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AELS Literacies Exam Equivalent

Dorian Love
Literacy and wat it means to !e literate as istorically !een an emotive issue"
inextrica!ly tied to mastery over" or access to discourses o# $ower% &n The White
Goddess" 'o!ert (raves as sown ow te al$a!et itsel# encoded mytolo)ies
o# reli)ious *nowled)e and $ower" controlled !y $riestly castes% +e ,edieval
-urc exercised muc o# its control !y restrictin) access to te $rinted word"
wile te rise o# mass literacy in .estern Euro$e went and in and wit te rise
o# /rotestantism" and te callen)e to tis control% Literacy as istorically !een
constructed as a matter o# social exclusion or equity" a mar* o# social $ro)ress or
rationale #or stasis" a matter o# individual develo$ment" or social res$onsi!ility%
And yet" in received wisdom" it as come to !e viewed as a neutral s*ill" #ree o#
value or context%
Su0anne de -astell and Allan Lu*e" in teir review o# si#ts witin 1ort
American literacy education" identi#y tree ma2or $aradi)ms wic are indicative
o# tis si#t #rom ideolo)ically situated to a claimed" ideolo)ically neutral
universality% +e late 19
century view o# literacy as an access to i) culture and
te canonical texts clearly su$$orted an aristocratic world3order in wic wort
and no!ility are con#lated% +e $ro)ressivist si#t o# te early 20
century towards
$ra)matic texts" on te oter and" re#lected a )reater em$asis on
democrati0ation and te needs #or a #unctionally literate wor* #orce% Literacy ere
!ecomes a matter o# social mo!ility and utility% 4ot tese views see literacy as
crucially situated witin notions o# te social order% Literacy is clearly value
laden% 5owever" #rom te 1960s" a tecnocratic view as #ocused on te
quanti#ication o# educational outcomes" deconstructin) literacy into 7discrete and
measura!le su!s*ills8 9de -astell" S : Lu*e" A" 19;<" $% ;7=% +is move relocates
ar)uments a!out literacy away #rom te social" towards te individual% .ile
elements o# te $ro)ressivist turn remain em!edded in tis view" te uses o#
literacy are conceived as !ein) indicative o# $ro)ress towards democratic
enli)tenment" literacy comes to !e viewed as an autonomous and universal
+is view was lar)ely in#luenced !y !eaviourist and co)nitive $sycolo)y" !ot
o# wic" in teir own way mar* an individualist rater tan a social a)enda" and
aid in viewin) literacy as a universal co)nitive s*ill% >ailure to 7attain8 literacy
tus !ecomes a mater o# $ersonal or institutional #ailure requirin) remediation" a
$ers$ective wic as #ueled muc o# te $o$ular de!ate around te crisis in
literacy% .ile tis view is still dominant" it as !een $ower#ully critiqued%
4rian Street attac*s tis model on a num!er o# )rounds% 5e ar)ues tat te
treatment o# writin) as an autonomous mode o# communication )reatly overstates
/a)e 2 o# 7
te su$$osed )reat divide !etween s$o*en and written modes and notes tat more
recently academics ave come to view te relationsi$ !etween orality and
literacy on a 7continuum8 rater tan as a 7divide8 9Street" 4" 1993" $%4=% .en
te #ocus is on local" etno)ra$ic studies rater tan western societies alone" and
on everyday uses o# writin)" rater tan exclusively on more #ormal" and
academic writin)" te overla$s !etween oral and written communication emer)e
more stron)ly% Street also ar)ues tat te su$$osed autonomy o# te written mode
ad !een exa))eratedly extended to individuals and institutions% +e literate man
is seen to ave an autonomy #rom social context% Literacy is said to ave certain
consequences in terms o# co)nitive develo$ment" allowin) #or te develo$ment o#
rational and detaced outloo*s" wic in temselves would )uarantee $ro)ress%
