The Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. program is no longer admitting new students.

New program: Ph.D. Literacy, Culture, and Language Education.

Course of Study

Doctoral students admitted to the LLC program are assigned an academic advisor who provides strong mentoring through the phases of coursework, comprehensive examinations and individual dissertation research.

The student and advisor collaboratively determine a course of study that focuses on several key strands for review and synthesis. The program requires a minimum of 78 semester hours of approved course work beyond the B.A., plus 10-12 semester hours of dissertation credits. Course work includes the following:

  • A 3-semester hour Ph.D. Seminar in Language, Literacy, and Culture: Theoretical and Historical Foundations in Literacy Education
  • 9 additional semester hours of Ph.D. seminars in Language, Literacy, and Culture
  • 3 semester hours (1 course) chosen from two options: one on U.S. schooling, and one on teacher education
  • 18 hours of research course work. 
  • 9-12 semester hours of graduate course work taken outside the Department of Teaching and Learning (with 6 of these credits taken outside the College of Education).

Comprehensive Exams

Each student writes the following three sections of the comprehensive examination and meets with a self-selected committee of five faculty members for an oral defense.

See the detailed description of the Comprehensive Exam Components and Procedures.

Section 1 - An academic paper that demonstrates the student's ability to analyze and synthesize knowledge in at least one key focus of study. The final paper for this section is intended to be ready to submit for a scholarly publication.

Section 2 - A take home exam that demonstrates the student's comprehensive knowledge of two areas of literacy study selected from a set of options: reading, writing, literature and/or media, and first/second language issues.

Section 3 - A course syllabus for a future literacy course accompanied by a reflective commentary that illustrates the student's understanding of theory-practice relationships.

Memo of Intent

Students submit a memo of intent the semester before taking comprehensive exams. This brief memo includes a description of the student’s comprehensive exam areas and verifies that the student has no outstanding grades of “Incomplete.” Students submit this memo to their advisors who must approve the plan before distributing the memo to all other LLC faculty members. (Examples: Microsoft Office document iconMemo of Intent 1Microsoft Office document iconMemo of Intent 2)

Deadlines for submitting the comprehensive exam memo:

  • Fall exams: Mid-June
  • Spring exams: Mid-November
  • Summer exams: Mid-April

Dissertation Research

Successful completion of the course of study and the comprehensive examination process leads a student toward a dissertation that makes an original contribution to the field of language, literacy and culture. The student writes a substantive proposal for the dissertation that is approved by the student's five-member dissertation committee before beginning the actual study.

Most of our students' dissertations use methods from traditions including ethnography, discourse analysis, case study, and narrative analysis, among others. Examples of dissertation studies completed by LLC doctoral students in the recent past are:

  • Yewande Lewis-Fokum (2010)  Literacy in elementary schools in Jamaica:  The Case of the Grade Four Literacy Test
  • Aimee Mapes (2009)  Sponsoring Literacy:  Borderland Communities and Student Participation in an Academic Support Classroom
  • Karen E. Wohlwend (2007) Kindergarten as Nexus of Practice: A Mediated Discourse Analysis of Reading, Writing, Play, and Design Practices in an Early Literacy Apprenticeship
  • Soonyoung Lee (2007) Korean Adolescent Engaged Readers: Their Self-Perceptions, Literacy Practices, and Negotiations Inside and Outside of a Seventh Grade Classroom.
  • Priscilla McKinley (2006) Literacy in the Lives of the Blind: An Ethnographic Study in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Yolanda Majors (2004) Shop Talk: Teaching and Learning in an African American Hair Salon

Dissertations culminate in a final oral defense meeting of the student and the dissertation committee. Degrees are awarded at the university's Graduate College ceremony and are marked by the ritual of the advisor/dissertation director "hooding" the student.

Our students have received many prestigious awards for their dissertation research including dissertation fellowships from the Spencer Foundation, American Educational Research Association, and from the University of Iowa Graduate College (the University's Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize).

