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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Toward a Theory of Theoretical Frames in School Literacy Research

Mark Dressman.

In this presentation I will consider the implications of a text analysis of fifty recently published studies of school literacy that make use of social theory in their conceptualization, methodology and analysis, and/or their conclusions. Findings from the text analysis show that the overwhelming majority of literacy studies that use social theory are qualitative and interpretive in design. Moreover, the findings demonstrate a wide range of theoretical frames currently in use in school literacy research, from social constructivist to structuralist, poststructuralist and feminist perspectives, as well as a wide range of functions, from studies in which the frame seems to "decorate" the presentation of findings to studies in which social theory serves as the dialogical structure for a study's conceptualization, methodology, analysis, and conclusion. In my presentation I want to summarize this analysis and its findings and to outline a typology under development of the ways in which social theory functions within school literacy research. But I will devote the majority of my time to raising possibilities with those in attendance about the future of theoretically framed literacy research in the United States, given the current assault by authorities within the Bush administration on the "scientific" validity and generalizability of qualitative literacy research. Specifically, I will build the case that a rigorous and comprehensive use of social theory within literacy research provides the grounds for establishing the generalizability—and so the functional utility in curriculum development and policy making—of qualitative research findings. Perhaps even more importantly, I will argue for the application of relevant social theoretical frames to the restudy and rereading of quantitative, so-called "scientific" studies of literacy research that currently support the rhetoric of federal and many state policy initiatives within the U.S.


Mark Dressman  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Mark Dressman is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a former teacher in the US Peace Corps, on the Navajo Reservation, and in urban US schools. His current research interests focus on the teaching of literature, the ethnography of struggling adolescents, and applications of social theory in educational research.

  • Literacy
  • Research
  • Social Theory
  • Validity
  • Generalizability
  • Text Analysis
  • "Scientific" Research

(30 min Conference Paper, English)