'esearcers suc as Luria 9197<=" (oody 91977= and ?n) 919;2= ave ar)ued tis
case 9quoted in /rinsloo" , : 4reier" ," 199<" $% 17=" !ut Scri!ner 919;7= and
'o)o## and Lave 919;4= su))est tat te acquisition o# s*ills is !ound !y social
context" callin) into question te claims tat universal co)nitive s*ills result #rom
literacy 9quoted in /rinsloo" , : 4reier" ," 199<" $% 1;=%
+e consequences o# te 7myt o# literacy8 are to extend te )reat divide
ar)ument to literate and non3literate societies" and to ar)ue tat literacy alone
mi)t someow advance economic develo$ment% +ese crude and etnocentric
stereoty$es" and te way tey in#orm develo$ment and literacy initiatives ave
lar)ely !een ex$osed as #ailures% Street ar)ues" tere#ore" #or etno)ra$ic
researc o# literacy $ractices as tey actually im$act on $eo$le@s lives% (ee as
i)li)ted te ways in wic te autonomous model o# literacy as !een
callen)ed !y a 7social turn8 towards a view o# literacy wic situated it witin
social $ractices% 9(ee" AAA= +e 1ew Literacy Studies as !een amon)st te most
in#luential o# tese )rou$s" develo$in) an ideolo)ical model to re$lace te
autonomous model o# literacy% +is model consciously addresses questions o# te
relations o# $ower em!edded in literacy $ractices% Literacy is conceived o# as a
social $ractice"8 located in te interaction !etween $eo$le8 94arton : 5amilton"
199;" $%3= rater tan as a set o# co)nitive s*ills residin) witin individuals%
Literacy is a social $ractice rooted in social conce$tions o# meanin)" identity and
Sirley 4rice 5eat@s study o# di##erin) ways in wic +rac*ton and 'oadville
cildren were ex$osed to literacy $ractices" and ow tis in#luenced teir cances
o# success at scool" indicates te ways in wic viewin) literacy as social
$ractices el$s ex$lain di##erential scool success 95eat" 19;<=% +e 1ew
Literacy Studies tradition as develo$ed two *ey conce$ts around wic te
social nature o# literacy is articulatedB namely literacy events" and literacy
$ractices% 5eat" drawin) on sociolin)uistic notions o# s$eec events" as
descri!ed literacy events as 7any occasion in wic a $iece o# writin) is inte)ral
to te nature o# te $artici$ants@ interactions and teir inter$retative $rocesses8
95eat" 19;2 quoted in Street" 2001" $%10=% +e conce$t o# literacy $ractice is
used to lin* literacy events to !roader social and cultural $atterns" or ways in
wic literacy events are em!edded wit social $ractices and !elie#s% &t is a
/a)e 3 o# 7
!roader and more a!stract conce$t% Literacy events are located witin $articular
contexts and can only !e understood in tese terms% Events are )overned !y social
rules wic sa$e te domain" suc as wor*" ome or scool" witin wic tey
occur% Di##erent domains o# li#e are caracteri0ed !y di##erent discourse
communities" in wic lan)ua)e is em$loyed in di##erent ways across te )rou$
94arton : 5amilton" 199;" $%10=% 5owever" not all discourses are equally
advanta)ed" and literacy $ractices are em!edded witin and sa$ed !y $ower
relations witin social institutions% +e !oundaries !etween domains are seen as
$ermea!le" !ut some literacy $ractices are clearly dominant and oters are less
visi!le and less in#luential%
A ma2or concern o# te 1ew Literacy Studies as !een to document and )ive
voice to tese local and vernacular literacies% .ereas te autonomous model o#
literacy assumes a universal and sin)ular literacy" te ideolo)ical model identi#ies
multi$le literacies" and is concerned to )ive mar)inali0ed voices a earin)% +ere
is a dan)er in tis a$$roac o# relativisin) literacy" and #ailin) to reco)ni0e te
im$ortance #or mar)inali0ed voices o# )ainin) access to te $rivile)ed and
e)emonic discourses o# $ower" o# merely cele!ratin) te local 9Street" 2001"
