Exploring how third-grade African American children leverage academic discourse to engage in literate behaviors
Loewenstein, Melanie R.
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The purpose of this qualitative embedded multiple case study (Yin, 2003) was to explore the written and literate language structures, or the academic discourse features, of eight African American students in order to gain insight into the influences of their knowledge of academic discourse on their literate behaviors such as their abilities to decode, anticipate, retell text and answer comprehension questions. Select third-grade African American students participating within this study represented three reading proficiency levels (on-level, above-level and below-level). These levels were chosen to more fully reveal the influences of students’ knowledge of academic discourse on their literacy abilities. Additionally, this study explored students’ literate identities. It focused on their values, beliefs, and practices as well as their metalingustic knowledge or their knowledge of their own linguistic understandings. These linguistic understandings were manifested within their reading processes. The dual purposes of this dissertation reflect key concepts of James Gee’s discourse analysis theory, which examines discourse at the d/discourse and the D/discourse levels (2014). The concept of D/discourse captures the ways in which people identify with the beliefs, values, and behaviors of a group, while d/discourse involves language that people use which links them to a particular discourse. Study participants engaged in five research tasks: the Burke Reading Interview, a wordless picture book story construction, leveled reading, combined comprehension tasks (retelling and answering comprehension questions) and a Cloze reading task. The first two tasks were intended to reveal students’ levels of academic language knowledge (d/discourse) and their identity (D/discourse) as readers. The students’ performances on the other tasks were studied through the lenses of the first two tasks. Multiple analysis procedures used to analyze the data including theoretical thematic analysis, discourse analysis, miscue analysis, Kucer’s comprehension taxonomy analysis, and inductive thematic analysis. Also, frequency charts and analysis tables were used to examine the data resulting from some of the tasks more closely. The results indicated that students’ knowledge of academic language acts as clues, tools, and mental blueprints, aiding them in making sense of text, creating stories and reconstructing authors’ messages. The results also indicated that students use their knowledge of these structures in various ways as they engage in literate behaviors. Additionally, the results showed that most of the students within this study took on a test-taking identity, as most of their responses showed that they had adopted test taking values, beliefs, and practices. However, students who identified less with the culture of test-taking were more likely to have stronger academic language and to use that language in more complex ways. This study revealed the need for educators to be more aware of students’ academic language development, especially that of culturally and linguistically diverse students and students who are approaching the critical fourth grade level, where there is an increase in the academic language demand. This research also showed that educators must be mindful of the messages that are being sent to students within the context of literacy learning. These messages greatly affect their literacy identity, which may be linked to their literacy growth and academic discourse development.