Should we “talk like textbook” or “keep it real?”: Discursively connected learning opportunities in sexuality education

Sarah Caroline Beshers, University of Pennsylvania


School-based sexuality education has the potential to help reduce a variety of problems related to adolescent sexuality, but it usually fails in this regard (Fine, 1988/1993; Sears, 1992; Trudell, 1993). This study seeks to address this problem by improving our understanding of the learning environments and learning processes which characterize sexuality education classes, an area of inquiry which has been traditionally neglected by researchers. Based on theories of situated learning and situated language use (Davies and Harre, 1990; Fairclough, 1988; Lave and Wenger, 1991), it answers questions about the nature of sexuality-related learning opportunities produced through classroom activities, and the ways in which students participate in and interpret these activities. Designed as an ethnographic case study in a single high school, data were collected primarily through participant observation of two health classes during sexuality education, audio- and videotaping of their related activities, collection of their written and video materials, and interviews with students. Data analysis focused on: (1) the sexuality-related discourses produced through classroom activities, (2) student participation in and comments about these activities, as well as their comments about sexuality education in general, and (3) sexuality-related discourses constituted by conversations among students themselves, unrelated to classroom activities. Major findings are: (1) two different groups of classroom activities each produced a different sexuality-related discourse, (2) many students indicated that they preferred one group of activities as a source of sexuality related learning opportunities, and (3) the discourse produced by this group of activities was similar to student discourses around sexuality-related topics, unlike the other discourse. These findings suggest that students may prefer sexuality-related learning opportunities constituted by discourses that are more congruent with their own. This preference may be related to how these students learned about sexuality-related topics, and suggests ways in which adults may be able to better support the sexuality-related learning of adolescents.

Subject Area

Health education|Linguistics|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Beshers, Sarah Caroline, "Should we “talk like textbook” or “keep it real?”: Discursively connected learning opportunities in sexuality education" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9965444.