teachers feel is pressure to prepare
students for standardized tests, which typically are used to determine whether
students have learned the standards. Standardized testing often is referred to
as "high-stakes" because students' test results are highly publicized and can
mean less money for schools, loss of jobs, and/or lower prestige during
subsequent years. High-stakes standardized testing can greatly influence the
teaching of reading and writing in elementary schools. In a recent article,
Popham (1997) reported that principals considered standardized test results
more important than teachers' own perspectives when considering the retention
or placement of children. Popham reported that many districts place heavy
emphasis on standardized test scores in order to evaluate teacher effectiveness.
Because of such high-stakes testing, many teachers change their literacy
curricula in order to train students for taking the test (Harman, 2000). As a
result, higher test scores give the appearance that instructors are using effective
instructional methods when actually they may be using methods that "fit with our
views of industry rather than nurturing human potential" (Tierney, 1998, p. 389).
To describe the current testing climate and to help classroom teachers
deal with testing, several teacher/researchers have written books that support an
eclectic philosophy of teaching, or one that covers standards, yet attempts to
balance the classroom content with non-standard material (i.e., Calkins,
Montgomery, Santman, & Falk, 1999; Flippo, 1999b; Garcia, 1994). Calkins et
al. (1999) described the journey of one group of classroom teachers, principals,
and researchers who decided to "deal" with the standards and tests. They
described the testing pressure in one district.
The pressure to achieve high test scores often leads to curricular
mandates that intrude on the professionalism and decision-making
powers of teachers. In one large, urban school district, a district office
testing expert dissected the previous year's reading test and identified
ninety-eight discrete reading skills, including onomatopoeia, linking verbs,
and compound words. Every school in the district was flooded with
packets of ditto sheets on each of these ninety-eight skills. Every child of
testing age received a separate packet of ditto sheets on each and every
skill. The edict went out. Each child was to be taught, tested, and if
necessary retaught in each skill area. No one questioned why an expert
on testing (not on reading) had been given the power to design the
reading curriculum for thousands of classrooms. No one asked whether
what children truly needed was more drill on these decontextualized skills.
Instead, the edict was clear: Every day, every district teacher was to
teach one of the ninety-eight skills. The skill-of-the-day was to be
displayed on chart paper on the wall of every classroom. District office
staff members monitored this work with periodic surprise classroom spot
checks during which they selected one child in each room to read aloud
and define each skill on the chart. (p. 4)
After describing the often desperate attempts to raise standardized tests
scores, such as in the district described above,. Calkins et al. suggested that
teachers prepare students for taking the tests. Calkins et al. reasoned that if
students score well on the tests, their teachers will be in a much stronger
position to criticize the test. Calkins and her colleagues also contended that
teachers need to be part of any committee that makes testing decisions or
mandates curricular changes because of a test. Calkins et al. outlined critical
aspects of the tests that every teacher should address, while suggesting that
preparing students for the tests should entail "short, powerful bursts at just the
right times" rather than test preparation "leak[ing] out all over the curriculum,
spoiling everything" (p. 8). For test preparation, the authors suggested that
we need to teach children about this new and rather bizarre genre. We
need to teach them to read for new purposes, in a new context, with new
strategies. We need to draw on all that we know and believe about
teaching in general and teaching reading, so that our children will learn
the skills they need to do their best on standardized reading tests. (p. 70)
Although books such as the one by Calkins et al. have been written in
order to proffer an eclectic balanced approach to dealing with standardized
testing pressure, some deny that testing needs to be "dealt with" and embrace
the objective nature of standardized tests. For example, Bracey (2000) found
that because standardized tests "objectively" measured a predetermined set of
reading skills, teachers and principals considered them much more reliable than
performance-based measures, such as portfolios which are not objectively
assessed. He concluded that "it is not likely that we will reduce our reliance on
testing any time soon" (p. 50). Schmocker (2000) reasoned that schools and
districts use standardized tests because "they provide data and a results
orientation that are essential to improvement. In many cases, they promote not
poorer practice, but a common instructional focus and an abandonment of
ineffective practices" (p. 63).
One potential problem with relying heavily on standardized testing,
though, is the limited content of what the tests actually measure (Baresic &
Gilman, 2001; Brown, 1991; Bracey, 2000; Graves, 2000). Brown (1991)
described an exemplary school district in Toronto, Canada in which students did
not use standardized tests to measure teacher and student effectiveness.
Instead teachers focused on developing students' reasoning abilities and higher
order thinking skills. One Toronto administrator admitted having trouble
measuring reasoning abilities and critical thinking skills, yet he said that he would
rather struggle with measuring these aspects of literacy than settle for a
standardized test that would only measure isolated and limited reading and
writing skills. As Graves (2000) put it,
short-paragraph responses or filled-in bubbles on timed standardized
assessments may identify the quick thinkers-the students who are
prepared for the mental equivalent of the 50-yard sprint. But we need to
rethink how teachers can use time to bring life into the curriculum, engage
their students, and let students move inside their subjects to become the
informed learners so necessary in the 21st century. (p. 22)
The best methods to facilitate literacy acquisition are not easily surmised
from research. Therefore, it is no surprise that teachers' conceptions of ideal
literacy curricula are varied and may not be directly translated into practice.
Teachers navigate between idealized conceptions of literacy learning and the
forces that influence their enacted curricula. Internal notions of ideal literacy
curriculum may never be fully realized and acted upon. Added to this, external
pressures may influence teachers to enact preparatory testing practice or other
mandated curricula in place of their ideal literacy conceptions.
From this literature review, several themes emerged that are relevant to
the current study:
1. Taken as a whole, research on literacy teaching is not clear about the value
of one method over another.
2. Teachers' selection of curriculum will determine the stance assumed by the
teacher and students.
3. Most elementary teachers use basal reading books as the foundation of
their literacy curricula.
4. Basal reading books do not typically support interpretation of more complex
texts, nor do they provide many opportunities for aesthetic responses to
5. Direct Instruction and Directed Reading Activity both encourage teachers to
create literacy lessons based on a spectator stance.
6. Integrated language arts and literature-based instruction encourage
teachers to create literacy lessons using a participant stance.
7. Given the social nature of literacy learning, in order to understand the literacy
opportunities that teachers provide we must investigate classroom
8. Recitation, characterized by a spectator stance and students speaking only
for the purpose of answering teacher-generated questions, is prevalent in
contemporary elementary school classrooms.
9. Recitation, procedural display, and the IRE pattern limit the possibilities for
teachers' and students' expression.
10. Both internal and external sources influence how teachers enact their
This study uses a participant observation approach (Spradley, 1980) that
is naturalistic (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and interpretive (Erickson, 1986). In order
to present a full and thorough knowledge of the ideal and real conceptions of
literacy of these particular teachers, I employed a case study approach of the
bounded system found in four elementary teachers' classrooms (Stake, 1985).
