un/reconciled literacies: how to teachers conceptualise adult language and literacy as a pedagogic subject

This paper explores how teachers encounter and conceptualise different ideas of literacy. The first initial explorations of literacy – based on a series of text which invited them to answer the direct question: what does it mean to be literate – demonstrated a series of understandably common sense perceptions.

Common sense perceptions that have a highly developed policy infrastructure to support them. Other notions of literacy have been introduced and there is a strong awareness in the group that these are of some significance.

The group are well qualified and experienced – mainly post-graduates (one doctoral student) who are confident and competent scholars able to engage with the ideas.

These ideas are an enormous challenge; they have the potential to fundamentally undermine institutionally sanctioned (required) approaches to teaching literacy.  The first lecture in which I offered sociocultural perspectives as an alternative to skills was met with varied responses.

One student liked the idea – he works with students on a one-to-one basis and could immediately see how this implied approach might translate into practice.

Another students expressed concern about the impossibility of the implied approach. I am interested in this and suspect that the line of thought is something t do with situation. The significance of a socio-cultural view of literacy is not directly related to its pedagogic implications. In other words, there is a sense in which what is pedagogically convenient does not determine ontology, the ontology of literacy as a lived, embodied practice. But the relation between these dimensions – literacy ontology and literacy conceptions might well be influenced by the situation ie policy sanctioned views on literacy and a training course in how best to implement them.

Do I teach a subject or deliver a curriculum?

I think here I may be echoing debates about teacher education or teacher training. Do I teach a subject or deliver a curriculum? This is a rhetorical question. But it neatly captures a very real tension that I explore along with my trainees.

The paper seeks to extend, develop and further explore tensions tentatively suggested in my doctoral thesis: a tension between quality as abstract (textualisation) and quality as embodied.

As a intuitive writer – I chose to use the concept embodied rather than practice. As this offers the potential to recognise race and gender as dimensions of professional experience. But also seemed to enable a grasping of what might so far have been unarticulated experiences, implied, inferred, captured in passing through narrative.

A practice is a mediated action with a history
Scollon 2001: 66

Quality as embodied rather than as practised.  There is no mediated action in the embodiment of quality. It suggests a series of moments rather than an extended and clearly articulated approach. In embodiment is contained the notion of tension between competing discourses, compromise, contradiction and negotiated settlement.

Scollan, R. (2001) Mediated Discourses: the Nexus of Practice. London: Routledge cited by Baynham and Prinsloo (2009) the future of literacy studies, Palgrave


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