A Blueprint for Kindergarteners' Educational Trajectories: The Power of Discursive Practices in Constructing Students' Stories Based on Behaviors

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Julie Causton-Theoharis


Behavior, Disability studies, Inclusive education, Kindergarten education

Subject Categories

Psychology | Special Education and Teaching


Discursive practices enacted by educators in kindergarten create a blueprint for how the educational trajectories of students with disabilities get constructed. In this two-year ethnographic case study, I critically examine educators' relationships with students considered to present challenging behaviors in one classroom located in a predominantly White middle class school district. Focusing on the language and practices used by one special education teacher and three teaching assistants, I analyze how teacher responses to students' behaviors constructs and positions students over one year of kindergarten education. Using a critical discourse analysis, I was able to highlight how educators' language in the classroom reflects discourses of control, conditional membership, and expectations based on behavioral standards. The discursive practices, which exerted power and represented educators' understanding of students' behaviors as deficit and needing consequences, are not based solely on the behavior itself; instead, educators' responses reflect students' individual characteristics including race, family background, socioeconomics and ability status. I offer in depth analysis of six students' stories, which evidenced that the language used by educators amplifies the social positioning of students within the classroom and creates a foundation for who they are constructed to be. Through exploring routine language and practices, I demonstrate that educators outlined a blueprint of kindergartners, which positioned students as learners in ways that became the ground for either a limited or a promising educational pathway for them. Finally, I offer implications for educators that would lead to improved responses to behaviors in the classroom and, as a consequence, to a more positive educational experience for both students and educators.


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