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Reading in New Times: A Study of Early Adolescent Students’ Perspectives Open Access


Other title
New Literacy Studies
sociocultural perspective
multimodal reading practices
contemporary society
early adolescent students
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Supervisor and department
Leroy, Carol (Elementary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Kirova, Anna (Elementary Education)
Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
McClay, Jill (Acting Associate Dean, Graduate Studies)
Blair, Heather (Elementary Education)
Kendrick, Maureen (Language and Literacy, UBC)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This study sought to explore reading practices in the lives of early adolescent students, from their perspectives, by examining their experiences with reading in their everyday lives. This study was borne out of my deep-rooted curiosity about children’s everyday reading practices, a curiosity that began as an interest in the widespread perception that young people today are not reading. Much of the existing research on this topic has focused on a narrow definition of reading (traditional print-based text) and has not included the broader realm of literacy as a situated practice (Barton & Hamilton, 1998) as young people actually experience it in their everyday lives. The current study broadened the definition of “reading” to include the reading of multimodal text, including audio and visual components associated with online and digitized cultures. To better understand the students’ perspectives on their reading, I positioned myself in the social constructivist paradigm (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). The theoretical framework was grounded in the work of Vygotsky (1978) and scholars in the areas of New Literacy Studies (Barton, 1994; Gee, 1996; New London Group, 1996; Street, 1993), and The New Literacies Studies (Gee, 2010). Together, these perspectives consider literacy to be a social practice that is always embedded in a particular historical time and cultural context. Halliday’s (1975) work on the functions of language also informed this study by highlighting the multiple ways in which language and literacy can be purposeful. This study used an interpretative inquiry research design (Ellis, 1998) to explore the participants’ experiences, in order to understand what is important to them, what they care about, and what motivates their reading practices. Informal interviews with five students in the sixth grade were conducted over a five-month period to garner rich storied account of their reading lives. Artifacts were collected of the students’ reading from multiple sources, including both print-based text and digital text. The technological artifacts consisted of electronic and digital devices such as the iPod touch, iPad, smart phone, e-reader and the home computer. The data were analyzed for patterns or recurring themes with respect to what it means for students to be engaged in reading. The analysis resulted in three main themes, which are: 1) Everyday reading is meaningful; 2) Reading has personal and private dimensions; 3) Readers face constraints. An overarching finding was that young people today read a wide variety of text for purposes that fulfill a variety of functions in their lives. Reading was also not only deeply personal and private for the participants, but it was extremely social and embedded in their everyday social lives. An important conclusion of this study is the understanding that young people not only read; they read more than they realize and more than most people realize. In exercising their strong sense of agency and forging their own reading lives, young people traverse across textual terrains and are motivated to read when it provides them opportunities to achieve their goals and to shape their futures. In order to foster engagement in reading in the 21st-century classroom, educators must re-consider what constitutes text in contemporary society and find ways to create learning environments that reflect the varied reading practices young people find compelling, relevant, and purposeful in their everyday lives.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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