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Since 1997, adult literacy education has been of increasing interest to UK policy makers amid perceptions/claims of a causal relationship between attainment in literacy and positive economic participation, social inclusion, and life chance transformation. However, research in the field of literacy studies suggests that many prisoners who identify as beginner readers, report feeling alienated by formal education failing to take sufficient account of the social identities learners bring to their learning or how they want to use literacy to bring about change in their lives. This has resulted in deficit models of the prisoner as learner that impose ‘spoiled educational identities' and fail to engage prisoners as active, agentic participants in their learning. In this article, the authors draw on data produced in the qualitative phase of a year-long study across the English prison estate of Shannon Trust's prison-based reading plan, to explore alternative approaches to prison literacy education that challenge the traditions of formal education and put learner identity and aspiration at the heart of the beginner reader learning process. The qualitative phase of the project involved twelve focus groups across eight prison settings and included 20 learner, and 37 mentor participants engaged in the Shannon Trust peer-reading programme. The authors listen closely to the voices of learners and mentors describing their experiences of peer to peer learning and plug in Anita Wilson's concepts of educentricity and third space literacies to read participants' experiences of formal and informal literacy education. They make use of this analysis to identify and describe a ‘grounded pedagogy' approach that pays attention to learning as social practice and enables prisoners to re-imagine themselves both as learners and social actors and to begin to connect their learning to self-directed desistence identity building. The authors conclude with a consideration of the implications of this work for prison literacy teaching and the potential role of grounded pedagogy ideas in the development of more provocative approaches to prison teacher education.
Accepted version
A final version of this article appears in International Journal of Bias,
Identity and Diversity in Education Special Issue: Educating the
Inside Out Literacies: Learning About Literacy Learning with a Peer-Led
Prison Reading Scheme
Alex Kendall and Thomas Hopkins
Professor Alex Kendall,
Associate Dean Research, Birmingham City University, Faculty of Health Education
and Life Sciences, South Campus, Seacole Building Rm 272, Edgbaston,
Birmingham, B15 3TN.
Dr Thomas Hopkins,
Senior Lecturer, Speech and Language Therapy, Birmingham City University, Faculty
of Health Education and Life Sciences, South Campus, Seacole Building, Edgbaston,
Birmingham, B15 3TN.
Since 1997, adult literacy education has been of increasing interest to UK policy
makers amidst perceptions/claims of a causal relationship between attainment in
literacy and positive economic participation, social inclusion, and life chance
transformation. With further regard to the associations documented between low
literacy attainment and participation in criminal activity (Morrisroe, 2014; Canton et
al 2011), it is no surprise that literacy education is currently high on the UK
government’s agenda for prison reform (Coates 2016). However, research in the field
of Literacy Studies suggests that many prisoners who identify as beginner readers,
report feeling alienated by formal education which, it is argued, is too often ‘done to
them’ (Wilson 2007:192) failing to take sufficient account of the social identities
learners bring to their learning or how they want to use literacy to bring about change
in their lives. This has resulted in deficit models of the prisoner as learner that impose
‘spoiled educational identities’ and fail to engage prisoners as active, agentic
participants in their learning. In this paper, we draw on data produced in the
qualitative phase of a year long study across the English prison estate of Shannon
Trust’s prison based reading plan, to explore alternative approaches to prison literacy
education that challenge the traditions of formal education and put learner identity and
aspiration at the heart of the beginner reader learning process. The qualitative phase of
the project involved twelve focus groups across eight prison settings and included 20
learner and 37 mentor participants engaged in the Shannon Trust peer-reading
programme. We listen closely to the voices of learners and mentors describing their
experiences of peer to peer learning and plug in Anita Wilson’s concepts of
educentricity and third space literacies to read participants’ experiences of formal and
informal literacy education. We make use of this analysis to identify and describe a
‘grounded pedagogy’ approach that pays attention to learning as social practice and
enables prisoners to re-imagine themselves both as learners and social actors and to
begin to connect their learning to self-directed desistence identity building. We
conclude with a consideration of the implications of this work for prison literacy
teaching and the potential role of grounded pedagogy ideas in the development of
more provocative approaches to prison teacher education.
Adult literacy, adult learning, prisons, literacy, new literacy studies
Funding: This work was supported by a grant from the Shannon Trust
Over the last two decades, adult literacy education has been of growing interest to
policy makers in the United Kingdom (UK) as perceptions of the causal relationship
between attainment in literacy and positive economic participation, social inclusion,
and life chance transformation have become increasingly ingrained in international
discourses about education and productivity. Studies aiming to make empirical
connections between crime and education (Machin et al 2010), have prompted some
commentators to suggest that low literacy attainment might be a risk factor for
participation in criminal activity with claims from some researchers that
approximately 48% of adult prisoners have reading abilities equivalent to that of an
11-year-old (Morrisroe, 2014; Canton et al 2011). It is therefore no surprise that
literacy education is currently high on the UK government’s agenda for prison reform
(Coates 2016). However, research in the field of Literacy Studies suggests that many
prisoners who identify as beginner readers report feeling alienated by formal
education which, it is argued, is too often ‘done to them’ (Wilson 2007:192) failing to
take sufficient account of the social identities learners bring to their learning or how
they want to use literacy to bring about change in their lives. This has resulted in
deficit models of the prisoner as learner that impose ‘spoiled educational identities’
and fail to engage prisoners as active, agentic participants in their learning. We
contextualise this failure within a wider policy framework for literacy education and
draw on data produced in the qualitative phase of a year long study across the English
prison estate of Shannon Trust’s prison based reading plan to explore alternative
approaches to prison literacy education, that challenge the traditions of formal
education and put learner identity and aspiration at the heart of the beginner reader
learning process.
Adult Literacy Policy in the UK
For the last two decades, adult education policy in the United Kingdom (UK) has
been increasingly concerned with the relationship between adult literacy levels,
economic productivity and national prosperity and the need to improve the former to
better secure the latter. Such a preoccupation has not been isolated to the adult
education sector nor to the UK, and chimes with broader political interests to align the
purpose and outcomes of education with the perceived needs of the world of work. In
their work on higher education policy, Jones and Thomas (2005: 618) describe this
new emphasis as a “utilitarian turn”, in which the former (education in all its guises)
must become “increasingly receptive to developments in the latter,” foregrounding,
they argue, the economic function of education whilst back-grounding potential for
personal, social, cultural or civic benefit. The development of adult literacy policy in
the UK policy has its roots in government concerns about the UK’s performance in
the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) in 1997 (OECD, 1997). IALS had
been established in 1994 with three overall aims: to produce meaningful comparisons
between countries; to understand the relationship between literacy and economic
indicators of wealth and wellbeing; and to inform and influence policy decisions.
Following publication of the results the then Department for Education and
Employment (DFEE) commissioned Claus Moser, Chair of the Basic Skills Agency,
to produce a report on how to “tackle the vast basic skills problem in this country.
