Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Mapping the Archive: An Examination of Research Reported in AJLL 2000-2005

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Mapping the Archive: An Examination of Research Reported in AJLL 2000-2005

Article excerpt

In recent years, literacy education has seen the selective use of literacy research as a lever for somewhat controversial policy reforms. While ostensibly setting out to establish evidence bases for literacy education policy and practice, policymakers have assembled like-minded researchers who have produced reports of consensus that support particular policy agendas (Allington & Woodside-Jiron, 1999). As a consequence, strained extrapolations have been made from research (Pearson, 2007), various perspectives of literacy and reading have been polarised (Harris, 2006a), and debates have intensified into 'reading wars' (Pearson, 2004; Snyder, 2008) that distort current and historical perspectives of literacy research (Allington, 2002; Freebody, 2007; Pearson, 2003).

Prominent among these research reports is Australia's Teaching Reading Report (DEST, 2005a), a product of the National Inquiry into Teaching Literacy that arose directly as a result of the USA's Teaching Children to Read (National Reading Panel, 2000) and the apparent success of the implementation of literacy aspects of No Child Left Behind (United States Congress, 2001). Australian research reports predating Teaching Reading included Closing the Gap between Research and Practice (de Lemos, 2002) and Balancing Approaches (Ellis, 2005) and expressed similar views, as did UK's National Literacy Strategy (1998).

While produced in different international contexts, there are a number of striking similarities amongst these documents (Harris, 2007). They share an 'all children' frame in describing methods that allegedly work for all children. The reports are based on similar definitions of literacy, with a particular focus on reading in terms of basic skills that include oral language, phonemic awareness and phonics skills, vocabulary, grammar, fluency and comprehension. Evidence-based or scientific research methodology is portrayed as the 'gold standard' of research (National Reading Panel, 2000) and the only kind admissible to the policymaking arena, to the exclusion of other research approaches. Experimental research conducted in psychology meets this so-called 'gold standard' of scientific rules of evidence. Therefore these reports privilege psychology as the discipline to inform literacy policy and provide solutions to the problem of literacy deficits that these reports identify. Consequently, the potential for other research approaches to inform policy with their equally important insights, is undermined (Snow, 2004).

In this contentious context, studies of connections between literacy research and policy have provided converging evidence that policymakers overstate the strength of research findings (Coburn, Pearson & Woulfin, 2010, in press). Some studies have examined the research foundations of policy documents (Coburn, Pearson & Woulfin, 2010, in press; Camilli, Wolfe & Smith, 2006; Pearson, 2004; Pressley & Fingaret, 2007). Other studies have analysed documents that have been prominent in policy-making processes such as Grossen's 1997 white paper in the formation of the California Reading Initiative (Allington & Woodside-Jiron, 1999; Dressman, 1999; Pressley & Fingaret, 2007; Snow, 2000).

In this paper, we take a different approach to the problem. As literacy researchers, we have been aware that there is a significant body of research that has been ignored in these reports. Thus we began to consider what literacy research was 'out there', what the research had to tell us about literacy learning at school, and the nature of this research. We developed a broad research question that was to become the focal question of our ARC Discovery project: namely, What are the relationships between literacy research, policy and practice? (Harris, Derewianka, Chen, Fitzsimmons, Kervin, Turbill, Cruickshank, McKenzie & Konza, 2006). In so doing, our research is responsive to calls for researchers to scrutinise intended and unintended consequences of recent literacy policy reforms (Hollingsworth et al. …

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