Amber Spears & Janet Isbell

Dr. Amber Spears is an assistant professor at Tennessee Technological University in the College of Education where she teaches elementary methods and graduate courses in literacy. She is a former elementary school teacher and is licensed in Tennessee in K-8 elementary education, PK-3 early childhood education, and PK-12 reading specialist. She is the chair of the Upper Cumberland Literacy Association and spends her summers facilitating literacy programming for young children in her community.

Dr. Janet Isbell is an associate professor in TTU’s College of Education, where she teaches graduate courses in literacy and research. She has taught both secondary English methods courses and elementary methods courses. Janet is president of the Tennessee chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education. She holds a PhD in Exceptional Learning, Literacy Concentration, from Tennessee Tech University and MS in Secondary Education—English from the University of Tennessee.


In a critical, poststructural study, the researcher used interviews, photo-elicitation, and documents to learn how four Tennessee mothers of young children internalized dominant discourses about children’s literacy. These discourses, while purporting to make children school ready, effectively shift the blame for children’s school failure to mothers. The researcher challenged the concept of the school-ready child as the ideal child in order to help mothers enact agency, reversing the top-down approach that imposed policymakers’ and institutions’ ideas regarding early literacy development onto mothers.

Challenging Early Learning Discourse: Why Mothers Can Skip Their 20 Minutes of Reading Tonight

Keywords: early literacy, dominant discourse, mothers, ideal child

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