This case study is characterized by an attention to context, natural settings, a
holistic view of the phenomena, and social-cultural patterns of experience, as
Sherman and Webb (1997) suggest that all qualitative research needs to
include. Seven main data sources provide the foundation for the study: findings
from a pilot study; observational field notes; transcripts of classroom interactions;
artifacts of students' literacy learning (written documents that students completed
as a result of literacy learning opportunities I observed-graded and non-graded);
teachers' writings (lesson plans, anecdotal notes for assessment, and so forth);
interview transcripts (both teachers' and students' interviews); and textual
sources such as teachers' editions of text books, standardized testing practice
material, state and local curricular guides, and any other written material that
teachers referred to as having importance in the daily workings of the classroom.
During the winter of 1999-2000, I conducted a pilot study in order to
develop a prototype for a dissertation study, refine an interview protocol, define a
sampling focus, and assess the usefulness of various data sources. To this end,
I discovered valuable information that was important for me to consider before
starting my dissertation study. Following is a brief description of the pilot study
and three findings that informed this dissertation study.
Description of the Pilot Study
I began the pilot study by consulting with principals, assistant principals,
and curriculum coordinators from three different elementary schools to ascertain
which third- through fifth-grade teachers in their schools were "interested in
literacy and were doing great things in literacy instruction." I asked each one of
the principals to nominate two "exemplary" literacy teachers. I chose not to
define what I meant by "exemplary" so that they would not nominate only those
teachers who fit my conceptions. The administrators introduced me to two
teachers in each school, six teachers in grades three through five, although one
teacher did not participate because of illness. In all, for the pilot study I observed
and interviewed two third-grade teachers, two fourth-grade teachers, and one
After obtaining my university's human subjects review board approval and
appropriate county office documentation, I began observing and interviewing the
teachers. During the observations, I took field notes on a laptop computer while
describing literacy events (Anderson, Teale, & Estrada, 1980), or "any action
sequence, involving one or more persons, in which the production and/or
comprehension of print plays a role" (p. 59). I observed in each classroom for
one entire school day. During a 45 minute interview with each teacher, I
gathered information about teachers' definitions of literacy and their enacted
literacy curricula. I wanted to find a range of ways in which teachers approached
literacy instruction. My central question for this pilot study was, "How do
teachers define and teach literacy?"
Findings from the Pilot Study
Shortly after each observation and interview was completed, I edited the
field notes, transcribed the interviews, and began reading through the data,
looking for patterns within and among the interviews and observations. Four
relevant findings follow:
1. All five teachers reported that they think literacy instruction is an
important part of their job.
"Everything we teach comes back to literacy, because everything
comes back to words."
"We're in literacy all day long!"
"Literacy, to me, involves basically all subject areas. It's across the
curriculum, it's integrated ... It has to be integrated because you have
to read in math, you have to be able to write in math, and it's the same
with science and social studies."
2. The enacted literacy curriculum varied from teacher to teacher, even
though they all were nominated as "exemplary" and used similar instructional
Although three of the five teachers used the basal reading book as a
foundation for literacy instruction, they created different experiences by
adding to or subtracting from what the basal suggested:
One teacher encouraged the fourth-grade students to role play
the action from the story.
One teacher asked engaging questions about the story and a
lively discussion ensued among the third-grade students.
One teacher used the pre-written suggestions from the book to
review skills with her fourth-grade students.
The other two teachers used materials other than the basal reading
One teacher based literacy instruction on a theme centered
around the novel A Kid in King Arthur's Court.
One teacher created learning centers in which the third-grade
students read about science concepts while summarizing
information as a group. The students rotated through five learning
centers during my observation time.
3. Other teachers influenced the enacted curricula.
One teacher mentioned feeling overwhelmed by the suggestions that her
peers gave for literacy learning.
Another teacher mentioned that she felt the need to tell other teachers
how to enact literacy learning opportunities that were effective for her.
4. All four teachers described an ideal curricula that differed, sometimes greatly,
from the enacted curricula I observed.
These findings lead me to the following questions for the dissertation
1. What are selected teachers' ideal conceptions of literacy and literacy
2. How do teachers enact literacy lessons and how do their enactments
relate to their ideal conceptions of literacy teaching and learning?
3. What forces influence teachers' ideal and real literacy curriculum?
I chose to observe two different schools and four teachers in order to
sample a range of teachers' conceptions of literacy and various perspectives on
literacy learning. I observed four fourth-grade classrooms in two public
elementary schools in a rural county in the southeastern part of the United
States. I chose only four teachers to study because I wanted to thoroughly
investigate each participant and to spend sufficient time in each classroom to
learn about the teachers' enacted curriculum and their ideal conceptions of
literacy. I also wanted to record interactions in the classrooms to further
describe what actually happened in each classroom, something I could not have
done effectively had I observed in numerous classrooms.
Fourth grade is the first time that students take a standardized writing test
in the southeastern state in which I observed. Because of this writing test,
fourth-grade teachers in this region often feel intense pressure to create reading
and writing instruction that will prepare students for the test. Often this pressure
causes teachers to modify their literacy curricula. In this particular district,
teachers' lessons at standardized testing time are relatively similar because they
are mandated to complete a workbook designed to prepare students for the test.
If I had observed these teachers immediately preceding the test I would have
been able to observe only a narrowly and externally conceived discourse and
enacted curriculum in each classroom. Traditionally, standardized testing takes
place in February or March. One result of the testing is that teachers provide
intense test preparation from October through January, or the second and third
nine-week periods. Teachers spend hours each week preparing students to
answer the particular type of questions on the standardized tests, using
professionally designed workbooks or worksheets. So the first and last nine
weeks of the school year were opportune times to observe teachers enacting
literacy opportunities in ways that made sense to them personally. I was told
during the pilot study that teachers and students look forward to the last nine
weeks in fourth grade because they can create engaging and meaningful literacy
lessons (possibly closer to their ideal literacy curricula) once the tests are over
and the pressure of testing is removed. Because test-taking has become such a
powerful influence on public discourse about schooling, I chose to observe
fourth-grade teachers because I suspected that they would have to deal with the
external testing influence even during the first and last nine weeks of the school
year. I also wanted to see how they would negotiate between their ideal notions
of literacy instruction and the real pressures that most teachers must, at some
point, face. I began observing and interviewing (both teachers and students)
during the last nine-week's period of the 1999-2000 school year, after the
standardized tests were completed. I also conducted further classroom
observations and teacher interviews during the first nine weeks of the 2000-2001
Rolling Hills Elementary (a pseudonym, as are all of the following
teachers', students', and schools' names) was in a rural setting with little racial
diversity (nearly all of its students were White) and relatively low parental
education levels. Of the 960 students during the 1999-2000 school year, 73%
participated in the free-lunch program. The kindergarten through second-grade
teachers in Rolling Hills were recently trained to implement a tightly controlled
reading program that targeted "at-risk" students in an effort to increase both the
students' reading levels and their standardized test scores. According to their
assistant principal, the reading program afforded teachers a systematic way to
teach all children in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, kinesthetic,
visual). The third- through fifth-grade teachers were free to design their own
reading curricula based on basal readers or class sets of novels as long as they
followed state curricular standards.
In contrast, Madison Elementary was an urban/suburban school with more
racial/ethnic diversity. The parents' educational levels varied widely. Some had
not graduated from high school; others had earned advanced graduate degrees.
