Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Marcelle Haddix


Content Area, Disciplinary Literacy, Dominant Narratives, Education Reform, Literacy, Secondary Instruction

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


In this dissertation, I share findings from an in-depth interview study of secondary content area teachers from a suburban secondary school in the midst of taking up nationally and state-mandated school reforms with a renewed push for literacy instruction in the content area classroom. While the school district’s mission and directive to increase literacy instruction was delivered to each teacher, how each teacher interpreted and chose to implement literacy instruction differed in interesting and potentially important ways. My research questions were: (1) How are these secondary content area teachers’ understandings of literacy and its instruction informed by dominant narratives of literacy reform? (2) How do these secondary content area teachers define/describe literacy? (3) (How) Do these secondary content area teachers describe their roles as literacy teachers?

Following Fairclough’s (1995) tradition, this study employed Critical Discourse Analyses of in-depth interviews with twenty-four secondary content area teachers, as well as curriculum documents, local and state guidelines, and the Common Core State Standards themselves. The teachers’ discourses revealed inherent conflicts between a shift to more complex literacy-based standards but static, accountability-based assessments. The teachers’ discourses also revealed the importance of trust with regard to effective professional development, as well as their own understanding and implementation of literacy supports and disciplinary literacies.

This study provides insights into how literacy is understood and defined from secondary content area teachers’ perspectives, as well as implications for disciplinary literacy training and professional development. Findings from this study include an increased need for disciplinary literacy professional development at the secondary level, as well as more recognition of teacher expertise and autonomy in recognizing and adapting appropriate strategies for content area classroom use. More attention should be paid, as well, to the differences between the content areas, such as performance-based content areas, who have vastly different professional development needs than their core content area colleagues. These findings have implications for educators and researchers involved in creating professional development or pre-service teacher training, or literacy teacher education generally. Such insights may help researchers or those at the non-secondary level better understand the contextual and literacy needs faced by secondary content area teachers.


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