Date of Award

Fall 1999

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Directors: Paula M Salvio


This inquiry considers a gesture-based theatre convention called tableau as used by first and second graders during language arts instruction. I argue that tableau acts as a medium of thinking, used to make sense of literary text and of social relationships. Tableau is largely non-language-based; it augments instructional practices that are primarily language-based. Tableau reveals sophisticated understandings children cannot yet put into language. As such, tableau offers educators a means to cast children as capable analysts of literature.

Qualitatively oriented, this inquiry uses instrumental case study methods of observation and data analysis coupled with a concurrent conceptual study of the implications of the children's actions. However, unlike many case studies, I took the role of teacher-researcher to bring first hand experience using tableau pedagogically. Information was gathered and analyzed through videotapes, audiotapes and still photographs of the children's planning, enactment and follow-up discussion about each tableau. Inductive analyses identified patterns while taking into account the mutually shaping influences within the study environment. Established related theories were studied and modified based on the data collected, thereby grounding the theories in children's actions.

This inquiry suggests three ways tableau acts as a means of thinking. First, through tableau, children think through the non-language-based sign system of performative gesture. Secondly, children use emotion-based cognitive systems to interpret the point of view of characters as well as relationships between characters. Thirdly, to create a tableau, children negotiate meaning and control with their peers and through the sociocultural environment, employing intellectual, emotional and social labor. In addition, tableau reveals personal beliefs and underlying sociocultural values about social relationships and provides occasion to discuss multiple perspective taking, positioning and negotiation.

Tableau acts as a microcosm reflecting the tensions of the larger social world. Within this microcosm, children use tableau to think through relationships written into literary text and to negotiate a position in the immediate social world. Children use the space of tableau as a three-dimensional canvass that bridges reasoning non-verbally and reasoning through language.