Date of Award

Spring 1992

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Donald Graves


This study describes and interprets the reading and writing experiences of four recently arrived Laotian refugee adolescents from one family in an American secondary school. Through four extensive case studies, the study compares and contrasts how these individuals read and write on their own initiative and are taught to read and write at school, and what happens when the school agenda matches and mismatches their learning patterns. This study reveals how school structure re-enforces the marginalization of the ethnic minority students in their school life by ignoring what they know and who they are. With a focus on four minority students, the study calls for rethinking the teaching of literacy for marginalized students.

The data were collected from September, 1990 to June, 1991, using a number of field methods such as participant observation and intensive and extensive interviews as well as non-interactive methods such as textual and transcript analysis. The research settings were mainly in classrooms at school, in the Laotian community and at the home of my informants. The descriptive narrative of the study presents the learning experiences of four individuals in an American school through their voices and from their perspectives.

The results from this study suggest that school literacy connect with learners' life experiences and their home literacy, and teacher be sensitive to students' needs, their interests and their ways of knowing. In a multicultural society, school should be a place to integrate diverse cultural values of students and prepare the youngsters to work with each other by cultivating in them an appreciation of and a respect for each other' differences. For minority students, especially the newcomers, school should be a place for them to experience the democratic values and learn to join the nation of a pluralistic world.