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Community Literacy Practices and Education: Australia

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Part of the Encyclopedia of Language and Education book series (ELE)

Abstract

It is a truism to state that literacy is important to life; it is impossible escape it. In an age where literacy - even just as written text - is delivered via media as diverse as clothing, signs, bodies, music, rap, screens and paper, it cannot be missed. But it is still common when we speak of literacy to assume that we are thinking simply of words in a limited range of contexts and genres. As well, when we investigate it as a practice, we often do so simply in formal and institutional contexts. It is obvious that literacy is embedded in all of life, and that institutional and formal literacy can never be truly separated from the literacy practices of the world beyond school. This is not a new idea, but in the last 20 years, we have developed a richer understanding of what this might mean for the literacy practices sanctioned, supported, and used within schooling. Earlier discussions of the importance of community literacy by administrators, schools, and teachers, were generally framed by a recognition that the literacy experiences of home and community have a significant impact on literacy success at school. But much of this interest has been in how families and their literacy practices serve school agendas, with interest driven by limited definitions of literacy and at times deficit views of learning. This restricted view of the relationship between literacy practices in and out of school, has constrained attempts to build stronger relationships between schools and their communities. As Schultz and Hull state (see Schultz and Hull 2015, “Literacies in and Out of School in the United States,” Volume 2), our students are never simply in school or out of school, for their identities move with them, and their practices are carried with them across contexts. And yet, we still know far less than we need to know about the way literacy touches lives in surprising contexts and in varied forms. There is so much more to know, and hence we require need new ways to help us understand literacy’s varied forms, purposes and uses. And we need to widen our contexts and arenas for exploration.

Keywords

  • Community Literacy
  • Family literacy
  • Literacy

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Green (1988) discusses what he terms a 3D model of literacy. As a sociocultural practice, literacy requires operational skills that are always situated in a cultural context. The learning of the skills of literacy should always recognize the relationship of language to cultural meaning and the distribution of power. Literacy is always selective and embedded and hence requires interpretation and critique.

  2. 2.

    This concern was primarily with how environmental print has an impact on early literacy development.

  3. 3.

    There are numerous researchers whose work has contributed to the growing understanding of literacy diversity and its complex relationship to culture, ethnicity, and class. See, for example, Halliday (1975), Street (1984), and Lareau (1989).

  4. 4.

    The Karen people are a Sino-Tibetan language group who came primarily from the state of Karen in Myanmar (formerly Burma). A large number of these people migrated to Thailand and from there have migrated to various countries around the world.

  5. 5.

    I have written about some of the ways we witness this increased multimodality in my blog “Literacy, Families and Learning” for a general audience. These posts describe some of the forms this takes – http://trevorcairney.blogspot.com.au/search?q=multimodal.

  6. 6.

    This review does not attempt to address the significant work done in relation to adult literacy and workplace literacy. While each body of work is significant in understanding broader community literacy practices, a full discussion of each is outside the scope of this chapter that focuses primarily on the literacy worlds of children.

  7. 7.

    See Cairney (2000) for a more detailed review of this early work.

  8. 8.

    Clay (1966), Halliday (1975), and Vygotsky (1978)

  9. 9.

    Hall (1987) provided one of the earliest syntheses of the emergent literacy research and did much to translate this work into a form that could inform early childhood practice. However, this new view of preschool literacy had its roots in the work of many researchers including Clay (1966), Wells (1982, 1986), Harste et al. (1984), Mason and Allen (1986), and Teale and Sulzby (1986).

  10. 10.

    There are many key studies and publications including the critical work of Bloome (1987), Cazden (1988), Cook-Gumperz (1986), Street (1984), and Wells (1986).

  11. 11.

    The term “local literacies” has been used by Barton and others (see for example, Barton and Hamilton 1998) to describe the literacy of everyday life. They observed that in everyday lives, people inhabit a textually mediated social world, bringing reading and writing into most activities.

  12. 12.

    See, for example, Harste et al. (1984), Clay (1966), and Wells (1986).

  13. 13.

    One of the seminal works on this topic is the work of Lareau (1989).

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Cairney, T.H. (2016). Community Literacy Practices and Education: Australia. In: Street, B., May, S. (eds) Literacies and Language Education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02321-2_18-1

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