Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Anticipating Future Storylines: Considering Possible Directions in Australian Literacy Education

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Anticipating Future Storylines: Considering Possible Directions in Australian Literacy Education

Article excerpt

Some conference themes

From my perspective aNTicipating New Territories in Darwin in 2014 was a conference rich with challenges and opportunities for reflection. Space constrains any substantive discussion of these conference themes separately but, interestingly, many noted below are relevant to some of the prominent features in Storyline 2 described below. The themes listed are not only related to English and literacy--they are important for the alignment of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment more generally (Freebody, 2014). Those themes that I found particularly significant include:

* Social justice and equity

* The importance of story and storying in becoming literate

* The role of the Arts in creative and imaginative literacy pedagogies

* Inquiry: asking genuine questions

* Listening to student voices

* Listening to research

* The activist educator

* Playing, collaborating, engaging to rethink, reshape, renew, transform conservative understandings of learning

* Authentic assessment for learning.

Why storylines?

When we talk about a 'story' there is usually a suggestion of some kind of resolution. In writing about the concept of a 'storyline' (Ewing, 2014) I suggested the use of this term signals an ambiguity or incompleteness in or around the actions and events, the development of the character(s), or the resolution of issues in the plot or themes and alongside that the possibility for change. Both stories and storylines have the capacity to interweave with each other, to disappear for some time and then re-emerge, perhaps in a different guise. The first storyline outlined below has been around in some form for the whole of my teaching career but is becoming more powerful in the current neoliberal climate. It is an outdated storyline not supported by research but it continues to wield power amongst bureaucrats, policymakers and the popular media perhaps because of its simplicity and relatively lower costs economically.

Storyline 1: A conservative, shallow auditing approach to literacy

Story or narrative is a powerful way of communicating. Here is an excerpt from Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King's (2014) recent picture book, The Duck and the Darklings that encapsulates Storyline 1: Dark was a sorry, spoiled place: a broken and battered place. It had been that way for so long that sunups and sundowns, yesterdays and tomorrows and almost everything in them had been disremembered by each ...

Storyline 1 envisages an education future that is characterised by:

* continued populist, conservative presumptions about the teaching of literacy and English;

* a privileging of standardised and high stakes testing and benchmarking;

* a highly differentiated and inequitable capacity in families and school communities to support education;

* an ongoing culture of blame through constant discussion of the inadequacies of teachers and teacher education, often specifically focused on the teaching of literacy and numeracy;

* an outdated, fragmented, conservative competitive academic curriculum; and

* the mandating of particular teaching and learning 'recipes' e.g., direct instruction; synthetic phonics etc.

In my view we don't need to imagine far beyond what is currently happening in Australia as well as in many western countries to envisage this storyline: the 'Kingdom of Dark' is at hand. Large education bureaucracies with schools organised under hierarchical administrative systems continue to prescribe very conservative, limited and often outmoded literacy pedagogy. Curriculum content and outcomes remain highly prescriptive and organised in specific, traditional discipline areas, the so-called 'academic curriculum' (Connell, Ashenden, Kesler & Dowsett, 1982) that many school students find demotivating and irrelevant (Wyn, 2009). …

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