Literacy in Practice: Introducing Four Key Learning Processes

Article excerpt

What will the future bring for literacy teaching for the 21st century classrooms in the context of the current national curriculum, assessment and reporting reforms as well as within the constantly changing and ever increasing multi-literacy landscape? This is a big question faced by graduate and experienced teachers alike in the ever busy school year, with overwhelming pressures to keep up with curriculum demands and match the literacy needs of their students. How can teachers ensure that they include the reflective practices known to help them learn from their own actions and how can teacher education contribute to preparing teachers for this changing literacy landscape?

As Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) emphasise, because educators are inundated with 'scripted curricula and teacher-proof materials' (p. 125), they must constantly work to engage in a cycle of questioning, observing, acting, and learning. Moreover, they highlight that such work cannot happen in isolation--its success often depends on ongoing collaboration and dialogue with other members of the school community. Similarly the work described in this article involves a cycle of learning processes steeped in practices for preservice and in-service teachers to use as tools to assist in meeting the demands of the literacy curriculum and developing a sense of professional judgement.

This judgement depends on teachers being able to consider a problem from a number of perspectives informed by a personal knowledge base built up through practical experience and study of prior research. In other words, good teachers know how to look carefully at the students they teach and make decisions based on different kinds of information. They take deliberate control of the pedagogic landscape in the classroom and beyond to shape their lessons in ways that best impact student learning based on intellectual inquiry. As Groundwater-Smith says, when teaching is informed by such professional scholarship, it becomes 'not merely a learning profession but a learned profession' (Groundwater-Smith in Aubusson, Ewing & Hoban, 2009, p. 60).

Learning to look carefully at your own teaching takes practice. In teacher education programmes students often work on assessments designed to teach them how to reflect so that they become aware of their professional decision making processes. Principles of action learning are taught that build connections between 'the doing and the thinking about the consequences of doing' (Aubusson et al. 2009, p. 5). This kind of 'practitioner inquiry' encourages teachers to acknowledge uncertainty and make improvements (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. 37). But, once in the classroom, this incredibly important process is often lost in the rush to complete syllabus requirements, improve test results and deal with the daily stress of a very demanding job.

To work against this problem, two teacher educators, Simone White and Alyson Simpson, have devised four learning processes that can be easily incorporated into the planning, teaching, assessing cycle so teachers can claim back some mental space for reflection. We propose that teaching needs to be conceptualised as two balanced halves that form a whole. The two halves are theory and the practical application of that theory. Practitioner research shows that pre-service teachers and teachers learn best about literacy by building up their professional knowledge as well as putting this knowledge into practice. The four learning processes presented in this article are tools to assist pre-service and in-service teachers to engage in the meta-analysis of practice discussion and reflection as they investigate the way they teach about literacy. The tools have been designed as one way to resist anti-intellectual patterns of teaching or a 'pedagogy of poverty' (Haberman, 1991) that only provides inquiry and choice to some and offers drill and compliance to others. This work also builds on the ideas of Pam Grossman (2009) and others in the Carnegie Foundation and their attempt to make more explicit and visible the specific strategies necessary to improve student learning. …