Health Literacy: A participatory curriculum enacted in the United States and Honduras

Mary Jean Tecce Decarlo, University of Pennsylvania


This study explores the creation of a participatory health curriculum in two diverse settings (United States and Honduras) in order to demonstrate the power of participatory learning theory with elementary aged children and to uncover the successes and difficulties of that process. The ways children use language to identify and investigate their health questions will also be examined. In contrast to the traditional focus of health curriculum research, this study investigates the ways in which children, not adult curriculum writers, ask and answer questions related to their particular health scene. Much of the literature about participatory models of learning is theoretical and this study adds data about participatory practices as well. Procedures derived from interpretive participant observation and ethnography were employed in order to document classroom practices and compare and contrast the two sites. Data were collected at the U.S. site over a four month period where the health curriculum was integrated into a larger science unit on anatomy and wellness. In the Honduran site data were primarily collected over a two week period during which the health curriculum was the primary activity of the school day. Procedures included the review of selected documents; interviews with students, teachers and community members; video and audio tapes of student activities; condensed and expanded field notes and a teacher/researcher journal. Selected video and audio tapes in both sites were transcribed. The data were analyzed for the ways in which children created the curriculum in these two diverse settings. Conclusions were drawn from the data about (1) how children participate in the creation of both the content and the process of curriculum, (2) the similarities and differences in both content and process at the two sites and (3) the ways in which children read, write and talk about health. Implications from the data are suggested for (1) using participatory learning theory in other content areas and (2) creating participatory curriculum in all cultures.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Health education|Language arts|Teacher education|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Tecce Decarlo, Mary Jean, "Health Literacy: A participatory curriculum enacted in the United States and Honduras" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727016.