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Literacy Research Discussion Group (LRDG)

Co-organisers: Julia Gillen and Ami Sato

Unless stated otherwise below, meetings are held every Tuesday during term time, 1.00 - 2.00 pm.


Michaelmas term 2014

7 October
County South

Discussion session chaired by Julia Gillen, Lancaster University
The Future of Literacy Studies:  general discussion and welcome to the LRDG

At this opening session for the Literacy Research Discussion Group we will take the opportunity to introduce our programme for the term.  Over the Summer many members of staff attended conferences and even organised our own – including Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication 5 at Manchester University in September.  These and other conferences brought us into contact with many others also interested in  Literacy Studies. We invite participants to share ideas, experiences or questions.

Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated the work and achievements of David Barton and Mary Hamilton, through Worlds of Literacy 2.0 at the Midland Hotel, Morecambe.  This event included presentations by PhD candidates in the LRC on the future of Literacy Studies.  The conference was held 25 years after the publication of the book Worlds of Literacy, edited by Mary Hamilton, David Barton and Roz Ivanic. 

Whether you are completely new to Literacy Studies or are an experienced researcher, we hope you will join us to discuss the future of Literacy Studies.

13 October
(Please note this is a Monday.)
4.00pm Bowland North SR2

Joint LIP & LRDG session by Mark Sebba, Lancaster University
‘English a foreign tongue’: The 2011 Census in England and the misunderstanding of multilingualism

The 2011 UK Census was the first decennial census ever to ask a question about language in England. The period during which the census was planned coincided with a period of intense politicisation of the language issue, which had previously not been a major point of controversy. Pressure was put on local authorities to reduce the amount of translation and interpretation available in order to ‘encourage’ minorities to learn English, even though at this time there were virtually no statistics about how many of the minorities actually did know English.

When the census results were released late in 2012, the statistics showed that 98.3% of the adult population either spoke English as their main language, or could speak it well or very well. In 4% of households no adults spoke English as a main language. These statistics produced a media frenzy focussed on the number of people who supposedly could not speak English. Amidst this frenzy, there were some high-level misunderstandings about what the statistics meant, with ‘not speaking English as a main language’ being interpreted as ‘not speaking English’.

This paper will discuss the census in England and its aftermath, and how it is revealing of a lack of understanding of multilingualism and literacies by the monolingual majority. Not only were the census questions possibly flawed, but the results fed into anti-immigration discourse and were used to reduce services for non-speakers of English.

21 October
County South

Margarita Calderón, Lancaster University
Writing assessment and literacy practices: Reflections about how to include a social approach towards literacy in the assessment of writing

This presentation address preliminary finding about how to include a sociocultural approach towards literacy in writing assessment. To do so, I draw on the results of my PhD thesis, where I studied 7 to 10 year-old Chilean children’s literacy practices and beliefs. My study adopted a sociocultural approach towards literacy as developed by the New Literacy Studies (Barton, 2007 [1994]; Barton & Hamilton, 2012 [1998]). Participants in the study came from two different schools situated in disadvantaged areas of Santiago, the capital of Chile. Interviews and unstructured observation were carried out with 19 students to gather information about their literacy practices at home and school. The results suggest that by including the children’s self-learning strategies in assessment, a sociocultural approach towards writing could be promoted. The analysis of the writing samples produced by the children indicate the relevance of broadening the understanding of writing strategies and the assessment methods used to evaluate writing.

28 October
County South

Cristina Aliagas, The University of Sheffield
Traces of school in teenagers’ online writing

This paper focuses on how secondary school students make sense of disciplined academic learning across spheres of practice, time and space boundaries. Following Leander and McKim’s (2003) “connective approach”, I have looked at the continuities that tie some of the things that teenagers learn at school and some of the things that they do with the language when they are online. The analysis draws on the concept of “dominant” and “vernacular” literacies (Barton and Hamilton 1998) to look at spontaneous “third spaces” (Gutiérrez et al. 1999; Moje et al. 2004) that connect the core curriculum with the students’ online peer-writing on social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter). In these “third spaces”, school discourses, practices and knowledge are transgressed, subverted and re-shaped in creative new ways. Findings show some of the ways by which schooled literacies “infiltrate” the students’ online writing by leaving “traces” or “marks” of school in their vernacular texts (e.g. re-contextualising words that come from the school, appropriating ideas personally, connecting writing to prestigious ways of writing/talking, exchanging of practical/academic information). I will use instances of school/vernacular intersections to challenge the widespread social and academic prejudice, according to which school and online literacies are unbridgeable competing “languages” in the lives of students.

