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Reading gender as semiotic practices: A critical analysis of lower primary school children reading and discussing picture-storybooks

Smith, Ruth Susan (1995) Reading gender as semiotic practices: A critical analysis of lower primary school children reading and discussing picture-storybooks. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis investigates textual practices including pedagogies which enable children to produce readings of gender from their interpretations of picture-storybooks. The thesis argues that particular textual practices produce readings which sanction specific knowledges of gender. It provides evidence that readings are produced out of a range of semiotic systems and, significantly, that these systems produce contradictory readings of gender.

Explicitly articulated readings of gender are typically unavailable through current pedagogies. This study made such readings available for analysis by teaching twelve seven-year-old children a critical literacy practice for articulating textual and social constructions of gender. The children learned to articulate the uses of stereotypes in the following ways: in names and pronouns; in the roles of characters; in the gendered relationships of stories; and in details and colours in the illustrations. Following the pedagogical phase, each of the children read a picture-storybook based on a feminist tale. Their readings and discussions were recorded, transcribed and analysed.

It was found that the children's readings demonstrated use of a range of semiotic systems including genres, narrative patterns, illustrations, gendered words and associated sociocultural discourses. Significantly, many of the children assigned gender to the protagonists in ways which contradicted the text's location of those characters as either 'male' or 'female'. These changes of gender indicate 'shifts' in the semiotic systems used for interpreting gender. These shifts produced by the children illustrate how readings are produced through accessing textual practices rather than attending to what is actually on the page.

This thesis has implications for literacy pedagogy, even in the formative first three years of reading instruction, in that it makes a case for examining reading practices in terms of their social, cultural and political dimensions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Notes: Original thesis includes picture-story book "Hector & Maggie" attached. Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Patterson, Annette
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