Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Diversity in Different Times

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Diversity in Different Times

Article excerpt

Teaching for diversity is important in a time when our youth are faced with increasingly more complex literate demands due to a technological revolution, increased local diversity and a stronger connectedness with our global neighbours (New London Group, 1996). Classrooms are characterised by learners who come from diverse places, with diverse social and cultural backgrounds, diverse life world experiences and unique ways of learning and knowing. More alarming though is the large number of Indigenous youth who continue to perform well below the national averages for literacy. Data from the Program for International Student Assessment results (OECD, 2006) show a continuing widening gap between Australia's Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The recent National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) showed that 70.7% of Indigenous students met the national benchmarks in Year 9 compared to 94.2% of Non-Indigenous students (MCEETYA, 2008). These numbers are far worse in some states and territories where there are large numbers of Indigenous youth in rural and remote locations.

I have been an educator for more than twenty years working in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Some of my most memorable experiences have been when I used diversity in my classroom in a way which took learners out of their comfort zone and to different spaces. In this paper I want to reflect on and draw from my experiences both as a classroom teacher and as a researcher to discuss some of the major challenges facing literacy educators as they work in highly diversified classroom spaces, but more importantly to foreground the exciting possibilities that these rich diverse learning spaces offer. Further I want to discuss theoretical ideas related to a multiliteracies framework (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000) and work by Somerville (2009) as possible ways to rethink the teaching of literacy in communities and classrooms characterised by increased local diversity.

Multiliteracies: A pedagogy of hope

In this paper, literacy is approached from a socio-cultural perspective which means it is not simply understood as a discrete set of skills but rather as variable forms of social practice; see for example, 'New Literacy Studies' (Barton & Hamilton, 1998), 'social literacies' (Gee, 1996; Street, 1993), or 'situated literacies' (Barton, Hamilton, & Inavich, 2000). Literacy enables us to 'do' things, to learn about ourselves and others and to communicate our knowledge, thoughts, understandings and feelings. Most importantly the process of becoming literate and the kinds of literacy practices engaged in demonstrate aspects of the individual, place and cultural, social and community identities (Falk & Balatti, 2004; Ferdman, 1991; Guofang, 2000).

Literacy occurs through a range of different modalities including the visual, oral, kinaesthetic, digital and written. A 'pedagogy of multiliteracies' as described by Cope and Kalantzis (2000) is helpful for thinking about literacy in this way. They argue that we need to think about literacy differently because of the advent of new technologies and the increasing awareness of cultural diversity in a globalised world. Since the introduction of mass schooling the literacies of reading and writing print based texts has been privileged. According to Cope and Kalantzis (2000) literacy teaching and learning has been carefully restricted to 'monolingual, monocultural and rule-governed forms of language'(p. 9). They believe that:

the most important skill students need to learn is to negotiate regional, ethnic, or class based dialects; variations in register that occur according to social context; hybrid cross-cultural discourses; the code switching often to be found within a text among different languages, dialects or registers; different visual and iconic meanings; and variations in the gestural relationships among people, language and material objects. …

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