Approximately 25% of the students were African American, 30% were Hispanic,
and the remaining 45% were White. During the 1999-2000 school year, 64% of
the 770 students in the school participated in the federally funded free lunch
program. The principal at Madison declared 1999-2000 to be the "Year of
Literacy," so administrators, teachers, and students actively focused on literacy
development. For example, the principal worked to increase standardized test
scores by conducting weekly "Principal's Club" meetings in which she met with
various students about writing for the standardized test. I was told numerous
times about a $64,000 gift the school received from the state during the 1999 -
2000 school year. The money was given to the school because the students in
fourth-grade scored higher than those from the previous year in two out of three
possible areas on the standardized test. In the same way as the Rolling Hills
Elementary teachers, Madison Elementary's fourth- and fifth-grade teachers had
some creative freedom to implement literacy curricula. In fact, the fourth-grade
teachers voted to buy a literature-based reading curriculum to replace the basal
reader for the 2000 2001 school year. The funding for this new program was
delayed by the county office, so the new reading program had not been
implemented until after I collected data in the fall of 2000 at Madison. Also in a
way similar to the teachers at Rolling Hills, the kindergarten through second-
grade teachers at Madison were trained recently to implement a skills-oriented,
strictly-controlled reading program. In the program, students were drilled in
phonics and isolated reading skills, including finding the main idea of a
paragraph, generating topic sentences, memorizing vocabulary words, and so
on. Most of the fourth-grade students I observed had not gone through a
program of this type when they were in the lower grades.
My overarching goal was to describe a range of ideal and enacted literacy
conceptions. To do so, although I had observed Ms. Price during a day-long
observation period in the aforementioned pilot study, I included her in the
dissertation study because she was one of only a few fourth-grade teachers in
the county who used literature, and not the basal reader exclusively, to provide
literacy learning opportunities for her students. I anticipated that Ms. Price's
interview answers would represent one end of a range of teachers' literacy
methods because she used various texts for teaching. I chose another teacher,
Ms. Martin, who was nominated as an exemplary teacher for the pilot study, but
was unable to take part in it, because of illness. I chose the other two
participants, Ms. Vaskey and Ms. Donaldson (who were considered "average"
teachers by their principal) based on their grade level and their willingness to
allow me to interview them and observe their literacy instruction. I expected
them to represent a more traditional approach to literacy learning in fourth-grade
classrooms because I noticed before the study that they most often used basal
reading books to teach reading and writing. I ended up with four teachers whom
I thought would represent a range of ideal and real literacy conceptions-two so-
called "exemplary" teachers and two so-called "average" teachers. After gaining
permission from my university's human subject board, I spoke with all four
teachers who agreed to allow me to observe and interview them. I obtained
signed consent forms from students' parents or guardians in two classes for
each teacher, that totaled 240 students in all. (Fifteen parents or guardians of
the 240 students did not allow me to interview their children.) I also met with and
obtained written permission from both principals and gained oral permission from
two county office supervisors.
The principal at Rolling Hills Elementary School described Ms. Price, aged
50, as an exemplary literacy teacher. She was voted Teacher of the Year during
the 1999 2000 school year and ultimately chosen as one of the top five
teachers in the county. At the time of the study, Ms. Price had taught 13 years in
all, spending the last seven years at Rolling Hills Elementary School. Each year
20 to 25 parents requested that Ms. Price be their child's teacher.
The other so-called "exemplary" teacher in this study, Ms. Martin, also had
taught 13 years--the last 11 years at Madison Elementary School. She also had
been previously voted by her peers as Teacher of the Year for her school.
Typically five to ten parents requested that their children be in her class each
year. Ms. Martin was in her late 30s.
Ms. Vaskey, who was in her eighth year of teaching, had taught at Rolling
Hills Elementary her entire professional career. Nine years before the study
began, she was an intern in Ms. Martin's room while attending night school and
working as a full-time teacher's assistant. She was in her early 50s at the time of
The fourth teacher, Ms. Donaldson, was the youngest and least
experienced teacher in the study. At the time of the study she was in her mid-
twenties and had taught in fourth-grade at Rolling Hills Elementary for four years.
The principal at Rolling Hills hired her after an internship there with a second-
I collected data by conducting a series of interviews with each of the four
teachers (three times each for 13 hours and 230 transcribed pages) and 12
students (three from each class for 6 hours and 108 pages of transcripts);
observing and taking field notes and transcribing selected classroom interactions
from the daily, 90-minute language arts block (for 50 days, 153 hours and 482
pages of transcripts); collecting student and teacher artifacts (26 pages of lesson
plans and 338 pages of student work papers); and reading the teacher's editions
of text books (500+ pages examined), curricular guides (40 pages), and
standardized testing materials (539 pages). I conducted three formal and
numerous informal interviews with each teacher. To answer the research
question, "How do these teachers enact their conceptions of literacy and literacy
learning?," I observed the four teachers enacting their literacy curriculum. I
observed two complete literacy learning "chunks," or series of reading and
writing lessons that were grouped together by common basal stories or pieces of
literature. Using the term "chunk" is a better way to refer to this phenomenon
than "lesson" or "story" because most meaningful literacy learning occurs over
time, not just during one or two lessons.
The term "chunk" captured my intent to observe a purposive sampling of
lessons that occurred over several days or weeks, what Stake (1985) called a
bounded instance. "Chunk" also describes a self-contained grouping of lessons
that appeared in some way to fit with one another. In each case, I asked the
teachers to define a chunk of learning and to determine how long I should
observe in their rooms to experience the whole chunk. I observed as many days
as necessary to complete two literacy learning chunks per teacher. For Ms.
Price, one of the two exemplary teachers, the first chunk lasted 8 days and the
second chunk lasted five days. For Ms. Miller, the first chunk lasted 12 days and
the second chunk lasted five days. For the other two teachers, both chunks
lasted five days. I spent a total of 50 mornings, over 153 hours, observing
literacy teaching and learning in the four fourth-grade classrooms.
Because I was trying to capture a sense of the typical literacy learning
opportunities in the classes I observed, it was important to me that my presence
in the room did not affect the usual class proceedings. All four teachers said that
the students seemed to act the same way whether or not I was in the room. The
teachers did admit that they spent more time in planning the language arts
activities for the week because I would be in the room, but as Ms. Donaldson
said, "The main thing is still the main thing. We are still teaching and the kids
are still being kids!" To check on this matter, on two occasions, with two different
teachers, I left the classrooms early. With the teachers' permission, in both
cases I left the tape recorder running and listened to the tapes the next day.
Both classes seemed to proceed in the same manner when I was not present in
the room as they did when I was present.
Two to three days after the beginning of each observation chunk, I
conducted student and teacher interviews. I conducted 12 formal student
interviews (three students from each class during the spring term) and 12 formal
teacher interviews (three interviews for each teacher), along with numerous
informal teacher and student interviews. During the interviews, I decided to
create a conversational tone because I felt the participants would respond to my
questions more readily and honestly.
In the first teacher interview, my overarching goal was to discern each
teachers' ideal conceptions about reading and writing because there is no
universal "ideal" literacy curriculum. I wanted to answer the first research
question, "What are teachers' ideal conceptions of literacy and literacy learning?"
Questions I asked during the first interview are listed in Appendix A.
