Literacy and Numeracy – Week 6

Way past time to catch up on this work. So week 6 is looking at “Models for Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies”.

Timelines out of whack

Ahh, that’s right, this was the material we had to pre-read in order to complete the assignment that was due in week 5. And look, the trend continues. We’re asked to reflect on the teaching and assessment tasks we’ve observed in our prac. teaching. Which doesn’t start until this week, two weeks after we were meant to complete this week.

Four resources model

This is positioned as an important model for the teaching of literacies. A quote from one of the proponents of this work

Any program of instruction in literacy, whether it be in kindergarten, in adult ESL classes, in university courses, or any points in between, needs to confront these roles systematically, explicitly, and at all developmental points. (Freebody 1992, p. 58)

We’re meant to be introduced to the four resources model through this reading. The initial quick reading of this document for the assignment did not impress me. A reflection on the evolution of a model didn’t strike me as the most accessible introduction to the model, given that it must both introduce and point out limitations in an approach. But perhaps that was just the negative mindset created by the disorganisation. Let’s try again.

The four resources model identifies “four necessary but not sufficient “roles” for the reader in a postmodern, text-based culture”:

  • Code breaker (coding competence)
  • Meaning maker (semantic competence)
  • Text user (pragmatic competence)
  • Text critic (critical competence)

Widely adopted, this particular reading is a review and reconsideration of the four models. It does not discuss “what we meant or intended”….which might make it somewhat harder to use this reading as an introduction.

Some history

The “received wisdom” is that there is no one definition of literacy. It’s culturally and contextually bound. In addition, literacy instruction is not about skill development, but “institutional shaping of social practices and cultural resources”. It’s about “shaping and mastering the repertoire of capabilities called into play when managing texts in ways appropriate to various contexts”.

Perhaps I am too much a product of traditional schooling, but I find this almost complete relativism a bit of a struggle to accept. Especially the bit about “institutional shaping”. I can accept that what denotes the “best way to do X” as being largely shaped by context, but if I’m teaching X in a certain context, my aim is to develop skills. The outcome may perhaps to be to contribute to “institutional shaping of social practices” but my intent is to develop skills, and hopefully an awareness that how I’m teaching students “how to do X” may not be the last word in how to do X. Which I guess is what the authors get to in the end

Teaching and learning literacy, then, involves shaping and mastering the repertoire of capabilities called into play when managing texts in ways appropriate to various contexts.

But then there is this position

In this sense, it is difficult (and what’s more, pointless) to proclaim that “phonics” advocates or “word recognition” advocates or “early intervention” advocates are somehow right or wrong in any absolute sense.

I can see how this quote would frustrate and anger a lot of folk. Perhaps not in some absolute sense, but we’ve certainly been shown some folk who believe phonics is wrong. But then this connects with the authors next perspective

When we refer to something as being “normative,” this suggests that it involves a set of moral and political, cultural and social decisions about how things should be, rather than a simple description of what is.

i.e. prescriptive, rather than descriptive.

Flowing from this cultural construction of literacy is the view that many aspects of the “literacy crises” arise from “economic, cultural and social change” more so than what happens in the classroom.

Am I beginning to give the impression that I have been adversely influenced by the moral and political, cultural and social perspectives of the authors?

Anyway this is the setup for the authors not wanting to promote a single teaching model, the instructional silver bullet for literacy education…”we have attempted to avoid and resist the ‘commodification’ of critical literacy”. The four resource model was intended to both validate practices and provide opportunity and a vocabulary for “productive development”.

There’s been a bit of a shift from roles, to family of practices and other shifts in terminology. Mostly to better explicate the understanding/intent of the framers that literacy is a dynamic and changing set of understandings.

Propose 3 dimensions of literacy capabilities

  1. breadth of an individual’s or community’s repertoire of literate practices.
    “regarded in terms of the range of social activities” that offered in the curriculum. Genres sometimes used as the label. But as always in this discussion, there can be more to it.
  2. The depth and degree of control exercised by an individual or community in any given literacy activity.
    This is where the four resources model applies, it defines the repertoire of practices
  3. The extent of hybridity, novelty and redesign at work.

Depth and breadth embody areas of “significant educational responsibility”. But the 3rd dimension is more difficult an issue.

We take a bit of a side trip now and get into the area that illiteracy is not a “deficit model”. i.e. illiteracy is not a question of the illiterate not having skills, instead they haven’t had access to the communities/experiences in which to develop skills. Education can’t solve unemployment, in equality, illiteracy, these are sociological questions.

But then there is mention of the common problem that folk like Luke and Freebody, and in other circumstances Gardner and his multiple intelligences work, suffer from

Yet the school-effectiveness and school-management fields continue the pursuit of what has become the holy grail of instructional psychologists: a single effective or “authentic” pedagogy.

