Building Bridges between Schools and Everyday Learning Spaces for Refugee Students: A Response to Eileen Honan

By Wilkinson, Jane; Faulkner, Julie | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, October 2019 | Go to article overview

Building Bridges between Schools and Everyday Learning Spaces for Refugee Students: A Response to Eileen Honan


Wilkinson, Jane, Faulkner, Julie, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


Community and social practices

Eileen Honan, in Connecting home, school, and community literacy practices, powerfully calls for recognition and mobilisation of the communicative flow between home, community and school literacies.

If mass schooling is a middle-class enterprise, minority group learners, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, will find themselves on the margins (Campbell, 2015; Teese & Polesel, 2003; Freebody et al., 1995). Community literacy practices are always social, always situated. Honan observes how formal literacy practices are generally monolingual and print-based, in stark contrast to the multimodal and 'rich translingual and codemeshing practices' (Honan, 2019) in young people's everyday lives. In this sense, it is the school discourses that are narrow and lacking, rather than the communicative patterns of the users. How then might educators come to understand and build on the literacy practices of a community? As Honan argues, school literacies need to change into something ... more connected, more 'authentic', more engaging (2019). Yet, she also argues that we should be careful not to discard what is of value when we critically examine the 'predictable discourses' and normative practices of schooling.

Brian Street's research (1984, 1997) followed that of Shirley Brice Heath (1983), moving out of the classroom to understand how generative literacy practices play out in homes and communities. Their investigations into ways that people interacted within African-American and Iranian communities represented a significant shift toward the social. Street explored practices which

   occur naturally in social life, taking account of the context and
   their different meanings for different cultural groups. [Literacy
   includes] the variation in meanings and uses that students bring
   from their home backgrounds to formal learning contexts, such as
   school and the classroom. (1997, p. 47).

Building on Street's research, Barton and Hamilton (1998) focussed on the negotiations and conflicts in the everyday, and the different levels of social relations involved. Arguing that literacy is not about skills, but rather practices and events, Barton and Hamilton described 'cultural ways of using literacy' among local UK communities.

In a discussion with Michele Knobel a year or so after leaving Australia to live in Mexico (Faulkner & Knobel, personal communication), Michele explained how she learned Spanish. She might have attended lessons and systematically extended her language learning, but she detailed how her conversational language had grown through cooking with her neighbour. From a very limited Spanish language base, she acquired second language vocabulary and fluency. This is how community learning often works, horizontally, organically and in a motivated and purposeful way.

More recent studies investigate communities which form around digital practices. Omerbasic's (2015) study quoted by Honan, explored translingual practices in translocal digital spaces occupied by nine Burmese minority refugees in the USA. The nine girls' stories were found to bridge 'histories of displacement, resettlement, and belonging in their productions in digital spaces' (p. 471). Omerbasic noted that, in contrast, traditional language learning of grammar and vocabulary allowed restricted opportunities for the teenagers to explore meaningful communication.

Further, Faulkner and Curran (2016) found that digital stories could be used by refugee learners of English to give voice and form to author experience, often traumatic, that cannot easily be expressed in oral or written language. In this setting, new media were employed to engage English as an Additional Language learning communities. The origin for this multimedia project focused on the out-of-class literacies of a small group of South Sudanese and Liberian young men. There were students from Myanmar (the predominant country, refugee-wise, in Australia at that time) and a smattering of students from China, India, Macedonia and South Sudan. …

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