Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

'Reading Relationships': Parents, Boys, and Reading as Cultural Practice

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

'Reading Relationships': Parents, Boys, and Reading as Cultural Practice

Article excerpt


Research into family literacy practices has been extensively documented (see among others Barton et al., 2000; Cairney, 1998; Heath, 1983; Spreadbury, 1995; Wells, 1986) with influential studies such as those conducted by Heath (1983) and Wells (1986) providing rich portraits of the varied apprenticeships that young children undergo within their families as particular discourse communities. Our research builds upon the understandings gained from such research. We have investigated the significant role that parents play in mediating reading as a cultural practice in the everyday context of the home. We ask of the research such questions as: What is the role of the family and extended family in establishing valued reading practices? To what extent, and in what ways, have both parents participated in guiding the reading practices of their son(s)? Importantly, what family practices may have worked to maintain the boys' interest and commitment to leisure-time reading in spite of competing influences? Further, given expanded definitions of reading to incorporate information technologies, visual texts, multi-media texts and so on, we are interested in the nature and scope of the boys' multi-literate practices.

We believe that the way the parents in this study articulate the type of guidance they have provided and continue to provide for their sons is informative for all who have an interest in boys and reading.

Guided participation

Socio-cultural research centralises the concept of mediated action. In this sense, human beings do not access the world immediately; rather the interplay between individuals and social, cultural and historical contexts is mediated and a dialectic relationship is established (see Rogoff et al., 1993; Rogoff, 1995; Tharp & Gallimore, 1992; Vygotsky, 1978; Wells, 1999; Wertsch et al., 1995; Wertsch, 1995). Socio-cultural research is informed by theories that emphasise human action existing within real contexts of space and time (for example Vygotsky's (1978) focus on speech and thinking, Bakhtin's (1981, 1986) notion of the unfinished utterance and 'ideological becoming', and Bourdieu's (1991) concept of habitus).

Within this research tradition, Barbara Rogoff (1995) offers a multidimensional framework that posits three planes of analysis for research into human action. These planes are: apprenticeship, guided participation and participatory appropriation which relate respectively to community, interpersonal, and personal processes. According to Rogoff, the plane of apprenticeship applies to any community where individuals participate with others in culturally organised activity. Through such participation, less experienced people develop mature participation and take on greater responsibility for an activity. Guided participation, an interpersonal process, refers to the mutual involvement of individuals and their partners participating in structured, collective activity, usually within the context of the family. The plane of participatory appropriation relates to how individuals take what they have learned in families and community settings and apply this to new situations. This is a personal process, 'a process of becoming' (p. 166, after Bakhtin, 1981).

Importantly, then, the contexts for human action and the relationships these contexts engender separate each plane of analysis from the other, as illustrated with the following example of learning to read. A young child of five enters school having been involved in culturally structured activities within the family such as bedtime reading, receiving books for gifts and watching parents and older siblings reading a range of texts. Such guided participation in literacy events within the family establishes those practices that are built upon within the context of the school. Here the child is apprenticed into literacy through membership of a community organised for continuous learning. …

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