Transacting with the word: at-risk adolescents and informational texts
Hurst, Jeannine Lane
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This qualitative study investigated how three ninth-grade students, who were considered "at-risk" as readers, transacted with informational texts. The descriptive case studies were written as narratives from the participants' points of view, in order to elicit input from students who were currently struggling with the reading curriculum. The research was framed in Rosenblatt's (1994) transactional theory of reading, and the research design was based on Merriam's (1998) definition of an educational case study. The methodology employed ethnography, hermeneutics, and participant observation in the classroom setting. During the study, participants' responses to informational texts, their perceptions of efficacy for learning content knowledge, and their recommendations for other students who are considered "at-risk" as readers were highlighted. As a participant observer, I attempted to build a relationship with class members by serving as a teaching assistant. Data was gathered from observational notes, classroom artifacts collected throughout the semester, and a series of three audio-taped interviews. During the interviews, participants reflected on past and present reading experiences and participated in think-aloud activities as they read short passages from informational picture books. After reviewing the data, a follow-up interview provided closure to the study. Through the use of constant comparison, data was coded, categorized, and analyzed to establish depth within and across the cases. Findings of the study indicated that motivation to read informational text depended on high-interest materials, life connections, and self-selection. In addition, participants exhibited narrow reading interests that affected their ability to build a broad base knowledge in reading, and their preferred strategies were remembered from late elementary experiences. Findings also indicated that the teacher-student bond influenced reading effort, and comfort and the physical classroom atmosphere affected their attitude toward reading. Participants stated that traditional "drill and skill" worksheets were ineffective for building reading comprehension, preferring small-group instruction and tutorials, which allow for personal support and immediate feedback. In a message to other struggling readers, participants suggested that they take charge of their reading lives, and to ask for help when it was needed..