By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
EDITORS: Street, Brian V.; Hornberger, Nancy H. TITLE: Literacy SERIES TITLE: Encyclopedia of Language and Education, Volume 2 PUBLISHER: Springer YEAR: 2010
Amy R. Frederick, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Minnesota
“Literacy” is the second in the ten-volume series, ‘Encyclopedia of Language and Education,’ edited by Nancy H. Hornberger. The second edition of this series aims to chart the deepening and broadening of the field of language and education since the first edition was published in 1997. In Volume 2, Hornberger and Brian Street collect 26 articles representing an account of current knowledge in the literacy field. It covers a wide range of subjects from numerous geographical regions, provides considerations of the nature of the field, and discusses how new ideas are being applied in varied contexts. Contributors from a variety of fields (e.g. history, anthropology, linguistics, and education) review what is known and unknown about the convergence of literacy, language, and education. The disparate perspectives create an expansive landscape on the topic that, according to Street, results not in simple answers but in further complexity. Some of the key themes include reading acquisition across contexts, attention to social categories, language varieties, new technologies, and the policy and practice issues related to these issues in combination.
The volume is divided into three main sections, moving from a more theoretical focus to more contextualized accounts of literacy. In Section 1, “Literacies and Social Theory,” the first ten chapters develop important theoretical frames and organizational concepts in order to provide a foundation for the latter sections. Section 2, “Literacies and Social Institutions,” takes up many of the issues raised in the first section within the specific context of institutions in which literacy practices are located, including, but not limited to, educational contexts. In Section 3, “Living Literacies -- Social and Cultural Experience,” the authors explore specific issues related to literacy within a variety of social and cultural environments. Each chapter is brief and shares a common structure: introduction, early developments, work in progress, problems and difficulties, and future directions.
In Chapter 1, “New Literacies, New Times: Developments in Literacy Studies,” Brian Street outlines current theoretical frameworks used in New Literacy Studies, in multimodality, and in theories of technology, artifact, and “figured worlds.” He brings to light some of the significant challenges facing educators and considers educational responses by different countries, asking how teachers deal with the clash between traditional pedagogies and new frames of reference brought about by technological advances.
In Chapter 2, “Critical Race Theory,” (CRT), Arlette Ingram Willis defines and provides the basic concepts and tenets of CRT and locates it within educational and literacy research across time. She points to the privilege of whiteness in teaching as well as in literacy research, calling for education scholars to address race, racism and power to explain the experiences of people of color living in racialized societies.
In Chapter 3, “Language, Literacy and Knowledge Production in Africa,” Kwesi Kwaa Prah provides a historical account of the development of African languages and scripts and describes some of the current issues related to their classification. Prah poses questions about the role of English as a lingua franca on the continent and expresses concern about the near absence of literature written in African languages beyond religious texts. He is also concerned about the 50% literacy rate in Africa. He declares, “African development must mean the development of literacy in African languages” (p. 38).
In Chapter 4, “Literacy Myths,” Harvey Graff and John Duffy develop themes introduced in the previous chapters while, examining the “literacy myth.” The authors define the “literacy myth” as an expression of the ideology that the acquisition of literacy is a necessary precursor to economic development, democracy, cognitive enhancement and social status. Graff and Duffy remind us that literacy and education are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions of a functioning democracy.
In Chapter 5, “Literacy and Internet Technologies,” Kevin Leander and Cynthia Lewis focus on how networked technologies fundamentally change the relationships of literacy to social relations. Contributions in three categories are reviewed: multimodality, sociality and the intersection of the global and the local (i.e. “glocal”). Leander and Lewis describe important future directions on these topics, including the development of interdisciplinary approaches and theoretical /methodological frames that will enable an understanding of power relations, identity constructs, and the changing uses of literacy.
In Chapter 6, “BICS and CALP: Empirical and Theoretical Status of the Distinction,” Jim Cummins describes his foundational theories of Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) and responds to recent critiques that the distinction is oversimplified and reflective of an “autonomous” notion of literacy. Cummins argues that there is no contradiction between his theories and those of New Literacy Studies, saying that BICS/CALP is a useful construct within the educational context. He concludes with an appeal for teachers, students, and researchers to work together to push the boundaries of language and literacy exploration.
In Chapter 7, “Reading: Attitudes, Interests, Practices,” John Edwards argues for thinking beyond the skills and strategies necessary for reading and focusing more on social and psychological factors. ‘Aliteracy,’ according to Edwards, may be a more descriptive construct for many in modern societies than ‘illiteracy.’
In Chapter 8, “Gender and Literacy,” Gemma Moss provides an overview of literature addressing the relationship between gender and literacy. She highlights the recent shift in concern for the achievement of girls to boys, noting that this movement may be caused by the increased focus on outcomes-based accountability measures, whereon which boys are weaker than girls. She offers several explanations and approaches to the issue.
