Senses of Selves: Adult Intermediate Readers' Identity, Agency, and Literacy Learning in an Adult Basic Education Setting

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Amy Trawick (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Heidi Carlone

Abstract: The purpose of this interpretive study was to build upon research conducted with other adult learner populations to explore the perceptions of adult intermediate readers participating in an Adult Basic Education program. Of particular interest, and unique to this study, was a focus on how these readers attributed relevance to the reading-related instruction they experienced as part of the adult education and parent education components of a family literacy program. Reading-related instruction was defined as any program activity, whether inside or outside the classroom, that 1) involved reading written text and/or 2) included any communicative act (e.g., discussion, presentation, writing, drawing) about a written text. This exploratory, interpretive study drew from a practice theory of identity transformation (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) and sociocultural perspectives on literacy (Street, 1984, 2003; Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Gee 1996, 2000, 2005) to investigate how three adult intermediate readers attributed relevance in terms of the identity work guiding their participation in the program and their understandings of reading and the role it played in their lives. Employing a multiple-case study design (Miles & Huberman, 1994), I studied three women in a rural community in the Appalachian foothills. Data was collected over a nine-month period and included individual interviews, group interviews, classroom observations, a Reading Diary, and program information for each learner. Key findings include: 1) pairs of current identities and pursued identities worked together to spur participation in the adult basic education program; 2) these identities were impacted most heavily by positional attributions related to being an Educated Person, which required at a minimum having a high school diploma; 3) participants' past and current out-of-school reading practices influenced greatly their perceptions of themselves as readers prior to entering class, but once in class, their in-school practices led them to refine their self-evaluations; 4) participants' out-of-school reading practices and associated cultural model of reading were substantively different from those related to in-school reading. The study concluded that the participants accessed four key reference points to attribute relevance to reading-related instruction: future senses of selves that had spurred enrollment in the program; "stepping stones" that were required in order to realize their pursued identities; current identities; and self-evaluations of their participation in current reading practices (and thus the felt need to improve their reading). Attributions of relevance were filtered through considerations of time, what counts, connections to specific life contexts, and cross-identity impact. This study complements intervention studies involving adult intermediate readers, offering insights into how reading instruction for adult intermediate readers might be shaped in ways that are valued by and are beneficial to learners.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2007
Adult literacy, Identity transformation, Literacy practices, Cultural models, Identities in practice

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