4 November
County South

Barbara Nienkemper, Universität Hamburg
Considering the Learners’ Perspectives on Testing Situations in Literacy Education

Literacy Education in Germany is currently changing. The major player in this field (Deutscher Volkshochschulverband e.V.) is preparing a curriculum for new kinds of literacy courses, in addition to the already established concepts. These courses provide the opportunity to obtain a certificate as learners pass a standardized test.

My study starts from a dilemma which has been observed in adult basic education. On the one hand the use of assessment is regarded as supportive in order to determine in detail the learning needs of adults. On the other hand it is to be expected that persons with experiences of performing inadequately show justified anxieties or resistances in connection with test situations.

My talk focuses on the learners’ perspectives where the results of a qualitative study will be reported. The methodical approach for analyzing the interviews was Grounded Theory in the pragmatist tradition of Anselm Strauss (cf. Corbin and Strauss 2008).

The purpose of this study was to explore various strategies when coping with testing situations. In learning theory, acting is assumed to be reasoned subjectively (cf. Holzkamp 1993). Hence, the links between reported action and respective reasoning on the choice of strategy were examined.
In my talk, I will outline the findings and discuss the consequences for introducing a certification system in literacy education.  

11 November
County South

Ibrar Bhatt, University of Leeds
An account of assignment writing in Further Education classrooms

This research explores assignment writing tasks in three separate Further Education classrooms. I approach the writing of assignments as controversies which require deep exploration, as learners navigate their way through a course of study. Specifically, I attend to the ecology of digital literacy practices (the impasses, breakthroughs, surreptitious workarounds, etc.) by problematising the impact of cyberspace in the classroom, as learners undertake their work using whatever digital media is at their disposal.

Drawing on recent work in Literacy Studies, I uncover the complex and close relationship between the personal/informal literacy practices of learners and the digital demands imposed by normative classroom culture and policies. More broadly, I have shown that the assignment is an ‘assemblage’ which is tied together by political and managerial decisions, economic imperatives, teachers’ aims and practices, learner habits of use, material artefacts and their properties, etc. All of these agencies shape a certain choreography of digital literacy practices arising during classroom tasks; practices which sometimes instantiate a tension between a normative classroom dramaturgy and anarchic learner bricolage.

See the presentation here.

18 November
County South

Tony Capstick, Lancaster University
Combining New Literacy Studies and Critical Discourse Analysis to explore the multilingual literacy practices of a migrant family: a methodology

This presentation is based on the methodological approach I took to a four-year study of a Mirpuri family’s migrations as seen through the lens of New Literacy Studies. By taking this approach I see literacy as social practice, applied in different contexts to meet different purposes, in this case, the purposes of migration. This focus meant exploring many different activities involving reading and writing in the everyday lives of migrants and relating these to those individual’s migrations. This generated data from different institutional and non-institutional domains in Pakistan and the UK including an immigration office, schools, homes as well as social networking sites such as Facebook. Analysing data from diverse contexts required careful consideration of the different approaches to conceptualising context. Over the following two years I developed an integrated framework which allowed me to analyse these data drawing from different methods and theories, predominantly those from CDS’s Discourse Historical Approach, which I combined with NLS. This presentation explores how I arrived at my conceptual framework and my initial reflections, soon after submitting my thesis, on my research design.

