04 SES 09 B, Developing Children’s Literacy in an Inclusive Environment
In Australia there are mounting concerns for increasing inequality in conditions of living (Australian Council of Social Services, 2016) and growing inequality in educational trajectories (OECD, 2013). The provision of inclusive literacy education is fundamental to any just and equitable society, yet it seems we still have much work to do in this space. As many schools continue to adopt a narrow, or traditional view of literacy (Street, 2013) concerns amount for an increasing separation between schooled and everyday literacy practices.
We are currently living in changing and exciting times that bring forth new possibilities. The powerful digital technological advancements of our era that are hailed for their revolutionary improvements to conditions of living, to health, to advancements in science and to post-industrial manufacturing have failed to evoke similar status in relation to advancing education. This is puzzling for they have the potential to open up new opportunities for many children who are increasingly using digital tools to make meaning in their everyday lives. For example, one of the new opportunities that emerges is the increased access to, and possibility to create, a vast variety of different texts. The digital screen can be seen as a window into a library of possibilities. A seemingly poor home literacy environment, that is framed as a deficit and blamed for academic failure, is suddenly filled with digital shelves overflowing with infinite volumes of information, knowledge and ideas. Threatened by the apparent decline of literacy standards, a tightening of the dominance of outcomes and standards-based educational governance and crippled by the fear of screen time, of addiction to digital technology and the possibility of having your brain fried by Google (Scott, 9 years old),it seems we are unable to realise some of the inclusive possibilities that lie before us. This research asks the questions – what is the impact of this? What are children’s perspectives of the literacies they practice inside and outside the classroom? What do they think about their engagement, and inclusion, at school? Themselves as literate beings? The possibilities for their literate futures?
The way forward into a more inclusive imagining of literacy education is not clear. Recent history has shown that it is not enough to simply place digital tools into existing models of learning. Instead, we argue that the possibilities that lie before us are indescribably complex and need to be theorised with a sensitivity to the complex and uncertain space that education currently occupies. Education, inclusion, literacy and learning are contested terms which are understood in multiple, proliferating and, at times, contradictory ways. There is no universal consensus as what counts as inclusion, as literacy or as effective literacy learning. There are multiple imaginings of the role of the teacher in contemporary classrooms. The tensions that result are often framed through the logic of dualism, e.g. phonics or whole language, handwriting or keyboarding, teacher of facilitator, yet reality is much messier – complicated still by rapidly changing digital tools and the diversity of understandings bought about by an increasingly globalised society.
In order to conceptualise and think within this chaotic reality, this research is guided by Barnett’s (2017) model of supercomplexity. This conceptual framework assumes that the world is only knowable in uncertain terms, that the notion of literacy is changing, multiple and contested and that our previously secure frameworks of understanding literacy education are shifting. Researching through supercomplexity allows us to understand in multiple ways, make new and sometime strange connections and generate feasible, defendable, but previously unimagined possibilities for a different story of literacy education in the future.
The research design was guided by the image of methodological bricolage, which is likened, by Denzin & Lincoln (2005) to quilt-making, where different representations and ideas are stitched together in in order to inquire about complex social situations. Borrowing from notions of communicative methodology (Gomez, Puigvert, & Flecha, 2011) and Progoff's (1992) notion of reflexive journaling, data was generated through the creation of opportunities for meaningful conversations between the researcher and the 14 child participants. Over the course of 3 school terms the researcher met with these children in their classrooms. During focus groups and individual conversations, and while drawing and viewing photographs that the participants had done and taken, the researcher talked to these children about their experience of literacy both in and outside the classroom. These conversations were informally structured, based on the research questions and the analysis of previous conversations. The participant and researcher engaged in joint dialogue, with the researcher recording their thoughts, reflections and growing understandings in a research journal. All conversations were audio recorded and transcribed. Data (which included the transcripts, drawings done, photos taken and notes from the research journal) were analysed in a number of ways including inductive thematic analysis (Bergman, 2010) and narrative construction (Coulter & Smith, 2009).
In this presentation, we will share a selection of the children’s perspectives, all of which depict exclusion in different ways. For some it is the exclusion from authenticity, from enjoyment and from the possibility to succeed. For others it is the exclusion from the literacies that are fundamental to their growing identity, to their belonging and their innate sense of curiosity. All of these children hold their own understanding of schooled literacy and the ways that it is different from their childhood literacies which they describe as inadequate, depraved and at times dangerous. Yet these perspectives also document fierce determination and agency. They describe young learners creatively navigating a changing and bewildering literary present. They combine to tell the tales of literate beings who are knowledgeable, and articulate, about the complexity of literacy practices they engage inside and outside the classroom environment. This research offers new insight into the lived experience of learning in this era by making space for the almost invisible subject in these conversations - children. Their perspectives offer descriptions of some of the mechanisms of exclusion, illustrate some of the devastating consequences yet also proffer glimpses of alternative possibilities for more inclusive approaches. The findings of this research contribute to our growing understanding that a strict adherence to any monolithic and fixed imagining of literacy, whether it be just print-based, just traditional, or just digital, risks erasing possibilities of inclusion for an increasingly diverse population. Progressive education in Australia is currently threatened by a dominance of neoliberal governance and the accompanying hegemony of accountability and standards-based educational outcomes. Within this paradigm, the type of divergent thinking that is required to cope with multiple imaginings of valued literacies that enables multiple groups of people to be included in a literate society is impossible.
Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS). (2016). Poverty in Australia. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ACOSS. Barnett, R. (2017). Researching supercomplexity: Planes, possibilities, poetry. In L. Ling & P. Ling (Eds.), Methods and paradigms in education research. Hershey, PA: IBI Global. Bergman, M. (2010). Hermeneutic content analysis: Textual and audiovidual analyses within a mixed methods framework. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), SAGE handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research (Vol. 379-396). Oaks, CA: Sage Coulter, C. A., & Smith, M. L. (2009). The construction zone: Literary elements in narrative research. Educational Researcher, 38(8), 577-590. Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2005). The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (pp. 1–42). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Gómez, A., Puigvert, L. & Flecha, R. (2011) Critical Communicative Method- ology: informing real social transformation through research, Qualitative Inquiry, 17, pp. 235-245. OECD. (2013). Boosting skills essential for tackling joblessness and improving well-beng says OECD [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/education/boosting-skills-essential-for-tackling-joblessness-and-improving-well-being.html Progoff, I. (1992). At a journal workshop: Writing to access the power of the unconscious and evoke creative ability. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher Street, B. (2013). Literacy in theory and practice: Challenges and debates over 50 years. Theory into Practice, 52(SUPPL 1), 52-62.
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