Literacies across the Curriculum

By Henderson, Robyn | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Literacies across the Curriculum


Henderson, Robyn, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


This issue of Literacy Learning: the Middle Years builds on understandings that all teachers are teachers of literacies, regardless of their subject, content or discipline areas. Being literate is much more than knowing how to read and write in a standardised, unitary way. It is about being able to engage in the particular social and cultural practices, including literate practices, of different contexts and learning to use the conventions that are appropriate. The importance of students learning about literacies across the curriculum is recognised by education systems, with some systems pushing the message that students 'must become literate to learn in different areas of the curriculum' (Department of Education and the Arts, Queensland, nd, p. 4).

Attempts to map the literacy demands for particular groups of students, such as Anne Sim's (2006) investigations of the literacies needed by Year 8 students, have highlighted the complexity of considering the multiple literacies that middle years students require to be successful in school learning. As Sim pointed out, 'skills in reading and writing and overall meaning-making are necessary for success in every subject' (p. 250), but 'there is little support provided for students in some of them' (p. 240).

Sim's (2006) comments, then, highlight a major challenge for literacy educators. Whilst we recognise that the nature of literacy demands varies across subjects (Cumming, Wyatt-Smith, Ryan, & Doig, 1999; Sim, 2006; Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2003), we have to make sure that our knowledge of the literacies that our students need is explicit rather than tacit. And this is where this issue of Literacy Learning: the Middle Years begins.

In the lead article, Lindsay Williams gets Down and dirty with grammar. He contextualises the topic in terms of the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy) testing that was conducted across Australian schools in May 2008, arguing that teachers need to move to productive and practical ways of teaching functional grammar. Through a set of examples, he 'walks' readers through some activities that can help students improve punctuation, write more cohesively, and critically examine texts. He sees activities like these as essential for helping teachers 'teach' literacies--by providing opportunities to tease out the language that students are expected to learn and use and to thus enable students to read and write more effectively.

Similarly, the article that follows takes a practical approach. Peter Kent and Matthew Holdway's Interactive whiteboards, productive pedagogies and literacy teaching, reminds readers about the advantages of using information and communication technologies in their classrooms. Kent and Holdway argue that there does not need to be a huge shift in practice, but that a small series of steps--from using traditional whiteboards to taking advantage of the possibilities of interactive whiteboards--can be very productive.

In the Literacy learning across the curriculum: Flagstones and frogs in action article, Henderson, Noble, Prestridge and Evans describe a cross-curricular project that was conducted in a small rural school with an enrolment of 32 students. Whilst this project was designed to meet the needs of a particular context, it offers evidence that 'big' changes can result from 'small' beginnings. The project began tentatively and the teachers were nervous about 'letting go' of their control over the direction of learning in their classrooms. However, by increasing student agency in learning and infusing technologies into an integrated curriculum, both students and teachers learnt a great deal. For the students, tasks with authentic purposes and audiences fostered learning about a range of literacies.

Dale Minchenton and Beryl Exley also consider the pragmatics of literacy learning, using science as an example. Their article--Curriculum literacies: Linguistic design in everyday science texts--focuses on an activity from the Primary Connections materials produced by the Australian Academy of Science (2005). …

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