How Six Fourth Graders Experienced and Understood Literacy Events During One Year in a Quality School Library
voelker, anita nedzel
Chambliss, Marilyn J
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In this one year study, I employed a "childist" lens (Hunt, 1991) to discover how six fourth grade students experienced and understood literacy events in a quality school library program. To locate a quality setting, I sought experts' suggestions, reviewed resources, interviewed librarians, and visited four sites. Of these four sites, I chose the quality setting with the highest percentage of racial diversity within the student population. In response to Snow, Burns, and Griffin's (1998) call for more research on fourth grade students, I focused this study on students in this grade level. Using data from Terra Nova scores, teacher ranking, and a Title Recognition Test, I selected six fourth graders, who represented diversity in reading ability, reading experience, race, and gender. Using a sociocultural perspective (Gee, 2001) and Halliday's (1980) "social-functional approach" (p. 37), I defined literacy for children as learning existing, new, and evolving language and language systems in text and technology; learning about language and language systems in social and cultural settings that are meaningful to the community of learners; learning through language and language systems by understanding the power of words in text and technological contexts. With this established literacy definition, I selected the literacy event as a unit of analysis. Collecting and analyzing data were reciprocal processes. During the academic year, I collected data via observations and interviews. There were three distinct types of interviews: post literacy event, with artifacts, and with a library model. I employed an emic perspective to view the literacy events through the experiences and understanding of the participants. Using an etic lens, I applied my understandings of literacy research to analyze the child's perspective. To crystallize the findings from the analysis, I created literacy portraits for each participant that aligned with the subsidiary questions. In summarizing the literacy portraits, I found a paradox: Although literacy events were ubiquitous in this quality school library, literacy was rare. Drawing on Swales (1990) theory of discourse communities, I argue that the contradiction may stem from differences in the school library and literacy discourse communities, as well as complexity in defining literacy.