After the initial interview, for each teacher I generated a list of 15-20
critical points that seemed to me to describe their ideal literacy conceptions. In
the second formal interview my goal was to verify what I interpreted as each
teacher's ideal conceptions of teaching reading and writing. I conducted a
member check (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), asking each teacher to further clarify her
ideal curriculum, orally accepting, rejecting, or modifying the critical points. I
presented these critical issues to each teacher orally and in conversation form so
that I could change the order of issues as they made sense in the conversation.
For example, Ms. Price mentioned student choice of reading and writing
materials, low numbers of students in each class, and a whole language
philosophy as important aspects of her ideal reading and writing curriculum.
During the first half of the second interview, I presented each of these issues to
her, and she verified that they were indeed important aspects of her ideal
reading and writing curriculum. She also expanded and defined what she meant
by each concept.
During the last half of the second interview, my goal was to characterize
the teachers' perceptions of their enacted literacy curricula. I focused on the
research question, "How do these teachers enact their conceptions of literacy
and literacy learning?" This interview took place at the end of one school year so
I asked each teacher to describe a typical chunk of literacy lessons that year in
order to determine a context for the lessons I would subsequently observe. (See
Appendix A for the second interview questions.)
Over the summer, after observing one literacy learning chunk for each
teacher and analyzing their previous responses, I compared the teachers'
enacted curricula with their ideal curricula as revealed in the first two set of
teacher interviews. I noted any differences between the ideal curricula they
described in the first two interviews and the enacted curricula I observed in their
classrooms. During the third interview I asked the teachers about these
differences and to assess the influences of external forces as one way to answer
the research question, "What influences these teachers' ideal and enacted
literacy curriculum?" My goal during this interview was to ascertain the teachers'
perspectives about why there may be differences between their ideal and real
curriculum. I also wanted them to tell me about any internal or external forces
they felt while teaching. (See Appendix A for a list of the questions I posed
during the third teacher interview.)
During the spring semester of 2000, I asked each teacher to divide the
students whose parents had agreed to let me interview them into three groups
based on the teachers' perceptions of high, middle, and low performers. Then
the teacher and I chose one student from each group to interview based on the
teachers' opinion of which students would talk freely about their experiences. I
interviewed three students from each class about their reading and writing
classes during the current school year especially focusing on the literacy chunks
I observed. I was curious about the literacy events they remembered and what
they chose to discuss. I expected them to disclose which literacy lessons were
salient to them. Talking with students about these salient opportunities enabled
me to envision past literacy events that were important to them. Also, asking
students to reflect on past literacy experiences revealed a context of literacy
learning within each classroom. I read an assent form and gained oral consent
from each student before we began. (See Appendix A for a complete list of
questions I asked each student.)
Then, for three of the classes, I conducted group interviews with the same
high, middle, and lower performing students that I had interviewed previously. I
did this because the students hesitated to talk when they met with me
individually. In fact, the first nine students mostly nodded or shook their heads
and spoke so softly that the microphone did not clearly pick up their answers. I
interviewed the students from each of the first three classes together in hopes
that they would speak freely in a group setting about their literacy learning for
that year. The students did talk more openly during the group interviews, in
which I asked the same basic questions as in the individual interviews. However,
because the three students from Ms. Martin's class were relatively talkative, I did
not conduct a group interview with them.
Other Sources of Data
Other sources of data included collections of student artifacts, or students'
written documents completed as a result of the literacy learning opportunities I
observed. These sources helped me more fully describe the enacted literacy
curriculum of the four teachers and served as descriptive evidence that the
participating teachers provided certain types of learning opportunities. In the
pilot study, when I interviewed five teachers about ideal literacy learning, all of
them mentioned teachers' editions, curricular guides, and/or standardized tests
as influencing their ideal literacy curricula. The pilot study teachers also
described the pressures they felt to design literacy lessons modeled after
teachers' editions, curricular guides, and test formats. For these reasons, I
closely analyzed any teachers' editions, curricular guides, and practice materials
for standardized tests that the teachers used both during my observations and
throughout the entire fourth-grade school year.
Data Analysis Procedures
In keeping with educational ethnographic research, I used the constant
comparative method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Hutchinson, 1988;
Spradley, 1980). To begin analysis I transcribed audio-tapes of the teacher and
student interviews and selected classroom interactions. As Mischler (1991)
noted, deciding how to represent the spoken word on paper, or transcription, is
often the first step in analysis. Each word of selected interaction was
transcribed. I included the speakers' names, the words they spoke, and the
nonverbal behavior I noted while in the classroom. I relied on transcripts of the
first two sets of teachers' interviews to describe their ideal curricula. I also used
transcripts of teachers' interviews to bring out potential sources of influence. In
order to verify the enacted curriculum that the teachers described in their
interviews I relied on transcripts of student interviews, samples of student
artifacts, teachers' editions, and my field notes.
Ideal Literacy Curricula
To ascertain each teacher's ideal conceptions of literacy teaching and
learning, I focused on the first two sets of teacher interviews. I "coded" the
transcriptions (Spradley, 1980), that is, looked for patterns, themes, and
relationships within and among the classrooms. Several main categories
emerged from this activity. I noticed that all four teachers mentioned their
curriculum, which included the printed texts they used as a foundation for their
literacy lessons; various teacher and student roles in the classroom; and issues
related to assessment. These three aspects formed the foundation of my
analysis of their ideal curriculum. (See Chapter 4 for the results of this analysis.)
I also organized my description of each teachers' enacted curriculum around
these same three categories.
Enacted Literacy Curricula
To understand each teachers' enacted curriculum I relied on field notes,
audio-taped and transcribed selections from literacy lessons, and student
interviews. During my observations I focused on what the students generally
were doing in relation to the text and the literacy assignment because at any
point in a literacy chunk, students could be doing quite different things, activities
which give clues to learners' orientation to a text. I analyzed classroom
interactions in order to more fully describe the enacted curricula in relation to
teachers' and students' moves, or purposes for speaking.
Seeking disconfirming evidence (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), I also noticed
atypical students' responses, or those interactions, expressions, or movements
that were different from the norm for that particular class. In addition, I analyzed
any student artifacts that were created during my observation times in order to
understand what students were being asked to do during the enacted curriculum.
I also read any teachers' editions or professional materials from which teachers
created their lesson plans. The combination of oral discourse analysis, field
notes, students' responses to reading and writing, students' artifacts, and
teachers' editions and materials revealed complex, changing, and purposeful
Numerous opportunities for literacy learning potentially occur throughout
the entire school day; however, it was beyond the scope of this study to observe
and analyze all literacy learning opportunities. In order to focus data collection, I
transcribed and analyzed only selected classroom interactions that related to
reading or writing transactions.
Borrowing from studies of classroom discourse (Bellack et al., 1966), I
proceeded to analyze the participants' "moves," or what participants were doing
with their language in these selected classroom interactions. I did not analyze
each word spoken in the classrooms. Rather, I chose the interactions if they
revolved around a literary text, whether the text was oral or printed. For
example, if the beginning point of a classroom activity was reading, I explored
how teachers encouraged students to assume stances toward texts, transact
with texts, and respond in some manner. Similarly, if the beginning point was
writing, I described the writers as they were assuming stances, writing or talking
about concepts, and receiving some sort of feedback about their writing if the
teacher had designed feedback. I approximated the stance of readers and
writers using their behaviors and words as clues. The internal nature of reading
and writing made ascertaining the exact stance of readers and writers a difficult
task. Nevertheless, I described the prevalent reading and writing transactions
and the approximate stances of participants that took place during my
observations by coding participants' moves during their oral discourse. In this
way, I focused on teachers' directions, students' verbal/nonverbal expressions,
students' responses to texts, students' artifacts, and any other sources of
information that characterized reading or writing transactions.
