28.02.2007

Why in both school and out-of-school contexts?

The significance of this research project lies in its aim to explore an area that is largely unexplored in the Finnish context. Theoretically and methodologically this project approaches literacy from a novel, multidisciplinary and holistic point of view. It explores both teachers’ and pupils’ practices in two contexts: at school and in every day life. In addition, the mother tongue and foreign language practices as well as immigrant pupils’ bi-literacies are studied together. Moreover, assessment is seen as an integral part of the learning process and literacy practices, and technology is likewise an inseparable element of literacy pedagogies and multimodal language learning environments. The project has also social relevance since it contributes to curriculum design and teacher training by exploring and expanding pedagogical approaches and making recommendations and concrete proposals for the future.

Reading and writing skills have traditionally been considered as basic prerequisites for full participation in society, but they have become increasingly insufficient for dealing with the social nature of information in the increasingly complex learning and working environments of the knowledge society (Brown & Duguid 2000, Unsworth 2002). The ideal future citizen employs skilfully both his/her mother tongue(s), foreign languages and technology as s/he navigates purposefully around the escalating wealth of information. The ability to construct, analyse and share knowledge in its various forms has become crucial. In Finland, various policies and strategies have been implemented to raise literacy achievement, and the new National core curriculum for basic education (2004) places literacy and language proficiency in a central position. Their concrete realisations and implications in the classroom have not been, so far, researched extensively.

Even though the Finnish pupils’ reading literacy in their mother tongue was graded excellent in the PISA-studies (Välijärvi et al. 2000, Kupari & Välijärvi 2005), 27 % of the pupils were found to have at least some problems in coping with the demands of today’s knowledge society. Recent national tests (e.g. Lappalainen 2000, 2001, 2004) show that there are severe problems in the mastery of writing skills. International studies of literacy in second or foreign languages are quite rare and they have been rather limited in scope (see e.g. Walker 1976, Bonnet 2002). Unlike the present study, the previous studies have concentrated on the outcomes only, and they have not aimed at exploring literacy as a holistic phenomenon in the whole language repertoire of the pupil.

There is, as yet, little research done in Finland on literacy pedagogies and teaching practices in mother tongue and foreign language classrooms. Nevertheless, it has been shown that the textual world in schools is quite monotonous and pupils work mainly with academic or learner texts. The genres of in-school and out-of school texts are very different (e.g. Pitkänen-Huhta 2003, Lappalainen 2004). It is possible that for many pupils the traditional literacy practices at school neither serve their out-of-school needs and interests nor take into account or even benefit from the expertise they might have in working with (new)media texts.

Socialisation to literacy practices takes place both in and out-of-school contexts but traditionally these domains are explored separately. The media uses of Finnish adolescents have been researched to some extent in Finland (e.g. Saanilahti 1999, Luukka et al. 2001, Leino et al. 2004), but these studies have focused only on the media use outside school. We also lack studies that explore the media uses and literacy practices of the immigrant pupils in Finland. In addition, there is no research on teachers' media use and literacy practices, but it can be assumed that their textual worlds are very different from the pupils’ and that they might not be fully literate themselves (Snyder 2002). This is a challenge for literacy pedagogy since the whole territory of multiliteracies is largely unknown in Finland. In this project we aim at searching for overlaps and complementary functions of literacy practices in and out-of-school contexts. Hull and Schultz (2002) have argued that the most fruitful accounts for educational purposes have come from ethnographies of out-of-school literacies, since they inform our understanding of future literacy practices and pedagogies. These are not mere skills in using the different media but a completely new culture of peer-to-peer learning, joint knowledge construction and shared expertise (Labbo 1996, Labbo & Kuhn 1998, Chandler-Olcott & Mahar 2003, Bryan 2004). It will be even more crucial for teachers to be able to acknowledge and support pupils’ identity work and negotiate the boundaries between in and out-of-school literacies in offering access to varieties of literacy practices (Hull & Schultz 2002). The results of this research project will offer teachers new insights for coping with this challenge as well.

Why mother tongue and foreign language practices?

The migration processes and increasing mobility of labour in the past decades have made Finnish schools fundamentally plurilingual and multicultural. This makes demands on schools and especially on teachers to understand different values, interests and literacy practices of pupils who do not only represent diverse national, ethnic and linguistic groups but also heterogeneous subcultures and communities of practice in general (Wenger 1998, Barton & Hamilton 2000). There are no research findings in Finland on how immigrant pupils construct their multicultural identities through participation in literacy practices.

The need to re-think the language and mother tongue pedagogies is pressing. The learners are to be engaged in activities that employ the mother tongue and foreign languages for meaning making and interpretation through various media, in different teams and for different purposes. By introducing multiliteracies to empower individuals, education can be reconstructed to make it more responsive to the challenges of a democratic and multicultural society (Muspratt et al. 1998, Gee 1990, Kern 2000, Kellner 2002). The future-oriented view on pedagogy imposes challenges also on assessment practices. Assessment is a socially and culturally constructed activity which transfers and reinforces educational, social, political and economic values (Norris 1995). It also forms, maintains and reforms to what extent the ownership of knowledge is shared. Despite its power to influence teaching and learning (Shohamy 2001), assessment often remains a distinct entity which may even rely on a rather narrow view of language. Thus, one of the aims of this project is to explore the compatibility of current assessment practices with the demands of the knowledge society. The research project aims at enhancing our understanding of the contemporary language education and its future developments.

Read more 1/4   2/4   3/4   4/4