Moser’s report, A Fresh Start (DfEE, 1999) attempted to define the scale of the
problem “something like one adult in five in this country is not functionally literate”
(1999:1), its roots, “a sad reflection on past decades of schooling” (ibid) and its
consequences, “one of the reasons for relatively low productivity in our economy”
(ibid) and recommended ten elements to be taken forward in a new National Strategy
for Adult Basic Skills, including a new curriculum and a new system of qualifications.
The subsequent Skills for Life (SfL) strategy (DfEE, 2001) responded directly to
these recommendations by forcefully re-iterating the economic drivers/imperatives
identified by Moser,
Combining the effect of lower incomes, reduced productivity, poorer health
and the cost of consequential benefits and welfare services, some have
estimated the cost to the country of poor literacy and numeracy skills to be as
high as £10 billion a year. (SfL, DfEE, 2002: 5)
The strategy then defined, and regulated through subsequent legislation, ‘priority’
groups of individuals who would be the focus of SfL, the kinds of activity they were
to engage in, who would teach them, what they would be taught and the targets they
were expected to reach in terms of progression demonstrated and qualifications
gained. The priority groups were described as: unemployed people and benefit
claimants; prisoners and those supervised in the community; public sector employees;
low-skilled people in employment; and other groups at risk from exclusion, including
parents and those identified as living in disadvantaged communities. Having
characterised the ‘problem’, a framework of curricula, assessment and teacher training
were developed as prescription.
Defining literacy
Whilst ideas about literacy and the importance of its acquisition sat at the heart of the
SfL initiative working definitions remained oblique and must be ‘read’ or re-
constructed through the relationship of the strategy to the IALS tests and the
representations of literacy and literacy education that can be gleaned from the SfL
curriculum, assessment strategy and wider implementation framework. This included
a complex diagrammatic of teacher training qualifications in combination with
monitoring and inspection of ‘input’ (what teachers must know and what students
were taught) and ‘outcomes’ (what learners achieved) by multiple government
inspectorates including the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), the Adult
Learning Inspectorate (ALI) and the Further Education National Training
Organisation (FENTO), which was later replaced by two regulatory bodies Lifelong
Learning UK (LLSUK) and Standards Verification UK (SVUK).
In their critique of the IALS testing process, Barton and Hamilton describe an
emphasis on literacy as a set of skills or cognitive competencies that are transferable
across contexts;
In the study it is assumed that the meaning of literacy is contained in the text
items in interaction with the formally described information-processing
features of the task required by the test. Under this model, these meanings
should be culturally invariant and features of the wider contexts in which such
texts would normally be used are of no importance (Barton and Hamilton,
They recognise in the IALS testing regime, a manifestation of Street’s description of
literacy as a de-contextualised ‘tool-kit’, or ‘autonomous’ (Street, 1995) set of skills,
in reading, writing, speaking and listening, that once acquired, enable the holder to
‘function’ effectively across a range of contexts. Having provided the momentum for
a government response by defining the problem of adult literacy in particular terms,
we see that these ideas provide organising principles that play out both through the
Moser report and the SfL initiative that is subsequently set in motion (McDougall et al
2006, Kendall and McGrath, 2014). Crowther et al (2001) use the metaphor of the
‘literacy ladder’ to describe the models of educational practice that grow out of
‘autonomous’ model thinking. The literacy ladder describes a linear process of
‘becoming literate’ with the learner moving mono-directionally, from a deficit or
‘illiterate’ identity position at the bottom towards the promise of ‘literacy’ at the top as
they acquire skills and competencies at each rung. These skills and competencies are
represented as context neutral and universally relevant and pace and rate of
progression is managed, monitored and regulated through a progressive series of
summative, externally assessed national tests. Many exponents of this variety of
literacy link its successful acquisition to enhanced productivity and envisage benefits
both for the economy and for individual workers. “Businesses in the new hyper-
competitive global capitalism” argues Gee (2000: 46) in his critique of the New
Capitalism “march to the drumbeat of distributed systems…there is no centre. There
are no individuals. Only ensembles of skills stored in a person, assembled for a
specific project, to be reassembled for other projects, and shared” (ibid). Thus,
improving the literacy ‘levels’ of the worker comes to be seen as an essential aspect of
economic advancement and prosperity and literacy as ‘commodity’ becomes central to
a political agenda that links literacy with economic productivity (Sanguinetti 2000,
Gee 2000).
These ideas are rehearsed and reproduced in a review of policy documents relating to
the prison sector in the UK, demonstrating the traction the autonomous model finds in
the sector. Here ‘autonomous’ ideas re-surface in both the underpinning rationale for
the Offender Learning and Skills Service in 2008 and the Coates review of prison
education in 2015:
The proposition is a straightforward one: ensuring offenders have the
underpinning skills for life...and have developed work skills, will enable them
to meet the real needs of employers in the area where they live or will settle...
(DIUS, 2008)
The importance of core employability skills, such as communication and
reliability, as well as basic skills such as literacy, has been identified by
research with employers who take on former offenders. Many employers…say
that the ability of individual prisoners to present appropriately, be organised,
accept and provide feedback in a positive way, and engage constructively with
colleagues is an important factor in their hiring decisions. (Coates, 2016:54)
Conceptualisations of both prisoners as learners and literacy as a strategy and context
for learning are closely bound within what Olssen and Peters describe as a broader
political turn informed by the tenets of neo-liberalism: the self-interested individual;
free market economics; commitment to laissez faire regulation of markets; and
commitment to free trade (Olssen and Peters, 2005). Within this paradigm, they argue,
the role of the state is to create “the conditions, laws and institutions” (2005:214), the
very conditions of possibility, for ‘the market’ to persist in the terms outlined above.
As such, education as a state funded technology of marketisation, becomes a locale
for the creation of “enterprising and competitive entrepreneur[s]” (Olssen and Peters,
2005: 315).
What is especially significant for the purposes of this paper, is the kinds of learning
encounters and transactions that manifest for ‘priority groups’, most especially those
in prison and secure settings, as neo-liberal subjects and recipients of ‘autonomous’
literacy education.
