Graduation Year

2004

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Childhood Education and Literacy Studies

Major Professor

James R. King

Co-Major Professor

Nancy Williams

Keywords

gender, social class, writing, reading, adult

Abstract

It is an accepted construct that literacy proficiency is vital to economic success in America. As well, research has shown that home literacy use, especially parental practices, is instrumental in the children's acquisition of literacy skills, and later, proficiency with school literacy tasks. While literacy research abounds regarding family literacy practice, especially that of low-income mothers and children, rarely is the concept of class specifically addressed as separate from race. The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe the reported home literacy practices of nine white working class women residing in a neighborhood in the Southeastern United States. A semi-structured interview protocol ensured that all women addressed the same basic literacy areas while still allowing room for individuality and discussion.

A phenomenographical approach, designed to obtain a better understanding of literacy practice via studying each individual woman's experiences and perceptions of those experiences combined with feminist informed narrative analysis was utilized to analyze the data. Field notes and a researcher's reflective journal added to the data. Results indicated that the nine women participants used print based literacy in varying amounts for functional, social, and aesthetic purposes. These purposes were both public and private, and commonly, functioned as a tool to meet their needs in four areas: organization, information, communication and diversion. These results support the findings of other socio-cultural literacy researchers (Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Finn, 1999; Gee, 1996; Heath, 1983; Street, 1995) who contend that creating meaning is the driving force behind any act of literacy.

A conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that there is a range of literacy practice within this particular population, white working class women, that has been heretofore unreported. Their perceptions of the functions of these practices are instrumental in their literacy use, and that of their children. As working class represents a substantial portion of the American population (Teixeira & Rogers, 2000), this data may serve to inform future educational literacy instruction.

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