Comprehensive Exam


The function of the Comprehensive Examination is to ensure that you have a broad yet focused understanding of the field of literacy. The exam is part of the larger process of the program that begins with establishing a broad understanding of the field, providing the context for a deeper understanding of a specific domain within which you complete a dissertation. At the same time, the exam does have a certifying or gate-keeping function in that a solid understanding of the broad field of literacy is a necessary expectation of an individual holding a doctoral degree from this institution. Consequently, the exam requires you to demonstrate to the members of the department, in writing, a thoughtful and critical understanding of the theory, research, and tensions in the broad field of literacy through each of the three domains: The Nature and Acquisition of Literacy Across the Lifespan, Literacy and Schooling, and Literacy and Society. These domains clearly overlap and are not intended to split a thoroughly interconnected field into separate pieces. Literacy acquisition across the life span is influenced by the institutional structures within which it is acquired, and these structures and the acquisition are influenced by society. Although literacy acquisition and learning happen in societies, in families, and in and out of school and other institutional contexts, these are not the focus of the acquisition domain. Issues of gender, or of reading disability, for example, might turn up in all three domains, but would be cast differently in each. Discussion of texts children read could be located in any or all of these domains, depending on how the discussion is framed. The domains are intended to provide divergent points of emphasis and thus ensure a broad understanding of the field.

In writing your comprehensive exam, you are expected to draw on both the assigned readings from your doctoral coursework and on self-selected readings that have served to broaden and deepen your understandings. For the exam, use the following prompts/questions to help you demonstrate your thoughtful and critical understanding of the theory, research, and tensions in each domain. Please use the information below as a conceptual guide and not as a step-by-step way to format your essay/portfolio.

Domain 1: The Nature and Acquisition of Literacy Across the Lifespan

1. Discuss some of the major theoretical perspectives that seek to explain literacy development. Identify the theoretical perspective(s) that you find most convincing and explain why.

2. How do reading, writing, and language develop and how do they influence one another? Be sure to address both within the child and beyond the child influences on development.

3. Describe your understanding of the complexity of the reading process – what do proficient readers do?

4. What are some of the prominent (and competing) explanations for literacy learning difficulties?

Domain 2: Literacy and Schooling

1. Discuss the shifting nature of curriculum and instruction relative to the historical, social, political, and cultural contexts.

2. Discuss how theory, research, and policy have influenced the nature of literature, literacy materials, and instructional resources in K-12 classrooms.

3. Describe how schooling affects students’ literacy learning. Be mindful of instruction, curriculum, standards, and policy particularly as it relates to schooling contexts (e.g., district, school, and classroom). You may choose to address these issues as they relate to diverse student populations that may include historically underserved populations, English Language Learners, and students with special needs.

4. Discuss the ways in which teacher preparation and professional development influence teacher practice and students’ literacy learning. In this discussion you will want to argue for a particular approach, philosophy, and/or model for teacher preparation and professional development in order to support teachers’ learning.

Domain 3: Literacy and Society*

1. Describe literacy as social practice from a sociocultural theoretical framework. (710)

2. Explain how macro and micro processes and practices, together, create social inequities and transformative possibilities. (710, 711)

3. Explain how Discourse and discursive positioning constrains and affords particular literacy practices. (711)

4. What is agency and how does it matter in literacy studies? (711)

5. How are responses to literature mediated by the broader social context and the entanglements of identities in meaning-making? (732)

6. Explain how sociopolitical contexts shape the ways in which the purposes and practices of literature are conceptualized and enacted in schools. Address the contextual layering and competing narratives of standards, testing, classroom level decision-making, etc. (732)

7. How do new technologies, multimodalities, and new media shape definitions and practices of literacies and/or literature? (732)

8. In what ways can social theories illuminate literature, curriculum, and/or pedagogy? (732)

* For the Literacy and Society domain, students should address questions based on the courses they completed, as follows:

  • 710 and 711 address questions 1- 4
  • 710 and 732 address two questions 1-4 and two questions from 5-8
  • 711 and 732 address questions 1 and 2, plus 2 questions from 5-8
  • 710, 711, and 732 address two questions from 1-4 and two questions from 5-8