‘Priority Group’ Learner identities
We have discussed elsewhere (Kendall and McGrath 2014) the relative positioning of
teachers and learners within a literacy ladder model and the limiting roles and
identities that such a model makes available to each. Within such a model teachers,
we have argued, are seen as experts situated at the ‘top of the ladder,’ their literate
identities produced and reified through achievement of qualifications. Students, by
contrast, are positioned at the bottom of the ladder with inexpert ‘illiterate’ identities
and must be guided upwards by teachers. In this transaction, Brass argues, learning is
defined in “technical and behavioural terms” with the teacher taking up a “manager of
learning” role (Brass, 2014:122) concerned with “classify[ing] and diagnos[ing]
populations of workers and the potential risks in managing them. Discourses of
efficiency and quality, for example, regularize academic practice, narrowly defining
values and successes to render them measurable. (Davies & Bansel, 2010, p. 7 cited in
Brass 2014:122). This resonates closely with Malcolm and Zukas’ much earlier
description of the teacher as ‘psycho-diagnostician:
…the role of the teacher is firstly to diagnose the learners’ needs, for example
by identifying or taking into account learning styles or skills, or other
individual predispositions…Secondly, the teacher must facilitate their learning
by using techniques, tools and approaches which meet those needs.’ (Malcolm
& Zukas 1999:3)1
‘Teacher’ and ‘Learner’ are understood to have entirely different (binary) relationships
with literacy expertise, expert and inexpert respectively. However, these are not
simply neutral categories and the inexpert literacy identity is represented pejoratively,
in some way ‘spoiled’ in its otherness to a more successful literate, preferred
alternative. Street has called this the ‘great divide theory’:
…illiterates are fundamentally different from literates. For individuals this is
taken to mean that ways of thinking, cognitive abilities, facility in logic,
abstraction and higher mental operations are all related to the achievement of
literacy: the corollary is that illiterates are presumed to lack all these qualities,
to be able to think less abstractly, to be more embedded, less critical, less able
to reflect upon the nature of the language they use or the sources of their
political oppression. (Street, 1995: 21)
This conceptualisation surfaces in the characterisation of ‘illiterates’ in recruitment
campaigns where we are invited to recognise a ‘stumped’, ‘anxious’, ‘panicky’ (LSC
Black Country Move On campagin, 2004) adult, or a threatening gremlin on their
shoulder (see SfL Gremlins campaign) continually on the cusp of exposing a
‘spoiled’, ‘illiterate’ identity for which they must feel shame and work with teachers
to ‘fix’ (Kendall and McGrath 2014).
Literacy, Identity, Criminality: Prisoners as Literacy Learners
The ‘problem’ of prisoner literacy is most often informed by large-scale reviews that
tend to draw significantly on the kinds of discourses about literacy and learners
described above. Making use of the approaches to assessing and testing literacy
favoured by the OECD, and critiqued by Barton and Hamilton, large-scale
quantitative studies undertaken over two decades have repeatedly reported concerns
about prisoners’ attainment in literacy. In 1998 analysis of outcomes of initial
diagnostic assessments designed for 9-10 year olds suggested that “60% of prisoners
had problems with literacy and 40% has severe literacy problems” (Clark and
Dugdale, 2008). Similarly, in 2002, the Social Exclusion Unit reported that 80% of
prisoners had writing skills at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old child; the
equivalent figure for reading is 50% (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002:6). In 2008, a
Prison Reform Trust (2008) study suggested 48% of prisoners had a reading level at,
or below, Level 1 (the expected national school leaving level, GCSE, for 16 year olds
in England is level 2). In 2015, the Prisoners Education Trust (PET) reported analysis
of the then newly released government data sets on prison literacy,
In the first set of comparable figures for over a decade, the government has
published data revealing that 46% of people entering the prison system have
literacy skills no higher than those broadly expected of an 11 year old child.
This is three times more than the 15% of people with similar skills levels in the
adult population generally” (PET, 2015).
This contrast between the literacy skills of prisoners and the general adult population
has led to intense scrutiny of the relationship between ‘illiteracy’ and crime,
particularly as the prison population has risen by on average 3.6% since 1990 in
(Berman, G. and D. Aliyah 2013 cited in Morrisroe, 2014). Reviewing a decade of
literature on the relationship between literacy and crime Morrisroe concludes that
‘low literacy’
holds a relationship with crime because it exacerbates risk factors
associated with offending: negative experiences of education, exclusion and
truancy, poor attainment and poor employment outcomes all hold a
relationship with poor literacy skills. This perspective also takes into account
that low literacy narrows opportunities available to young people and
contributes to outcomes that are associated with offending behavior”
Whilst this perspective resists assertion of a simple causal relationship between
literacy and crime and captures a wider spectrum of conditions that might combine to
influence offending behavior, the autonomous model of literacy binaries, ‘presence or
absence’, ‘privation or abundance’, ‘high or low’, nevertheless persists.
Pulling together the ideas discussed above, a number of important ideas converge to
create public discourse, what Gee (2011) might call Big D discourse, about prisoners,
literacy and identity: that literacy can be isolated and defined as a skill set and
measured to create meaningful distinctions between illiterate (deficit and spoiled) and
literate (sufficient and profitable) identities; that the individual is responsible for
becoming literate; that literacy learning needs are technical and can be diagnosed and
learning solutions, managed by teachers, can be prescribed; that the ‘problem’ of
prisoners’ ‘illiteracy’ is a persistent and highly visible one; that illiteracy and crime
are relational in some way; and finally that fixing illiteracy will help fix crime. At the
centre of these ideas, positioned at the nexus of illiterate and criminal identities, is the
(projected) individuated but spoiled neo-liberal subject, the illiterate prisoner, unable
to achieve social and economic inclusion in the heavily marketised context of a post-
release world of work. The responsibility of the state is to provide a ‘fix’ but the
responsibility of the ‘illiterate’ is to participate in a process of skills acquisition so that
s/he is better equipped to take up an economically productive ‘included’ (normalised,
unspoiled) identity. Clark and Dugdale’s 2008 review of the role of literacy in
offending behaviour, Literacy Changes Lives, draws on evidence from the Ipsos Mori
Crime and Punishment Study to illustrate the degree to which this Big D discourse has
become assimilated into a popular public psyche. Two thirds of the Ipsos Mori
respondents, they reported, believed that under-18s who have offended and who
cannot read, should receive compulsory education rather than custody (2008:6).
Whilst a preference for teaching over punishment might be considered a progressive
response, the endurance of ‘the problem’ of prisoner ‘illiteracy’ coupled with a rising
prison population and a stubborn re-offending rate for adults released from custody of
46% (MoJ, 2016), questions the efficacy and impact of the ‘fix’ that was set in motion
by SfL policy to engage meaningfully with the ‘problem’ of this particular ‘priority
Getting critical – re-thinking literacy, re-thinking prisoner identity
Clark and Dugdale’s (2008) review of the role of literacy in offending behaviour
cautions against ‘overstating’ a link between literacy and criminal behaviour (2008:3).
Bringing together evidence from Australia, Sweden and the UK they argue that whilst
prisoners’ literacy levels are lower than the general population, the prison population
is not representative of the general population. Prisoners tend to be young males from
low socio-economic groups and when compared with these specific groups literacy
levels are shown to be similar. The authors challenge what they see as over simplistic
linking of unemployment and offending arguing for more nuanced understandings of
how unemployment might contribute to the social and economic conditions of crime.
