Learning literacy within social practices through different discourses

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"Literacy is social practice and is therefore learned as part of the wider social practices and processes in which we are engaged in as we become members of our families and communities. That is, we learn to do literacy as we learn to behave and belong in our families and communities." (Breen et al 1994, p4) Through everyday social practices, we are involved in different contexts or environments that associate us with different Discourse communities, whether it be family, social, educational or cultural. These Discourse communities influence the literacy practices and processes that an individual learns and uses. Every individual is involved in different Discourse communities and therefore, has different uses of social practices and processes of literacy. Three ideas that are addressed in this essay are learning literacy within social practices through different discourses including the family and community, Vygotsky's socio cultural approach and his ideas on the nature of literacy development and learning as social activities through the use of scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development, and lastly the implications of schooling and catering for the many different discourses within the classroom.

Literacy is learned throughout the social practices that we are involved in during the day to day events that occur. It is not just schooling that teaches an individual the appropriate literacy practices and processes to use. Literacy as social practice (Ch3 p 4) states "literacy is not something that only happens at school. Literacy happens whenever and whatever we conduct the everyday business of our lives." Everyday activities and social interactions that occur outside the school teach individuals literacy. These social activities and interactions teach individuals how to behave, think and feel in particular environments. An example of this would be a family eating tea at a restaurant. Many literacy practices and processes are passed onto the children from the parents on how to behave and act in this situation. That includes using appropriate manners, talking in a particular manner and acting appropriately. The passing on of these literacy practices within the social context is done unconsciously with the teacher being unaware of the processes they are undertaking to pass on these meanings and the learner also being unaware that they are receiving these meanings about literacy practices. This is further emphasized by Heath (1983, P.11), where he argues " The place of language in the cultural life of each social group is interdependent with the habits and values of behaving shared among members of that group." Many of the social practices that individuals are involved in, whether it be family, social, cultural and educational contexts, are called Discourse communities. These Discourse communities are a social practice and they influence literacy meanings and ideas that an individual may have. Every individual is involved in a Discourse community as we all acquire one the moment we are born, our family. Each individual will then take part in other activities throughout their life where they will be an insider of many more Discourse communities. Examples of this are, a social Discourse may be an individual is a member of a sporting team, a cultural Discourse may be a Church Bible Study group that an individual is part of and an educational Discourse may be a wood working Class. There are many different events and social practices that fit into these Discourse categories. Each Discourse community will influence the literacy processes and practices that the individual will use. The Discourse community will also influence the way the individual behaves and belongs within that particular community. Each individual belongs to different Discourse communities to other individuals and thus, will learn and use different literacy practices and processes within the Discourse community they are an insider of. Therefore, an individual that is an outsider of a Discourse community will use different literacy practices and processes to an insider of that Discourse community. For example, an individual that is a member of a soccer team, that is a social discourse community, will speak with competiveness, encouragement and soccer specific terminology and may act rough and pumped up, whilst a member of a cultural Discourse community being a Church bible group, will speak more about the bible and may act with more dignity and subtleness. This is best backed up by Barton (1994 P.38) where he argues that " People have different literacies which they make use of, associated with different domains of life." Therefore also showing how literacy practices and processes that are acquired and learnt from the particular Discourse communities all influence the individuals' personality and the way they are brought up to behave and act in their family and community. The Discourse communities personify the individuals' behaviours and characteristics. These personas are what make us who and what we are, and what make us insiders of particular discourse communities. That is how we learn, act and react by taking part in these various literacy practices within our discourse communities. For example, a person that is an insider of a social Discourse community of a latin Dance Group will act and behave and use specific literacies within this group. These behaviours will all influence the personality of this individual.

