This MEd reminds me of one of those mammoth Christmas jigsaws. You are enticed by a pretty picture, convince yourself that you are adept enough to finish it by Twelfth Night and banish the thought that a sprawling, fragile construction spanning the floor between the living room and the dining area might get in the way of your everyday life just a little bit.
Talking with smart people in a serious university building was something of a draw to starting the course in the first place. I thought I would learn so much so quickly. And I half-convinced myself that the necessary reading and writing would slot in nicely amongst full-time teaching (well, we do have a 35-hour week), a major house extension and some ad hoc parenting of two teenagers. In fact, learning is slow and hard. I empathise with my class of 8 year olds. They put such a brave face on it all.
I had a few niggling thoughts and ideas at the start of the course. I didn’t want to feel battered by the “fetishization of change” (Furedi, 2009: 23) in education, the feeling of rushing to catch the tail of a rapidly-changing world. I wanted to know how the Curriculum for Excellence is influenced by current educational theories. I wanted to know how universities, central and local government and schools work together towards a common goal. I wanted to know differing theories so that I could better ascertain my own position, and be able to support opinions with evidence. I wanted to learn things about literacy which would make me a better teacher, benefitting the children I teach.
The four resources model of reading by Freebody and Luke (1990) has a wonderful sense and simplicity to it which are likely to remain relevant despite future technological changes. The model can be applied to multimodal texts and it encompasses a variety of teaching and learning approaches under the headings Code Breaker, Meaning Maker, Text User and Text Critic. Freebody and Luke (1999) claim that they wanted “to develop a model that attempted to recognize and incorporate many of the current, well-developed techniques for training students in becoming literate.”
Connections between frameworks and the Curriculum for Excellence can be made. The framework developed by Bearne (2009) to assess multimodal literacy, is less useful on a practical level as it incorporates four of the Literacy and English outcomes in the Curriculum for Excellence. Of Bearne’s five modes of meaning, Image is the only one which is overlooked in the Curriculum’s Literacy section. Sound/vocalization, gaze and movement are addressed via Listening and Talking. At the start of the course, it was highlighted that the model of Freebody and Luke (1990) fitted with the Curriculum’s organisers of Tools, Finding and Using Information, Enjoyment and Choice and Understanding, Analysing and Evaluating. Further examination of the Curriculum for Excellence shows a correlation with the checklist of Collerson (1997), where culture and context are shown to pervade all literacy learning. Culture crops up when the Curriculum suggests opportunities to develop an understanding of “what is special, vibrant and valuable about my own and other cultures and their languages”.
We should not neglect the political context. Hannon (2004: 24) opines that, “The only certain things about any changes which are which are made is that they will be decided politically and they will not be permanent.” I am a fan of the Cambridge Primary Review (rejected in England in favour of the Rose Review in 2009). Since the late 1970s, literacy seems to have been an area targeted more than most for government input. Alexander et al (2009: 11) state in the Cambridge Primary Review booklet, that in England “between 1996 and 2004 government and national agencies issued 459 documents just on literacy teaching. That’s more than one every week for eight years.” Why the need for so many government documents? Widespread collaboration among politicians, educationalists and teachers – free of political point-scoring – is essential.
The importance of analysing and being critical of texts has been highlighted in the theories and frameworks. Callow (2008) is no different and he distils the complexities of communication into three headings in his Show Me framework: Affective, Compositional and Critical. In order to move this framework from the theoretical to the practical, he suggests an appealing range of questions and activities which can be used in the classroom. It is satisfying to see an emphasis on the practical.
The need to teach critical analysis of digital texts might raise the most issues in the years ahead. Buckingham doubts whether we have a common understanding of digital literacy:
In contemporary usage, digital (or computer) literacy often appears to amount to a minimal set of skills that will enable the user to operate effectively with software tools or in performing basic information retrieval tasks. This is essentially a functional definition: it specifies the basic skills that are required to undertake particular operations, but it does not go very far beyond this.
