Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)


Education Specialties

First Advisor

Evan Ortlieb

Second Advisor

Michael Sampson

Third Advisor

Kristin Anderson


Academic success is contingent on multiple factors not the least of which is literacy and comprehension. However, research demonstrates that literacy and comprehension levels for traditional aged high secondary school students, as well as non-traditional adult college students threaten the academic success of these demographics. Identifying instructional practices that reinforce all literacy levels and sustain students’ motivation and engagement in the classroom is warranted as it may support students at the earliest levels of instruction, as well as offer support for the non-traditional adult college student who faces a plethora of challenges in pursuit of advanced credentials. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to investigate how the use of Socratic seminars and collaborative discourse as a tool of instruction impacted adult students’ reading comprehension and critical literacy. This study was framed by constructivist and transformative learning theories. English professors (n = 5) and their students (n = 51) from two classes at a senior urban college, student volunteers for interviews (n = 7), student volunteers for two student directed focus groups (n = 15), and professor volunteers (n = 5) for a teacher led focus group were participants in the study. Data collection included individual interviews of professors and students, classroom observations, and focus groups of professors and students. Interview and observation data was analyzed using the constant comparative method. Teacher perspectives of the use of discourse as an instructional tool revealed a myriad of factors and themes including student autonomy, social development, motivation and efficacy, value placed on classroom interaction, the classroom environment, students’ metacognition, and students’ sense of marginalization all impacted students’ overall performance. The study extends existing research that supports the use of Socratic and oral discourse in literacy development and to support reading comprehension. Limitations include the homogeneous population included in the study and the narrowness of the sample size. Recommendations for future research are discussed, as well as recommendations for educational practice.