There is an “industry” within education that want/need simple, efficient, and effective pedagogical interventions that serve all students. But also, at the other end are the coal face teachers (or trainee ones like me) looking for interventions that work for them and their students. The whole fad/fashion problem arises here in education as much so in information systems.

And I can see the authors’ last sentence annoying the hell out of some management folk

What better way to assist teachers’ work and pedagogy in these new times than with complex and critical questions rather than simple answers.


So, we’re meant to reflect on the four resources model and how it applies to literacy/numeracy in our teaching areas. This was meant to be contribution to our first assignment, submitted quite a few weeks ago. Let’s try again. Again, I’m finding this hard due to the mismatch between the purpose of the reading above (a “researcher” reflection on an idea) and its use as an introduction to an important model.

And as I search further and further, I’m yet to find a resource that effectively explains the four resources model in a way that I can apply to other contexts, like my teaching areas. Is this simply a combination of my experience and these two areas being somewhat more prosaic and not – at least to one embedded and as unreflective as I – “culturally and socially constructed”?

Mmm, wonder if the textbook we were required to purchase (but are never directed toward) might provide some assistance?

Resources Mathematics IT/coding
Code-breaker Recognition of mathematical symbols (including numbers), terminology and operations. Ability to read code, statements, operations, syntax etc.
Text-participant Given a mathematical “text” understand what it means. Simlarly, given a (word) problem, relate it to maths. Able to deduce what a program will do. Link requirements to intended code.
Text-user Understand which “branch” of mathematics applies to a particular problem. Be able to explain how/why a particular processes was used.
Text-analyst Understand that mathematics is an abstraction, not the real world. Is the maths used here useful/”true”. Understanding that programs embody programmer assumptions or purposes. That they close down certain actions. e.g. an integrated enterprise system is trying to be the one way of doing everything. And that this extends to programming language paradigms (Perl vs Java vs Haskell etc)

I do wonder how you could effectively reconcile the relativist position embedded in the predominant view of literacy with the need to pass judgement upon answers to the above. Personally, I think my answers are a bit naive, rushed, ill-informed. But I could also find it fairly easy to adopt a slightly different perspective of the above – especially with IT – that is held by a fairly important community, but which I think is wrong. Who’s right? Who gets better marks?

I do hope my attempt at engaging with this subject for the assignment was somewhat more successful.

Am wondering if I should spend more time on this, or be pragmatic. After all it’s already been tested!

More models

So, we’re now told that some folk have connected the four resources model to the “3 dimensions of learning and practice” from Durrant and Green. And with little more than a listing of the three dimenions (operational, cultural and critical) we’re mean to reflect on whether or not this is a good match? In fact, we’re meant to reflect on the connection of these two PLUS the 4 steps of a multiliteracies pedagogy. Which we read more on soon.

Going by this article (which is referenced by the material and is somewhat useful in getting some context) the 3D model combines features of early literacy models with constructionist work to propose a “3D model of literacy-technology learning which brings together…three dimensions of learning and practice; the operational, the cultural and the critical.

The idea is that all three of these dimensions must be addressed so teaching a skill can be done in an authentic context with “a focus on its use in social practices”……I do wonder how much “how to use LMS X” training that occurs within higher education engages with these ideas.

The idea is that they can be mapped with the four resources, but do not exactly overlap.

Multiliteracies and the four resources model

And now this reading

Anstey, M. (2003). Multiliteracies and the four resources model. New York; Sydney: Prentice Hall.

And of course, the link is broken. Oh, and the library system is down as well.

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So, let’s try the second reading

Martin, K. (2008). The intersection of Aboriginal knowledges, Aboriginal literacies and new learning pedagogy for Aboriginal students. In A. Healey (ed.), Multiliteracies and diversity in education. pp. 59-81. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

Wish I had have known about this reading prior to completing another assignment. But it does tend to raise a whole range of questions, for me at least, including:

  • Does the notion of Aboriginal learning styles still hold?
    The above reading mentions specific learning styles and the reading I did on a prior assignment suggested that there was some significant research that suggested they did exist. There was, however, also more recent research that suggested that the notion of learning styles specific or common to Aboriginal people was somewhat mistaken and/or simplistic. In part, because Aboriginal people are so diverse themselves.
  • How different are Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians’ world views from others?
    The reading mentions the accepted point that good teaching/learning connects with the experiences of the learner. But then, just how different is the experience of the Indigenous learner from the non-Indigenous? This article by Noel Pearson from the Weekend Australian points to some research that suggests there are differences within the Indigenous population. In fact, it identifies two separate Indigenous populations: the “welfare-embedded population” and the “open-society population”. The suggestion is that the “open-society population” achieved improved learning outcomes “regardless of any indigenous-specific educational interventions and perhaps despite them”.

