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Becoming scholars: Constructing literacy in a learning disabilities environment

John Edmund Villemaire, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This qualitative study seeks to examine literacy acquisition and identity formation patterns in a group of learning disabled labeled (LDL) college students. This study involved the formation of a genre/constructive inspired reading and study skills class. This genre/constructive inspired class was then used with a group of students enrolled in Piedmont College, a small private two-year college specifically designed for students diagnosed with learning disabilities. Piedmont College was an institution organized around principles of cognitivism and information processing. In this study I have examined the ramifications of using an alternative constructive pedagogy in an institution dominated by information or cognitive pedagogy. Cognitive instructional techniques emphasize a skills-based curriculum leading to metacognition as a goal. My alternative pedagogy emphasized membership and participation leading to a concept I call production of knowledge. Production of knowledge is the ability of members to see themselves as sanctioned to create what is seen as viable, valued information and is an essential part of membership in an academic community. The findings of using this alternative pedagogy relate to both literacy and identity. Research reveals a complex literacy and identity formation process with these LDL students. This is not a simple case of skills development. In the area of literacy, research findings suggest that all students enter the class with a general understanding of academic literacy. As the class proceeds, however, they are able to develop and deepen this understanding. Greater degrees of membership are thus accomplished as the students incorporate academic literacy into their pre-existing discourse community memberships. In the area of identity, research findings suggest that the use of a genre/constructive pedagogy allows for student assumption of subject positions that otherwise would not be available. This provides alternative avenues for students to explore, grow and produce knowledge. These are necessary characteristics for membership in the target (academic) discourse community.

Subject Area

Language arts|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Villemaire, John Edmund, "Becoming scholars: Constructing literacy in a learning disabilities environment" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3102811.