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The social theory of the literacy in barton and hamiltons literacy practices

The New Literacy Studies Introduction: This work came from linguistics, history, anthropology, rhetoric and composition studies, cultural psychology, education, and other areas e.

The work not only came from different disciplines but was written in different theoretical languages that never became unified.

Nonetheless, such work seemed to be converging on a shared view about literacy. Historical perspectives The NLS opposed the then traditional psychological approach to literacy. Reading and writing were treated as things people did inside their heads. The NLS argued that literacy was something people did in the world and in society, not just inside their heads, and should be studied as such.

It saw literacy as primarily a sociocultural phenomenon, rather than a mental phenomenon. It was about distinctive ways of participating in social and cultural groups. Thus, it was argued, literacy should be studied in an integrated way in its full range of contexts and practices, not just cognitive, but social, cultural, historical, and institutional, as well.

Psychology at the time saw readers and writers as primarily engaged in mental processes like decoding, retrieving information, comprehension, inferencing, and so forth. The NLS saw readers and writers as primarily engaged in social or cultural practices. Written language is used differently in different practices and used in different ways by different social and cultural groups.

In these practices, written language never sits all by itself and it is rarely if ever fully cut off from oral language and action. Rather, within different practices, it is integrated with different ways of 1 using oral language; 2 of acting and interacting; 3 of knowing, valuing, and believing; and, too, often 4 of using various sorts of tools and technologies.

People read and write religious texts differently than they do legal ones and differently again than they do biology texts or texts in popular culture like video game strategy guides or fan fiction.

And, too, people can read the same text in different ways for different purposes. For example, they can read the Bible as theology, literature, history, or as a self-help guide. People do not just read and write texts; they do things with them, things that often involve more than just reading and writing.

They do them with other people — often people who share a socially significant identity — people like fundamentalists, lawyers, biologists, manga otaku, gamers, or whatever. The social theory of the literacy in barton and hamiltons literacy practices do not just read and write in general. And these ways are determined by the values and practices of different social and cultural groups. The moral of the NLS was: The NLS — thanks to its opposition to traditional cognitive psychology — had little or nothing to say about the mind or cognition.

It paid attention mostly to the social, cultural, historical, and institutional contexts of literacy.

It, thus, too, had little to say about learning as an individual phenomenon. Critical issues and topics In the 1980s psychology itself changed. Earlier work in cognitive psychology — often based on a metaphor that saw the human mind as like a digital computer — argued that memory as in a digital computer was severely limited Newell and Simon 1972. The newer work on situated cognition argued that human memory is nearly limitless and that we can and do store almost all our actual experiences in our heads and use these experiences to reason about similar experiences or new ones in the future Churchland 19861989 ; Churchland and Sejnowski 1992 ; Gee 2004.

These viewpoints all believe that thinking is connected to, and changes across, actual situations and is not usually a process of applying abstract generalizations, definitions, or rules.

Thus, consider the following quotes, which give the flavor of what it means to say that cognition is situated in embodied experience: Increasing evidence suggests that perceptual simulation is indeed central to comprehension. The argument is that humans look for patterns in the elements of their experiences in the world and, as they have more and more experiences, find deeper and more subtle patterns, patterns that help predict what might happen in the future when they act to accomplish goals this is, of course, a dynamic version of schema theory; see Gee 1992.

You can see the mind connecting language to experience in the following simple example. This affinity has, for the most part, not been much built on from either side.

Situated Cognition Studies argues that we think the social theory of the literacy in barton and hamiltons literacy practices paying attention to elements of our experiences. What determines what experiences a person has and how they pay attention to the elements of these experiences is their participation in the practices of various social and cultural groups. And these practices are mediated by various tools and technologies whether these be literacy or digital media or other tools.

And, of course, this was just what the NLS wanted to study. For example, bird watching clubs and expert bird watchers shape how new bird watchers pay attention to their experience of birds and environments in the field Gee 1992. And these experiences are mediated in important ways by various tools and technologies such as bird books, scopes, and binoculars.

Obviously one experiences a wood duck in a vastly different way when looking at it through a powerful scope than through unaided vision.

Local Literacies

Furthermore, such technologies allow distinctive social practices to arise that could not otherwise exist e. Thus, a situated view of the mind leads us to social and cultural groups and their tools and technologies.

I will briefly discuss three of these here: Scollon and Scollon The Scollons believe that discourse patterns — ways of using language to communicate, whether in speech or writing — in different cultures reflect particular reality sets or world views adopted by these cultures.

Discourse patterns are among the strongest expressions of personal and cultural identity. They provide a detailed study of the discourse practices and world view of Athabaskans in Alaska and northern Canada, and contrast these with the discourse patterns and world view in much of Anglo-Canadian and Anglo-American society see also Wieder and Pratt 1990. As a result, the acquisition of this sort of literacy is not simply a matter of learning a new technology; it involves complicity with values, social practices, and ways of knowing that conflict with those of the Athabaskans.

Athabaskans differ at various points from mainstream Canadian and American English speakers in how they engage in discourse. Thus, they prefer to avoid conversation except when the point of view of all participants is well known. On the other hand, English speakers feel that the main way to get to know the point of view of people is through conversation with them.

For instance, adults as either parents or teachers are supposed to display abilities and qualities for the child to learn. However, in mainstream American society, children are supposed to show off their abilities for teachers and other adults. It is normal in situations of unequal status relations, for an English speaker, to display oneself in the best light possible. One will speak highly of the future, as well. It is normal to present a career or life trajectory of success and planning.

