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Family literacy: Jane Furness

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Last updated 31 January 2013 12:11 by NZTecAdmin

View comments from Jane Furness, Family Literacy – PHD Candidate at University of Waikato, taken at the Symposium in Hamilton, July 2011.

Key content

Thinking of literacy as more than a set of skills, but as social practice, and recognising that what matters in literacy is the social and relational meanings that the skills development actually has for people.


I was interested in following the pathways that people followed. So where did they go from participating in the programme, learning something that was useful that was literacy-related – how did they use it, what did it mean for them in their daily lives? And then one of the key things was that what came in was other experiences in learning from outside the programme, that came in and interwove with what they had got from the programme. And so you get very hybrid outcomes, and they’re different for everybody. People's personal lives come in and feature, so they move in and out of programmes, or they have other things that are happening in their lives that make certain things more relevant than others. So the literacy that’s learned gets used in those particular idiosyncratic ways, and they mix in with the other learning that comes along as well.

And it’s what Freire said about people not being an empty vessel just sitting there waiting to be filled up with knowledge. They have after all survived for that long in their lives, they’ve done something right – their children are still okay, it’s not all bad news. They have lots of skills and abilities, and often are doing a lot in the community already that’s very important, and taking great care of their children. So for a tutor to be able to get to know that student well enough so that they know about those other things, they can reinforce them, show to the person how valuable they are, and then suggest to them how they can bring those skills in combination with some new literacy skills, and do even more useful things in their lives and with their families and communities.

I think one of the important things is that we need to go beyond thinking of literacy as "just skills". That we need to really embrace the idea that it is social practice, and that what matters in literacy is the social and relational meanings that the skills development actually has for people.

They do appreciate that they’ve made those literacy gains, but what they really appreciate is that they are able to go and use those things. And they are usually in combination with some other social abilities, or social connections they’ve made, or confidence they’ve built that’s helped them to go out into the world and use those skills in other places.



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