In Chapter 9, “Critical Literacy Education: On Living with ‘Innocent Language’,” Peter Freebody offers a thorough foundation in Critical Literacy Education (CLE), describing the theoretical and methodological contributions to it from fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and pedagogy. According to Freebody, a core concern is interrupting and naming socialization and finding principled, teachable ways of affording an appreciation of social organization, human conduct, and language. However, more work is needed which centers on how this looks in practice, as well as on empirically examining the consequences of such instruction.
In Chapter 10, “Biliteracy and Globalization,” Viniti Vaish synthesizes some important ideas from globalization and biliteracy, looking in particular at two of her own studies taking place in India and Singapore. She asks what a biliterate text looks like in a globalizing world and how these changes may impact bilingual classrooms.
In Section 2, the authors cover much of the same territory as that of the previous section, however, there is specific emphasis on contextual factors. Most of the chapters in this section address educational issues, both in formal institutions as well as in the wider community. The remaining chapters take up topics of Family and Community Literacies, highlighting international projects.
In Chapter 11, ''Informal Learning and Literacy,'' Alan Rogers explores informal (natural) literacy learning processes undertaken by adults. Current work in this area lies in three main fields: perceptions of literacy, the acquisition of literacy skills, and the practice of literacy. Rogers calls for further attention to the interaction between informal and formal learning.
In Chapter 12, ''Second Language Academic Literacies: Converging Understandings,'' Contant Leung focuses on the use of English as a second language in academic discourse, particularly in written forms. She describes the influential theoretical framework known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which emphasizes active communicative language use in order to develop academic English. She goes on to problematize this approach and offer an analytical framework, based on three inter-related authorial selves, as a useful device for discovering how language is actually used in academic settings.
In Chapter 13, ''Family Literacy,'' Vivian Gadsden provides a substantive history of the field from its inception in the 1960s and notes the shift over time from deficit perspectives to those that incorporate variation and differences. She challenges future researchers and practitioners to create new frameworks that capture the particular ways that diverse families engage in literate acts across a variety of social contexts.
In Chapter 14, ''Women, Literacy and Development: Overview,'' Anna Robinson-Pant reviews programs aimed at increasing women’s literacy. She asserts that many women's literacy programs adopt a functional literacy approach and emphasize social results, rather than reading and writing outcomes. She advocates for movement towards a ''rights perspective'' that connects women's literacy to citizenship.
In Chapter 15, ''A Community Literacy Project: Nepal,'' Roshan Chitrakar and Bryan Maddox describe a community literacy project in Nepal that incorporates local meanings and uses of literacy. They discuss incongruities between the local meanings of literacy and international discourses of development.
In Chapter 16, ''Community Literacy Practices and Education: Australia,'' Trevor Ciarney reviews what is known about the relationship between community literacy and education, particularly within Australia. He summarizes recent explorations in community literacy that acknowledge complex definitions of literacy and community.
Chapter 17, ''Academic Literacies in Theory and Practice,'' Mary Lea uses academic literacies as a way of framing our understanding of student writing in higher education. Drawing from New Literacy Studies, the term 'academic literacies' signals a concern with writing as a social practice and recognizes a multiplicity of practices. Lea highlights the changing nature of texts and practices in academic contexts.
In Chapter 18, ''Literacies In and Out of School in The United States,'' Katherine Schultz and Glynda Hull explore research on the relationships and borders of literacy in and out of school. They claim that, ''The persisting challenge in an age of accountability and testing, narrowing conceptions of literacy, and growing socioeconomic disparities, is how to bridge out-of-school and in-school worlds in ways that make discernible, positive differences in youth's present circumstances and social futures'' (p. 239).
In Chapter 19, ''Literacies in the Classroom,'' David Bloome summarizes research on the nature of official literacy practices in schools, noting a recent focus on cultural and power dimensions. Many of the topics from prior chapters are taken up again within the context of formal classroom instruction. Bloome predicts three major changes that are likely to influence classroom literacy practice in the future: the increasing integration of digital literacies into our lives; increasing racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity; and cultural and economic globalization.
Finally, Section 3 provides an in-depth exploration of previously raised issues associated with literacy for people in different social and cultural environments. Issues such as identity construction, new literacies, urban and rural literacies, multilingualism, and language policy and ideology are raised again in these contexts.
In Chapter 20, ''Literacies and Ethnolinguistic Diversity: Chicago,'' Marcia Farr presents a historical linguistic survey of Chicago and hypothesizes about the implications of language variation on literacy learning. Literacy practices construct important aspects of identity and are linked to events, people, and institutions, and thus, research on the ethnolinguistic diversity in Chicago has only begun to describe the myriad of ways in which people there use various languages.