LLC Policy on Teaching

The Language, Literacy, and Culture program at The University of Iowa seeks to prepare its students fully for a life in the academy. To this end, we provide a range of opportunities for students to develop their skills, not only as scholars, but also as teachers. We believe that teaching at the college level, like teaching at every other level, should be approached planfully and reflectively and that successful university teachers never stop learning about their craft.

Given these commitments, the LLC program attempts (but cannot always guarantee) to give all of our students the chance to work with undergraduates in one or more teaching roles: as student teaching supervisors, as teachers of writing, as academic advisors, and as instructors in one of our methods classes. When students accept one of these positions for the first time, the faculty will do everything they can to provide support and mentoring. Students, for their part, invite faculty mentors to observe their teaching every semester and seek evaluative comments from their own students.

To accomplish these goals, the LLC program has developed two procedures. First, doctoral students who will be teaching one of our key methods classes for the first time must complete a college teaching practicum with the faculty member who usually teaches the class. During the practica, students are expected to attend the class regularly, to meet often with the faculty member to share observations and explore the instructional decisions the faculty member is making, and according to the faculty mentor's determination, contribute to active teaching in the course, or complete a project that is in some direct way related to the course.

Second, every time doctoral students assume a teaching role, they request confidential end-of-semester evaluations of their teaching, just as LLC faculty do. These evaluations can take one of several forms, but they should not be examined until after all grades have been submitted. At that point, the teacher reads through the evaluations, meets with his or her faculty mentor about them, and writes a relatively brief reflective piece that summarizes the evaluations’ major themes and that details what the teacher has learned from them. The reflective writing and the evaluations themselves are then be filed in the Teaching and Learning office.

Students graduating from the LLC program at Iowa have had uncommon success in seeking academic positions over the last ten years or more, and part of the reason for that record is the range of scholarly and teaching skills they've had a chance to practice while here. In fact, our students frequently receive university-wide teaching awards in recognition of their exceptional teaching skills. The policies on doctoral student teaching represent our effort to maintain and extend that tradition.

Our Place within the Department of Teaching and Learning

The Language, Literacy, and Culture Program is one of nine doctoral programs offered by the Department of Teaching and Learning. Our program serves students whose primary interest is literacy research. In addition to doctoral programs, Teaching and Learning is home to an undergraduate teacher education program that includes elementary education with specializations in reading and language arts as well as secondary English education. The Department of Teaching and Learning also offers  masters programs in Developmental Reading and English Education, and a masters of teaching program in English Education. LLC doctoral students frequently serve as teaching assistants for courses in both the undergraduate and masters programs.

The LLC comprehensive exam includes the following three components:

(Note:  It is possible that you and your advisor will together decide that a particular component could be more effectively directed by another faculty member.  In this case, you may ask another faculty member to direct any of the components of the comprehensive exam.  The take-home exam questions should be directed by LLC faculty members.)

1.  An academic paper.

We envision this paper as a way for you to demonstrate your ability to produce scholarly writing in an academic register. We intend this paper to be a representation of scholarly inquiry, one that demonstrates your ability to analyze and synthesize knowledge in a selected domain. We consider your work a primarily independent scholarly endeavor. The final draft should be ready to submit for scholarly publication, which means the paper will need to be more polished than a slightly revised course paper. This is an opportunity for you to represent yourself as a literacy scholar. For example, the academic paper might be an issues-oriented literature review, a reflective essay concerning a substantive issue in literacy education, or an article-length empirical piece.  You will submit copies of the paper for each committee member at 8:30 a.m. on the first scheduled day of Ph.D. comprehensive examinations in the College.  Please submit your copies to Bobbie Bevins.

2. Take Home exam.  

Any area of scholarship includes a range of movements, positions, or opinions concerning fundamental issues.  In this section of the comps, we expect that you will demonstrate your comprehensive knowledge of two areas of literacy study.  In consultation with your advisor, select from the following traditional core. Two areas of study must be selected.

