Talking to children about literacies in and out of school in the 21st century

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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There is a vast body of work theorising the changing conditions of becoming literate and the increasing influences of digital technologies on the literacies practised in different contexts. Empirical research also documents the continuities and, for some children, the disparities between the literacies they experience in and out of school. Ideas about how school should connect to children’s lives outside of school are varied and relate to different ideas about the purpose and role of school. There are also multiple, proliferating, and contested viewpoints contributing to understandings of what literacies are, how children become literate and how literacies should be taught. Consequently, there are polarising debates about how literacies education should adapt to accommodate diversifying literacy practices.

This research examined children’s descriptions of the literacies they experience in and out of school, and the differences and similarities of those experiences. The study was guided conceptually by Barnett’s (2017) thesis of supercomplexity and his three-planar framework for understanding supercomplexity within educational institutions. Fourteen children between the ages of 8 and 9 years, in Year 3 or 4, and attending one of two regional schools in Australia participated in a qualitative research project that included focus groups and individual interviews. Drawing and photography were also used to encourage children to connect to places, others, material objects, specific literacy experiences and to stimulate talk. Data analysis included nomadic writing and multiple readings of the data using different ideas including those found within dominant discourses of literacies education, specifically a social practice discourse and a skills-based discourse, and ideas from emerging affective and sociomaterial discourses of literacies education.

These multiple analyses highlighted the traditional nature of literacies practised in school, predominantly with pen and paper, individually and for the purposes of following teacher instruction. The literacies practised out of school were more diverse, not only in the tools that were used, but in purpose. Furthermore, it seemed like for some children, the opportunities to develop understandings about the literacies they use out of school were limited. Further analyses suggested that differing materialities between contexts produced different literacies and that there were surprising relations between texts and participants that produced differences between experiences that is worthy of consideration.
These findings call attention to the dissonance between in and out of school literacies for some children and the ways that disconnections between in and out of school literacies restrict learning and erase potential. They highlight the significance of the materialities in the production of different literacies which suggests further consideration of the materialities of classrooms is warranted. The surprising relations that were found to be occurring between texts and participants also indicates that children’s experiences of literacies, both in and out of school, are each unique. This suggests that future research could go beyond a focus on sameness to consider how difference is produced and enabled between and within contexts. Methodologically, these findings demonstrate the potential of experimental qualitative inquiry in ways that privilege fracturing and multiplication of possibilities rather than narrowing and consolidating understanding.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Munday, Jennifer, Principal Supervisor
  • Elwick, Sheena, Co-Supervisor
Award date21 Jun 2023
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2023


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