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A critical discourse analysis of classroom literacy practices in fourth grade: The critical moments

Theresa L Abodeeb-Gentile, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study problematizes the literacy practices in a fourth grade suburban classroom. Drawing on sociocultural and poststructural theories of language and literacy, this study examines the teacher-student interactions and student-student interactions within classroom literacy events. This study argues for the need for progressive pedagogy as it examines how the very practices that are implemented to support student difference also serve to marginalize opportunities for student participation within the dominant discourses that shape the classroom culture. Using Fairclough's three-dimensional model of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992, 1995), this study examines the interactions through moment-by-moment analysis of critical moments and contrastive cases to gain perspective on how students' literacy identities were constructed in this classroom. The use of critical discourse analysis helped to make visible both the dominant discourses that were operating in the classroom and how they contributed to the shaping of student literacy identities. The use of critical moments as a unit of analysis in this study arose from the tensions that occurred within the analysis of many literacy events, between the teachers and 3 focal students that were considered to be struggling literacy learners within the classroom. The critical moments also highlighted the tensions that occurred between the students and the dominant discourses of educational reform and differentiated instruction as they were enacted through literacy practices and teacher-student interactions. This tension, enacted as resistance, positioned the students as agentic in the construction of their own literacy identities rather than subject to the teacher's construction of them as struggling literacy learners and also made visible how the students contributed to the knowledge of what counted as literacy in this culture. Major themes stood out as the critical moments were cross-viewed, which revealed the issues of authority, agency, choice, competition, and differentiated instruction as major constructs within and across the interactions. This study demonstrates how students' resistance to the discourses disrupted the ideologies, particularly within the discourse of differentiated instruction as students agentically constructed their literacy identities in opposition to what counted as literacy.

Subject Area

Language arts|Literacy|Reading instruction|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Abodeeb-Gentile, Theresa L, "A critical discourse analysis of classroom literacy practices in fourth grade: The critical moments" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3315529.