Constructions of Literacy: Studies of Teaching and Learning in and out of Secondary Schools

Constructions of Literacy: Studies of Teaching and Learning in and out of Secondary Schools

Constructions of Literacy: Studies of Teaching and Learning in and out of Secondary Schools

Constructions of Literacy: Studies of Teaching and Learning in and out of Secondary Schools

Synopsis

Constructions of Literacy explores and represents, through a series of cases and commentaries, how and why secondary school teachers and students use literacy in formal and informal learning settings. As used in the context of this book, secondary literacy refers to speaking, listening, reading, writing, and performing. It also refers to how these processes or events are constructed, negotiated, and used for specific purposes by teachers and students as they engage in various classroom, school, and community practices and interactions. The authors operate from a stance that literacy is socially, culturally, and historically constructed. They recognize that there are many different perspectives on how that construction occurs--some arguing for institutional and structural influences--others suggesting that people have some degree of agency within the constraints imposed by larger structures. A distinguishing feature of the volume is that the contributors explore and make explicit differing perspectives on literacy as a social construction. The volume is built around case studies of secondary school teachers' and students' literacy practices inside and outside of schools. The cases include diverse (critical, cultural, feminist, interpretive, phenomenological, and postmodern) theoretical and epistemological perspectives and research methodologies, making this one of the first collections of studies in secondary content area classrooms conducted from multiple perspectives. It concludes with two Commentaries, one by Donna Alvermann and one by David Bloome, in which they discuss and critique the contributions made from the different perspectives and grapple with how they simultaneously illuminate and confuse issues in literacy theory, research, and practice. Preservice and in-service teachers, school professionals, and researchers in literacy education, secondary education, and curriculum theory will find this book stimulating and informative. It will help them analyze the complexities of secondary literacy teaching and learning, and examine their own understandings of literacy within their own literacy contexts.

Excerpt

In a recent USA Today report on the anti-trust suit against Microsoft, one of the consulting economists claimed that the breakup of the dominant technology corporation would “create competition up and down the value chain.” The metaphors of the financial pages of cable business reports, online stock reports and news broadcasts tell us a great deal about which discourses count, about which kinds of textual representations are powerful in the economies and cultures of New Times. Here we find two interesting ideas at work. First is the idea that the aim of rule of law is to open up possible worlds to “create competition.” Second is the idea that the complex markets where software and communications media (and the very word processing package that I'm using now) are part of a hierarchical (“up and down”) and singular “value chain.” However oblique the connection to literacy might seem to you, consider the social arithmetic of globalized capitalism: one world = one marketplace inhabited by mobile players with generalizable capital.

How apt would it be to extend these metaphors to our understandings of literacy? Are there singular cultural, economic or social fields (e.g., “markets”) against which the efficacy of literacy and literacy education can be measured? Is literacy education simply an issue of “constructing” functionally literate adults capable of using transferable cognitive and textual tools for “competition up and down the value chain?” Is the goal of literacy education to produce more effective and competitive players in colleges and universities, bureaucracies and businesses?

As teachers and teacher educators most of us are poised to argue against crass economic reductionism. The principal response of secondary English teachers over the years has been to reassert the claim that the literate, her or his “voices, ” sensibilities and refinements are ineffable and immeasurable — escaping the calculation of behaviourist skill descriptions, cognitive operations or, indeed, numbers games about the value of functional literacy.

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