Rejecting literacy as a panacea for crime prevention they suggest that studies of
prisoner literacy merely affirm the existence of wider social challenges that exist for
particular sections of the UK population, “it should not be forgotten that if prisoners
represent a section of society, it is a section with acute and often ignored needs”
(Clark and Dugdale 2008:9). This assertion is supported by recent analysis of the
Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC) data sets that
have replaced the OECD’s IALS benchmark assessment tests. This work draws
attention to the relationship between attainment in literacy and social and economic
The primary source of inequality in educational opportunities lies in the
unequal access to a range of resources that exists between families of different
backgrounds. As a general predictor of adult skills, education affects literacy
directly and it is strongly associated with skills use. Education likewise plays
an important role in mediating the effects of family origin on an individual’s
career and literacy. Even after controlling for all the other variables in the
model, the use of skills at home and in the workplace still has a notable effect
on literacy. This points to some evidence regarding the consequences for skills
of long, sustained periods of high unemployment (Scadurra and Calero,
These claims resonate with the ideas drawn from the New Literacy Studies (NLS),
which offer an alternative to the autonomous model and the restrictive binaries that it
makes available for prisoners and their literacy identities. Researchers working within
this alternative paradigm treat language and literacy as ‘social practice’ rather than
technical skills learned exclusively in formal education. This orientation argues Street
“requires language and literacy to be studied as they occur naturally in social life,
taking account of the context and their different meanings for different cultural
groups” (2001: 17). Barton and Hamilton’s (1998:7) five tenets offer a useful
summary of the principles that underpin this position.
Literacy is best understood as a set of social practices; these can be inferred
from events which are mediated by written texts.
There are different literacies associated with different domains of life.
Literacy practices are patterned by social institutions and power
relationships, and some literacies become more dominant, visible, and more
influential than others.
Literacy is historically situated.
Literacy practices change, and new ones are frequently acquired through
processes of informal learning and sense making.
(Barton and Hamilton, 1998:7)
Central to NLS is the idea that literacy is not a context free, technical skills-set but a
range of practices (plural literacies) deeply embedded in social and cultural
interactions. Learners may bring their own definitions about literacy to the classroom
space that reflect their participation in ‘non-school’ contexts and are quite likely to be
‘literate’, in varying ways, in specialist domains outside the classroom. Adult learners
are recognised as experiencing functioning adult lives that involve participation in a
variety of communities of practice that in turn, mediate literacies (acting in and on the
world) and texts. This perspective politicises literacies and make it possible to begin
to see how social identities, race, class, gender etc., intersect to position individuals in
(positive or negative) relation to more or less powerful literacies, for example
standard forms of English language or the ‘schooled’ practices that must be
demonstrated in statutory assessment tests in English in the UK at the ages of seven,
eleven and sixteen (Peim 1996, Bennett et al 2012, Kendall & McGrath 2014).
Through the NLS lens then it becomes impossible to identify, isolate and ‘test’ a set of
technical skills that are discrete from a more holistic notion of reading and writing
practices. Drawing attention to the complexity of practice participation, Pardoe &
Ivanic (2007) identify nine aspects of a literacy practice: topics and issues; purpose;
audience; style and design; flexibility and constraints; roles; identities and values;
modes and technologies; actions, processes and interaction; collaboration and use of
sources. This helps clarify the distinction made between the autonomous and NLS
lenses, that rather than skills exercised by individuals in isolation, literacy is always
already context bound the “listener/reader, speaker/writer are seen not…an isolated
individual, but as…social agent, located in a network of social relations, in specific
places in a social structure” (Kress: 1990:5). This closes down as unhelpful the
‘literacy ladder’ metaphor of literacy expertise identified above and opens the
possibility that an individual (teacher or learner) might be expert in one domain of
practice and inexpert in another. Teachers similarly are sometimes expert and
sometimes not. As Smith contentiously suggests “…professionals…who do not read
and write anything outside of work-related material should perhaps not be called
literate; if they’re not working they don’t read and write. (Smith 1989: 354). Teachers
will not, cannot and neither is it desirable that they should, seek to ‘know’ all that it is
possible to know about the broader field of multiple literacies and thus they must
become researchers and learners within this field, acknowledging and exploring the
literacy profiles of learners and they ways in which they may be expert in their life-
world literacy domains. Malcolm and Zukas refer to this kind of teacher as a ‘critical
practitioner’, a model that contrasts with the practitioner as psycho-diagnostician
discussed above:
The educator as critical practitioner…adds a critical, social, political or
ideological dimension on the process of reflection. In this sense it takes the
process beyond the psychological and interpersonal, locating the practitioner in
a social and, to varying degrees, political context. (1999:2)
Indeed, the two models can be seen as two ends of a continuum of ‘ways of knowing’
(Malcolm and Zukas 1999b: 2) about educational processes/practices and thereby, of
what it means to be literate. Furthermore Street argues,
if language is always contested, negotiated and employed in social interaction
then the appropriateness of particular uses and interpretations have likewise
to be opened to debate. It becomes impossible to lay down strict and formal
rules for all time, and the authority of particular users – whether teachers,
grammarians or politicians – become problematised. We all, as it were, take
possession of language again rather than being passive victims of its
entailments” (Street, 2001:19).
As such, an NLS perspective problematizes the idea of a fixed and ‘spoiled’ ‘illiterate’
identity. Informed by NLS, Wilson has developed the concepts of ‘third space
literacy’ and ‘educentricity’ to help think through prisoners’ relationships with literacy
and literacy education in the specific context of prison.
Wilson uses the idea of ‘third space’ to understand the spaces prisoners create and
sustain (Wilson chooses the term ‘defend’) between the powerful and pervasive
‘inside world’ practices that represent the constant presence and authority of the
security regime, (to which prisoners are inevitably subject whether they choose to
inhabit those identities or not) and the personal practices that link to and extend out of
the social cultures of ‘outside world’ identities and communities and which prisoners
may be keen to assert and protect:
On the one hand, prison tries to push prisoners into an institutional space
which prioritizes institutional literacy, while, on the other hand, prisoners
resist by defending their personal space with contextualized literacies that
carry the traces of outside world practices and activities. From what appears
to be a no-win situation, the tension is resolved by the selective amalgamation
and colonization of institutional space and situated literacy/ies which both
constitute and are constitutive of a third space (Wilson 2000:70)
Creating, occupying and ‘defending’ third space, Wilson contends, is an important act
of controlled choice that enables prisoners to forge a sense of self and identity that
makes it possible for them to create little d ‘figured worlds’ (Gee 2011) that enable
them to see themselves as more than just ‘prisoners’. The notion of agency, of taking
back and asserting some form of personal choice, influence or control is just as
important, Wilson argues, in relation to how prisoners experience Education in prison.
