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Critical Literacies in History The key to improving literacy levels in middle school students.

Jessie Young - Charles Darwin University

"Research has found that literacy and numeracy levels for students at age 14 are critical determinants of future achievement (particularly in terms of whether they continue at school, enter university, and secure high-status, well-paid jobs)." (Atkins, 2013)

Context The following text aims to address the middle school co-ordinators and history faculty members. It addresses secondary schools that have a high ratio of students with low-socio economic backgrounds and a significant percentage that speak English as a second language. There are, at present, a large amount of public high schools within Australia that fit this description, adding to the relevance of this discussion.

Background (Middle school and literacy)

Middle school is a crucial stepping stone in the literacy development of children (Moje & Sutherland 2003). It is critical that children continue to develop and improve their literacy skills during this period. To achieve this we need to promote the importance of literacy across the curriculum. Middle school students are going through a period of increased cognitive ability and, if harnessed correctly, teachers can bridge the literacy gaps that these students may be experiencing (Pahmbo & Sanacore, 2009) Furthermore, middle school teachers have, at their disposal, a broad range of pedagogies, and a broad range of subject choice, and find themselves with greater time to focus on the fine tuning of literacy standards. The greatest issues facing middle school teachers, is creating students that are able to engage actively in their society. It is during the middle school years that students are most likely to disengage with education and therefore disrupt their literacy development. These students become bored during a period where they should be learning more than ever. The high-risk students are those from low-socio economic families, and those from Indigenous or immigrant backgrounds (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002)

Australian results from the Programme for International Student Assessment for 15 year olds indicate generally lower performance for students who speak languages other than English at home when compared with students who speak English at home.
(Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002)

Furthermore, within the average classroom today, there is an increasing number of students who will be speaking English as a second language it is very important that these students are inspired and interested in their education, it is also pivotal that their literacy skills be developed to their full potential so that they are able to express themselves and achieve their goals without barriers. In order to combat these issues we must not hesitate to actively and quickly implement Critical Literacy Pedagogy across the school curriculum. Most importantly however, we need to implement critical literacies within the History classroom. Critical literacies hold the key to closing this gap because it encourages making connections between a students reality and their education. The incorporation of popular and new media within critical literacies allows students to connect the literacy they already understand with the literacies they need to understand. It gives them a platform

to explore within what they already know how to navigate through. New media is able to scaffold a students learning in this way.

Source: Lokan, J., Greenwood, L. and Cresswell, J., How Literate are Australia's Students? 2001.

Why History?
Having studied History at a primary, secondary and tertiary level, it is clear to me that it is one of the most important subjects students will learn. It is the one topic that brings all others together and is able to create context between subjects where there may In point of have been none. Therefore, in the context of a education, it is a school where many students are learning English as fundamental a second language, the development of literacies principle, and within history education is vitally important to the educational experience of the student constantly observed because it can create a personal context that at all times, that the inspires students to learn. History has for too long, study of history been delegated to the role of facts however within should precede all the field of history there are very few absolutes. One the rest and prepare of the greatest issues for children transitioning the way for them towards tertiary education is that their early (Wadhwa, 2000) educational experiences of history are rarely of investigation and interpretation but rather the learning and retaining of facts. We have a diverse and multi-cultural student group and we can use this to our advantage within the history classroom, as this is the one subject where diversity is critical. By doing this we can improve a students chances of success after school. Furthermore given the high numbers of ESL students, if we incorporate literacies correctly we can develop understanding and inclusion for different cultural backgrounds, and build links and connections with different cultural histories.

Through history, pupils acquire understanding and respect for other cultures and values (Arthur & Phillips, 2000)

Literacy Pedagogy: How to implement literacy in Middle School History

Critical literacies Critical literacies encourage students to see themselves as their own motivators. They support learners as meaning makers, as agents, as participants and as active citizens. (Kalantzis & Cope 2012) They allow students to deal will issues that have relevant meaning to them and therefore are able to engage the interest of the students much quicker. This is very important in the Middle school environment. More than anything else, we need to inspire and engage students. The present is just an extension of the past; therefore we are still able to tackle real world issues through history. In fact it can assist students to develop understandings for real world issues, and, for children with multicultural background this can mean understanding their own The new media add cultural past as well.

