Redefining School Literacy. Prominent literacy practices across subjects in upper secondary school
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AbstractThis thesis on school literacy focuses on how students employ different texts within classroom contexts. Based on a methodological, analytical, and theoretical foundation in New Literacy Studies (NLS), it explores how different texts are integrated into a variety of literacy practices across various subjects. The overarching aim of the thesis is to explore prominent literacy practices within a school context, among students in their final year of upper secondary school in Norway. I also discuss how these practices, which are often implicit and somewhat vague, require a professional discourse to represent them.
The units of analysis of the thesis are recurring literacy events in a school context. Literacy events and practices always revolve around a wide variety of texts; thus, the research design of this study is developed to investigate texts in use. Small head-mounted video cameras were utilized to identify the most prominent literacy events among a sample of students in upper secondary school. To obtain a deeper understanding of students’ literacy practices, extracted still pictures of these re-occurring literacy events were then used in contextualized interviews with the students, in addition to textual artifacts utilized in the same literacy events. Additionally, a secondary data corpus (a quantitative survey) was used to explore whether central tendencies in the primary data corpus were relevant in other schools as well.
Two contexts, which in many ways capture the essence of school, were chosen as particularly important to the search for prominent literacy practices in this thesis: plenary teacher instruction and student work with tasks. The empirical material of this thesis suggests that the combination of information transmitted through teacher instruction and knowledge acquisition documented by students through different school tasks are essential aspects of everyday school life. In addition to investigating student literacy in these specific school contexts, the thesis discusses implications of literacy as a highly multifaceted and vague concept, methodological implications for researchers who investigate literacy empirically by studying, for example, literacy practices, and provides practical implications for both students and teachers within educational settings. The main findings of the thesis are published in three articles, which form the core of this thesis.
Article I explores literacy practices related to the use of personal laptops during teacher instruction. The article deals with how students’ literacy practices during traditional whole-class teacher instruction become individualized and digital, and how they typically involve using the Internet to search for vernacular alternatives to intended dominant literacies. Article II addresses literacy practices that revolve around the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, with an emphasis on what students consider to be the main advantages and drawbacks of Wikipedia when working on assigned tasks in school settings. The article suggests that there is a tension between the students’ positive attitudes to including Wikipedia in their everyday literacy practices and their teachers’ possible preferences for more institutionalized texts. Article III addresses the use of vague terms such as “literacy” in educational research, by examining the practical, methodological, and theoretical consequences of using vague terms. The main focus of the article is on the shared features of vague terms and their implications for educational research. Throughout the discussion, the article uses the term “practice” as an example.
The three articles all address the overall research aim. While Articles I and II are concerned with empirical investigations of literacy, Article III discusses the central methodological challenges related to this research. The main overall finding of this thesis is that the literacy practices that are an essential and integrated part of everyday life in upper secondary school for the students in the study share the following three features: (a) they are individual rather than institutionalized, (b) they are usually based on digital texts, and (c) they are implicit and often rendered invisible, rather than being an explicit part of the everyday discourse in the classroom. The empirical data in the thesis suggests that students are often free to choose the textual basis of their literacy events and practices, which offers them the possibility of choosing vernacular literacies over dominant literacies in certain contexts, such as during teacher instruction sessions. The search for alternative texts and literacies is facilitated by the constant possibility of using the Internet, which leads to a dramatic increase in the use of digital texts within the classroom. The implicit nature of the intended and actual practices addressed in this thesis indicates that literacy is seldom commented on explicitly. While I argue that it is promising that school literacy is not as dominant as has been indicated by previous research, I also argue that the main findings of the thesis indicate a very serious educational challenge. If intended literacy practices remain invisible and individualized, and there are no visible consequences for not using them, schools do not integrate crucial dominant literacy practices into their overall experience. These dominant literacy practices could be beneficial to the majority of the students, also in academic discourses outside the classroom.
List of articles. The articles are removed from the thesis due to publisher restrictions.
Article I Blikstad-Balas, M. (2012). Digital Literacy in Upper Secondary School—What Do Students Use Their Laptops for During Teacher Instruction? In Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, vol. 7 (2). 81-96 http://www.idunn.no/ts/dk/2012/02/digital_literacy_in_upper_secondary_school_-_what_do_studen
Article II Blikstad-Balas, M. & Hvistendahl, R. (2013). Students’ Digital Strategies and Shortcuts —Searching for Answers on Wikipedia as a Core Literacy Practice in Upper Secondary School. In Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, vol. 8 (1-2). 32-48 http://www.idunn.no/ts/dk/2013/01-02/students_digital_strategies_and_shortcuts
Article III Blikstad-Balas, M. (2013). Vague Concepts in the Educational Sciences: Implications for Researchers. In Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, doi:10.1080/00313831.2013.773558