Similar to what Mehan (1979a) and Cazden (1988) report, I found the
Initiate Reply Evaluate (or IRE) pattern prevalent in all four classrooms. I did not
simply code each IRE pattern I saw, however. Instead, I coded students' and
teachers' moves by finding patterns in utterances and labeling them, such as
"tries to initiate a topic for discussion" and "tries to invite reflection" (Townsend,
1993). I then grouped the moves into three broad categories that I labeled
spectator, participant, and pretender events (Townsend, personal
During a spectator event teachers and students used language as outside
observers of the text, whether written or oral. There were limited opportunities
for students to speak in spectator events and teachers directed each aspect of
the event. On the other hand, during a participant event, teachers and students
used language actively, in order to do something such as complete an action,
speculate about a proposition, or inquire about personally relevant information.
There were many opportunities for students and teachers to communicate
various moves in the participant event. In a curious mixture of spectator and
participant stances, I also discovered a pretender event in which teachers
apparently framed a spectator event but "pretended" they were enacting a
participant event. On the surface, a pretender event looked like a participant
event, but taking a holistic view of the event revealed the teachers' spectator
stance and the limited role that students could play in such events.
I was able to describe particular episodes and characterize what both
teachers and students were doing during literacy lessons. The moves that
originated from the interaction transcripts became further evidence of the
enacted literacy curriculum. (See Chapter 4, Results, for more details.)
I categorized spectator, participant, and pretender events in oral
classroom interactions in order to describe the enacted literacy curriculum. I
discovered that there were relatively few purposes for speaking within spectator
events. Instead of simply verifying the commonplace IRE pattern, with its limited
set of moves and purposes for speaking, I focused my analysis on the participant
events. (To do so, I had to assume intention. I did not, however, ascertain
whether or not the participants' purposes were achieved, nor did I gauge the
effect of the turns of speaking on other participants.) Chapter 4 will describe the
various moves as one way to characterize an enacted literacy curriculum.
Sources of Influence on the Literacy Curricula
While reading through the first two teachers' interviews, I noted nine
possible sources of influence on their reading and writing curricula. This list
included county and state standards, standardized testing, student interests,
personal beliefs about teaching, the teachers' sense of what needs to be done,
other people, teachers' editions, professional materials, and forces over which
teachers have no control. As a "member check" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 314)
during the last interview I asked the teachers to place the nine sources in order,
according to the ones they felt the most influenced by, and to verify that these
sources shaped their literacy instruction. I also asked them to verify that there
were no other potential influences.
To more fully describe the nine sources of influence, I noted any
discrepancies between the teachers' ideal and enacted conceptions of literacy
learning. When I asked the teachers about any differences, they typically
responded by describing a source of influence more fully. In this way, the
teachers themselves gave detailed descriptions of the various sources of
To summarize, I analyzed classroom observations, teacher and student
interviews, teacher and student artifacts, materials that teachers read, and
selected classroom interactions in order to describe the four teachers' real and
ideal literacy curricula and the sources of influence on their literacy curricula. To
understand their ideal curricula, I used the first and second set of teacher
interviews. To describe their enacted curricula, I analyzed the selected
classroom interactions, observation field notes, students' interviews, and the third
set of teacher interviews. To interpret various sources of influence on their
curricula, I focused on the three sets of teacher interviews and any discrepancies
I noticed between their ideal and enacted curricula.
Appropriateness of the Method
Participant observation (Spradley, 1980) and analyzing participants'
moves during classroom interactions were appropriate for this study because
they aided my understanding of the complex data I collected in several ways.
First, participant observation permitted me to investigate each teacher's
interviews in light of the enactments I observed. My observations enabled me to
individually and simultaneously analyze all four teachers' ideal and enacted
curricula. In other words, being a participant observer helped me to understand
each part of the data by understanding the other parts. Analyzing participants'
moves served to clarify the prevailing patterns of classroom discourse. Through
this analysis I was able to interpret and categorize 247 classroom events and
identify supports or constraints to literacy instruction. Most importantly, using
these methods enabled me to study teachers' perceptions and classroom
enactments inductively without generating hypotheses a priori or predetermining
relevant variables. The ideal and enacted curricula varied among the teachers,
but I was able to integrate the data into a cohesive description of each teacher
and to describe similar patterns among the teachers.
Definitions of Terms
The following terms will be used in this study:
An aesthetic stance is a readiness to respond to a printed literary text
characterized by what the reader is living through, guided by the text, during the
reading event. For example, an aesthetic stance is assumed by a reader who
savors the words of a poem with his attention on the present event of reading the
poem, not on remembering portions of the poem for a test at a later time.
Curricular pressures are those external pressures that influence the
teachers' enacted curricula and the skills and concepts teachers must cover
during the course of a school year. Some examples are county-level curricular
guides, teachers' editions, and state or local standards.
Direct Instruction, or DI, is an approach to teaching in which goal-oriented
lessons are carefully structured by the teacher and follow these seven steps:
* State learning objectives and orient students to lesson.
* Review prerequisites.
* Present new material.
* Conduct learning probes.
* Provide independent practice.
* Assess performance and provide feedback.
* Provide distributed practice and review.
Students and teachers typically assume a spectator stance while participating in
a DI lesson.
An efferent stance is a readiness to respond to printed text characterized
by focusing on remembering concepts, ideas, and actions after the text has been
read. For example, reading a medicine bottle in order to learn how to take the
medicine correctly requires an efferent stance.
The enacted curricula is part of the actual, or real, curricula provided by
teachers, undertaken by students, and able to be observed by researchers.
High-stakes testing pressures are external pressures that teachers may
experience that are related to standardized test preparation or other measures
by which teachers or schools are rewarded or punished according to student
Ideal refers to a phenomena that is completely satisfactory or highly
An Integrated language arts curriculum occurs when a teacher blends as
many subjects as possible into a cohesive, meaningful whole. The topic for
integration typically emerges from a literary piece or basal reading story.
A linguistic-experiential reservoir (Rosenblatt, 1988) is a collection of past
experiences, past emotional states, prior readings of texts, previous experiences
with readings, present states, present preoccupations, and so on. Linguistic-
experiential reservoirs shape current reading.
Literacy is the state of being able to participate fully in a to-and-fro
interplay between a person and text that results in a coherent understanding.
Recursive in nature, being literate is being able to assume an appropriate stance
toward a text, to interpret the text or lived-through experience of a text, and/ or to
create a new text.
A literacy learning opportunity is a classroom event that affords students
an occasion for literacy development and may or may not result in students'
actual literacy learning.
A literacy learning chunk is a series of literacy lessons that are grouped
together by a common piece of literature or basal reading story. The length of
the chunk varies from class to class. Some teachers create chunks that last one
week or less, while others create chunks lasting several weeks.