another layer of pedagogical opportunity for teachers by creating a contemporary space where students voices can be expressed

The use of new media in critical literacy is also a pivotal key in increasing literacy levels of middle schools students. Students from low socio economic backgrounds engage in online media more than those from privileged families, so this is key to gaining their attention within the classroom (Kalantzis & Cope 2012). By using new media we can expand historical concepts to be entirely multi-modal. We can listen to (Kalantzis & Cope 2012) music, watch videos, read blogs and see entirely new and different perspectives of historical events. Students will be able to use the technology and languages they already know to scaffold their learning within history. They will learn that they are active participants in their society who have valuable insights and perspectives. The only way to understand the present is to understand the past. The study of critical literacies in history will improve middle school literacy levels by engaging students in their own past. Of the four core literacy pedagogies it is clear that critical literacies are the most appropriate for this particular context. However, this does not mean that the other three pedagogies have nothing to offer or that we must put all of our faith in one pedagogy and completely disregard the rest. In fact I would also recommend that

didactic literacies be considered for minor inclusion within the history class and I can explain why:

Didactic Literacy If a student wishes to continue studies in history at a tertiary level they will need to be familiar with Didactic Pedagogy. Academic history is as much about how you write as it is what you write, and knowing the formal rules and regulations of the official or standard versions of the national language (Kalantzis & Cope, 2000) is essential. As much as teachers are responsible for the now they also need to prepare students for the continuation of their subject area. Disregarding didactic Literacies is like throwing out books in favour of websites. Books are still the foundations, and without foundations we cannot build anything. History texts are usually written with a lot of formality and are often presenting arguments to their readers. If the reader is unable to decipher formal modes of writing they will be unable to interpret the arguments that the writers are presenting and therefore unable to determine the legitimacy of the argument. Furthermore, if a student takes particular interest in History and chooses perhaps to continue with their studies they will need the skills to understand the more formal rules of the English language so that they will be able to write their own arguments and have these arguments be accepted by wider scholars. The progression between secondary school education and tertiary education should be linear, therefore, until University history departments accept informal ways of writing, we must uphold these ways of writing within secondary education otherwise we are not preparing children with the tools to succeed. From personal experience, every time I tried to include informal language in tertiary history assignments, I was penalized. Whether this is right or wrong, this is standard for history studies. However, in our given context it is far more important to foster enthusiasm and connection between the students and what they are learning. It is only through achieving this that we will be able to consider the later ideas of academic literacies.

Why not Authentic or Functional LIteracies?

I am yet to mention the use of Authentic and Functional literacies. This is not to say that they are without merit. They just dont serve the context that we are addressing. Authentic Literacies While authentic literacies can be effective, in the Middle School context they are too vague and will too often lead students off track. At this point in their educational

experience students require direction and correlation they need to know where they are going and why. Authentic pedagogy so often fails in practice to improve learner outcomes. (Kalantzis and Cope, 2012) Functional Literacies Functional literacies can be useful in the history classroom. They combine the merits of Didactic and Authentic literacy. History is also a political subject and functional literacies promote the understanding of different language genres and how they are constructed. However utilising functional literacies as the sole pedagogy is not advisable. Functional literacies are too inaccessible for all students and may not foster active participation within the subject. They create an unnecessary complexity around a topic, and suggest that other pedagogies forget about functionality, which is not the case. Functional literacies would be more suitable for senior school students where they have made the dedicated commitment to that subjects and were their learning needs to be scaffolded so that they are prepared for tertiary studies should they choose to undertake them.

There is no doubt that literacy plays a crucial part in the undertaking of History studies. A child of any age cannot effective undertake history studies without a clear grasp of literacy. If we can increase efforts to develop the use of literacy within the history classroom, we can open doors for students that may otherwise have remained closed. That being said, the area of most concern for the development and promotion of History studies is the Middle school, we need to create a linear path that shows students what learning history is really about and reduce the shock of upper level history studies and its expectations. The primary use of Critical Literacies within the classroom will have the ability to engage the widest range of students and will allow them to explore history and become involved in their history studies where previously they may have felt like by-standers. However, as I have already stated I believe that there needs to be elements of didactic literacy present, due to the highly structured and rule based requirements of historical learning and writing. I believe that all schools would be failing their students if they did not put this into place.

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