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Literacy

Background

This background summarises the evidence base from which Literacy's introduction, organising elements and learning continuum have been developed. It draws on the Australian Curriculum: English recent international and national research, initiatives and programs that focus on literacy across the curriculum, as well as research and strategies in the development of communication skills.

The Australian Curriculum: English provides a rich resource for learning in all areas of the curriculum. The skills and knowledge taught in the Language and Literacy strands of the Australian Curriculum: English support and contribute to the literacy requirements needed for all learning areas. These skills and knowledge have been used as the basis for constructing the Literacy continuum as it relates to all learning areas of the curriculum.

The definition of literacy in the Australian Curriculum is informed by a social view of language that considers how language works to construct meaning in different social and cultural contexts. This view builds on the work of Vygotsky (1976), Brice Heath (1983), Halliday and Hasan (1985), Freebody and Luke (1990), Gee (1991, 2008), and Christie and Derewianka (2008), who have articulated the intrinsic and interdependent relationship between social context, meaning and language.

This view is concerned with how language use varies according to the context and situation in which it is used. There are important considerations for curriculum area learning stemming from this view because, as students engage with subject-based content, they must learn to access and use language and visual elements in the particular and specific ways that are the distinctive and valued modes of communication in each learning area. They need to learn how diverse texts build knowledge in different curriculum areas, and how language and visual information work together in distinctive ways to present this knowledge.

Language, verbal or non-verbal, is critical for the development of literacy skills. The ability to communicate enables learning across the curriculum, the school day and life outside of school. Development of communication can provide a way for students with a disability to access age-equivalent content and promote education equality (Browder and Spooner 2011). In many cases, developing literacy skills supports the development of communication skills and vice versa. This is the case for students who use augmentative and alternative communication as well as students who use speech to communicate (Speech Pathology Australia 2012). 

The social view of language enables insights into differences between ‘spoken-like’ and ‘written-like’ language, and the increasing complexity of language as students progress through school. This is an important concept for subject-based learning. When young children begin school, they generally have developed facility with the spoken language of their home and community to interact informally in face-to-face situations in their immediate environment. This is the meaning-making system they use to engage with the learning experiences of the school; and their first interactions with written text generally employ print versions of ‘spoken-like’ language.

As subject-based learning proceeds, particularly in the middle and later school years, the texts that students need to understand and produce take on increasingly formal and academic features, employing technical, abstract and specialised ‘written-like’ language forms, in order to communicate complexities of meaning. These texts include precise, densely packed information and place increasing cognitive demands on the student.

There are significant differences in the way different learning areas structure texts and in the language features and vocabulary that students are required to know and use. Therefore, a student’s repertoire of literacy knowledge and skills needs to be diverse, flexible, dynamic and versatile, developing throughout their schooling to deal with the increasing challenges and demands of the curriculum.

Like the Australian Curriculum: English, Literacy also takes account of visual literacy and the rapid changes that have occurred as a result of new technologies in the ways that communication takes place. It is informed by the work of Kress and Van Leeuwen (2006), who have identified a comprehensive grammar of visual design.

References

Brice Heath, S. 1983, Ways with Words: language, life and work in communities and classrooms, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Browder, D. & Spooner, F., 2011, Teaching Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities, Guilford, New York.

Christie, F. & Derewianka, B. 2008, School Discourse: learning to write across the years of schooling, Continuum, London, New York.

Freebody, P. & Luke, A. 1990, ‘Literacies Programs: debates and demands in cultural context’, Prospect: Australian Journal of TESOL, vol. 5, no. 7, pp. 7–16.

Freebody, P. 2009, Literacy Across the Curriculum – Presentation: www.nlnw.nsw.edu.au/videos09/ (accessed 2 November 2011).

Gee, J. 1991, Rewriting Literacy, Bergin & Garvey, New York.

Gee, J. 2008, Social Linguists and Literacies: ideology in discourses, 3rd edn, Taylor & Francis, London.

Halliday, M.A.K. & Hasan, R. 1985, Language, Context and Text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective, Deakin University Press, Geelong, Victoria.

Hanlen, W. 2010, Aboriginal Students: cultural insights for teaching literacy, NSW Department of Education and Training, NSW.

Katz, L.G. 1993, Dispositions as Educational Goals: http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/eecearchive/digests/1993/katzdi93.html (accessed 2 November 2011).

Kress, G.R. & Van Leeuwen, T. 2006, Reading Images: the grammar of visual design, 2nd edn, Routledge, New York.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training & Youth Affairs 2008, Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: www.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/National_Declaration_on_the_Educational_Goals_for_Young_Australians.pdf (accessed 2 November 2011).

Speech Pathology Australia, 2012, Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinical Guideline, Speech Pathology Australia, Melbourne.

Vygotsky, L. 1976, Thought and Language, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Walsh, M. 2011, Multimodal Literacy: researching classroom practice, e:lit, Primary English Teaching Association Australia, Newtown, Sydney.

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