Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wilkins, Elizabeth A.

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Teaching and Learning


Elementary school teachers; School children; First grade (Education)


My research combined two narrative styles, auto-ethnography and portraiture. Together these methodologies captured the lived experience of the classroom, and provided a way to share two parallel pieces - the story of my empowerment as a teacher and the stories of student empowerment. The focus of this study was a classroom portrait, an extended narrative experience titled Impressions: A Morning in May. First-grade students were participants in the research process, and our portrait was co-constructed over the course of a school year, August 2007 – May 2008. Our data sources included multiple journals, field notes, student and instructional artifacts, photographs, and audio and video clips. This study and the portrait it revealed viewed learners through a lens of strength, and was designed to expand and offer alternatives to the many narrow definitions of literacy and learning that prevail in first grade classrooms today. Our portrait honored the rich multiliteracies that students bring to the classroom setting. It illuminated possibilities for using literacy and learning in critically responsive ways that may result in a more just and caring world. The analysis of data resulted in the identification of six conditions for an expanded vision of literacy and learning. These conditions frame literacy and learning as (1) social/relational, (2) involving authentic engagements, (3) requiring structure, (4) involving multiple perspectives, (5) supporting empowerment and care, and (6) encouraging agency and transformation. They provide a recursive framework that supports literacy and learning as social practices. The many patterns of engagement that these conditions revealed led to the identification of three interconnected themes: (1) critical learning, (2) critical relationships, and (3) critical inquiries and invitations. The intentional use of the word critical provided ways to inquire into issues of power, identity, and agency in all learning engagements. It also supported the exploration of multiple perspectives. All data suggested that critical communities of practice are constructed by focusing on social relationships in a culture of care. Data further suggested that in critical communities of practice, learners, teacher, and students, are empowered to act in agentive ways that can be transformational.


Includes bibliographical references (pages 206-217)


xii, 223 pages




Northern Illinois University

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