The Scollons list many other differences, including differences in systems of pausing that ensure that English speakers the social theory of the literacy in barton and hamiltons literacy practices most of the topics and do most of the talking in interethnic encounters.

The net result of these communication problems is that each group ethnically stereotypes the other. English speakers come to believe that Athabaskans are unsure, aimless, incompetent, and withdrawn. Athabaskans come to believe that English speakers are boastful, sure they can predict the future, careless with luck, and far too talkative. Anglo-Canadian and American mainstream culture has adopted a model of literacy, based on the values of essayist prose style, a model that is highly compatible with modern consciousness.

In essayist prose, the important relationships to be signaled are those between sentence and sentence, not those between speakers, nor those between sentence and speaker. For a reader this requires a constant monitoring of grammatical and lexical information. With the heightened emphasis on truth value rather than social or rhetorical conditions comes the necessity to be explicit about logical implications.

A further significant aspect of essayist prose style is the fictionalization of both the audience and the author.

  • Discourse, Context and Media;
  • Where the relationship of the communicants is unknown, the Athabaskan prefers silence;
  • Discourse patterns are among the strongest expressions of personal and cultural identity;
  • Reading and Writing in One Community, London;
  • Insights from research and practice;
  • As school-oriented, middle-class parents and their children interact in the pre-school years, adults give their children, through modeling and specific instruction, ways of using language and of taking knowledge from books which seem natural in school and in numerous other institutional settings such as banks, post offices, businesses, or government offices.

By the same token the author is a fiction, since the process of writing and editing essayist texts leads to an effacement of individual and idiosyncratic identity. The Scollons show the relation of these essayist values to modern consciousness by demonstrating that they are variants of the defining properties of the modern consciousness as given by Berger et al.

For the Athabaskan, writing in this essayist mode can constitute a crisis in ethnic identity. To produce an essay would require the Athabaskan to produce a major display, which would be appropriate only if the Athabaskan was in a position of dominance in relation to the audience. But the audience, and the author, are fictionalized in essayist prose and the text becomes decontextualized. This means that a contextualized, social relationship of dominance is obscured. Where the relationship of the communicants is unknown, the Athabaskan prefers silence.

The paradox of prose for the Athabaskan then is that if it is communication between known author and audience it is contextualized and compatible with Athabaskan values, but not good essayist prose.

To the extent that it becomes decontextualized and thus good essayist prose, it becomes uncharacteristic of Athabaskans to seek to communicate. The Athabaskan set of discourse patterns are to a large extent mutually exclusive of the discourse patterns of essayist prose.

Roadville, a white working-class community that has been part of mill life for four generations; Trackton, a working-class African-American community whose older generation were brought up on the land, but which now is also connected to mill life and other light industry; and mainstream middle-class urban-oriented African-Americans and whites see also Heath 1994.

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Literacy events are any event involving print, such as group negotiation of meaning in written texts e. Heath interprets these literacy events in relation to the larger sociocultural patterns which they may exemplify or reflect, such as patterns of care-giving roles, uses of space and time, age and sex segregation, and so forth. Since language learning and socialization are two sides of the same coin Schieffelin and Ochs 1986Heath concentrates on how children in each community acquire language and literacy in the process of becoming socialized into the norms and values of their communities.

As school-oriented, middle-class parents and their children interact in the pre-school years, adults give their children, through modeling and specific instruction, ways of using language and of taking knowledge from books which seem natural in school and in numerous other institutional settings such as banks, post offices, businesses, or government offices.

To exemplify this point, Heath analyzes the bedtime story as an example of a major literacy event in mainstream homes Heath 1982all page references below are to this article.

  • The sources of these stories are personal experience;
  • The Athabaskan set of discourse patterns are to a large extent mutually exclusive of the discourse patterns of essayist prose;
  • New York University Press;
  • Tracking adult literacy and numeracy skills;
  • There is, however, a last refuge for someone who wants to see literacy as an autonomous force.

The bedtime story sets patterns of behavior that recur repeatedly through the life of mainstream children and adults at school and in other institutions. In addition, reading with comprehension involves an internal replaying of the same types of questions adults ask children of bedtime stories. Through the bedtime story routine, and similar practices, in which children learn not only how to take meaning from books, but also how to talk about it, children repeatedly practice routines which parallel those of classroom interaction: Children in both Roadville and Trackton are unsuccessful in school despite the fact that both communities place a high value on success in school.

Roadville adults do read books to their children, but they do not extend the habits of literacy events beyond book reading. For instance, they do not, upon seeing an event in the real world, remind children of similar events in a book, or comment on such similarities and differences between book and real events. The strong religious Fundamentalist bent of Roadville tends to make parents view any fictionalized account of a real event as a lie; reality is better than fiction and they do not encourage the shifting of the context of items and events characteristic of fictionalization and abstraction.

They tend to choose books that emphasize nursery rhymes, alphabet learning, and simplified Bible stories. Even the oral stories that Roadville adults tell, and that children model, are grounded in the actual. The sources of these stories are personal experience. They are tales of transgression which make the point of reiterating the expected norms of behavior. Thus, Roadville children are not practiced in decontextualizing their knowledge or fictionalizing events known to them, shifting them about into other frames.

In school, they are rarely able to take knowledge learned in one context and shift it to another; they do not compare two items or events and point out similarities and differences. Trackton presents a quite different language and social environment. Babies in Trackton, who are almost always held during their waking hours, are constantly in the midst of a rich stream of verbal and nonverbal communication that goes on around them.

Aside from Sunday School materials, there are no reading materials in the home just for children; adults do not sit and read to children.

Children do, however, constantly interact verbally with peers and adults.