31 SES 07 A, On Literacy
With international attention being directed toward literacy outcomes of children in schools across the globe, there is a new urgency to ensure that literacy research is balanced in its interest across productive and receptive modes. It is not unusual for solutions to supposed ‘literacy crises’ to be framed as issues of phonics and reading (Troia, 2007), and yet evidence suggests that in many countries children perform less well at writing than they do at reading (see for example Fisher, 2012; ACARA, 2013). The research reported in this paper is built on the assumption that making inroads into persistent underachievement of certain groups of students – those from high poverty communities as one example – and reported gaps between students’ performance as readers as compared to their performance as writers, will require a fundamental rethinking of our understandings of literacy, writing and new contexts of learning and teaching. This paper reports a research project which takes up this challenge.
We investigate how children are learning to write and produce texts in the early years of schooling in a range of contexts and with a variety of materials, tools and technologies. We do not believe that it is productive to consider traditional forms of writing as in binary opposition with the production of texts in other modes. Digital technologies offer access to continually changing ways of production, communication and representation, and we know that children are producing texts in school and outside school contexts, with a variety of adults and peers as support, and for a diverse range of purposes and audiences. However little is known about the links between learning to write in a traditional, print-based sense and learning how to produce texts using digital technologies. Three decades of research in digital literacies, media arts and multiliteracies since the New London Group (1986) first broached the subject of the changing contexts of text production for a new century, has established that learning to write in the 21st century involves different processes and resources - processes that were not even imagined a generation ago. Successful work lives, as well as future education pathways and wellbeing, are increasingly tied to the ability to use new technologies, to solve new problems, in new collaborative ways. These affordances have not been fully understood, and this is especially the case for children growing up in communities of high poverty.
The study reported in this paper, provides new knowledge about learning to write and the implications for early childhood writing pedagogy of curriculum, pedagogical and technological change. We draw on socio-material understandings of text production to emphasise the material nature of everyday educational practices such as learning to write (Fenwick, Edwards & Sawchuk, 2011). That is we are interested in the embodied, physical, temporal and spatial dimensions of engaging in the ordinary classroom activities of learning to write. The analysis fore grounds school patterns of social relations, and the ways that students’ social and learning worlds are intermeshed with people, objects, texts and materials within specific contexts. The overall aim of this project is to understand how learning to write is occurring in contemporary classrooms, and to consider how the introduction of digital technologies into early years’ classrooms may be having material effects on students’ ways of learning to write and produce texts. We are interested in the texts, resources, tools and technologies that young children draw on as they learn independently and together.
To achieve this aim, the study is organised by the following research question:
How, when, where, with what and with whom are young students writing and learning about text production in current early childhood classrooms?
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2013). National report on schooling in Australia 2013. Sydney. Fenwick, T. Edwards, R. & Sawchuk, P. (2011). Emerging approaches to educational research: Tracing the socio-material. London: Routledge. Fisher, R. (2012). Teaching writing: A situated dynamic. British Educational Research Journal, 38(2), 299-317. New London Group (1996) A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century (trans: Goldhammer, A.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Troia, G. A. (2007). Research in writing instruction: What we know and what we need to know. In M. Pressley, A. K. Billman, K. H. Perry & K. E. Reffitt (Eds.), Shaping literacy achievement (pp. 129-156). New York: The Guilford Press.
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