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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Margaret Gebhard

Second Advisor

Elizabeth McEneaney

Third Advisor

Jonathan Rosa

Subject Categories

Language and Literacy Education | Secondary Education and Teaching


This dissertation explores ways to better prepare secondary teachers in the United States for more equitably teaching disciplinary literacies to English language learners (ELLs), a current goal of many teacher educators, literacy researchers, and applied linguists that is echoed in federal and state-level education policy. Specifically, it investigates the affordances and constraints of using a critical social semiotic approach to secondary teacher education for this purpose. The dissertation is structured as a set of three research papers, each of which addresses a different aspect of this topic.

The first paper draws on existing literature to explore how a critical social semiotic approach has been used in recent K-12 teacher education and professional development efforts across the United States and to what effect. The second and third papers are empirical studies that seek to build on and add to this body of literature. Data for these papers was collected in the context of a mandated one-semester course designed to prepare secondary pre-service teachers across content areas to better support the disciplinary literacy development of students designated as ELLs. The second paper draws on pre- and post-course survey data to explore changes in 55 secondary pre-service teachers’ literacy teaching practices after they were introduced to a critical social semiotic perspective, specifically how they gave feedback on disciplinary writing. The third paper takes a more longitudinal approach to studying professional development in this same group of pre-service teachers. It combines qualitative case study and quantitative survey methods to more holistically explore what kinds of knowledge, beliefs, and practices these teachers developed over two years as they experienced multiple and, at times, contradictory discourses about language, language learners, and literacy teaching and learning during their pre-service programming, student teaching experiences, and first year of in-service teaching.

Cumulatively, this dissertation contributes to existing research in teacher education, literacy studies, and applied linguistics by offering a comprehensive literature review and additional empirical information regarding the opportunities and challenges of using a critical social semiotic approach to supporting secondary pre-service teachers’ development as disciplinary literacy teachers and, possibly, change agents.