A Case for Including Popular Culture in Literacy Education for Young Adults with Down Syndrome

By Moni, Karen B.; Jobling, Anne | Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, October 2008 | Go to article overview

A Case for Including Popular Culture in Literacy Education for Young Adults with Down Syndrome


Moni, Karen B., Jobling, Anne, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy


Introduction

Recently there has been much written in support of the assertion that the study of popular culture in literacy classrooms is important (e.g., Duncan-Andrade, 2004; Livingstone, 2002, Marsh & Millard, 2000). The basis for including popular culture has been first, the recognition that a sole focus on book-based print literacy is no longer adequate in a constantly changing media mediated society (Luke, 2002; Evans, 2005), and second, the increasing awareness of the important role that popular culture plays in young adults' lives outside of the classroom (Alvermann & Hagood, 2000; Alvermann, Moon & Hagood, 1999). However, despite its prominence in students' lives, the inclusion of popular culture in literacy curricula has been challenging and characterised by an absence of support from education systems and teachers (Feree, 2001; Fisherkeller, 2002; Hart as cited in Marsh, 2005). For some teachers, popular culture has no place in the 'work' of the classroom (Lambirth, 2003; Marsh, 2006; Nixon, 2002), and even beginning teachers who are often the closest to their students in age may feel out of touch with their students' interests (Callahan & Low, 2004; Williams, 2005). Furthermore, popular culture is constructed as somehow 'dangerous' (Davies, Buckingham & Kelley, 2000; Fisherkeller, 2002), or trivial and manipulative (Kenway & Bullen, 2001), and thus young adults need to be protected from its pernicious influence.

Although the specific role of popular culture and its positioning in literacy education remains contentious, English syllabus documents in Australia acknowledge that popular culture texts should be included as part of the English curriculum (Misson, 2004). However, the issue of the inclusion of popular culture in literacy education programs for young adults with intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome has either been marginalised or ignored. There are several reasons for this marginalisation.

First, until recently, the continuation of literacy education beyond the early years of high school and into the post-compulsory years for these young adults has not been a high priority due to low community expectations for their achievement and limited opportunities for them to continue their education in post-compulsory and post-school settings (Bochner, Outhred, & Pieterse, 2001; Katims, 2000). This is despite the growing body of research that suggests that these young adults continue to learn in adolescence and beyond, and that their literacy skills can be improved with reported gains across all literacy domains (Chapman, 1999; Lloyd, 2006; Jobling, 2006; Moni & Jobling, 2001; Morgan, 2005).

Second, historically, across both regular and special school placements for individuals with Down syndrome, the traditional focus of education has been on vocational training with instruction being directed towards functional literacy and community participation (Katims, 2000; Kazemak, 1985). However, policies of inclusion mean that although many teachers believe that withdrawal support or a separate literacy program is more effective than inclusion for these learners (Buell, Hallam, & Gamel-Mccormick, 1999), most spend much of their school day in regular classrooms (Bayetto, 2002; Henning & Mitchell, 2002). Thus, teachers in high schools are increasingly facing the challenges of teaching students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities in their regular classrooms although they may feel unsure about how to teach these young adults, what should be included in literacy programs, and how literacy should be taught (Moni, 2006; Jobling & Moni, 2004). These issues are of increasing relevance in the post-compulsory years of schooling as individuals with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome often remain in school beyond the age of 17 years, and can be older than their peers. However, there has been limited attention paid to considering what might be appropriate in terms of considering their literacy education in these years and beyond. …

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