(Buckingham, 2008, cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008: 76)
When we were shown a PISA Reading Test (2009) and a PISA Digital Reading Test (2009), there seemed to be a consensus that the digital reading test was easier to read and analyse. I was surprised and a little confused by the digital literacy test and I wasn’t sure why. In a later class, a fellow student referred to the PISA tests and raised the question of why we want our children to be literate in the first place. What do we want children and young people to gain from literacy? It is a question that goes to the very heart of education. There is a huge amount of information that supports the PISA tests which I haven’t read so I cannot make any assumptions. But Buckingham (2008) shed some light on my confusion. Are we at risk of teaching and assessing the skill of negotiating a digital text rather than teaching and assessing literacy which should include the affective and critical, not just the compositional? Buckingham (2008: 75) fears that, “‘Literacy’ comes to be used merely as a vague synonym for ‘competence’ or even ‘skill’“. My own feeling was that the 2009 PISA digital reading test was easy to read and did not require much analysis compared with the traditional literary text. He goes on to refer to guides to digital literacy that include evaluating online content but notes that “these formulations still tend to focus on technical “know-how” that is relatively easy to acquire and on skills that are likely to become obsolete fairly rapidly” (2008: 77). I think this expresses my initial confusion. Was I being tested on negotiating a website or on reading?
So we return to this idea of what literacy is, what will endure, what we want our children to be able to do with literacy. We also return to the issue of how digital texts fit into literacy. The Curriculum for Excellence states that children should have opportunities to “engage with and create a wide range of texts in different media, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by ICT.” It is generally recognised in education, although not always clearly expressed, that there is a need to incorporate ICT into literacy more fully, rather than have it as a stand-alone subject. Buckingham suggests that rather than:
“… hiving off information and communication technology into a separate school subject, we need a much broader reconceptualization of what we mean by literacy in a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic media.”
(Buckingham, 2008, cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008: 88)
At the same time, we cannot lose sight of what literacy is: “If the past is any guide to the future, we should expect information technology to transform literacy rather than eradicate it” (Hannon, 2004: 27). Marsh (2007) goes some way to illuminating this transformation of literacy with a framework of key competencies which includes choosing appropriate modes, understanding media (making critical judgements), skills, analysing critically, selecting according to the design process, and collaborating. It incorporates the enduring, important aspects of literacy.
Writing these thoughts as a blog has been interesting. I have been overly concerned with my audience which is somewhat ironic as there may not be one at all. It has shown me that I am learning about the theories and processes which affect education. My own blog has prompted me to start a blog with my class which threw up the issue of online safety and having to confront the fear that pervades any online activity in schools. I am realising the shortcomings of the mode I have chosen for the class blog and I will need to persevere to find one more suited to the intended message. The children themselves will put their own meaning into our makeshift blog and that in itself will be interesting to watch.
Finally, the question. Writing this final entry has helped me come up with a few questions. Are there multiliteracies or is there just one literacy which is adapted and applied to different modes? What do we want children to gain from literacy? How do we transform literacy without eradicating it? Where has the last piece of the puzzle gone? No, wait. That’s the Christmas jigsaw.
Alexander, R. (ed) (2009) Introducing the Primary Cambridge Primary Review, Children, their world, their education: Routledge at http://www.primaryreview.org.uk/downloads/CPR_revised_booklet.pdf (last accessed 11.12.12).
Buckingham, D. (2008) ‘Defining Digital Literacy, What Do Young People Need to Know About Digital Media?’ in Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (eds), Digital Literacies, Concepts, Policies and Practices. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp 73-91.
Callow, J. (2008) ‘Show Me: Principles for Assessing Students’ Visual Literacy’ in The Reading Teacher, 61 (8), pp616-626.
Carrington, V. and Marsh, J. (2008) Forms of Literacy at http://www.beyondcurrenthorizons.org.uk/forms-of-literacy/ (last accessed 11.12.12).
Collerson, J. (1997), English Grammar: A Functional Approach, PETA, Australia.
Education Scotland (online) Curriculum for Excellence, Experiences and Outcomes at http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/all_experiences_outcomes_tcm4-539562.pdf (last accessed 11.12.12).
Furedi, F. (2009), Wasted, Why Education Isn’t Educating. London: Continuum International Publishing Group
Hannon, P. (2004) ‘The History and Future of Literacy’ in Grainger, T. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Language and Literacy. London: RoutledgeFalmer pp14-29.
Luke, A., Freebody, P. (1999) Further Notes on the Four Resources Model at http://www.readingonline.org/research/lukefreebody.html (last accessed 11.12.12).
OECD (2009), Take the Test, Sample Questions from OECD’s PISA Assessments at http://education.moodle.gla.ac.uk/file.php/2744/PISA_Take_the_Test.pdf (last accessed 11.12.12)