Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Last week at the University of Greenwich I talked about new technology and the commodification of literacy. I used digital apps and playthings - aimed at very young children and their parents - as a way of exploring the tension between the opportunities and attractions of the digital, and the corporate interests that package and sell them. Erica Hateley in Children's Literacy, Learning and Culture expresses something similar when she writes that: 'As children are inducted younger and younger into particular modes of literacy, and particular dispositions as 'consuming citizens', researchers committed to learning from and contributing to young people's agency and social opportunities need to pay attention to what is happening culturally when reading and playing and literacy and learning means tapping, touching, swiping, and scrolling and combining online and offline activities.' (2013:39). I also pointed out how some of what is available carries an implicit message for parents - these are the sort of literacy routine that are important. This has been called the discourse of the 'good parent'. But this tension runs through everyday and institutionalised uses of technology at all levels - its potential both to free us and to enslave us.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New book!

The increasing popularity of digitally-mediated communication is prompting us to radically rethink literacy and its role in education. In our new edited collection Cathy Burnett, Julia Davies, Jennifer Rowsell and I draw on cutting edge research from the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and South Africa to launch international debate around these changing literacies, how they might shape policy and practice, and how they articulate across national boundaries. Currently many national policies promulgate a view of literacy focused on the skills and classroom routines associated with print, and these are bolstered by regimes of accountability and assessment. As a result, teachers are caught between two competing discourses: one upholding a traditional conception of literacy and the other encouraging a more radical take on 21st century literacies driven by leading edge thinkers and researchers. The book explores studies of literacy practices in varied contexts through a refreshingly dialogic style, interspersed with commentaries which address the significance of the work described for education. The book concludes on the ‘conversation’ that develops to identify key recommendations for policy-makers through a Charter for Literacy Education. The book is due to be published by Routledge in July. Advance orders, library recommendations and more information can be found here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Boxes of poison

Stacks of cardboard boxes are scattered around Barnsborough. Children's avatars might just discover them, and if they do, by hovering over them they will read a label that says 'boxes of poison'. Such a chance discovery might or might not map on to their interest, and to the play of narratives that emerges in this virtual world and the classroom in which it is accessed. And what is more this will only happen through extended, exploratory and open-ended action and interaction. Story building of this sort, whether it involves drama, videogaming, movie-making, virtual world play or immersive  engagement with written text, takes time and has multiple and complex learning outcomes that are not quantifiable or easy to measure. Although understanding narrative and the opportunities for problem-solving and generating hypotheses that are embedded within are generally understood to involve important habits of mind and learning dispositions, they have come under threat from a curriculum that is driven by simple, measurable outcomes, over-specified learning objectives and so-called evidence-based practice. Reclaiming this territory is fraught with difficulty, particularly when dominant discourses are pervasive, and present a regime of truth which evokes sentiments like investing in our children's future, securing high standards and developing a world-leading education system - who could criticise those virtuous ambitions? In a forthcoming piece provisionally titled 'Boxes of Poison' that's exactly what we'll attempt to do!