Twenty years ago, Lea and Street (1998) introduced the idea that academic literacies could be approached from a place that emphasized student identity, power dynamics within and beyond the classroom, and the diverse forms of literacy practices that were happening in different disciplines. Their work, while initially focused on what was happening in post-secondary spaces, laid the groundwork for a way to conceptualize what fluencies we expect our students to demonstrate in secondary classrooms.

The time is ripe for a deeper understanding of academic literacies that considers the blurring of disciplinary lines in K-16 contexts. Like Lea and Street, I believe that such work cannot occur without bringing in both student and teacher perspectives of academic literacy. To that end, this research includes students and teachers. The aims of this research are:

  • To elicit teacher and student perceptions on what it means to demonstrate “academic literacy”.
  • To explore the ways these perceptions change over time and across contexts.
  • To explore the divergences and commonalities between teachers’ and students’ perceptions of academic literacy.
  • To offer a new framework for academic literacy that serves K-16 teachers, students, and teacher educators in ELA and other disciplines.

This research will answer the following questions:

  • How do students and teachers perceive academic literacy?
  • How do these perceptions of academic literacy change over time?

As part of both analysis and dissemination of results, I will be creating photographs based on the elicited metaphors, which will be shared on my professional Instagram account and showcased on a project website, paired with quotes from participant writing, in order to provide connections and prompt conversations across participant groups and with the larger professional community of ELA teachers and teacher educators.

Researcher-created images have been used in a variety of contexts (Leavy, 2015) in order to enrich researcher understanding of data and representation of this data in diverse ways and to centre researcher-as-artist (i.e., Codak, 2010; Parker, 2017). Researcher-created images are particularly suited to qualitative methodologies, since “visual art inherently opens up multiple meanings that are determined not only by the artist but also the viewer and the context of viewing” (Leavy, 2015, p. 224).

Explore these images and metaphors here.

Listen to an overview of my findings via the Queen’s University Grad Chat here.


Codack, R. (2010). Portrait of the Artist/Researcher/Teacher: A reflection on the nature of learning. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 4(7), 89-145.

Knowles, J. G., & Cole, A. L. (2008). Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lea, M. R., & Street, B. V. (1998). Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157–172.

Leavy, P. (2015). Method meets art: Arts-based research practice (Second ed.). London; New York: The Guilford Press.

Parker, M. (2017). Art teacher in process: An illustrated exploration of art, education and what matters (Thesis, Education: Faculty of Education). Retrieved from