Literature-based Instruction occurs when teachers base reading lessons
on a piece of literature instead of a basal reading story.
A participant stance is characterized by people using language to
complete an action, to explore possibilities, or to inquire about personally
relevant information. Numerous moves are possible in a participant stance, such
as "expressing an opinion," "wondering," "connecting a personal experience with
a topic," or "encouraging elaboration of a topic."
A spectator stance is characterized by people using language to answer
explicit questions or to discuss the literal plot of a text. There are limited
possibilities for speaking, including moves such as "asking a predetermined
question," "showing knowledge" or "evaluating responses."
A stance is a readiness to respond in a certain way.
A text may be the printed word(s), or the oral and/or nonverbal interaction
between or among two or more people.
A literacy transaction takes place between a person and a text, whether
the text is written, oral, or nonverbal. "Transaction designates an ongoing
process in which the elements or factors are, one might say, aspects of a total
situation, each conditioned by and conditioning the other" (Rosenblatt, 1978, p.
17). In a recursive fashion, a transaction occurs when a reader assumes a
stance, interprets a text, and responds to the text either during or after reading,
writing, or talking.
The purpose of this study was to explore 4 fourth-grade teachers'
perspectives on teaching literacy by relating their ideal conceptions of literacy
learning to their enacted curriculum. Using teacher and student interviews,
classroom observations, and verbatim transcripts of selected classroom
interactions, I analyzed each teachers' ideal and real literacy learning
opportunities and characterized the influences they felt on their literacy curricula.
This chapter presents the results of the first two interviews of each teacher and
focuses on the first research question "What are four selected teachers' ideal
conceptions of literacy and literacy learning?" Its purpose is to describe the ideal
literacy conceptions of each teacher and provide a basis for understanding the
differences between their ideal and real literacy curricula.
Although a rich, thick description of each teacher is my intent, a complete
analysis of all areas of literacy implementation was beyond the scope of this
study. For example, I did not gather data on teacher planning or on any
inservice instruction that took place during the study. I did, however, analyze
each teacher's ideal and enacted literacy curricula by using three aspects of
literacy learning: curriculum, roles of the teacher and the student, and
assessment. These three categories were developed during a preliminary
analysis of the teachers' responses after the first round of interviews and
observations because they stood out as important aspects of literacy learning for
the four participants. During the last round of observations and the third set of
teacher interviews, I conducted a "member check" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, pp.
314-315) to confirm and correct various categories and influences that emerged
from the first phase of analysis. I explicitly asked the teachers about each
category in order to understand the teachers' perspectives more clearly.
Spectator and Participant Stances
In order to describe the enacted curricula I have employed two concepts
that need to be explained at the outset. As I have described it, literacy is a to-
and-fro interplay between person and text. This interplay between a reader,
speaker, or writer and a text shapes the literary interpretation (Rosenblatt, 1994).
In a reading or writing transaction, a person's stance, or readiness to respond in
a certain way will also shape the experience. In other words, a learner's stance
toward a text will determine the nature of an engagement, or the degree to which
the learner's interest is sustained. As Langer (1995) and others have suggested,
a higher level of engagement with a literary text deepens the understanding of
the text. For this study, I describe the nature of students' engagement with texts
(literary, verbal, or nonverbal) by describing the nature of the interactions
surrounding selected literacy lessons. How individual teachers approach
literature (their stance toward literature) plays a large role in determining how
students will respond to texts (Galda, 1990; Hickman, 1981; Rosenblatt, 1994).
My definition of text (which includes, but is not limited to, oral and nonverbal
transactions of two or more people) supports experts' findings on stance in the
I have employed the terms "participant" and "spectator" to characterize
classroom interactions, although these stances were originally characterized by
Britton (1993) to describe responses to reading and talking. As I use it in this
study, a spectator stance is characterized by a person interacting with a text as
an outside observer, similar to a spectator at a sporting event. I use the term
"participant" for times when students used language when they felt the need" to
act and decide (Britton, 1993, p. 105) and in order "to get things done" (Britton,
1993, p. 101). Within the "enacted" section, I will further describe both stances
as ways of understanding the nature of students' engagement with texts.
The second concept that needs clarification is my use of the term "event."
In the enacted section I have grouped together the classroom interactions that
had a logical beginning and ending as one way to understand a "grammar"
(Weade & Greene, 1989) of the lesson. I characterized an event as a series of
utterances by two or more speakers that ended when the subject matter
changed or the class made a transition to another content area. The events that
I identified are based on teachers' and students' stances while speaking, as I
could construe them. For my purposes in this chapter, I have used the two
terms, participant and spectator, as labels for the events that occurred during the
During a "spectator event," teachers and students assumed a spectator
stance and used their language accordingly. The interaction pattern of a typical
spectator event was Mehan's (1979a) Initiate Reply Evaluate (IRE) interaction
pattern in which the teacher initiated a question, a student responded, and the
teacher evaluated the student's response. For example, in the following excerpt
from a spectator event Ms. Vaskey asked students to make general statements
about a list of words she wrote on the board from a novel they were about to
[Note: In this and all transcripts that follow, "XXX" signifies
unidentifiable speech and ".. ." signifies words omitted for clarity. All
names are pseudonyms.]
[The teacher has drawn the students' attention to five words on the
board: 1. bewilderment, 2. miracle, 3. wondrous, 4. miraculous,
1. Ms. Vaskey: Pick out two and tell me how they are alike. Tawny.
2. Tawny: Two and four are spelled the same
[Ms. Vaskey writes "2 and 4 are spelled the same" on the board.]
3. Ms. Vaskey: What is the same about two and four that is spelled the
4. Lauren: Ummm. "m-i-r-a-c" is the same.
5. Ms. Vaskey: OK. Anything else that you see, either one of them?
[nods to David]
6. David: They talk about miracles.
7. Ms. Vaskey: [to David] Which ones talk about miracles? What
8. David: Two and four.
9. Ms. Vaskey: Two and four? OK. [writes "2 & 4 talk about miracles" on
This excerpt includes typical characteristics of a spectator event: an IRE
interaction pattern and students and teacher reflecting on language or being
"free to contemplate without the pressure of immediate action" (Galda, 1990). In
turns 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, Ms. Vaskey asked a question and called on a student. In
turns 2, 4, 6, and 8, the students answered her questions.
On the other hand, during a "participant event" students and teachers
used language as participants in order to do something, such as complete an
action, explore a possibility, or seek out personally relevant information. For
example, in an interaction about the story James and the Giant Peach, in which
a young boy must contend with wicked aunts, Ms. Price's students shared
personal reflections from their journals:
1. Chris: If I were James I would have run away to the closest house
and ask for them to help or if I could stay with them.
2. Ms. Price: So you would have gone to somebody else's house for
help. How many of you either chose to tell somebody or ask for
[Ten students raise their hands.]
