Date of Award

Spring 2000

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


In this study I put a face and voice to the at-risk adolescent reader. No strangers to failure, these are students who by and large have struggled with reading their entire educational lives but who for whatever reason have been unable to escape the cycle of frustration in which they find themselves caught. These are students who have a great deal to say but who until now have had no forum in which to say it. These are students who deserve to be heard.

For my primary source of data, I utilized Seidman's phenomenological approach to interviewing, conducting a series of in-depth interviews with twenty-two at-risk ninth grade readers over the course of a semester. Concurrent with my interviews I enhanced my context and understanding of these adolescents by observing and interacting with them as they took part in their daily high school routine. Then too, I examined their permanent school records, using this descriptive data to augment the students' words and actions.

All twenty-two of these adolescents can be seen as lifers, students who have done battle with reading from the very start of their academic careers.

Contrary to what we as teachers may want to believe, they have been doomed to failure not by their family histories but rather by educational practices which have been unsuccessful at understanding and meeting their individual needs. In their struggles to become readers, these students have somehow lost the very point of reading as words have taken precedence over meaning. And in losing the point of reading, they have lost not only the desire to read but also the ability and opportunity to keep up with their peers.

It is clear that if we want to eradicate the category of lifers from our schools, we need to revisit and rethink the way we approach readers and reading instruction from the very first day of kindergarten. Learning to read is a complicated process, but we educators must do our fair share to give each and every child the opportunity to achieve success as a reader and student.