The social construction of literacy in a high school biology class

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Reading and Language Arts


Kathleen Hinchman


Social construction, Literacy, High school, Biology

Subject Categories

Educational Psychology | Science and Mathematics Education | Secondary Education and Teaching | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


The purpose of this classroom case study was to explore the social construction of literacy in a high school biology class with a constructivist teacher. The teacher, Mr. Green, believed strongly in active student engagement.

A social constructionist, interpretivist approach provided a framework for data collection and analysis. Field notes of one semester of participant observation and interviews of the teacher and students served as primary data sources. Supplemental data were derived from document analysis of classroom materials. Data were categorized and analyzed for patterns within or between categories. These patterns formed the basis for several assertions about literacy and science activities in this classroom.

Results suggested that Mr. Green orchestrated the talk in the classroom but did not do all of the talking; there was a large quantity of varied student talk in this classroom atmosphere of shared authority. When Mr. Green talked with his students, he focused on building science concepts. He created opportunities for students to work together and engage in scientist-like activities, but students talked to each other mostly about "getting the work done."

Reading and writing were embedded in most classroom tasks, for example, taking notes from textbooks and reading lab directions. Most students could complete these literacy tasks, but many had difficulty doing them in a meaningful way. They preferred to use oral rather than written language. Students responded positively when Mr. Green provided a greater degree of teacher guidance for reading and writing tasks.

This study suggests that sharing authority with students may help create a language-rich environment in which students use language to meet their perceived learning needs. It also suggests that as teachers share authority they would do well to maintain responsibility for showing students how to use reading and writing to develop conceptual understandings. Future research might engage teachers in working together to find ways to guide students in this manner. It also might involve students as co-researchers in exploring the perspectives of the "quiet students," like those who rarely spoke even in this language-rich class.


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