The interactional co-construction of reader identities: a nested case study of “struggling” readers
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This Nested case study examines how reader identities emerged in everyday talk in one fifth-grade class (the principal case) for three elementary school students (the subcases). The focal student had each been identified as “struggling” readers through either formal special education identification as students with learning disabilities or through inclusion in general education, reading intervention based on state standardized test scores. Drawing on ethnographic methods including participant-observations with fieldnotes, video and audio recordings, and semi-structured interviews, I documented the everyday interactions of this classroom community, paying special attention to interactions in which text was central. I employed discourse analytic methods to examine the ways reader identities for the focal students emerged in interaction with the other members of the classroom community, and I situated those moment-to-moment interactions within the larger social context of classroom life. Subcase findings illustrate the complexity and dynamics of identity construction. Friendships and affiliations seemed to impact focal students’ identity construction, with some students being included and others marginalized. Principal case findings point to teacher moves that created opportunities for focal students to position themselves as literate during whole group discussions. Additionally, principal case findings suggest that the kind of text shared by the community and use of stigmatized language practices mediated opportunities for focal students to construct identities as readers. Test-prep texts seemed to constrain focal students’ participation in discussions in ways trade books did not. Identities of struggle do not pop up overnight, but are slowly accumulated over the course of years. This research demonstrates ways those positions have been constructed, and arguably more important, the possibilities for deconstructing those positions in interaction.