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[ Contents Vol 15, 1999 ] [ QJER Home ]

The literacy-curriculum interface: Literacy demands of the curriculum in post-compulsory schooling

J. Joy Cumming, Claire M. Wyatt-Smith, Jill Ryan and Shani M. Doig
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
Griffith University


This project[1] which examined literacy demands across curriculum in the senior years of schooling (Years 11 and 12) was undertaken in response to the brief that the research should:

consider the inclusiveness of the curriculum requirements of the post-compulsory years, and the adequacy of these in the preparation for the workplace, vocational training and tertiary education.
Specific aims of the project identified in the brief were to: For the general purposes of the project, literacy was defined to include reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and critical thinking, as defined in the Australian Language and Literacy Policy (1991) and used more recently by Lokan et al. (1995). The definition indicates how literacy and curriculum are interactive and fully interdependent:
the ability to read and use written information and to write appropriately, in a range of contexts; to develop knowledge and understanding; to achieve personal growth; and, to function effectively in our society. Literacy also includes the recognition of numbers and basic mathematical signs and symbols within text plus the integration of speaking, listening and critical thinking with reading and writing. (Lokan et al., 1995, p. 32)
This is one of several literacy definitions which point to the dynamic nature of literacy understood to include, among other elements, semiotic, visual, and textual practices. Such definitions indicate the role of cultural knowledge in meaning making, and the cultural and contextual dependency of literacy.

To undertake this project, a multitheoretical and multidisciplinary approach to understandings of literacy was considered to be essential. This approach is elaborated further within the reports and other publications.

In addition, we explored all curriculum areas with subjects taken from three main strands: arts/humanities; maths/science; and technological/vocational education. Data were collected in two states of Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, as these states were identified as having the most different systems of school certification and assessment in the senior years of school.

The project involved three phases. Phase 1 consisted of comprehensive document analyses of syllabus guidelines and policy documents for subjects in post-compulsory schooling in New South Wales and Queensland, in order to explore the literacy demands of the official curriculum. Phase 2 of the project involved a survey of the reported literacy practices of 1600 Year 10, Year 11 and Year 12 students in the two states. Respondents to the sample were drawn from representative samples of schools across the State, Catholic and Independent school systems. The survey explored reading, writing, listening, speaking and viewing, for in-school and out-of-school leisure, study and work activities with information also collected on various background variables such as language spoken at home.

Phase 3 comprised two parts: data collection, and expert analyses. The major source of data for the study was video recordings of the literacy/learning environment as experienced by a sample of students from four schools, two from Queensland and two from New South Wales, with representation of metropolitan and rural sites. In video recording, the student was not the object of the video but, in effect, was understood as a 'studentcam' for capturing the literacy demands of the delivered (as distinct from official) curriculum. Various classroom artefacts related to the students' schooling experiences were also collected.

For the data analyses for Phase 3, four-hour segments of video data were compiled for analyses by experts who presented different theoretical and methodological approaches to the data. The results of these analyses are summarised in the report with the original analyses to be published in full in a monograph.

Overall, the findings of our data and analyses include general principles for literacy demands of the post-compulsory curriculum, issues concerning the teaching-learning relationship and specific findings related to assessment issues. Some of these findings include:

The nature of literacy demands varies from subject to subject

Student and teacher actions and interactions Impact of assessment on literacy demands More specifically, our findings note the need to consider issues relating to 'curriculum literacies' whereby the multimodality and complexity of the literacy demands for students as they undertake each subject and as they move from subject to subject must be explored.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE NATIONAL PLAN

The National Plan (DEETYA, 1998) emphasises the importance of participation in education and its relationship to literacy development. The National Plan also states that 'if children have not met appropriate literacy and numeracy standards by the end of primary school, they are unlikely to make up the gap through the rest of their schooling'. A major finding of our study was that despite the high and multiple literacy demands of post-compulsory schooling, which we defined as 'curriculum literacies', we found little evidence of systematic instruction and scaffolding of these literacies in Years 11 and 12. In general, where such supportive instruction did occur, it was seen in subjects other than English.

Therefore, while we do not necessarily endorse that all appropriate literacy and numeracy standards can be attained by the end of primary school, and would in fact agree that many of the curriculum-specific literacy and numeracy demands of secondary studies cannot be contextualised by students until they are studying in those areas, we do believe that further attention needs to be paid to developing learning in curriculum literacies in the middle years of schooling, lower secondary schooling (up to and including Year 10) and in senior secondary schooling.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PRIORITIES

In the report we make a number of recommendations for professional development, the most significant of which are repeated here.

As a first priority, we recommend that funding be provided for professional development of teachers across systems and across all subject specialisations to increase (i) their understandings of the literacy demands of syllabus documents, and (ii) their understandings of curriculum literacies in their areas of specialisation.

We recommend the following types of professional development as preferred activities for optimising teacher engagement with considerations of syllabus documents and curriculum literacies:

In addition, we recommend that professional development be undertaken with syllabus and curriculum developers so that they can structure curriculum documents to focus on active student engagement in tasks rather than transmission of knowledge and also ensure that documents include reference to and strategies for relating out-of-school experiences and in school practices.

KEY RESEARCH PRIORITIES

In the report we make a number of recommendations regarding future research directions, the most significant of which are reproduced here. We recommend that:

CONCLUSION

We consider that this study has addressed a significant area of literacy and identified that previous considerations of curriculum literacy and literacy across the curriculum have been too simplistic to assist learning. Through this research we have been able to identify that there are multiple literacy demands on students in their senior schooling, demands which interact in very complex ways. This study has only been able to go part of the way in elaborating the precise nature of these demands and this must now be undertaken in future work.

We also consider that through the conduct of this study we have demonstrated the value of a multitheoretical and multi-disciplinary approach, not just to this body of data based on authentic classroom practice, but to all research. In education today, we have many theories on which we can draw. We believe this study has shown that it is important to see these theories not as competing but as able to provide a synergy of interpretations and frameworks that enrich educational research. Hence we strongly encourage the use of similar approaches in future educational research into literacy.

REFERENCES

DEETYA. (1998). Literacy for all: The challenge for Australian schools. Commonwealth literacy policies for Australian schools. Canberra, ACT: Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. http://www.dest.gov.au/archive/schools/literacy&numeracy/publications/lit4all.htm

Lokan, J., Withers, G., Mellor, S., Batten, M., McQueen, J. & Carthy, I. (1995). Literacy and the competencies: Potential impact of competency-based approaches on literacy curricula and assessment in schools. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research. http://www.griffith.edu.au/school/cls/clearinghouse/content_1995_competencies.html

ENDNOTE

  1. Cumming, J.J., Wyatt-Smith, C.M., Ryan, J. & Doig, S.M. (1998). The literacy-curriculum interface: The literacy demands of the curriculum in post-compulsory schooling. Canberra: DEETYA. http://www.griffith.edu.au/school/cls/clearinghouse/content_1998_interface.html

Contact details: Associate Professor Joy Cumming
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
Faculty of Education, Griffith University, Nathan QLD 4111
Phone: 07 3875 6862 Fax: 07 3875 5965
Email: j.cumming@mailbox.gu.edu.au

Please cite as: Cumming, J. J., Wyat t-Smith, C. M., Ryan, J. and Doig, S. M. (1999). The literacy-curriculum interface: Literacy demands of the curriculum in post-compulsory schooling. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 15(1), 133-139. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer15/cumming.html


[ Contents Vol 15, 1999 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 6 Jan 2005. Last revision: 10 Jan 2005.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer15/cumming.html