She uses the term ‘educentricity’ to describe the positions individuals or groups take
up in relation to Education – the collection of ideas, concepts, values and attitudes that
define their meaning making (little d ‘world figuring) about Education and inform the
ways they position themselves (and indeed the ways they are positioned by others) in
relation to it. Educentricity in her words is
the way in which certain groups or individuals position education within the
parameters of their own personal and professional experiences which then go
on to influence the opinions, perceptions and understandings of the education
of others – who are of course doing the same thing! From this position each
group or person compares and contrasts, judges and assesses the position and
meaning of education in other worlds, using their own experience as a
yardstick by which to measure others (Wilson 2007: 192)
Thinking with ‘educentricity’ enables an exploration of how prisoners may experience
education in the prison context. For many prisoners, Wilson argues, “education is
something that has been done to them, taken away from them, imposed, ordered,
required. It is an experience that stays with them, something by which they are
judged, something by which they critique their own ability and something that goes
on to influence the way they perceive themselves long after their involvement with
the school system and something which subsequently forms the basis of their
educentric position.” (Wilson, 2007: 191) Thus, they may take up an educentric
position that is suspicious or sceptical of the motives of formal education – which
works with a very different educentricity - and its capacity to respect or reflect their
world-view and aspirations. Wilson does not however advocate uncritical acceptance
of the version of educentricity invoked by many prisoners, indeed she suggests that to
“support only the negative educentricity of prisoners towards education – such as poor
spelling, bad hand writing, non-affirmative experiences” would be a disservice that
fails to offer a “chance to see education as something much broader that can be
interesting and useful.” Neither does she feel it productive to install or impose an
alternative educentric position, for example that held by practitioners or policymakers,
this she suggests may represent an equal disservice “in a world swamped with
qualifications, portfolios and records of achievement, do we have the right to
encourage them to believe that such will automatically negate the prison record that
they also have to carry around?” (Wilson, 2007: 198). Her solution lies at the
intersection of educentricity and third space:
where education in the conventional sense – a serious business, intent of
raising standards, core curriculum and identifiable outcomes – moves to a
place where ‘teachers treat you like individuals’…’where I can blether with
my mates’…and as a place ‘to get away from cockroaches’. It has less to do
with learning and more to do with the maintenance of a social identity.
(Wilson, 2007: 199)
For Wilson then, literacy education in the prison context is defined as practice that
combines recognition of, and respect for, the educentricity/ies that individuals bring to
learning as starting points for new learning. New learning should create ‘third space’
opportunities that enable Learners to build little d figured worlds that imagine social
identities that are both meaningful to them and useful for them.
From ‘Spoiled’ Identities to ‘Desistence’ Identities
Like the theory of multi-literacies outlined above, the concepts of third space and
educentricity emphasise the idea of mobile identities made and re-made through
participation in complex social and cultural practices. Researchers working in the
field of desistence argue that “the rehabilitation of offenders depends crucially on the
construction of a more adaptive narrative identity” (Maruna, 1997; Ward and
Marshall, 2007:280). These researchers argue that the capacity to build a ‘desistence
narrative’, to imagine new stories about who they are and who and how they might be
in the future, is vital to a prisoner’s chances of successful and sustained rehabilitation.
Successful literacy education in the prison context would therefore need to be
orientated toward supporting Learners to build new literacy identities in ways that are
sensitive to the issues described above. In accordance with this view, Wilson and
Reuss (2000) argue for the adaptation of the term ‘prisoner education’ as opposed to
prison education, to encourage a culture that regards education as an option for the
Learner to engage in agentically and one that is central to and connected meaningfully
with their preferred social and cultural practices.
What might literacy education predicated on these ideas look like? A year-long
longitudinal study of Shannon Trust’s new Turning Pages Reading Programme
(TPRP) suggests that the Shannon Trust approach may offer a starting point. Resisting
traditional binaries of expert/inexpert, normalised approaches to pacing and framing
learning and allowing learners to connect their learning to their everyday lives, the
study suggests that TPRP opens up productive spaces that provide possibilities for
third space learning.
The TPRP is a peer delivered programme through which adult prisoners support and
mentor other prisoners who self-identify as ‘struggling with reading’, with the aim of
improving their reading, usually outside the formal structures of ‘Education’ or
offender learning services and without the intervention of professional teachers. The
programme is aimed at prisoners who are reluctant to engage with classroom-based
teaching and who prefer a one-to-one approach. Learners have a minimum of five
twenty-minute sessions with their TPRP Mentor each week. Sessions are private and
Learners progress at their own pace.
The TPRP programme was commissioned by Shannon Trust in 2013 and is designed
specifically for adult learners. TPRP is underpinned by a synthetic phonics approach
and is attuned to the needs of adults learning to read in the nuanced context of a
prison setting. TPRP comprises five stand-alone manuals and thirty Readers matched
to manual levels. Readers include fiction and nonfiction and include mentor generated
content. There is no element of formal assessment before or during the reading
programme and all Learners progress through the manuals in a defined order.
Although being primarily a reading programme, the manuals also facilitate elements
of comprehension and writing development. On completion of each manual the
Learner receives a certificate.
This paper draws on the qualitative dimension of a twelve-month national study of the
TPRP in use across all regions of the English prison estate. The study, undertaken
independently by Birmingham City University, made use of a mixed methods
approach and was undertaken in two phases. Phase one of the study sought to explore
reading gains made by learners over a sixth month period across 30 of England’s 49
adult prisons. This drew on an autonomous model of literacy to judge learning gains
and made use of quantitative methods in the form of pre-validated tools that measured
skill acquisition (WIAT II; Wechsler, 2005). Phase two made use of an NLS
approach to understanding effectiveness and focused on Learners’ and Mentors’ self-
expressed perceptions (Gee’s figured worlds) of how they felt working with TPRP had
impacted on their capacity to act in and on the world, both in relation to their
experience of life in prison and their aspirations for the future. In total, 57 prisoners
(20 Learners and 37 Mentors) at eight prisons participated in phase two of the study in
a combination of individual, paired and focus group interviews. This included
participants from all types and categories of prison except high security.
Ethical approval was sought and gained from the University ‘s Health and Life
Sciences ethics committee in addition to the National Offender Management Service
(NOMS). This included permission granted by prison governors to record interviews
to enable transcription and analysis.
Thinking with Theory
To analyse the data we ‘plugged in’ (Jackson and Mazzei, 2013) theoretical thinking
tools from critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992; Gee, 2011) to explore the
‘little d’ (Gee 2011) figured worlds, that is to say the “socially and culturally
constructed ways of recognising particular characters and actors and actions and
assigning them significance and value” (2011:205), participants constructed as they
shared their experiences of how working with TPRP had impacted on their capacity to
act in and on the world, and the ways these accounts played in and out of the Big D
discourses explored above. We also drew on thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke
2006) to help explore Learners’ and Mentors’ self-expressed perceptions of how
working with TPRP had impacted on their capacity to act in and on the world, both in
relation to their experience of life in prison and their aspirations for the future.
Learners and Mentors reflected thoughtfully on the role that the TPRP scheme had
played, and or continued to play, in helping them to exercise some form of agency in
relation to their experience of prison and their hopes and aspirations for the future. In
their talk participants often mobilised discourses of change representing the success
they achieved with TPRP as a catalyst for (world) figuring new narratives of self,
identity narratives that enabled them to be, or imagine a future self, differently: a
better parent; better prepared for work; or more capable of making independent
choices. Here we illustrate these themes with extract from the data.
