Literacy, Language, and Culture

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Studies

Nell K. Duke

Nell Duke and her colleagues in Literacy, Language, and Culture influence current and future classroom teachers, policymakers, curriculum developers, book and software developers, and many other stakeholders in literacy education. Duke focuses her work on early literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty. Her expertise includes development of informational reading and writing in young children, comprehension development and instruction in early schooling, and issues of equity in literacy education.

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How can we bridge gaps between literacy research and practice? How do students make sense of the texts they encounter in and outside of school? How do cultural systems of meaning and community practices influence these interactions? How can teachers best foster students' communication of their ideas? What happens when these processes do not work smoothly? Faculty and students of the Literacy, Language, and Culture concentration are exploring questions like these in their efforts to foster the development and educational success of children and adolescents, both at home and in the community. This concentration is focused on issues of formal and informal ways of learning about language, literacy, and culture in school and community settings, as well as the intersection of language and cultural identity in a globalized world. We approach these issues from a range of perspectives, including sociocultural, cognitive, and developmental theories and methods, and an interest in the contexts within which these processes are situated. Students are encouraged to develop familiarity with a range of perspectives and issues, but to develop a particular specialization. Examples of current faculty projects include:

This concentration is housed within the Educational Studies program, which fosters links among students and faculty in a number of specializations sharing a commitment to the integration of theory and research on teaching, learning, and educational access in P-12 settings.

The concentration in Literacy, Language, and Culture focuses on the learning and use of multiple literacies among diverse groups of people. The internationally recognized faculty brings multiple theoretical perspectives (e.g. cognitive, sociocultural, critical, and feminist) to the study of literacy and language among children, adolescents, and adults. Faculty members have expertise in disciplines such as psychology, linguistics, anthropology, and sociology. Students in this interdisciplinary program are members of nationally funded research groups engaged in cutting-edge scholarship to advance educational theory and practice. Graduate students also participate in school and university seminars, university teaching internships, national conferences, and other outreach efforts.

Core courses will familiarize you with a number of theoretical perspectives that have informed literacy research and teaching practices over the last 100 years, as well as with current perspectives on literacy research and practice. In addition, faculty offer special seminars related to their specific research interests on a rotating basis. Such courses are designed to provide in-depth treatment of particular areas of literacy theory, research, and practice. Examples of such courses include seminars in comprehension research; youth literacy, culture, and identity; literacy as cultural practice; and early literacy development. Upon completion of the program, graduates are prepared for faculty positions at research and teaching universities or for positions as research scientists and post-doctoral fellows at research centers. Some graduates also take positions as curriculum and professional development leaders in literacy and language education in school districts or community organizations within and outside the US.

Plan of Study

Course planning sheets outline the School of Education course requirements.


This concentration provides opportunities to work with faculty members who are leaders in literacy, language, and culture. Here are two projects currently underway among LLC faculty members.

Elizabeth Moje engages in ethnographies of youth culture in Detroit, Michigan, with the goal of understanding how youth literacy skills and practices are shaped by their ethnic/racial, community, family, and peer cultures and identities. Her work informs the development of disciplinary literacy teaching in middle and high school settings. To that end, Moje also leads Clinical Rounds in Secondary Teacher Education, an extensive research, development, and teacher education project focused on developing sophisticated disciplinary literacy teaching practices and assessment tools among both novice and veteran middle and high school teachers. In that work, Moje partners with physicians at Oakwood Hospital to study the parallels and points of difference between physician and teacher education.

Annemarie's primary research interest is in supporting students to learn how to engage in knowledge building with informational text, especially in the context of project-based scientific inquiry. With her research group - and in collaboration with computer scientist, Elliot Soloway - she has designed and studied the use of a cyber-learning environment in which students collaborate as they read texts, view video, use simulations, write, and draw, while engaging in scientific inquiry. With science educator, Betsy Davis and the ELECTS team, she has recently conducted a series of studies investigating the value of educative supports for science teaching in the upper elementary grades. With linguist, Mary Schleppegrell and the Language and Meaning research group, she has used design-based research to investigate the process and outcomes of teaching English learners the use of functional grammar analysis as a means of supporting them to interpret and learn from narrative and informational text. Annemarie welcomes prospective students to contact her if they are interested in instructional research designed to support the literacy learning of K-6 students who depend upon good curriculum and teaching to be successful in school.

LLC doctoral students have the opportunity to work with multiple faculty members from the list below, which broadens and deepens their knowledge, skills, and social network. The following program faculty typically serve as primary doctoral advisors: Gina N. Cervetti, Nell K. Duke, Elizabeth Birr Moje, Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, Enid Rosario-Ramos, and Mary J. Schleppegrell. Initial queries regarding the program should be addressed to one of them or the unit coordinator.

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