  1. Reading (teaching, learning, development, curriculum)
  2. Writing (teaching, learning, development, curriculum)
  3. Literature and/or media (teaching, learning, response, curriculum)
  4. First/second language issues (teaching, learning, development, curriculum)

For the take-home exam, you should fit any special perspectives you might have related to teacher education, classroom discourse, community/family literacy, cultural studies, technology, literacy assessment, etc. within the four categories above that are foundational to literacy studies.  Another option would be to make your area of special interest the focus of an Academic Paper.

Your purpose with the Take Home exam should be to explore the historical foundations of each argument, and identify key moments or positions in its progression up to the present.  You will also be expected to identify key theorists/researchers who represent differing perspectives, and explain where you stand on issues you have described.

You should avoid casting these movements or positions in polarized terms—it’s rarely that simple.  Additionally, you may want to question or critique the terms used since they, too, reflect particular biases and agendas.

Beginning the process:  Choose your areas no later than the semester before you plan to take comprehensive exams. After choosing two areas, you will arrive at a more specific focus within each area in consultation with your advisor. Within these two specific areas, you will work to develop a comprehensive understanding of the range of perspectives represented historically and up to the present.  You will develop preliminary bibliographies appropriate for your studies in each area, and then consult with your advisor or designated faculty member to make necessary revisions and finalize the bibliographies.  Next, you will immerse yourself in reading, setting up appointments with your advisor as needed.

On the day of the exam:  On the first day that PhD comprehensive exams begin in the College, you will pick up two more specific questions/question sets (one in each area) written by your advisor (or designated faculty member) based on prior conversations about your specific areas of focus and on your studies during the previous semester. You will have 5 consecutive days to write 10-15 pages (double-spaced, 12-point font, excluding references in APA/MLA style) in response to each question and will be able to refer to any written material during the five writing days. Completed responses should be sent as an email attachment no later than 8:30 a.m. so both you and your committee members have a record of the time of submission.  Students whose first language is other than English will receive two additional consecutive writing days.

3. Course Syllabus

Develop a course syllabus for a future literacy course (graduate or undergraduate) you would like to teach. The syllabus would be accompanied by a commentary (10-15 pp, double-spaced, 12-point font, excluding references in APA/MLA style).  The commentary reflects on the framework of the syllabus and the theoretical underpinnings of the course. Here, we envision that you will make connections between theory and practice. You can draw on courses you have taught or taken; however the course syllabus must have its own unique stamp. The reflective commentary must draw on theoretical and empirical literature. Copies of the course syllabus/commentary for your committee members should be submitted at 8:30 a.m. to Bobbie Bevins on the first day of Ph.D. comprehensive exams in the College.

Memo of Intent

Students submit a memo of intent the semester before taking comprehensive exams.  This brief memo includes a description of the student’s comprehensive exam areas and verifies that the student has no outstanding grades of “Incomplete.”  Students submit this memo to their advisors who must approve the plan before distributing the memo to all other LLC faculty members.

Deadlines for submitting the comprehensive exam memo:

  • Fall exams:  Mid-June
  • Spring exams:  Mid-November
  • Summer exams:  Mid-April


Revised/Adopted by LLC 2/7/14

Students in the Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. program are required to take 18 s.h. in research course work.

Both of these:

  • EDTL:7070 Introduction to Qualitative Methods in Literacy Research (3 s.h.)
  • PSQF: 6243 Intermediate Statistical Methods (4 s.h.)

Twelve additional credit hours as outlined below:

  • A sequence of courses that meets the specific research interests of the student, to be selected in consultation with an adviser and the Language, Literacy, and Culture faculty.
  • Credits may be taken in any combination of qualitative, quantitative or other relevant research paradigms.
  • Courses may be taken either within or outside of the College of Education.

Students are recommended to take EALL:5150 Introduction to Educational Research early in their programs of study as 3 of these 12 credit hours.