Becoming a better reader
Learners shared, and were motivated by, a common understanding that becoming a
better reader would enable them to act in and on the world in new ways. For male
participants this was most often related to aspirations relating to work:
If you can’t read you can’t get nowhere in life you know, you’ll just be on the
dole for the rest of your life, I don’t want to be like that, I want to do
something with my life now, I want to change for the better not for the worst
you know, I’ll take as much of this as I can whilst I’m in jail and it’s better for
me, I don’t care what people think about us I just wanna better myself you
know and this is a step in the door sort of thing you know what I mean?
Progress (L)
Whilst female participants identified a much wider range of perceived benefits
relating to developing parenting roles, maintaining relationships with friends and
family on the outside, intellectual challenge and increased independence: -
Now I can help my kids with their reading because before when they asked me
I wouldn’t have known how to and obviously for me to get jobs and that it’s
helped me really a lot (L, female)
To…read my own letters from family because I don’t have phone calls really
and it’ll help me to read my own letters and not depend on someone else to
read my letters for (L, female)
However, some male Learners also identified with the perceived benefit learning to
read would have for their parenting and the relationship with their children: -
I’ve got a daughter and I can use this to sit down with her, just sit with her
read to her and actually help her with her homework (L, male).
The idea of not having to “depend on someone else” extended beyond the purely
practical and, whilst the number of female Learners in the study was very small their
conceptualisations of independence are worthy of further exploration in terms of the
insights they offer about reading, identity and social interaction and the magnitude of
the personal, social and emotional investment Learners might be making when they
sign up to TPRP. Contributions made by one particular learner, Alice, illustrate this.
Alice had recently completed all five TPRP manuals and brought her certificates to
the focus group. She was relatively young, in her mid to late twenties and a mother.
She indicated elsewhere in her contributions that this was not her first experience of
prison: -
Erm work obviously helping children with their homework and day to day
things, like there’s a lot of things you’ve got to read before you can do it so
like cooking instructions erm say if you’re travelling…you need to be able to
read right from wrong really
In the first quote the Learner moves quickly from the pragmatic benefits of
negotiating and participating in the world more efficiently, helping with homework,
following recipes, travelling around, to a more fundamental, conceptual idea of
reading the world that she describes as ‘read[ing] right from wrong. For Alice the idea
of interpreting the textual world directly without the mediation of others seemed like
something that had become, perhaps relatively recently, important to her.
Yeah I think independency [sic] is one of, like a good word for it as well
because it’s good to have your own independence not rely on other people and
that’s what I’ve had to do quite a bit, rely on other people helping me when I
need it which now I still have to make sure I’m right but I feel a lot better in
myself cos I ain’t gotta keep asking other people because I’m quite an
independent person.
For Alice working successfully with TP and TPRP ropened up opportunities to act
agentically and to recognise and represent herself as the independent person she felt
herself to be, to make claim to an independent identity. Here she talks about how her
growing confidence around taking decisions and acting on her own initiative, albeit
tentatively, had changed not only the way she worked but the nature of her interaction
with colleagues at work;
I work in Stitch in Time and we have to make bags but when we work at
lunchtime we can make other things and you have to read the instructions and
how to do it and next steps and I have to still ask for help, but that’s because I
don’t want to read it and [find out] I’m doing it wrong because it’s a lot of
work otherwise but erm yeah but otherwise if I didn’t know how to read and I
haven’t done none of this I would have took up a lot of their time by having to
ask them ‘what’s it saying there’ but now I just read it myself and then go to
them and say am I doing it right?
so I still have to get a bit of help to make sure I’m right but it’s made my
confidence a lot better [which is] why I’m doing reading
Alice’s new experience of agency and independence was echoed by male Learners
with one describing the pleasure of reading his own letters: -
It’s not so embarrassing because before I used to go and ask people if I had a
letter can they read it for me…since I’ve been doing TPRP I can read it, I can
read it to meself so it’s private, it’s not shared
In addition, male Learners often referred to an increase in self-confidence for example
visiting the library independently, "I never thought I’d go there.”
As a result of working with TPRP, these participants appeared to have accrued new
resources (cultural capital) that enabled them to make new meanings for themselves,
independently and in ‘private’, and generate new possibilities for personal and social
action and interaction (social capital).
Previous experiences of formal education
Alice’s assessment of the gains she had made with TPRP contrasted starkly with
participants’ accounts of learning in formal adult education: -
“You feel isolated in big groups, just sat there like looking at a piece of paper
thinking I can’t do this”
I’ve been to college, outside college, but they put you in a room there and tell
you to get on with the work they don’t do like one to one and it’s easier when
you’ve got one to one work it’s better you know you need more time;
Learners described feeling lost, isolated or exposed in big groups, ill-equipped to
navigate the literacy requirements of completing forms for college and felt they had
gained very little from the experience of formal education. Some felt they had never
had a positive experience of education, whilst others felt they had wasted
opportunities in the past:
…teachers at school didn’t have time for you…I need a one on one…with a
big class I couldn’t really learn…;
I done 14 years of education and I haven’t really learnt nothing from
…when I was in school I thought I’d be the jack the lad I’d do this and I’d do
that and I didn’t want to learn but now I look back and I think I just wasted all
that time when I could have learned and I wouldn’t be in the position I am in
now stuck in here with nothing…you know what I mean…
As an outcome they drew heavily on the kinds of dominant Big D deficit discourses
discussed in detail above, to describe how their experiences of formal education had
left them feeling inadequate, “stupid” or “dumb”.
Learners on Mentors
In contrast to Learners’ descriptions of teachers they had worked with in the past
Mentors were characterized as patient, understanding and trustworthy.
They’ve got time…don’t rush at it and always time to listen…I need a one to
one…with a big class I couldn’t really learn; (L)
You gotta trust him because you can’t read and write very well (L)
That Mentors were non-judgmental, discrete and trustworthy, which seemed to be of
central importance to Learners who recognized their own potential vulnerability as
prisoners who were also literacy learners, mentors acknowledged that in some prison
environments self-improvement through education was associated with a “stigma
against knowledge [that] leave[s] some people thinking you’re like a
screwboy…you’re on side with them you’re not one of us.” As such,
many guarded the privacy of their TPRP sessions “yeah because it’s private, you
The ‘peer status’ of the mentor was also important to Learners who felt that they were
‘on the same side’ with Mentors proactively willing and able to see things from the
perspective of the adult Learner learning in a prison context:
If you’re doing it by yourself you haven’t really go the willpower to do it…
having someone there gives you that little…; (L)
They can see that you’re a bit stressed…; (L)
As such many Learners reported that working in TPRP pairs was a transformative
experience - “[My] confidence is much better…when I come in here [to the prison]
I’m really bad [sic]…”(L) that enabled them to imagine new possibilities for the
I don’t want to be in me fifties and think I could have been something…I
actually wanna be something…
When I first came in to jail I was depressed and I thought what’s the point in
learning…this is the time to do it…to progress with me reading and writing in
jail as well not just for them so that I can get a job in here, because if you
can’t read the signs in the workshop or cant fill in the forms or this that and
the other you cant get nowhere even in jail, it’s hard isn’t it.
