Teachers researching literacy lives

Cremin, Teresa (2013). Teachers researching literacy lives. In: Goodwyn, Andrew; Reid, Louann and Durrant, Cal eds. International Perspectives on Teaching English in a Globalised World. London: Routledge, pp. 40–52.

URL: https://www.routledge.com/International-Perspectiv...


Whilst the influence of home is widely recognised as a significant feature in the development of children’s literacy and learning (Heath, 1983; Nutbrown et al., 2005), research suggests that the traffic between home and school is traditionally one-way, and that the emphasis on parental involvement in schooling is often at the expense of developing better home-school relations (Feiler et al., 2006; Hughes and Kwok, 2007). Such relations, shaped by historically set roles and positions of unequal power can disadvantage certain families and communities (Lareau, 2000). Furthermore, despite wide recognition of the impact of new technologies and the work of the New London Group (Street, 1984), institutional conceptions of literacy arguably remain somewhat print-oriented and book-bound; teachers’ practices continue to foreground traditional notions of reading and writing (Hasset, 2006; Marsh, 2003a; Yeo, 2007). Such conceptualisations may sideline children’s out-of-school experiences, their home literacy learning and the involvement of their families and communities.

Furthermore, international research indicates that the primary profession tends to denote what families are expected to do to support school literacy and rarely recognises or builds upon parental support for wider literacy learning in homes and communities (Brain and Reed, 2003; Cairney, 2003). In England, Mottram and Hall (2009) suggest that the language of schooling tends to focus on purportedly simple notions of measurable attainment, often connected to the school improvement agenda. They consider that this has had a homogenising effect and resulted in children’s literacy development being ‘discussed according to levels and descriptors, rather than in the context of the child’s home and family history’ (2009:109). Whilst successive English governments have espoused the value of home-school partnerships, Muschamp et al., (2007) argue that new links between home and school need to be established, links that build on the practices and understandings that already exist in homes and communities. Additionally, Hughes and Kwok (2007) suggest that new strategies for enabling teachers to make personal connections with parents and children are needed.

The project Building Communities: Researching Literacy Lives, which is the focus of this chapter sought to develop such strategies and understandings. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the United Kingdom Literacy Association, (UKLA) the project team of five mostly university- based researchers, worked alongside five Local Authority Co-ordinators (LACs) (mainly local authority literacy consultants) and eighteen primary phase teachers from English schools. The team sought to: support the teachers as researchers; help them explore their implicit assumptions about children and parents; develop an understanding of the cultural, linguistic and social assets children bring from home; and build new relationships with parents and children. The project was the third phase of work which in Phase I Teachers as Readers, examined 1200 primary teachers’ knowledge and use of children’s literature (Cremin et al, 2008a,b). In Phase II, Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers, the team focused on widening teachers’ knowledge of literature and other texts in order to develop reading for pleasure. During this phase, 45 teachers from five local authorities began to find out more about the realities of children’s reading lives and new relationships were brokered, though relatively few stretched beyond the classroom. Those teachers that began to blur the boundaries between home and school and came to recognise the diverse nature of reading in the 21st century, made a marked impact children’s conceptions of reading and on their growth as readers (Cremin et al, 2008c, 2009).

The Phase III project built upon these insights and sought to position teachers as researchers in order to develop their understanding about the uses and meanings of literacy in the children’s homes and communities. In recognising the socially situated nature of literacy practices and the existence of multiple local literacies, (Barton and Hamilton, 1998; Gregory and Williams, 2000), the project raised questions from the outset about the value afforded different literacy practices in schools, homes and communities and highlighted the importance of the beliefs and attitudes that teachers, parents and others hold about these practices. Arguably ‘taken for granted’ assumptions about different children’s ability to achieve in literacy and in schooling remain widespread. These conceive of some families, particularly minority ethnic groups and white working class, as lacking; they are not widely credited as having valuable literacy experiences. However, as studies have shown the cause of the under-achievement of some minority groups is related to the mismatch between the way language is used in linguistically and culturally diverse families and the way it is used in schools/ the system (Heath, 1983) and differences in school literacy achievements often relate to the inability of schools to recognise or build on the children’s home literacy practices (Comber and Kamler, 2004; Thompson and Hall, 2008). In particular the work of Luis Moll who challenged the persistence of the deficit model of education was built upon in this study.

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