The Literacy Classroom as an Activity System: An Investigation of First Graders' Literacy Interactions Through the Lens of Activity Theory

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University of South Carolina, 2009 - 232 pages
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Grounded in the sociocultural theories of L.S. Vygotsky and A.N. Leont'ev, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) is shaped by the notion that all human activity is driven by the underlying motives (or object-orientation) of the individual. This qualitative study drew upon ethnographic methods to examine literacy interactions within a suburban first grade classroom by first defining the classroom as an activity system and then focusing on children's motive-driven activity within that system. Findings suggest that student motives require careful observation to discern, significantly shape student literacy engagement and often take priority over those of the teachers. In this study, student-motivated literacy activities were resistant to the rapid extinguishment (or cessation of effort) often associated with the classroom's teacher-assigned tasks. Additionally, the pursuit of personal motives was found to scaffold students to advanced levels of performance as readers and writers. Implications for teachers, teacher-educators, policy-makers and researchers include the needs to acknowledge the presence and primacy of activity in the classroom, increase awareness of extinguishment, and provide teachers with the time and professional autonomy necessary to discern student motives and support student activity.

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