Learners’ enthusiasm for their Mentors and the quality of the mentoring process were
matched by the effort, energy and commitment mentors seemed to invest in the TPRP
programme. The picture that emerged from TPRP interactions was a of a sensitive,
generous, informal pedagogical experience negotiated proactively between Learner
and Mentor according to their unique blend of need, knowledge, skills and concept
making around what constitutes a good learning experience. We have termed this
‘grounded pedagogy’, to capture the inductive, intuitive way Mentors, described the
way they approached the mentoring process, determined how best to respond to
individual Learners and designed pedagogical encounters without recourse to formal
teacher education or extant theory. This concept making, focused on locating and
refining practice within the social context chimes with the ‘critical practitioner’
approach (Malcolm and Zukas,1992) described above.
Developing ‘grounded pedagogies’ – towards third space pedagogies?
This focus shaped and constituted mentors world figuring about the kinds of
pedagogical encounters they wanted to make available to learners. Mentors
recognised that establishing trust with Learners was fundamental to the success of the
TPRP programme:
“If a learner can’t trust you then they’re not willing to do the work, they won’t
open up, they won’t let me in. They need to have that absolute trust that you’re
their friend or buddy and that you’re not there to take the piss out of them”
Mentors were also sensitive to the fact that Learners might be vulnerable to the
judgements and ridicule of the wider prisoner community, where dominant
educentricities might couple a willingness to learn with adherence to institutionally
preferred identities and educentricity;
I’ve got one chap who’s very, very good now and is doing extremely well in the
reading programme but if someone else is at that table with me he just shuts
up and he just can’t…he doesn’t like the idea of someone else knowing what
level he’s at because he thinks he’s struggling.
Mentors talk suggested that this might be more of a risk in the context of a male
prison environment: -
In general it’s (TPRP) quite respected because it’s a predominantly adult
prison so there’s less of that stigma against knowledge but it does er leave
some people thinking you’re like a screwboy, you’re on side with them you’re
not one of us, but that’s very rare, it has happened in the past where people
have thought that. Yeah I’ve been called that once but that was by a very
closed minded young guy who was just angry because I was trying to tell him
not to destroy something.
As outlined above Mentors understood that structuring each mentoring session to suit
the needs of the Learner was a crucial aspect of mentoring role and responsibility.
Participants discussed their decision making in relation to the words they use around
assessment and they instead refer to the progress checks that are central to the TPRP
manuals and how these checks challenge previous negative connotations that surround
assessment. The way Mentors choose to tailor feedback also illustrates this:
They get scared of the word test so we never call it a test we always call it an
assessment…just to see that we’re understanding what we’re reading… to
make sure we’re understanding what we’re reading as well as being able to
decipher what we’re reading. We can use it basically as a footstep to say, well
we’ve learned this but… (M)
Mentors also discussed what they referred to as the “comprehension problem”, their
perception that whilst TPRP supported Learners to de-code effectively supplementary
work on comprehension was required. They reported acting under their own initiative
to “add comprehension ourselves” in pursuit of an enhanced Learner experience.
Mentors’ rationales for paying close attention to comprehension shared some of the
characteristics of a social practice perspective. Their accounts made distinctions
between different sorts of activities and the different purposes and actions that might
be associated with each, for example the practice of reading for “pure enjoyment” was
contrasted with the more ‘schooled’ assessment practice of doing a “set of
comprehension questions”. Differences were expressed as a “difference of technique”.
They also recognised reading to be an active process requiring some effort on the part
of the reader to engage and make meaning, “As readers ourselves, I will sit and read a
book and I sometime think did that actually sink in?”
Whilst Mentors spoke at length about their concerns with providing high quality
support for Learners they were equally keen to assert that they did not want to foster a
culture of dependence. They offered perspectives on Learner development that
appeared to be highly attuned to Learner’s self-expressed quests for achieving greater
independence. They recognised and respected that Learners were heavily reliant on
their mentor for all the reasons discussed above but were equally as keen to encourage
Learners to adopt an independent mind-set both in relation to who mentored them and
how they approached their learning:
You’ve got to get people used to the idea that this is something that they can
continue with regardless of who’s teaching them kind of thing sort of thing:
Learning to facilitate TPRP in this way was understood to be an important aspect of
learning how to be an effective Mentor.
Whilst many Learners were very positive about the impact they felt Shannon Trust
and TPRP was having on their it is important to caution against over-statement of the
impact a reading development intervention might deliver in isolation. Castleton, like
Scandurra and Calero (2017) and Clark and Dugdale (2008) discussed above, warns
us not to background or obscure the kinds of social and economic complexities that
researchers often notice in the lives of adults and young people who have not
previously been successful in schooled literacy (Castleton, 2001). Her work reminds
us that literacy ‘deficits’ are likely to be deeply entangled with wider structural (social
and economic) inequalities and suggests that the nature of schooling, the state of the
labour market, opportunities for retraining, perceptions and treatment of mental health
and issues related to housing and accommodation for low earners are among the many
contextual issues likely to have impacted on Learners lives and access to and success
in education previously. She argues therefore that attending to literacy development
alone will not resolve the structural inequalities that may have contributed to
Learner’s trajectories to prison and suggests that these contextual factors may
continue to frame their experience beyond the prison gate.
As discussed above Wilson shares similar concerns and asks ‘how do we validate
prisoners’ abilities without necessarily drawing them back in to the educentricities of
policy and practice’ (Wilson, 2007: 198) which often position them, through a
discourse of deficit, as failing/failures. The answer Castleton suggests is to focus on
‘change’, by which she means
“how people can and want to use literacy to bring about change in their lives,
then literacy, and consequently the people looking for support, can be viewed
in a far more positive light. Emphasis is then given to what clients have, what
contributions they can make, and perhaps are making already within their
networks, rather than on what they lack. Such a framing allows for recognition
of the ways in which people use literacy as a resource shared by members of
communities of practice in which participants assume different roles for
different purposes”. Castleton (2001:66)
The data explored in this paper suggests that working with teaching and learning
strategies like those facilitated through TPRP can provide adults with starting points
for change orientations that impact significantly on their world figuring and concept
making about identity. We begin to illustrate here how important these gains are in
terms of opening up opportunities for reflection on being (who am I?) and doing (how
do I want to be in the world?) which in turn lead to new possibilities for action: being
more independent, exercising agency through decision making, working towards a
future goal. Whilst these new capacities will not resolve the structural relations that
will inevitably continue to position Learners and Mentors in social and material ways
on release they may have the potential to support greater resilience, the beginnings of
desistence identity building and a re-adjusted educentricity.
