Children as researchers: what can we learn from them about the impact of poverty on literacy opportunities?

Kellett, Mary (2009). Children as researchers: what can we learn from them about the impact of poverty on literacy opportunities? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13(4) pp. 395–408.



This article challenges some of the assumptions about our understanding of and approaches to literacy. Crucially, it provides evidence hitherto missing from the body of research knowledge: children’s own perspectives on literacy opportunities accessed by children themselves. Reading proficiency is pivotal in education, providing a platform on which much other curricular endeavour is built (e.g. Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000). Two groups of six children (aged 11 years) in two UK primary schools – one in an area of socio-economic advantage and one in an area of socio-economic disadvantage - underwent a programme of research training and were supported to undertake their own research projects about aspects of literacy that interested or concerned them. The extent to which poverty could be identified as an inhibiting factor was carried out as an adult abstraction from the children’s studies (with the children’s informed consent). This was done to avoid any possible poverty self-labelling or stigmatization being occasioned to children through association. Findings revealed that children from affluent backgrounds exuded literacy confidence derived from a variety of opportunities: routine support for homework, parental oracy role models, favourable environments for reading and writing, absence of distractions and opportunities to talk about literacy. By contrast children from poorer backgrounds had few, if any, of these opportunities. For them homework clubs were a life line. An important self-development strategy uncovered in the children’s reports was the need to ‘practise private confidence’ before developing ‘public confidence’. Children identified reading aloud and writing as activities requiring ‘public confidence’ and activities which needed a lot of ‘private’ practice. A striking characteristic of children from affluent backgrounds was how easy it was for them to access opportunities for ‘private confidence’ building whereas children from low-income backgrounds had the opposite experience. Implications for policy and practice are discussed in the light of these findings.

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