Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Kathleen A. Hinchman


Critical discourse analysis, Identity, Literacy specialist

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


The purpose of this study was to explore the identities and discourses of 10 students who were completing their Literacy Education MS studies to gain certification as literacy specialists. More specifically, it asked: 1) What do beginning literacy specialists' discourses reveal about their evolving identities? 2) On what discourses do they draw? 3) How are situational, institutional, and societal contexts implicated?

A sociocultural view that context, history, culture, discourse, power, and ideologies influence literacy, instruction, and teacher identity grounded this study. The analysis drew on Gee's (2000) notions of identity and discourse. It used critical discourse analysis to consider the oral and written texts produced by 10 graduate students. Data sources included interviews, field notes, and other documents that provided details about the context in which participants were situated.

These students' discourses revealed that they were somewhat (un)certain about their identities as teachers, literacy specialists, and people at an important life transition. (Un)certainty, with parentheses, represents individuals' simultaneous uncertainty and certainty. Participants seemed to be figuring out who they were and where they fit within these groups. Most participants were uncertain about how their affiliations within social groups may impact their work in schools. Yet they drew on race, class, gender, experience, and religion to measure their fit relative to others. Their discourses included helping and deficit perspectives. Such discourses could impede their ability to collaborate successfully with future students and colleagues and impact their overall effectiveness.

This study provides new insights about aspiring literacy specialists' identities and discourses at an important transitional juncture. At this point, as certified teachers, they were completing advanced studies to earn additional certification as literacy specialists. These insights seem important given that (un)certainty, if left unaddressed, could result in negative identity constructions and continued reliance on deficit positioning, yielding lower quality instruction. The findings have implications for educators and researchers involved in designing literacy teacher education and ongoing professional development. It suggests teacher education may be an important context for offering support to teachers as they consider and critique the discourses they bring to their teaching and/or literacy specialist selves. Such insights may help literacy scholars to attend to the persistent questions, needs, experiences, and insights of those who pursue certification as literacy specialists for any number of reasons.


Open Access