Category Archives: Multiliteracies

Student Agency : revisiting “Choice Words” by Peter Johnston

Building a sense of learner agency in the library begins now.

(1700 words)

Whenever I consider the concept of student agency I am always drawn back to Choice words : how our language affects children’s learning” by Peter H. Johnston, 2004. In particular, chapter 4 “Agency and becoming strategic”, in a very concise & practical way clarifies what student agency is, what it looks like and how we can have a powerful impact on learning.

“Children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals. I call this feeling a sense of agency.”

“The spark of agency is simply the perception that the environment is responsive to our actions, and many researchers argue that agency is a fundamental human desire.”

Choice Words : How our language affects children's learning
“Choice Words : How our language affects children’s learning” by Peter Johnston

“This desire for agency persists throughout life and is so powerful, that when people feel there is no relationship between what they do and what happens, they become depressed and helpless.”

“Teachers’ conversations with children help the children build the bridges between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency. They show children how, by acting strategically, they accomplish things, and at the same time, that they are the kind of person who accomplishes things.”

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Proxemics and The Embodied Mind: The hidden dimension of learning.

(1500 words)

img_6512There are two fields of study that I would like to bring together to create a deep but accessible framework to examine the impact of the environment on student learning. Of particular interest to me is the impact of the presence books on learning in combination with other technologies however this framework could be applied to many other aspects of the learning environment.

  1. Proxemics
  2. The Embodied Mind.

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Complex Systems Pedagogy & the school library

(3500 words)

How can a complex systems pedagogy enhance student learning?

How is a complex systems pedagogy relevant to the classroom and school library?

This article will explore the theoretical ideas that underpin an understanding of complex systems.

We will inquire into the relevance of an understanding of complex systems in education.

We will apply these new understandings to examine the impact of a complex systems on the library, teaching and learning.

I owe a great debt to the book edited by Mason, Mark, “Complexity Theory and the Philosophy of Education”. While I have explored complex systems in many fields over the years this book was a great help in applying these concepts in the education setting. I have included further reading at the end of this post.

Introduction

I am going to begin with a sceptical note. Complex systems theory has experienced an increasingly rapid rise in popularity in the social sciences and by extension is also gaining significant traction in education. In the milieu of fads and trends in education there are a plethora of claims made for the effectiveness of a particular approach that can yield the learning outcomes we are all in education to achieve. I am always cautious of a new programme packaged by the large learning corporations or promoted by individuals whose income depends on the adoption of a particular approach so in presenting complex systems in education I ask that you employ the greatest level of critical analysis and sceptical inquiry. This presentation is designed to challenge assumptions, open our minds and give us a more holistic view of our classroom and library practices. The value I see in a complex systems approach is that implicit within the theoretical framework is an open and holistic view of students and the educational context we are part of creating for them. Any theoretical framework that seems to lead to an unbalanced focus on single elements or purports to be a panacea is highly suspect because education is not simple. There is an undeniable complexity to the task we have as educators. When you consider the diversity of students within a single class, the thought that a single approach will meet all their individual needs instantly appears ridiculous. Herein lies the strength of a complex systems approach because at it’s very core is the embracing of the complex, the dynamic, the unpredictable, the intangibles and the challenges of working with children who bring a vast array of prior experiences, expertise and characteristics that come together to make them a collection of unique individuals.

What is a complex system?

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Fast Food Literacy Programs

This post will not be surprising coming from a librarian but still, it needs to be said. I call it Fast Food Literacy (#FastFoodLiteracy). I am talking about the prepackaged and heavily marketed reading programs produced by the big educational publishers. They are attractively packaged and so convenient that a school can purchase a large levelled reading set or online program at the push of a button. In contrast, to build a library collection of a similar size takes many hours of carefully reading reviews by trusted sources and researching authors to ensure the very best of what the world has to offer in literature is available to the students when they need it. A library collection built in this way is also tailored to suit the unique needs of that school community. How could a generic levelled one-size-fits-all reading package possibly meet the needs of every school community around the world?

The corporatisation of education through fast food literacy programs

 

The analogy with fast food seems so obvious when reading sets arrive in their brightly coloured cardboard prboxes with the easy access flip-lid.

This corporatisation of education is extremely concerning on many levels. The pleasure of reading is transformed into a literacy commodity purchased for consumption. Students are placed on a conveyer belt in production line of literacy education. The sell is that it is personalised or differentiated with the subtext that if you are really serious about literacy education, regardless of what you are doing now, you need the proprietary package. The branding instills a sense of security that is based on marketing strategies rather than a deeper concept of literacy. Schools earnestly striving to demonstrate that they take literacy seriously are drawn to this sense of security in a brand because it is a tangible  but this security is shallow and false. For example, consider the “pedagogy of multiliteracies” that “immediately shifts us from the dominant written print text to acknowledge the many varied ways that literacy is practiced in the new millennium”. Further, the approach of Jim Cummins builds a far more sophisticated view of literacy and language that has relevance to a world wrestling with multiculturalism, plurilingualism and diverse semiotic codes.  Among the most worrying concerns is that the corporately driven programs turn the focus from building student agency to a model where students are programmed. Student agency is replaced by response to stimuli (at best). Literacy is removed from the learning environment and diced up into fragmented chunks. There are so many unchallenged assumptions in this approach that it is hard to know where to start (or finish). I would also bundle textbooks in with these fast food curriculum resources but that is another discussion. In contrast, reading that is embedded in rich contexts of inquiry ensures that meaningful understandings are built and endure. “Learning happens best when learners construct their understanding through a process of constructing things to share with others.” (Jonan Donaldson). This is entirely absent in the fast food reading programs and textbook curricula.

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Multiliteracies pedagogy, student identity & the school library.

Recently the concept of mulitiliteracies has regularly appeared in my reading and professional discussions and every time it does, I am challenged in a new way (Multiliteracies: “The term “Multiliteracies” immediately shifts us from the dominant written print text to acknowledge the many varied ways that literacy is practiced in the new millennium”). I have particularly connected with the work of Dr Jim Cummins who describes a multiliteracies pedagogy in strong terms emphasising that it is a mandate that speaks to the very identity of our students. Cummins goes on to argue that

After 6 months of learning English a student has decided to translate sections of her favourite book into Japanese. Given the time & space, she makes sense of her new language through the lens of her home language.
After 6 months of learning English a student has decided to translate sections of her favourite book into Japanese. Given the time & space, she makes sense of her new language through the lens of her first language.

recognising, valuing and investing in student identity is a necessary prerequisite for engaging students in learning. Language learning that does not build on the “cultural capital” of our students or connect to individual student identity is destined for a stagnant, linear and “authoritarian kind of pedagogy” (The New London Group). Another key component to a multiliteracies pedagogy described by Cummins is interdependence across languages where strong understandings in one language can transfer to another language. This is a capabilities based pedagogy that sees strengths in any language as a valuable basis for intellectual and creative linguistic development in other languages.

“Tuning in” to our students

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