Explorations of Affective Literacy Amongst Middle School English Teachers

Article excerpt

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Introduction

This paper will situate affective literacy within a theory of multiple literacies (Masny, 2005). The idea of multiple literacies is that all literacy practices present in the middle school cohort, whether they come from school life or elsewhere, may cohere in a holistic and yet singular sense towards increasing levels of literacy. Affective literacy is but one practice that students and teachers have to master, as they inhabit the middle school environment. It is part of the 'repertoire of practices' (Andrew, Beswick, Barrett, Swabey & Bridge, 2003) that defines contemporary literacy. Yet it is also particularly powerful in the sense that engagement, purpose, confidence, motivation, self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 2002), relationships, reflectivity, emotional control, inspiration, imagination, the unconscious and creativity (Cramer & Castle, 1994) all require affectivity.

Affective literacy is the ability to communicate and respond to phenomena on the affective level. The affective level in the context of this article is a deeply felt one. It is about technical mastery of language; yet it is mastery with direction and impact. Affective literacy is not a stand-alone subject or an area of teaching deficit, as it comes about through other aspects of English teaching. It is when students become absorbed by the literacy that they are learning and they start to use language wholly for themselves. This paper has the aim of locating these points and translating them into an understanding of affective literacy which Rhonda Brill (1995) has called, 'a dimension to the process of becoming literate that has not been clearly articulated' (p. 1).

Definition: The term affective literacy locates a broad range of somatic, emotive responses to reading a text. Affective literacy seeks out the life principle, messy and complex, threading through reading activities and gestures toward bodily economies of reading and transacting texts. (Amsler, 2004)

It has become recognised through educational research that the qualitative sense of teaching and learning and the general ethos that one might perceive in an educational institute directly equates to the achievements and purposes of that organization (Ames, 1992; Bruck, Hallett, Hood, MacDonald & Moore, 2001; Candy, Crebert & O'Leary, 1994; Freiberg, 1999; Ramsden, Margetson, Martin & Clarke, 1995). With respect to literacy teachers, their choice of text, tone of voice, pace of teaching and integration of positive assessment tasks with pleasurable and imaginative textual learning have contributed to definitions of quality literacy practice (Morrow & Grambrell, 2003).

In the context of this research, affective literacy is concerned with the control and power of the middle school English teacher, where behaviour management and building relationships with the students may crowd over the affective aspects of literacy practice and the ability to transform difficult situations through language (Edwards-Groves, 2003). This paper examines the pedagogical pleasures (McWilliams, 1999) of the English teacher and identifies the ways in which they permeate their middle school teaching practice. The focus of pedagogical pleasures throughout this article refers to everything that is connected to extolling affectivity in English teaching. This may reveal important insights into the ways in which middle school teachers go about their jobs with reference to affect.

Methodology

This project has used pre-service English teachers as researchers. Their task was to interview two middle school teachers about an aspect of their English teaching. In particular, they had to explore the relationships that the teachers could discern and explain between the chosen focus of their English teaching and affectivity. To achieve the required qualitative results, the students employed semi-structured interviews with open-ended and focused questions that they had prepared in advance (Hatch, 2002, pp. …