Literacy under and over the desk: oppositions and heterogeneity

Maybin, Janet (2007). Literacy under and over the desk: oppositions and heterogeneity. Language and Education, 21(6) pp. 515–530.



In this paper I argue that a dominant theme in New Literacy Studies research, the differences between literacy practices inside and outside school, has sometimes involved conflating ‘home literacy’ with private, unregulated ‘vernacular literacy’, and the use of an idealised abstract notion of schooled literacy to represent students’ actual everyday experience in the classroom. Drawing on linguistic ethnographic research in two British primary schools, I use examples of ‘unofficial’ and ‘official’ literacy activities from 10-11 year-olds to show that a wide range of different forms of literacy can be found in the classroom and I argue that the division between ‘vernacular’ and ‘schooled’ is not as clear-cut as is sometimes assumed. My analysis of children’s literacy activities suggests that, on the one hand, unofficial activities orientate towards and index official knowledges and the macro-level institutional order and, on the other hand, official activities are interpenetrated with informal practices and procedures. I also comment on some implications of using the New Literacy Studies ‘events and practices’ conceptual framework for understanding what is going on in classrooms.

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