Lev Vygotsky developed a socio cultural approach which focused on the nature of literacy development and learning this through social activities. Vygotsky believed that the development of literacy was achieved through scaffolding within social practices. According to Santrock (2004 p230), scaffolding is an expert that acts as a guide to assist an individual through a task which is too difficult to master alone but is still achievable. Scaffolding is often unconsciously done by the individual throughout day to day tasks. A good example of this would be the mother in the Built CD showing her daughter how to bake a cake. By learning these skills it transforms the outsider of a Discourse community into an insider, making them part of that discourse community. Scaffolding is not only a literacy practice for the young, it also involves everyone for we are forever learning and changing. Examples where scaffolding may be used within social activities may be an employer teaching a new skill to an employee or a nurse teaching an elderly person how to use a walking frame, thus showing the diversity of such a practice and how it affects us all in our different families and communities. The basic strategy of scaffolding is to help the learner reach there Zone of Proximal Development, which means the learner reaches their full potential in their new skill they have acquired. Reaching their maximum potential in these different skills helps the learner use their new skills unconsciously and become a teacher themselves, forever passing on their specific skill they have been taught and also unconsciously passing on the skill of scaffolding. Scaffolding is therefore a day to day ritual done by all types of individuals within different discourse communities, whether it be family, social, cultural etc. It helps transform an insider to an outsider and is greatly argued by Vygotsky "as being a useful strategy to enable an individual to reach their Zone of Proximal Development of a new concept, word or skill." (Santrock 2004, p230) Scaffolding is a practice that many individuals use every day when teaching someone a new skill or concept. It is a natural process that is carried out unconsciously to assist others. This is evident when a mother reads a book with a child and prompts them and offers assistance with the book only when the child requires it. Every day social practices just like that one will influence the literacy practices and processes that will be learnt by an individual. The way that the expert assists the learner and portrays to the learner their customs, values and ideas through the literacy they use, will influence the learner to share these same literacy practices as the expert. For example, an expert may be scaffolding a learner to read a book about a boy that plays sport. The experts' emphasis on the importance of playing sport and that it is good for you demonstrates to the learner that sport is important and is valued by the expert. The expert uses literacy practices such as body gestures including pointing, tone and volume of voice when talking and eye contact all influence and encourage the learner to accept and take on these values being portrayed to them through the literacy practices of the expert.

The social contexts which we are involved in daily also influence and shape our literacy use. Contexts include cultural, socio cultural and situational contexts. Cultural contexts shape the way we achieve goals through the use of literacy practices and processes. (Droga and Humphries 2003 p2) An example of this is an Aboriginal individual using language, music and dance to achieve the goal of telling a Dreamtime story to his people.

Socio cultural contexts include factors like socio economic status, gender, ethnic background and age. All of these factors influence the literacy choices that an individual will make. (Droga and Humphries 2003 p2) example of this is could be rich in the way they are more sophisticated in the they way the talk compared to the poor. Situational contexts influence the literacy practices and processes we use to achieve a particular social purpose within the home, community, workplace or school. (Droga and Humphries 2003 p2) For example home literacy is less formal then the language used at work.

Each individual is an insider of a Discourse community. The Discourse communities that we are insiders of are all different to one another and share different literacy practices and processes. There are many implications for schooling because of the diverse range of Discourse communities and literacy practices and processes within the classroom. An implication is that the teacher has to try and identify what the different Discourse communities are within the classroom, and try to address all of these through the lessons that are implemented. This is highly difficult and nearly impossible to do as each individual will have different literacy practices to each other and it is hard to address each different level of understanding within a lesson. There is simply not enough time and teaching methods to achieve this. Another implication is that minority culture groups are not catered for within the curriculum and the expectations of them are too high for them to be able to achieve. This is because of the literacies they have learnt within the Discourse communities that they belong to. These Discourse communities are different and diverse to other common Discourse communities. For example, Mormons going to a public state school, where different religious beliefs would have to be addressed. This being backed up in Literacy as social practice (Ch 3 p13) argues that "there is little doubt that a minority culture will be excluded and suppressed." This becomes an implication within the classroom that is hard to address. There needs to be more awareness of the diverse range of Discourse communities that make up a class and the issues that these will have on the literacy development of these individuals. More theories on how to approach these issues also need to be developed to ensure that every individual, regardless of their Discourse community, gains and learns within every lesson.

In concluding it shows that literacy is an everyday event and practice, and its practices are performed by everyone, no matter what discourse they are involved in. They influence the way we behave, belong and our actions and reactions within our families and communities. Also Showing how Vygotskys theory on scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development how they are implicated in day to day use, with often the user not even knowing they are applying this theory. Finally this essay shows how diverse literacy is and that it effects each and every individual showing just some of the implications it can have on them, whether from schooling to family, social or cultural interactions.

Santrock, J 2004, Child development, 10th edn, McGraw Hill Companies, New York.

Love, K, Pidgeon, K, Baker, G and Hamston, J 2002, BUILT : Building understandings in literacy and teaching, 2nd edn, CD-ROM, University of Melbourne, Melbourne

Barton, D 1994, The social basis of literacy. Lteracy: An introduction to the Ecology of written language. Blackwell, Oxford, UK

Anstey, M and Bull, G 2004, Literacy as social practice. The literacy labyrinth, 2nd edn. Pearson, Sydney

Droga, L and Humphrey, S 2003, Grammar and meaning: An introduction for primary teachers, Target Texts, Berry, Australia

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