Date of Award

Spring 1994

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas H Schram


In this study I describe and interpret the transition students made when they graduated from a process-oriented, learner-centered eighth grade to attend a traditional high school. I explore the students' shared understandings of school literacies, the climate of the two schools, and the adaptations students made to their new learning environment.

I gathered descriptive data during two years of participant observation among adolescents in the elementary and high school; conducted formal and informal interviews with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members; collected school and town documents; and analyzed students' school work. In order to compare the ethos of schools and the students' place in them, I employed Ferdinand Tonnies's concepts of gemeinschaft (community) and gesellschaft (society). I examined students' adaptive strategies in terms of literacy demands and opportunities for literacy development. I also explored the impact that a sense of community has on school learning.

In the transition, students experienced a narrowing of school literacy demands, a shift in the nature of relationships with school adults, and loss of familiar communal supports for learning. To various degrees, students felt disconnected from the adults in high school and the work they were asked to do. Accustomed to writing, collaborative projects, and peer talk as vehicles for learning, students found that their work at the high school was primarily limited to textbook related instruction. Students were resilient in their adaptive behaviors, even though adaptation masked literate and social abilities that had been developing in elementary school. They were academically and socially prepared for more than they were asked to do at the high school.