$%12=% 5owever" as Street as $ointed out" te model as !een alive to te
dynamics !etween central and local" and is relativist in terms o# a concern #or
articulatin) interventionist $ro)rammes more sensitively wit existin) local
$ractices" rater tan as seein) all literacies as essentially equal" and i)norin) te
dynamics o# $ower relations 9Street in /rinsloo : 4reier" 199<" $%<=%
A *ey idea witin te 1ew Literacy Studies tradition is tat o# mediation% .ile
te autonomous model $osits a literacy wic resides witin individuals" as
>in)eret 919;3= ar)ued activities requirin) literacy can !e acieved !y individuals
la!eled #unctionally illiterate !y teir a!ility to em$loy s*ills witin $eer )rou$s
or social networ*s 9in /rinsloo : 4reier" 199<" $%20=% -aterine Cell" #or
exam$le" as sown ow individuals are a!le to draw u$on networ*s o#
reci$rocity in wic s*ills" includin) literacy s*ills" are sared amon)st a
community 9Cell in /rinsloo : 4reier" 199<=% 'eder 919;6= as distin)uised
!etween two ty$es o# en)a)ement in literacy $racticesB individuals are
tecnolo)ically en)a)ed wen tey are directly involved in codin) or decodin)
writin)" and #unctionally en)a)ed wen tey $artici$ate in te $ractice" !ut
witout direct codin) or decodin) 9/rinsloo : 4reier" 199<" $%20=% +e social
meanin)s o# literacy $ractices witin di##erent domains suc as scool or -urc
crucially a##ect te coices individuals ma*e a!out teir en)a)ements in literacy
Anoter im$ortant conce$t is tat o# a$$renticesi$ learnin)" in wic literacy
s*ills are acquired in#ormally #rom $eers" or in te wor*$lace" muc as te taxi
driver learned !y watcin) an ex$erienced driver" learnin) te road si)ns !y
o!servin) ow te driver !eaved 94reier" +aetsane : Sait in /rinsloo : 4reier"
199<=% (ee as i)li)ted ow literacy in a $articular domain o# discourse
involves #ar more tan 2ust a reco)nition o# sur#ace meanin)" !ut involves te
/a)e 4 o# 7
attitudes" values" and sared $artici$ation involved in ma*in) meanin) witin a
$articular discourse% (ee uses te idea o# semiotic domains to ex$lore tese ideas%
5e de#ines a semiotic domain as 7any set o# $ractices tat recruit one or more
modalities 9e%)% oral or written lan)ua)e" ima)es" equations" sym!ols" sounds"
)estures" )ra$s" arti#acts" and so #ort= to communicate distinctive ty$es o#
meanin)s8 9(ee" 2003" $%31=%
+is notion o# semiotic domains )oes #urter tan te social conce$tions o#
literacy witin te 1ew Literacy Studies in tat it ex$licitly includes modes oter
tan te written in its ex$lanation o# ow meanin)3ma*in) occurs witin social
contexts% (unter Cress as written a!out a !road trend towards visuali0ation" in
wic )ra$ic modes are !ecomin) increasin)ly im$ortant carriers o# meanin)" at
te ex$ense o# written lan)ua)e as te A)e o# $rint )ives way to te &n#ormation
A)e% 9Cress" 199;=% Any socially constructed view o# literacy" i)li)tin) te
social uses o# literacy clearly needs to extend its ex$lanation o# wat constitutes
literacy to ta*e tese trends into account% Cress loo*s" #or exam$le at te ways in
wic Science text!oo*s ave can)ed #rom te 1930s" wen te main meanin)
was conveyed !y te text" wit te )ra$ic merely com$lementin) te written
word% +ext!oo*s o# te 19;0s" owever" sow tat te )ra$ic in#ormation as
!ecome te main carrier o# in#ormation" wit te text servin) to orient te reader
9Cress" 199;" $$%<33<6=%
+e 1ew London (rou$ as advocated te idea o# multiliteracies" !y wic is
#ore)rounded !ot te idea o# te im$ortance o# cultural and lin)uistic diversity as
well as te multi$licity o# communications cannels 9-o$e : Calant0is" 2000"
$%6=% +e *ey idea !eind te multi$le modes o# meanin) ma*in) is tat one mode