In Chapter 21, ''Language Diversity and Indigenous Literacy in the Andes,'' Inge Sichra reviews indigenous literacy in the Andes, focusing on languages that have survived Spanish language rule. Sichra asserts that Andean governments lack the political will to promote writing and literacy in indigenous languages as instruments of power. There exists a strong belief that Spanish decoding skills have intrinsic value and are required for citizenship. She argues that education must take an integrated perspective of literacy that would develop local teaching practices and honor existing social practices that exist within the community.
In Chapter 22, ''Literacies in the Lives of Urban Youth,'' Jabari Mahiri shows the benefits of incorporating glocal literacies with more traditional views with urban youth. From a new literacies perspective, Mahiri describes recent research exploring the influences of hip-hop culture on the literacy practices and learning of youth worldwide.
In Chapter 23, ''Literacies In and Out of School in South Africa,'' Pippa Stein writes about literacy learning in a country engaged in the process of recovery and reconstruction after centuries of racism, violence and oppression. She claims that the damaging effects of apartheid and poverty continue in people's lives in many ways, including unequal access to quality education and literacy learning. She points out that the majority of South African children are struggling to become successful readers and writers in any language, though instruction is usually in English. She calls for professional development for teachers and wider access to literacy materials.
In Chapter 24, ''Literacies in Latin America,'' Judy Kalman provides a broad historical perspective on this heterogeneous region, beginning with the inception of school as a social institution in the 1950s. She looks in to the interconnectedness of socioeconomics, the history of literacy, the role of schooling, and educational policies in the region. Research in this area aims to further understand ''the factors and processes that contribute to the dissemination of written culture, explain why literacy is not always rapidly embraced, and recognize the complexity of literacy practices'' (p. 326).
In Chapter 25, ''African American Literacies,'' Elaine Richardson traces the historical roots of African American literacies since school desegregation. She defines the topic as the ''concept that African American cultural identities, social locations, and social practices influence ways that members of this discourse group make meaning and assert themselves sociopolitically in subordinate as well as official contexts'' (p. 335). There is a focus on African American Vernacular English and its role in education in this chapter.
In Chapter 26, ''City Literacies,'' Eve Gregory reviews literature documenting the history and development of city literacies, highlights recent contributions, and concentrates on individuals becoming literate in the twentieth century in London. Historical studies, she writes, provide a contrasting view of cities as both lively and educated hubs as well as centers of poverty and illiteracy. Gregory also foregrounds her own project, 'City Literacies,' in which she makes the argument that home literacies should not be seen as a factor of school failure, but rather as a strength that equips children with advantages rather than problems.
The objective of this volume, as stated by the editors, Hornberger and Street, is to provide an encyclopedic account of current knowledge in the field, and “something more” (p. xiii). In addition to laying a historical foundation of the literature, the authors aspire to set forth new and cutting edge directions for research as well as its application in a variety of contexts. The chapters are written by standout thinkers representing a variety of fields from around the globe. The expertise collected here is invaluable. Key themes are defined and explained, but beyond that, they are exemplified through the projects and cases described by the authors. After reading the collection, one is not only left with a clear understanding of important issues but also the complexities within and around them. Questions of methodology, theoretical perspective, and contextual diversity are not over-simplified but rather presented in all their ambiguity. “Literacy” represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the nexus of language and literacy in current educational contexts.
This volume, along with the others in this series, is certain to become a practical and valued resource at academic institutions. The book can be read in its entirety, or chapter-by-chapter, as interest dictates. The ‘before-during-after’ structure of each chapter provides cohesion and predictability for a reader making his/her way through the entire volume. Graduate students and those who are new to the literature base or those looking for a “jump start” in a particular area will find the chapters useful, though it may prove superfluous for more expert readers. In this vein, one constructive addition to the volume, especially for novice scholars, would be a list of seminal readings and/or researchers for each of the major topics addressed. In addition, the volume would benefit from a synthesizing final chapter to pull together the breadth of issues and pose some final directions for this body of literature.
One question that arises is the timeliness and access of the publication. Meant to be “state-of-the-art (p. xi)” and provide and up-to-date summary of the research, some of the chapters suffer from references to obsolete technological innovations. This schism is particularly poignant because of the importance given to adapting to new literacies within the book. One recommendation is that the editors consider a more adaptive, interactive, Web 2.0 format for the series that can be easily distributed, rather than a hard copy revision every ten years that goes out of date before it even makes it to the bookshelves of institutions.
In conclusion, “Literacy” provides a comprehensive description of key themes and issues related to literacy and language as well as an accessible yet thought-provoking reading experience. It will surely prove useful to scholars and educators who seek to understand the theoretical foundations, complexities, and future directions of language and literacy in diverse educational contexts.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Amy Frederick is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and
Instruction, University of Minnesota, and a research fellow at the
Minnesota Center for Reading Research. She is an ESL teacher, teacher
educator, and a researcher. Her research interests include literacy and
ESL/bilingual education in elementary schools. Her PhD research explores
how a team of elementary ESL and general educators use data to
collaboratively design reading instruction for linguistic minority students.