3. Ms. Price: ... Ronnie?
4. Ronnie: If I were James, I would wait until they were asleep, and I
would climb out the window and go to the neighbors then and tell
5. Ms. Price: Okay, so you wouldn't call the police, you'd go! [laughs]
The students in this excerpt did not comment on the text as outsiders, as
they would have done in a spectator event. Rather, in turns 1 and 4 they
assumed the role of the main character and suggested possibilities for action, as
if they were participating in the story line. In turn 2, Ms. Price asked a question
that had multiple possibilities for answers. Students gave their opinions, first as
a group (turn 3), then individually (turn 5 and after). The students and teacher in
this excerpt actively used oral language to understand the text, to invite multiple
perspectives into the conversation, and to express their own opinions.
Introduction to the Teachers
The four teachers shared similar characteristics. They all had spent their
entire careers teaching in elementary schools in the southeast portion of the
United States. All four were females, and three of the four taught in the same
school. Although they shared certain qualities, each teacher was distinct.
At the time of the study, Ms. Martin had taught in the same elementary
school in grades two, three, and four in a small town of approximately 12,000
people, where she had been born and raised. She graduated from a nearby
state university and returned home to teach. She was 38 years old and had
been teaching at the suburban Madison Elementary School for 14 years, the last
two years in fourth-grade. Her principal nominated her as one of two
"exemplary" literacy teachers in the school. She was isolated from the other
three teachers in the study who taught at another nearby elementary school.
Her soft-spoken, happy demeanor created a quiet, pleasant atmosphere in her
classroom. According to the principal, 60-70% of Ms. Martin's students each
year were placed in her room because of parent requests. Ms. Martin
maintained a good reputation among students' parents and guardians, as
evidenced by the high number of parent requests and frequent parent volunteers
in her room. She regularly attended her students' extracurricular activities, such
as soccer games, cheer-leading competitions, and musical performances. She
said she did this because she enjoyed being part of her students' personal lives.
Ms. Martin saw literacy as being able to read and write. She described
her definition of literacy in the first interview:
Um, literacy, I think of the ability to read well and comprehend what you're
reading. And also be able to write, you know, respond to a reading.
Mostly when I do think of literacy, that's what I think of, reading.
This teacher also associated literacy ability with the likelihood of students'
successes in school. "I've seen what it takes to fit in, and be successful is to be
able to read, and I just associate that with being literate and having literacy." In
interview three, Ms. Martin repeated that success in high school depends on
literacy abilities developed in elementary school. She added that there was a
window of time in elementary school in which teachers could help students learn
to read and write, but in upper grades "they may not ever get a teacher that's
going to help them to catch up." Ms. Martin's definition of literacy, then, included
being able to read and write so that students could progress successfully through
school. When I asked her to explain the purposes of literacy in her classroom,
she said, "to gain the knowledge of whatever we are doing."
The second teacher, Ms. Price, was in her late 40s and had been in her
present position for four years. She earned a bachelor's degree from a large
state university and before coming to her present position had taught in grades
two and five. The principal at Rolling Hills Elementary nominated her as one of
two "exemplary" teachers in the school. At the time of the study, she had taught
for 12 years in this rural school. Ms. Price had taken extra inservice training in
second-language acquisition principles. Consequently, the administration
typically placed English as a Second Language (ESOL) students in Ms. Price's
room. According to an office assistant, the principal placed all of the other
students in her room because of parents' requests. Ms. Price's colleagues
selected her to represent the school in the 1999-2000 Teacher of the Year
contest, and she finished among the top five teachers in the county. Her
talkative classroom had a lively, jovial atmosphere that stemmed from her
Ms. Price described eight interrelated ideas about literacy:
Well, I guess most people think of literacy as being able to read at some
level. But I think it goes a lot farther than that. I think literacy is
being able to read, then that automatically leads to all those things that go
with it. The grammar so you'll understand what you're reading, vocabulary
and the different comprehension skills. And it leads to spelling. It leads
right away to writing, because if there was nothing written, there would be
nothing to read.
So it goes to all of those, but it goes beyond that. It goes into some
creativity, particularly when you get into writing. Also when you're reading,
to be creative in your thinking. It goes to problem solving and logic,
because to understand what an author is saying is sometimes like a
puzzle, and you have to try to figure out what they mean and where
they're going and why they're doing it.
So, I think it's a much broader and more encompassing subject
than simply "Do they know enough phonics to be able to call words?"
Which is, I think, what a lot of people would say literacy is.
Ms. Price's personal definition of literacy built upon a base of reading and
writing, but extended and refined a "reading and writing" explanation. She
based the first six aspects of her literacy definition on skills that may be easily
evaluated on a standardized test. However, the last two aspects of her definition
broadened to include creativity and problem solving, two higher-order thinking
skills (Bloome, 1975) that are often hard to assess. Clearly, Ms. Price
understood literacy as a complex phenomenon. She also acknowledged that
other educators might define literacy as simply "Do they know enough phonics to
be able to call words?" She admitted that they might argue with her broad
definition of literacy.
According to Ms. Price, the purpose of literacy instruction in fourth-grade
was to learn and grow as a person. She revealed that, to her, literacy learning
"opens the door for everything." She also reported that she was convinced that
her teaching performance could greatly affect her students' future lives.
At the time of the study, Ms. Vaskey, one of the teachers nominated as
"average" by her principal, had been teaching for seven years. She graduated
from a small, private college in the southeast and felt prepared for her first
teaching position only because she worked as a teacher's assistant for eight
years before graduating from college. "I had the experience of having teachers
around me that I could observe and work with.... [So] working and subbing and
doing a lot of things" prepared Ms. Vaskey for her teaching career. She also
credited Ms. Martin, one of the so-called "exemplary" teachers in the study who
taught at a nearby school, for helping her learn about teaching, because she
served as an intern in Ms. Martin's classroom before graduating from college.
Ms. Vaskey's quiet classroom at the rural Rolling Hills Elementary seemed to be
run with military-like precision. From my field notes on the third day of my
observations is my notation about the atmosphere in her room:
It's almost eerie how quiet the students work in this room. At first, I
wondered if my presence here was the cause of the stillness. Now that
I've been in the room three days, I think that Ms. Vaskey has "trained" the
students to be so quiet.
Even so, the class erupted in laughter at times, as a result of Ms. Vaskey's rare
but humorous wit.
Ms. Vaskey's definition of literacy was based on comprehending printed
text. She said, "literacy is reading and understanding what you read." She went
on to say that if students do not love reading, "you have to have someone to get
you interested in the love of reading. Just reading itself and delving into the
characters and why they are the way they are."
Ms. Vaskey's purpose for reading and writing in her fourth-grade
classroom closely related to real-world tasks that students may have to
accomplish outside of the classroom.
I relate writing to business; I relate writing to home. I think it's important
that they understand a story and be able to write about the characters,
write about the setting, and the actions, and comparing and contrasting
the different stories of a particular unit--seeing how the characters react..
.. I tell them that expository writing would be convincing your parents that
you want that Nintendo game.
The fourth teacher in this study, Ms. Donaldson, had taught only three
years at the time of the study. She both interned and accepted her first teaching
position at rural Rolling Hills Elementary School. Her principal nominated her as
an "average" literacy teacher. She admitted that managing students' behavior
was the most challenging part of learning to teach, because "you have to learn
when you get in here what works for you." The atmosphere in her room clearly
showed her attention to classroom management. Her students were compliant,
and on the rare occasions that they did not follow the class rules, Ms. Donaldson
quickly reprimanded them.
