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PART 1: Concepts of literacy and their implications
PART 2: Models of literacy acquisition
PART 3: Political debates around literacy
In this Unit Guide we consider literacy as a complex phenomenon that can be viewed from a number of different perspectives. We can conceptualise it in a very straightforward way as the attribute of individual humans. In simple terms, a literate person is skilled in literacy. There are other views, however. Research over the past 30 years or so indicates that literacy is highly dependent on the context in which it occurs in all sorts of ways. We might therefore see also literacy as a social practice (Street,1995) as much as the attribute of individual people. In this Guide we look at potential barriers to literacy at both the individual psychological level, for example dyslexia, and the cultural/societal level, for example modes of teaching or kinds of texts that make literacy learning problematic for some groups of young people. Barriers to literacy acquisition can arise at either or both these levels and we need to be able to differentiate between them in teaching situations.
In this unit we take the view that no one programme is uniquely positioned to address the barriers to literacy development experienced by every learner. In the United States Bond and Dykstra (1967) concluded from a wide-ranging study of different types of reading programmes for students in the early years of formal schooling that:
Within every instructional method studied, there were pupils who learned to read with thorough success and others who experienced difficulty. Furthermore, pupils in some school systems markedly outperformed those in others for no traceable reason. This was true regardless of instructional approach.
(Bond & Dykstra, 1967, cited in Adams 1994, p. 43)
Later, the Bullock Report (1975, p. 513) lent further support to this view:
… we have been opposed from the outset to the idea that reading and the use of English can be improved in any simple way. The solution does not lie in a few neat administrative strokes, nor in the adoption of one set of teaching methods to the exclusion of another. Improvement will come about only from a thorough understanding of the many complexities, and from action on a broad front.
We have included in this Unit Guide material that relates to ages and stages from the Early Years to adulthood. You may wish to confine your study to those sections that relate solely to the age and stage in which you are most interested, or, conversely, take a more comprehensive approach.