There is some interesting discussion of relatedness within Aboriginal cultures, which gives food for thought. But I do question how widespread a consideration this may need to be. There’s also the problem of much of the cited knowledge/research in this article appearing to be self-citation from an earlier work.

In terms of literacy, there could be questions raised about the story contained within this paper.

Okay, so there is a summary of Harris’ Aboriginal learning styles theory which identifies a number of processes Aboriginal children prefer

  • Learning by observation.
  • Learning by personal trial and error.
  • Learning in real-life activities.
  • Context-specific learning.
  • Learning is person orientated, rather than information orientated.
  • The group is more important than the individual.
  • Learning is holistic – focusing on overal concept before details.
  • Learning relies on visual and spatial skills.
  • Reduced emphasis on spoken language.

The first four or five would seem to be have strong connections with the preferences of many students. Ahh, there is some mention of literature that is somewhat critical of the idea.

Okay, now onto some material around multiliteracies and teaching, including

  • The two “prompts” for multiliteracies: diversity in cultural and linguistic literacies; and, the influence of new technologies.
  • Role of teachers as designers of learning processes and environments.
  • Focus on design and the components of situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice.
  • Articulation, by teachers, what they bring to learning/teaching, how to connect with students and mediate tensions.
  • Overt consideration of the differences in backgrounds.

Pedagogical model for multiliteracies

And now we get a summary of some of the work mentioned in the above reading….I am increasingly annoyed by the apparently disorganised way in which much of these concepts are introduced..

This is Cope and Kalantzis (2001) pedagogy for multiliteracies mentioned above

  1. Situated practice – learner is doing
    Which seems to be to get the students to engage in some known literacy, probably with little real knowledge. Some scaffolding.
  2. Overt instruction – learner is reflecting
    Provide instruction that helps the learner develop insight into the literacy.
  3. Critical framing – learner is reflecting
    What have they learned, the purpose of the activity…cultural context…
  4. Transformed practice – learner is doing
    Create a new design using improved knowledge.

An alternate description here in the bottom image “the ‘how’ of multiliteracies”. Which seem to have significant links to the authors Learning by Design pedagogy

  1. Experiencing
  2. Conceptualising
  3. Analysing
  4. Applying

5 elements of a Literacy Toolkit

And now onto this reading

Rivalland, J. (2000). Finding a balance for the year 2000 and beyond. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy. February Newsletter. 4 pages

Proposes a literacy toolkit with 5 components (i.e. we need to help students develop these in order for them “to survive in an ever increasingly complex world”).

  • Make meanings of and compare a range forms and modes of texts.
  • Decode and encode effectively.
  • Read and write fluently.
  • Critically analyse texts to recognise whose views are being presented.
  • Adapt reading and writing processes to different text forms, different subject areas, and different modes.

At this stage, I find it interesting to reflect upon these requirements and comparisons with the literacies – especially technology literacies – demonstrated by the teaching staff of the course. Oh, and then lets apply the following list of 12 points associated with “what we need to teach”

  1. Teacher talk which is clear and precise enough to focus children on what is being learned;
  2. Oral language activities which develop awareness of sounds, listening, speaking, complex oral
    language structures, vocabulary and knowledge about the world;
  3. Comprehension and composition of a range of text forms through teacher instruction, modelling,scaffolding and metacognitive instruction;
  4. Systematic practice through engagement with a variety of oral, written and multi-modal texts using a range of effective instructional strategies;
  5. Explicit instruction in code-breaking techniques, which include phonological awareness, letter
    recognition, letter-sound correspondences and sight word recognition;
  6. Frequent practice, in reading aloud to develop fluency and in writing to develop automaticity;
  7. Encouragement of invented spelling to help children develop understanding of phonemes,
    phonemic segmentation and spelling relationships, with strategies to support the move to
    transitional and conventional spelling;
  8. Games and computer activities which will provide practice to support the development of children’s ‘literacy toolkit’;
  9. Regular analysis of a range of texts to help support children’s understanding of how texts are
  10. Critical analysis of texts to look at whose interests are being served by those texts;
  11. Regular assessment, to monitor the progress of children, and to help make decisions about ongoing teaching; and
  12. Regular sustained time for literacy learning. (Rohl et al 2000)

How we teach

  • Will change according to the needs of students and the literacy experiences they bring to school. …i.e. know as much as possible about the children we teach
  • Need to give them experience of the literacy practices which will allow successful participation in school.
  • Not to de-value the ways of talking they bring to school.
  • Help them move between the ways of talking based on contextual need.
  • Use what they know to engage them in reading, writing and critically evaluating texts.
  • The activities have to be cognitively demanding.

My Response

We’ve been asked to

What does Rivalland say about how we teach? Do you agree/disagree? What are some of the implications for teaching in your work context/s? Share your responses on this week’s Discussion Forum. Talk with your colleagues about your interpretations.

