Date of Award

Fall 12-20-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Peggy Albers, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Dr. Mary Deming, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dr. Ann Kruger, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Tisha Lewis, Ph.D.


The purpose of this qualitative action research study was to explore content area teachers’ understanding of literacy, the strategies they use in working with content materials to support their students’ learning of content, and how collaboration with a literacy expert informs literacy instruction. In my work with content area teachers, they have expressed the need for support as they try new literacy strategies when engaging students in content material. Literacy skills are a part of all content areas. Therefore, literacy scholars need an ongoing understanding of how content teachers define and perceive literacy in their content area in order to provide this support.

Framed within a sociocultural lens (Vygotsky, 1978), this action research study (Schmuck, 2006) examined how high school content area teachers engaged students in reading content material as they implemented literacy strategies to support students’ access to content. Guiding this study were the following questions: (a) How do content area teachers define and perceive literacy and specifically define literacy in their content area? (b) How do teachers use literacy strategies they learn in professional development sessions? (c) Is there a benefit when a literacy specialist and a content area teacher collaborate to design literacy instruction?

Participants in this study included three content area teachers: a math teacher, a business teacher, and English teacher. Data collection occurred throughout the spring term 2012 in the school where the participants work. Data sources included semi-structured interviews, observations, discussions generated from collaborative planning sessions with the researcher, informal debriefings with participants, and a researcher journal. Themes abstracted from the data were (a) teachers’ definitions of literacy did not change over the course of the study, (b) their disposition toward use of strategies did change over the course of the study, and (c) collaborative, embedded professional development between the content area teacher and literacy specialist was an important factor in changing disposition. This action research study emphasizes a need for literacy specialists in schools and embedded, ongoing professional development, and informs literacy specialists how content area teachers can be supported as they engage students in reading content material.