Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


This is a qualitative research study of a ten week immersion unit in the reading, writing, and performance of poetry conducted in a first grade classroom in Closter, New Jersey during the winter of 1995. The three girls selected as case studies show the ways in which remarkably different children expand their repertoires of ways with words as speakers, readers, and writers. Danielle, a performative speaker, learns to make her tacit knowledge about performance part of her explicit frames of reference. This shift enables her to serve as a coach for peers who are less adept at crafting performative texts. It also helps to make the art of crafting performative oral texts, as well as written texts, a central part of the language arts curriculum. Sara, the second case study, is a quiet, nurturing child whose ways without words remind readers that communication is not limited to the spoken word. Immersed in a workshop in which the art of creating performative texts is unmasked, she acquires a more confident, playful sense of who she might be as a speaker. Christina, the third case study, was selected because she so closely fit the images of the child-as-writer found in writing process texts of the 1980's. In spite of her reluctance to immerse herself in performance workshop, Christina discovers that the language with which she plays during rehearsals has a profound influence on her writing process. The work of all three children is seen through lenses provided by Mikhail Bakhtin, John Dewey, Louise Rosenblatt, Erving Goffman, and Anne Haas Dyson.

The case studies are prefaced by a chapter on the history of oral reading in the 19th century and its subsequent demise during the efficiency movement of the 1920's and the emphasis on silent reading methods in the elementary classroom. The case studies are also accompanied by a chapter in which both the author and the cooperating teacher explore the roots of their own subjectivities and the forces which have drawn them to this area of research by exploring the patterns embedded in the literacy stories of their own lives as students and teachers.