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 do students make sense of the texts they encounter in school? How do community practices influence sense-making? 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 success of children and adolescents, both at home and in the community. This concentration is focused on issues of language and literacy learning, both typical and atypical, in school and community settings. We approach these issues from a range of perspectives, including sociocultural, cognitive, and developmental theories and methods. Students are encouraged to develop familiarity with a range of perspectives and issues, but to develop a particular specialization. Examples of current 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.

Plan of Study

Course planning sheets outline the School of Education course requirements.


This concenctration provides opportunities to work with faculty members who are leaders in literacy, language, and culture. Here are some of the projects that faculty and students are working on now, or have been involved with in the past:

Seeking to understand the complex relationship between the cognitive and linguistic demands posed by increasingly advanced content area reading and writing tasks and the motivational demands posed by adolescents' development and exploration of many different pathways to adulthood, Elizabeth Moje and her colleagues are using an array of methods to understand what motivates adolescents in Detroit schools and communities to persevere in the face of content literacy challenges. In a second project, Moje seeks to provide a model for discipline-based adolescent literacy teacher education.

In efforts to support the achievement of students who struggle with literacy demands in subject matter learning, Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar and her research group are investigating the effects of various digital environments designed to help students to interpret graphics, and integrate prose and graphics, particularly in science text. In addition, they are designing video case materials to support collaborations between subject matter teachers and literacy coaches in the middle school grades.

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