is not sim$ly a translation o# meanin) conveyed in one mode !y anoter% +e
visual mode conveys meanin) di##erently to te lin)uistic mode" #or exam$le%
+eories o# lan)ua)e alone are not adequate to descri!e increasin)ly multi3modal
means o# communication or te cultural uses to wic tey are $ut% 7A $eda)o)y
o# ,ultiliteraciesD#ocuses on modes o# re$resentation muc !roader tan
lan)ua)e alone% +ese di##er accordin) to culture and context" and ave s$eci#ic
co)nitive" cultural" and social e##ects8 9-o$e : Clant0is" 2000" $%6=% .ere
in#ormation is increasin)ly conveyed in multi3modal ways" literacy too needs to
!ecome a multi3modal literacy% +is ar)ument com$lements" rater tan re$laces
te multi$le literacies ar)ument" wic #ocuses on lin)uistic literacy alone%
+e oter strand o# te 1ew London (rou$ ar)ument relates to )lo!ali0ation and
te increasin) $roximity o# cultural and lin)uistic diversity" ma*in) te #ormer
em$asis on written" standardi0ed national lan)ua)es o!solete% .e must note te
similarities wit te 1ew Literacy Studies concern wit local literacies% .ile te
multi$le literacies view ar)ues #or te $rivile)in) o# local or venacular literacies"
te multiliteracies view stresses te im$ortance o# uman a)ency in sa$in)
social #utures% 5uman a)ency is #ore)rounded in te conce$t o# desi)n% >or Cress"
in a ra$idly can)in) social landsca$e te value o# critique" te main $ur$ose o#
wic is addin) dynamism to static systems" is overridden !y te need to #ind
/a)e 6 o# 7
meanin) in new" constantly can)in) ways% 5uman !ein)s are 7ineritors o#
$atterns and conventions o# meanin) wile at te same time 9!ein)= active
desi)ners o# meanin)8 9-o$e : Calant0is" 2000" $%7=%
+is notion o# desi)n re#lects te way in wic $eo$le are seen as active meanin)3
ma*ers% +e teory $osits six desi)n elements" lin)uistic" visual" audio" )estural"
s$atial and #inally multimodal" wic relates te #irst #ive modalities to eac oter%
+is view re2ects te rater sim$listic model o# communication $revelant in muc
communication teory wic rests on a co)nitive teory in wic a messa)e is
encoded !y a transmitter and sent as a si)nal to anoter" te receiver" wo decodes
te si)nal% &nstead" te interconnectedness o# all $ossi!le modes o#
communication wic umans draw on is i)li)ted% 9>inne)an" AAA=% +e
cate)ory o# multi3modal" as a se$arate cate)ory is si)ni#icant in drawin) attention
to te conce$tuali0ation o# tis inter3connectedness as itsel# a carrier o# meanin)%
.ile eac mode as $articular a##ordances" te ways in wic modes com!ine to
convey meanin) are almost mystical and recreate in a $ost3modern landsca$e
$era$s wat !est $asses #or s$irituality" a sense o# te ine##a!le once certainty
and $ro)ress ave !een eliminated #rom our voca!ulary%
+e 1ew London (rou$ as also set out a $eda)o)y o# multiliteracies" detailin)
#our com$onents o# $eda)o)yE situated $ractice" overt instruction" critical #ramin)
and trans#ormed $ractice% +is em$asis on $eda)o)y re#lects te social
$ro)rammatic o# te )rou$" and its vision o# a multi3cultural educational system
were trends towards )lo!ali0ation and diversity are em$loyed to develo$ 7an
e$istemolo)y o# $luralism8 9-o$e : Calant0is" 2000" $%10= wic allows access
to social $ower" witout erasin) local identities%
+e cosen model o# desi)n re#lects a $rocess in wic availa!le desi)ns"
conventions" are trans#ormed trou) te $rocess o# desi)n" creatin) te
redesi)ned" wic will always" in unique ways re#lect te $rocess o# can)e% +is
see*s to re#lect culturally diverse and #ast can)in) worlds" at te same time
i)li)tin) a)ency as a crucial element% Availa!le desi)n includes te )rammars
o# various semiotic systems as well as orders o# discourse" te ways in wic
