J. Larson & J. Marsh (2005). Making Literacy Real: Theories and Practices for Learning and Teaching

Article excerpt

J. Larson & J. Marsh (2005). Making Literacy Real: Theories and Practices for Learning and Teaching. London: Sage.

As the authors of this book point out, undergraduate education students often struggle to see the relevance of theory and its connection to classroom pedagogy. To address this problem, Larson and Marsh effectively link current literacy theories with explicit examples of teaching and learning in contemporary classrooms to clearly demonstrate the notion that 'theory is practice and practice is theorised as practice is transformed over time' (p. 2).

This book is divided into seven chapters. In Chapter 1, 'Orienting Perspectives', Larson and Marsh begin by providing an overview of traditional reductionist approaches to literacy education. Here the authors note the shortcomings of such models, which have been based on cognitive psychology research. They argue that the traditional 'transmission of knowledge' approach, which focuses on developing individual students' discrete literacy skills through isolated and repetitive practice, ignores current understandings of the social nature of learning and literacy practice. As a result of this instructional approach, many learners, particularly those non-white middle class students who don't demonstrate normalised development of these skills, are labelled 'at risk' and suffering from some kind of learning deficit (p. 5). In contrast, the authors foreground four current theoretical frameworks: New Literacy Studies (literacy as social practice), Critical Literacy (literacy as political practice), New Technologies and Literacy (literacy as technology-mediated practice) and Sociocultural-Historical theory (literacy as changing cultural/historical participation), that underpin the subsequent chapters of this book.

In the next four chapters, Larson and Marsh examine each of these four frameworks in detail. They begin by discussing the historical background of each model and the key research studies that have informed each model's development. They then outline the core principles of each framework, highlight their implications for literacy pedagogy, and suggest possible ways of connecting each model to classroom teaching practices. Rather than leaving the examination of each model at that: a theoretical discussion, the authors go further by providing case studies of actual classroom contexts where teaching practices are informed by the different models. It is these sections in particular that neophyte and experienced teachers should find enlightening in terms of providing concrete links between theory and practice. Each of these four chapters concludes with an interview with a leading scholar whose work has informed the particular theories. …