In this respect, it is possible to suggest that approaches like that adopted by TPRP,
whilst no panacea for the range and complexity of challenges Learners and Mentors
face, may begin to facilitate the kind of education (with a small ‘e’ to connote the
‘grounded’ informal, un-schooled experiences identified above), at the meeting point
of ‘educentricity’ and ‘third space’, that Wilson argues to be a necessary condition for
prisoners to reconnect with learning. TPRP does this by enabling Learners to re-
identify as learners by stepping back from deficit accounts of what they can’t do, de-
familiarise the ‘norms’ of formal Education about to how, where and when to learn,
and recognise instead the conditions within which they can be successful. As such we
argue, there are important lessons to be learned from this ‘inside’ prison approach for
teachers, mentors and other professionals working with adult literacy learners in
‘outside’ settings.
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... Being part of a community of learning serves as practice for trying out newly developed literacy and social skills within a safe environment, including the capability for selfdirected learning. In the United Kingdom, for instance, a collaborative peer-led reading program for literacy learners in prison enabled participants to re-imagine themselves as social actors and connect their learning to self-directed identity building (Kendall & Hopkins, 2019). And in the United States, collaboration in a community of church-based ESL programs empowered Latino and Asian learners to discover and acquire funds of knowledge and find their voices in the larger society (Chao & Mantero, 2014). ...
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Research in the social sciences has focused extensively on the relationship between family background, educational attainment and social destination, on the one hand, and on the processes of skills creation and skills use, on the other. This paper brings these two branches of the literature together by examining the correlation between a range of social factors. The methodology we adopt provides a comprehensive approach to the study of the channels through which literacy skills are acquired, taking into account the interrelation of family background, educational attainment, and the use of skills at work and at home. We use the Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC) dataset and apply a structural equation model (SEM). Our results show that family background and education play an important role in the configuration of adult skills and skill practices. Unequal family access to resources has a strong impact at later stages in life and strongly affects educational attainment and skills outcomes. Additionally, skills use has a positive and direct impact on adult skills.
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Summary The International Adult Literacy Survey raises a number of important issues which are inherent in all attempts to make comparisons of cognitive and behavioural attributes across countries. This paper discusses both the statistical and interpretational problems. A detailed analysis of the survey instruments is carried out to demonstrate the cultural specificity involved. The data modelling techniques used in IALS are critiqued and alternative analyses performed. The paper argues for extreme caution in interpreting results in the light of the weaknesses of the survey.
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Thematic analysis is a poorly demarcated, rarely acknowledged, yet widely used qualitative analytic method within psychology. In this paper, we argue that it offers an accessible and theoretically flexible approach to analysing qualitative data. We outline what thematic analysis is, locating it in relation to other qualitative analytic methods that search for themes or patterns, and in relation to different epistemological and ontological positions. We then provide clear guidelines to those wanting to start thematic analysis, or conduct it in a more deliberate and rigorous way, and consider potential pitfalls in conducting thematic analysis. Finally, we outline the disadvantages and advantages of thematic analysis. We conclude by advocating thematic analysis as a useful and flexible method for qualitative research in and beyond psychology.
Local Literacies is a unique study of everyday reading and writing. By concentrating on a selection of people in a particular community in Britain, the authors analyze how they use literacy in their day-to-day lives.This exploration provides a description of literacy at one point in time, and also reveals the nature and significance of communication to people, households and communities.Local Literacies, the first in-depth study of literacy, includes: * appendices of raw data * notes for teachers and students on how to use the book * guidance for carrying out individual researchLocal Literacies is both a theoretical work, and a practical book. It provides stimulating and informative reading for anyone interested in the nature of literacy today, particularly students, teachers and researchers.
This essay maps some of the ways in which the professional knowledge of English teaching has been defined and positioned in the present moment in the United States. The first part of the essay traces multidisciplinary shifts in English education/literacy research that have expanded and shifted the discursive boundaries of teacher education and ordered new ways for English educators to understand the English language arts, to structure methods courses, and to fashion themselves as teacher educators. The second part of the paper traces neoliberal policies that aim to reform teaching and teacher education through professional standards, national assessments, corporate managerialism, and free market competition. The essay then highlights some of the ways in which these discourses and practices have worked together to create new conditions of possibility in English education, to intensify old divisions in the field, and constitute new forms of professional knowledge and subjectivity. My goal is to heighten English educators' sense of this contested moment to provoke more informed and strategic engagements with the possibilities, constraints, tensions and transformations facing the English teaching professions.
Research on reading in the lifelong-learning sector has tended to focus on the attitudes, habits and practices of the recipients of further education (FE), or the practices of literacy within the cultural and contextual environments of the subjects and spaces of further education. Although teachers’ conceptualisations of literacy are often acknowledged in this work to be central to the making and shaping of pedagogical practice, little research in the sector has attended specifically to teachers’ meaning-making about literacy. This approach is well developed in other phases where relationships between teachers’ classroom practices and their attitudes and values in relation to textual experience are seen as significant. In this paper we start this work for the post-compulsory sector. The FE Literacy Teachers as Readers Project aimed to explore teachers’ discursive understandings of reading through a qualitative study of their own accounts of their reading habits and preferences, their definitions of reading and the role of reading in their classrooms. Our discussion analyses our participants’ descriptions (figured worlds) of their own and their students’ reading identities to describe the positions they take up in relation to (‘big D’) discourses about readers and reading, and to consider how this might begin to pattern and frame their classroom practice. Coming a decade after the introduction of subject-specialist qualifications for literacy teachers in the FE sector, this study offers a timely insight in to teachers’ conceptualisation of reading in the context of well-embedded professional training, and one that is particularly pertinent at a time when the statutory training model for FE is under review.
Education – and especially aspects of reading and writing – have consistently been ideologically and politically linked to the times and spaces in which they occur. Historically, groups or individuals invariably demonstrate some form of “educentricity,” that is, holding to a view of education that is based either on their own experiences or related to the perceived educational needs and experiences of those around them. It is usually based on what “we” (or “they”) think education “is” or “ought to be” and is tied strongly to the value placed upon it. Educentric points of view can be linked to the “way of the world” at almost any given point in history and have frequently been used as a way of positioning learners, including or excluding certain groups, and supporting or constraining educational progress. This chapter looks at educentricity – with a specific focus on literacy – at the beginning of the 21st century and from a primarily European perspective. More specifically it looks at the literacy-related activities and practices of one particular group – prisoners – and seeks to understand the impact of various educentric ideologies on current educational provision in prison. It is written from outside the parameters of educational research, takes an ethnographic and holistic stance towards prison life, and seeks to look at education – and reading and writing in particular – from the perspective of policy-makers, practitioners and prisoners themselves.