Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Language arts (Preschool) -- Case studies; Developmentally disabled children -- Education (Preschool); Literacy -- Social aspects; Academic theses; Case studies;


The purpose of this ethnographic study was to build understanding regarding the meaning and role of early literacy as a meaningful interaction in one inclusive preschool classroom. I was specifically interested in the idea of literacy as a social construction - as an interaction with one's environment for the purpose of making sense of it. Furthermore, I investigated the way this construction facilitated or denied one child's citizenship in the classroom community, which is located within an early childhood center in a mid-sized, Midwestern city. My topic, examining early literacy as a sense-making interaction, lent itself quite naturally to qualitative methods, in that such research is, like the social construction interpretation of literacy, deeply embedded in context. Participant-observations were conducted from September to May of one school year, each observation taking place in the morning and early afternoon hours before the children without disabilities went home. During observations, I recorded, in writing, occasions when Chelsea was observed in some sort of sense-making interaction with: her natural environment, classroom environment, adults and peers, language, and more traditionally accepted forms of early literacy. Field notes and results of informal conversations with Chelsea's teacher and the paraeducator in her room were analyzed and transformed into descriptive vignettes. Chelsea and her classmates engaged in several forms of full-body sense-making: of a global context, a natural environment, the immediate classroom community, and in activities that offered equal involvement to all children; within purposeful context; and while creating their own contexts, either ones that mimicked true-life routines or brand new ones. Chelsea also engaged in sense-making during various forms of peer interactions: as equals, as one who received help, as an accidental playmate, as a source of frustration, or as a member of the underground child culture. Other times, she did not interact at all. Chelsea was also involved in sense-making as it related to emotions, health, and hygiene. While the structure of the classroom and the adult-supported, context-driven curriculum facilitated her membership within the general workings of the school, Chelsea struggled to be an active member of a more child-initiated context, specifically those contexts that required social and communication skills.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Specialist in Education


Department of Special Education

First Advisor

Christopher Kliewer


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