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The Negative Consequences of Becoming a Good Reader: Identity Theory as a Lens for Understanding Struggling Readers, Teachers, and Reading Instruction


by Leigh A. Hall — 2010

Background/Context: The majority of middle school students in U.S. schools are struggling readers and lack the reading abilities needed to successfully comprehend texts, complete reading-related assignments, and learn subject matter content. Researchers have suggested that struggling readers’ comprehension abilities can be improved if their subject-matter teachers provide them with appropriate skill and strategy instruction, as well as regular opportunities to read and discuss texts. However, struggling readers may choose not to apply the reading skills they have been taught and may approach reading tasks in ways that they know prevent them from learning content and that marginalize their abilities to grow as readers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The multiple case study presented here was intended to explore how middle school struggling readers and their content-area teachers made decisions about how to work with classroom reading tasks and each other over a period of one academic year. A case study approach allowed for the actions that took place. Theories of identity, including models of identity, identity capital, and discursive identity, framed the analysis for this study and were used to interpret the research questions. The research questions were: (1) How do middle school teachers interact with struggling readers in relation to the reading task demands of their classrooms? (2) How do middle school struggling readers interact with the reading task demands of their content-area classrooms?

Setting: This study took place in one sixth-grade social studies classroom, one seventh-grade mathematics classroom, and one eighth-grade science classroom.

Population/Participants/Subjects: The participants were: (a) Sarah and Mrs. O’Reilly in sixth grade, (b) Nicole and Mrs. Harding in seventh grade, and (c) Alisa and Mrs. Baker in eighth grade.

Research Design: This was a descriptive year-long multiple case study. Data sources included biweekly observations, questionnaires, interviews, and graded class work.

Findings: Teachers’ interactions with struggling readers were based on (a) their models of identity for what it meant to become a good reader and (b) the discursive identities they created for their students based on their models of identity. Students’ interactions with classroom reading tasks were based on (a) how they identified themselves as readers and (b) their goal to prevent their peers, teachers, or family members from constructing a discursive identity of them as poor readers.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 7, 2010, p. 1792-1829
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15916, Date Accessed: 11/28/2014 5:45:56 PM

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About the Author
  • Leigh Hall
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    LEIGH A. HALL is an assistant professor of literacy studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her current work considers how students’ identities as readers influence the decisions they make when reading text, and how teachers can use information about students’ identities to inform their practice and improve their learners’ comprehension of text. Her work has recently appeared in Research in the Teaching of English and the Journal of Educational Research.
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