Ms. Donaldson said that literacy was
everything all combined. The reading, writing, and language all combined,
because you're going to have to have language skills to write; you're going
to have to have the writing skills to be able to read. The writing--the
reading skills to be able to write. So, I think it has to be everything all
In her integrated definition of literacy, Ms. Donaldson implied that reading
and writing are interconnected and inform or support one another. She went on
to say that "the kids that are low readers are low writers," elaborating her
conceptions of the link between reading and writing even further.
According to Ms. Donaldson, the purpose of literacy instruction in fourth-
grade classrooms was to develop students' writing abilities for the future.
"They're going to have to succeed in life. They're going to have to write when
they go for a job interview, or to get into college they're going to have to be able
to write." She also said that reading is important because "there's no place you
can get by without reading." She described the importance of practice and said
"That's the deep down purpose-to get better at it so you can succeed."
Summary of the Four Teachers
In sum, all four teachers connected literacy with future successes or
failures. Although they basically agreed on the purposes for literacy instruction,
all four had slightly different definitions of literacy. (See Table 4-1) Ms. Martin
Table 4-1: A Comparison of Four Teachers' Definitions and Purposes
Teacher Definition of Literacy Purpose of Literacy
Ms. Martin being able to read, to gain knowledge of
comprehend, and respond concepts in school
to a reading
being able to write
Ms. Price being able to read, know to learn and grow as a
about grammar, person
comprehend what is read,
spell words correctly, write,
use creativity, solve
problems, and use logic
Ms. Vaskey being able to read and to succeed outside of school
understand what is read
Ms. Donaldson being able to read, write, to develop students' writing
and use language skills abilities for the future
defined literacy as being able to read and write, while Ms. Donaldson described
the interconnected nature of reading and writing. Ms. Vaskey focused on
reading and comprehending written text, while Ms. Price described literacy as a
set of eight complex ideas--being able to read, understanding or knowing
grammar, developing vocabulary, using comprehension skills, spelling words
correctly, writing clearly, showing creativity, thinking creatively, and using
appropriate problem solving and logic abilities. Ms. Donaldson and Ms. Price
both characterized literacy as integrating several abilities into a coherent grasp of
text. On the other hand, Ms. Martin and Ms. Vaskey simplified the definition of
literacy and based it on reading. While all four teachers gave somewhat distinct
definitions of literacy, three of the teachers-Ms. Martin, Ms. Vaskey, and Ms.
Donaldson--had similar individual ideal conceptions of literacy. Ms. Price's ideals
differed from the rest.
Ideal Literacy Conceptions
To answer the question, "What are four selected teachers' ideal
conceptions of literacy and literacy learning," I relied on the responses from the
first two sets of teacher interviews. During the first round of interviews, I asked
each teacher to describe her ideal conceptions of literacy learning. In the
second interview my goal was to verify their ideal conceptions from a list of
critical issues I derived from the first set of interviews.
After repeated, close scrutiny of the transcripts from these interviews,
three aspects of literacy learning emerged that all four teachers addressed and
that seemed central to their views: curriculum, the roles of teachers and students
in the classroom, and assessment. This section will address these aspects of
the four teachers' ideal conceptions of literacy.
All four teachers agreed that "real" literature should be used in elementary
classrooms. What they did not agree on was the role that literature should play
in the ideal literacy curriculum and the organization of an ideal literacy
For example, Ms. Martin, a so-called "exemplary" teacher who was the
only teacher in the study at Madison Elementary, aligned herself with an
integrated, literature-based curriculum when she said, "instead of the basal
reader where they're reading short, little, partial, part of the story, the pieces of
stories, they actually feel accomplishment by reading a book." She went on to
I think the children get an idea that they don't like to read because of what
we give them in the basal. And if they get the joy of learning from being
able to read a book that maybe they're interested in ... they're going to
want to read more, which is half the battle.
Further, she said that teachers should organize class time so that they could
meet with students individually and in groups according to their abilities. She
said that this organization could help lower-performing students raise their
Ms. Price, the other so-called "exemplary" teacher, also stated that
literature was the foundation for her ideal reading and writing curriculum.
However, she described literature-based instruction in which
everything comes back to one.... You are actually working on one
theme, but actually you are moving in a lot of--there's a lot of little circles
going around it, but they all come back to the one theme. So, you have
your main idea and all your little details sticking out from it.
Like Ms. Martin, Ms. Price also based her ideal literacy curriculum on
students' interests, saying, "if they are not interested in it, it doesn't make any
difference how well suited it is to their level. If they are not interested and it
doesn't attract them, then they are not going to read it." Instead of skill groups,
as Ms. Martin suggested, Ms. Price said that ideally "you would divide your class
into interest groups and choose books and let them each go in their own
direction." She said that during a class reading in an ideal literacy lesson, they
might "just stop and talk about something or notice something." She said that
"little things that hit you probably have more to do with literacy" than lessons on
isolated literacy skills. The two so-called "exemplary" teachers, Ms. Martin and
Ms. Price, both described a central role for literature in their ideal literacy
curriculum. However, Ms. Martin emphasized using skill groups to raise
students' reading levels, and Ms. Price emphasized grouping students according
to their interests.
In contrast, Ms. Vaskey and Ms. Donaldson, the two so-called "average"
teachers in the study, said that they would make use of the basal reading book
as the primary source of literacy instruction, using literature as enrichment.
Initially, Ms. Vaskey said that she would "get away from the textbook and really
get into more of the novels." Yet, when I asked her to describe an ideal literacy
lesson, she said that she would use the basal reading book because it is
supposedly easier because the teacher's book has the things that map
out everything. It has the comprehension questions, it has the skills that
go with the book, instead of me having to generate them.
Within her ideal literacy curriculum, Ms. Vaskey said that small class sizes
(no more than 25 students) would enable teachers to spend time with each
student individually in order to help them if they are "struggling with a different
Similarly, Ms. Donaldson, the least experienced teacher, said that she
would "build on those skills these kids don't have... and get them really solid
and then move on. And I think that you have to have that foundation of the
nouns and verbs before you can do anything else." Her ideal classroom setup
would include learning centers in which students could practice literacy skills.
She also said that an ideal classroom organization would pair higher-performing
students with lower-performing students. "That way, if the lower kids can't find
the answer they have someone there to go to and say, 'Where is this answer at?'
Help me find it."
Summary of ideal curriculum
The two so-called "average" teachers said that the basal reading book
curriculum was ideal for literacy instruction, while the other two teachers
maintained that a literature-based curriculum was an ideal foundation. They also
differed on the organization of an ideal literacy classroom. Ms. Martin, Ms.
Vaskey, and Ms. Donaldson believed that ability-grouping was best for literacy
development, but Ms. Price considered interest-grouping ideal.
Ideal Teacher and Student Roles
Ms. Martin and Ms. Price, the two so-called "exemplary" teachers, both
said that the ideal role of a literacy teacher was to integrate as many subjects as
possible in order to build on students' interests. Ms. Martin said the best efforts
of a literacy teacher are spent
taking a novel and letting your child read from the novel, tying everything
into that, um, that subject. And just working from there. Whatever it may
be. Whether it be math or social studies or health or science, go from that