READ, B. (n.d.) Chapter Fourteen: Challenging assumptions, changing attitudes, Skills for Life Support Programme, London: Learning and Skills Improvement Service.

GREEN, A. & HOWARD, U. (2007) Insights: Skills and social practices: making common cause an NRDC policy, London: Institute of Education: National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.

This is a very useful ‘chapter’ (Read, n.d.) that offers valuable advice about how to incorporate an awareness of literacy as social practices within the Level 5 Diploma in Initial Teacher Education. I have a mixed reaction to all of this. On one hand, as a pre-doc I used to find it reassuring when I read something that seemed to have a similar stance to the one I was developing. It gave me the confidence I was on the right track. Or at least a legitimate track. Now of course I find it a little frustrating – as it means I have to question whether and how my contribution to the debate is going to extend what has already been articulated. The more I delve even superficially, the more I realise this is a well trodden terrain.

Where I think my work sits in relation to much of the literature as exemplified by Read’s article and the NRDC’s pamphlet on Skills and Social Practices is: that it is small scale research, it is empirical or perhaps grounded rather than theoretical. I have not adopted a stance that says this is right (social practices) and this is wrong (skills), but am attempting to work out how the ideas relate to each other in practice of trainee teachers – may of whom are very experienced.

I offer (base) the paper on a series of ‘glimpses’ a pulling together a series of disparate fragments. Want I may arrive at is a series of (visual) metaphors that explore how literacy and skills interrelate.

During Skills for Life (1999 – 2010) there was a strong policy thrust that narrowed literacy & language to a series of skills, to the exclusion of all other constructions. Yet parts of that policy machinery – NRDC & LSIS where discussing literacy & language in ways that undermined this view and explored how practitioners may achieve some sort of reconciliation between what ‘is’ in policy and what ‘is’ in lived experience: the abstract and the embodied.

SfL created a detailed infrastructure involving curriculum, teaching resources, schemes of work, qualifications and pedagogic approaches that emerged from a skills based view of literacy & language: other approaches are possible, as the example of Scotland and Ireland make clear. Without the momentum created and sustained by New Labour’s crusade, how has pedagogy changed in this area – are spaces for dissent emerging more fully or does the infrastructure remain in full force?

My main query is how do practitioners – trainee teachers of language and literacy – conceptualise their subject? These thoughts are still entangled and more reading / drafting will straighten them. How do their ideas change over the course of the programme; what do they make of the competing conceptions. I am sure their pedagogic pragmatism and the irrelevance of this consideration when considering a social practices approach is a pivotal point of consideration – perhaps Mary Hamilton, The irrelevance of pedagogy is a response to this – what are their perceptions about its significance (Hamilton, 2006).

I could explore different conceptualisations of literacy with an explicit focus on visual metaphor: third space / shell / wheel / hierarchy – but would need to be clear about why this matters – as another way of exploring thinking.

I then think it might be helpful to consider Literacy as a pedagogic subject. Which then brings me to the hinted at and frustratingly esoteric / incomprehensible / pretentious Actor Network Theory: ontological politics.

Part of this is prescribed by the situation. Hence my interest in ‘situational analysis’ (Clarke, 2005) which enables me to be part of the research terrain rather than an invisible given. I am implicated even of not the focus of attention or indeed the locus of activity. In part the research approach is getting a ‘glimpse’ of ideas almost in passing.

CLARKE, A. 2005. Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn, Sage Publications, Inc.

HAMILTON, M. 2006. Just do it: Literacies, everyday learning and the irrelevance of pedagogy. Studies in the Education of Adults, 38, 125-140.


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