25 November
County South

Boris Vazquez,Pompeu Fabra University
Insights from ethnography: language learners' reading and writing in the digitized classroom

This paper examines informants’ perceptions on how massive introduction of computers and the Internet has impacted language learning. This descriptive study contains the voices of a cohort of 12 students from 2 highly technological schools in Spain following the one-laptop-per-child program. The subjects were paired into 6 same-age, gender-discordant couples and were interviewed weekly during the second term of the 2014 academic year. The in-depth, semi-structured interviews focused attention on digital language learning in the three languages of instruction –Catalan, Spanish, and English– with an emphasis on reading and writing. Results show that while students tend to use new technologies and online resources to solve their needs for linguistic information, for comprehension and production, they do so unsystematically. Results also show there is a gap between students’ use of devices and online resources to aid reading and writing, and the devices and practices allowed in the school. Students report there is no redefinition of learning practices thanks to technologies, but a substitution of the technology – from paper to computer, replicating traditional practices. Moreover, students’ vernacular practices are normally ignored or penalized, turning students’ initial motivating attitude towards technologies into frustration. Students report pedagogical innovation in project-based activities but these seem to be exceptional. In this scenario, there is little evidence of well-informed digital language learning in classroom daily activities, which remain mostly analogue yet computer-mediated. This calls for teachers to receive further training, and embrace the paradigmatic shift new technologies are prompting in the way students learn languages.

2 December
County South

Hilda Hidalgo Aviles, Lancaster University
Towards a discursive construction of the academic literacy practices of undergraduate students in two disciplines in a Mexican institution

Writing is central to Higher Education and in some countries (i.e. USA, UK) used for assessment purposes (Lillis, 2001) as students are expected to display the knowledge acquired in the subject areas studied. Unlike those countries, in Mexico, where this study takes place, writing is rarely promoted. Little is known about the writing practices undergraduate students engage in across disciplines or their function.

This is a qualitative study that combines Academic Literacy (i.e Ivanič,1997; Lea & Street, 1998; ), Writing in the Disciplines (Russell, 2009) and Discourse Analysis (Fairclough,1992) to explore the writing and reading practices of undergraduate students in Higher Education in two different disciplines (Education and Industrial Engineering). Through a sociocultural approach writing is seen as a social practice shaped by the situational and cultural context in which it takes place. Undergraduate students and their lecturers were interviewed to learn about the writing practices they are asked to engage in. Texts written by students and policy documents were analysed at multiple levels to understand the role of the different contexts and academic literacies applied to each. Preliminary results reveal how the social, political, institutional and disciplinary contexts influence the discourses about literacy practices as academic literacy is grounded on the epistemic assumption of the disciplines.

9 December
County South

Hissah Alruwaili, Lancaster University
“My Morning Conversations with the Driver”: Language Learner Autonomy in the Life of a Young Saudi Woman

Within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a transformation in the career and life choices of Saudi youth, particularly young women, is being actively encouraged at the most senior levels of society. The education system in the Kingdom, in which English as Foreign Language (EFL) plays a prominent role, has taken a significant lead in this transformation. Understanding the impact of this transformation on EFL education in female learners’ language socialisation in the hard-to-reach community of Saudi women is timely. This paper will present the results of a multi-sited case study of a young adult Saudi EFL female learner exploring two areas: (1) the ways in which the learner is socialised through English into practices of autonomy and choice; (2) the evolution of such practices across the 8-month span of the study. An ethnographic design, employing field notes, observations, fieldwork journals, artefacts, audio-recorded interviews, and learner’s logs, was used to follow the learner inside and outside her EFL classroom through physical and digital contexts.

Drawing on a language socialisation framework (Duff, 2010) and tracing the connections between the notions of autonomy and choice (Macaro, 2008), the analysis focuses on the interplay of practices and resources which affords/constrains the learner’s language learning opportunities and the choices those opportunities make available to her. The learner’s choices and exercise of autonomy in her everyday English conversations with the driver seems to challenge the private-public division of her society. Over the 8 months, her agency is evident in revising her purpose and control of informal spaces, which are usually socially/culturally constrained, and shaping them into places for language learning. This study proposes a new dimension in viewing autonomy as a language learning goal, particularly in terms of its function in the changing society of Saudi EFL female learners.


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