Casting gender: The constitution of social identities through literacy practices among third and fourth graders

Diane Downer Anderson, University of Pennsylvania


Elementary-aged children develop social identities (such as gender) and literacy simultaneously, yet little literature exists which examines the overlap of social identities and literacy. This study looked across the talk and writing, and social and academic worlds, of third and fourth graders to ascertain how literacy practices were used to constitute gendered social identities. Data was gathered on 45 children using ethnographic methods over a six-month period in two multi-age grade three/four classrooms. Collected data included: teacher-assigned writing; student-initiated writing; fieldnotes; audiotapes and transcripts of literature and writing discussions; and audiotapes of interviews of children discussing their writing and transcripts. Systematic data analysis included interactional sociolinguistic analysis, literary theories, reader response theories, and theories of gender. Children were found to cast gender: (1) by naming and renaming characters, selves, and peers, (2) intertextually, through genre structures, metaphors, anthropomorphism, and personification, (3) through bodycasts such as clothing, voice, hair and other physical characteristics, and (4) through interactions, especially verbal interactions. Literacy and gender casting practices were highly situated. Children were found to take and assign gender positions, which included border straddling across gender boundaries. Methodology was developed for using an interview technique, the redux interview, with children as they read and discussed their transcripts and writing. Conclusions included support for understanding literacy as continuous rather than dichotomous across talk and text, as well as a continuous view of social, personal, and academic learning. Intertextual references, genres, and literacy strategies were found to be implicated in the constitution of gender identities. Implications for pedagogy include attention to: the continuities of children's social and academic worlds; children's naming practices; dichotomous conceptual structures, genres, and literary strategies; student's verbal interactions; and social resources for challenging gender categories and enhancing literacy practices.

Subject Area

Literacy|Reading instruction|Elementary education|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Anderson, Diane Downer, "Casting gender: The constitution of social identities through literacy practices among third and fourth graders" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9913426.