The advice on “how we teach” provided by Rivalland evokes in me a serious case of deja vu. It appears to have a significant connection with the constructivist, especially social constructivism, perspectives and theories that have been embedded in most of the readings we’ve been pointed to within the program. Which might be said to boil down to, at some simplistic level,

  • Know and value what your students know and their context.
  • Design activities that use that context to develop new learning.

Do I agree or disagree? In general, I agree with the advice. It is certainly a perspective that will inform how I approach teaching. My response changes, however, when we start talking a little more theoretically. I retain some qualms about constructivism and how it is conceptualised and described (or not as the case may be). If pushed to cite a theoretical perspective that informs my practice, I’d rely on connectivism and argue that it also supports the simplistic “boiling down” from above.

Given that I won’t actively experience a local school context (with students) until tomorrow, any comments I make on the implications for my work context are liable to be limited. As an aside, it could be argued that the study material for this course is not showing a good understanding of its students context in that it is assuming that by week 6 we have gained experience in schools. When for most of us this doesn’t happen until week 8.

Given those limitations, some potential questions that I have:

  • How possible is it to achieve a good understanding of our students and their context?
    I am quite a bit older than them and come from a different context. I’m only going to be there for 8 or so weeks, for a few days a week. While I’ll be able to draw on the insights from my mentor teachers, there will also be a great deal else I need to be getting on with. Not to mention that my mentor teachers may hold very different views about the value of social constructivism and may also have generated many different interpretations of the students and their context. Achieving this to some end is the purpose of one of the assessment items.
  • How diverse are the students?
    It’s possible that there will be up to 150 different students in the classes I’ll be involved with. Theoretically, that’s 150 people and their contexts to get to know. Getting to know (or even remember) 150 people well is not likely to happen in 8 weeks. Which suggests falling back onto stereotypes or categories.
  • How flexible can I be within existing constraints?
    In EPL I won’t be teaching my class. I’ll be helping out in someone else’s. I’m observing and learning from what they are doing. I will be able to teach a class or two, but within the context/culture they have already set up. In addition, add in constraints from school priorities, the timetable, existing school architecture, NAPLAN etc. and the flexibility required to change in response to students context is somewhat reduced. Not to mention the potential application of the “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.
  • Can I actually work around the limitations of my own knowledge?
    The ability to recognise student diversity and manipulate learning experiences to connect with those contexts requires a lot of knowledge. Rivalland recognised this herself

    Instead it appears that teaching literacy requires highly skilled teachers who have the knowledge, sensitivity and capacity to adapt their teaching methodologies to the differing contexts and conditions in which children grow up.

    I don’t have this knowledge yet. Initially, I’ll be struggling to fit into the school, get a handle on where the classes are up to and how they are run, remembering some of the content, trying to fit the requirements of Portal tasks into EPL etc. Some of those Portal Tasks will help, but in the end, I’m still a beginning teacher. My knowledge is not the same as someone with more experience.

  • Where are the concrete prescriptions or examples?
    Much of the literature we’re being introduced to within this course is largely theoretical and/or descriptive. It’s the four principles of this, the 16 forces of that, the XYZ model of alpha, describing particular aspects of literacy, multiliteracies etc. Given it’s reliance on a similar social constructivist “like” perspective, it’s not surprising that I find a certain amount of coherence. The trouble is that all this description doesn’t feel like it’s providing sufficient scaffolding to help me achieve some practical outcomes. Particularly practices that are likely to help me within the context of a Queensland-based high school.

    While recognising that this type of request has the potential to degenerate into a search for the “one true approach”, that’s not what I’m asking for. Rather than the one true approach, I’m after examples that have been used within the local context, some reflection on why they did/didn’t work, and some connection with the broader theory we’ve been introduced to. Where is the practical TPCK around literacies that would help address the limitations of my knowledge? It does appear that the next reading might be a start in addressing this.

Developing multiliteracies

And yet another model

Stewart-Dore, N. (2003). Developing multiliteracies. Education Views. April 25.

This reading commences to provide some more practical strategies. It proposes another four phase pedagogical model for reading and then has some practice advice within those phases

  1. Accessing knowledge – engaging learning.
    i.e. connect with what they know. Various brainstorming, cataloguing approaches are mentioned. But these don’t necessarily encourage reflection. Two possibilities are: K-W-L and reflective diaglogue journals.
  2. Interrogating meanings- comprehending critically.
    Fact/Fiction position statements etc are mentioned. Most are connected to reading.
  3. Selecting and organising information – connecting understandings.
    Graphic organisers, note-taking.
  4. Representing knowledge functionally and critically – synthesising learning.
    Content plans, graphic organisers etc and other writing aids.

I think I’ll leave this for now.

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