Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Bush

Second Advisor

Dr. Karen Vocke

Third Advisor

Dr. Meghann Meeusen

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Sarah Donovan


Virtual teaching, English language arts, independent reading, teacher adaptations


There is no doubt that the 2020-2021 school year was an unprecedented one. Around the world, COVID-19 school closures forced teachers to change their instructional practices with very little time, preparation, or guidance. While frustrating and challenging, experiences from this particular school year provide unique insight into pedagogical adaptations from in-person contexts to virtual ones.

This qualitative, grounded theory study examines the experiences of six secondary English Language Arts (ELA) teachers and their adaptations of independent reading pedagogies for their virtual classrooms during the 2020-2021 COVID-19-impacted school year. Independent reading is a practice that depends on proximal classroom factors including encouragement and advice from the teacher, time to read, access to a variety of book options, and a conducive reading environment (Atwell, 2007; Miller & Sharp, 2018; Gallagher, 2009; Hiebert, 2009; Gambrell, 2007). Because of these conditions, it is a particularly difficult pedagogy to adapt to a virtual learning context, and research about virtual independent reading is lacking.

Research participants were recruited using purposeful and snowball sampling from six U.S. midwestern junior high and high schools. In-depth, semi-structured virtual interviews were conducted during which participants were questioned about three topics: (1) the origins of the teacher’s decision to implement independent reading, (2) a depiction of what independent reading looked like in their in-person classrooms, and (3) a depiction of what independent reading looks like in their virtual classrooms. Transcripts were coded and analyzed using NVivo coding software, and a coding paradigm was developed. This paradigm includes causal conditions that underlie the teacher’s ability to implement independent reading in a virtual context, the context and intervening conditions that influenced teachers’ strategy development, strategies for adapting independent reading to online contexts, and consequences of those strategies. Finally, these codes were synthesized to create a framework of the barriers, teacher factors, strategies, and outcomes of adapting independent reading for virtual learning. Explanations of the five key themes and takeaways from the theoretical model are identified and described in narrative data. These themes are: (1) the barrier of book deserts amid e-book floods, (2) the intuitive appeal of independent reading, (3) adopting e-resources, (4) creating opportunities for book access, and (5) the free fall of independent reading.

The purpose of this project is to increase understandings about the ways independent reading practices—typically dependent on in-person classroom contexts—can be adapted to virtual spaces. What resources did teachers need to be able to do this successfully? What remained the same from in-person independent reading and what changed? How did teachers perceive the efficacy of the practice when done virtually? What challenges and successes did teachers have and what strategies did teachers implement? By examining the ways teachers have adapted their independent reading practices to virtual contexts, this study will inform and guide ELA teachers’ understandings and utilizations of independent reading as a pedagogical practice, both in-person and virtually, and contribute to the body of knowledge on reading instruction for teacher educators, teacher preparation programs, school administrations, and policy makers.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access