di##erent discourses articulate wit eac oter 9>airclou) quoted in -o$e :
Calant0is" 2000" $$%20321=%
+e $rocess o# desi)n is conceived o# as always re$resentin) a re3re$resentation
or re3contextuali0ation o# availa!le desi)ns" never !ein) sim$ly mimetic% Even te
sim$le translation o# writin) into readin) is o# itsel# a re3wor*in)% Every act o#
rece$tion is also tus desi)n" a $roductive activity% +e redesi)ned is consequently
always a re3ma*in) o# meanin) and te sel#% +e *ey terms used are y!ridity" te
extent to wic society and culture are $rocesses involvin) te com!inations o#
)enres and conventions" re3wor*in)s in new ways" and intertextuality" te ways in
wic texts s$ea* to eac oter trou) re#erence or allusion%
/a)e < o# 7
&t seems to me tat wat is really excitin) a!out te state o# literacy studies at te
moment is tat te current models" 1ew Literacy Studies or ,ultilitericies and
multimodalities" are dynamic models drawin) on many di##erent traditions tat
o##er $ro)rammatics encoura)in) uman a)ency and #ore)roundin) ideolo)ical
$ositions rater tan occludin) tem% As a teacer" !ot ex$lanations and te
articulations !etween tem o##er ex$lanations at te inter#ace !etween )lo!al and
local" culture and su!3culture" determination and a)ency wic con#irm wy
$ro#essionalism is still im$ortant in te teacin) 7$ro#ession8" and wy wat
a$$ens in classrooms still matters% & started tis essay wit re#erence to 'o!ert
(raves and is idiosyncratic researc into al$a!ets and te $ower o# te namin)
o# )ods% &t seems to me tat as teacers and researcers we ave our own .ite
(oddesses to $ursue" and tat we ave our own roe!uc*s and la$win)s to
deconstruct" lar)ely in te #orm o# de$artmental edicts" wic o#ten seem to
o!scure te $ur$ose o# education% &t seems an odd $lace to end an examination o#
te 7social turn8 in literacy studies" !ut te $erce$tion tat literacy names our
)ods seems crucial !ot to an understandin) tat deities are socially constructed"
and tat tey matter% .en umanity as ceased to ave sometin) to name" it
will ave ceased to !e%
/a)e 7 o# 7
4arton" D : 5amilton" ," Local Literacies, London : 1ew For*" 'outled)e"
de -astell" S : Lu*e" A" Models of literacy in North American schools; social
and historical conditions and consequences" in de -astell" S" Lu*e" A : E)an" C
9eds=" Lietarcy, Society, and Schooling A Reader, -am!rid)e" -am!rid)e
Gniversity /ress" 19;<
-o$e" 4 : Calant0is" ," Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the esign of
Social !utures, London : 1ew For*" 'outled)e" 2000
>inni)an" '" "ommunicating# The multi$le modes of human interconnection,
London : 1ew For*" 'outled)e"
(ee" H" The Ne% Literacy Studies# !rom &socially situated' to the %or( of the
(ee" H" )$$ortunity to Learn; a language*+ased $esrc$ecti,e on assessment, in
Assessement in Education" vol% 10" 1r 1" ,arc 2003%
(raves% '" The White Goddess, 1ew Hersey" 1oonday" 1997
5eat" S" "ritical factors in literacy de,elo$ment, in de -astell" S" Lu*e" A :
E)an" C 9eds=" Literacy, Society, and Schooling A Reader, -am!rid)e" -am!rid)e
Gniversity /ress" 19;<
Cress" (" -isual and ,er+al modes of re$resentation in electronically mediated
communication: the $otentials of ne% forms of te.t in Snyder" & 9ed=" /age to
Screen# Ta(ing literacy into the electronic era, London : 1ew For*" 'outled)e"
/rinsloo" , : 4reier" , 9eds=" The Social 0ses of Literacy# Theory and $ractice
in contem$orary South Africa, -a$e +own" Saced 4oo*s" 199<
Street" 4 9ed=" "ross*cultural a$$roaches to literacy, -am!rid)e" -am!rid)e
Gniversity /ress" 1993%
Street" 4 9ed=" Literacy and e,elo$ment# 1thnogra$hic $ers$ecti,es" London"
'outled)e" 2001%