Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Archive for February, 2011

Indigenous literacies

Te Wananga o Aotearoa logoOn Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending Te Pae Ako Adult Literacy and Numeracy Symposium at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Porirua. The symposium was a celebration of the journey educators are taking in supporting literacy and numeracy in tauira (students), particularly in a Maori context. Excellent addresses were given by two keynote speakers (the third was unable to attend due to events relating to the Christchurch earthquake) and a range of workshops were presented by staff from various wananga and institutes of technology around the country. More than anything, energy and inspiration came from interacting with a group of people who were truly dedicated to improving learning outcomes for their tauira, particularly through empowerment in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

Indigenous literacies

I have always thought there is a lot more to literacy than reading and writing, yet these seem to almost exclusively encompass what we understand about being literate. So what does it mean to be multi-literate? Who decides? As part of his opening address, Dr Shane Edwards introduced the concept of colonial functional vs indigenous literacies, as summarised here:

Colonial functional literacies Indigenous literacies (pae ako)

Multiple literacies

It was stressed that indigenous literacies apply to everyone, and not just indigenous peoples. Also, in no way do they undermine the importance of what we have traditionally seen as the 3 Rs; multiple literacies strengthens everyone’s ability to be literate and benefit all of society. By taking a (k)new approach to science and literacy, we are valuing and developing skills from a position of strength by recognising and building on the cultural capital of each learner.

Highlights and challenges

As with any quality professional learning experience, there were a number of highlights and thinking points that emerged throughout the day, some of which provided great challenges to my own ideas about literacy, numeracy and learning. Dr Manulani Aluli Meyer, Associate Professor at the University of Hawai’i was particularly challenging and inspirational. Here are some ideas I am pondering:

  • Experience doesn’t come from words. Words flow from experience.” – Nityananda. How often to we value the written (or spoken) word over experiencing something first hand? Why does education seem to reflect and promote this?
  • An over-reliance on literacy will be the downfall of Western society as we know it. I am still struggling with this statement. It is not undermining the value of literacy, rather its function and how we have elevated its status in Western society.
  • Language is the medium in which understanding occurs … understanding only occurs in interpretation.” – Gadamer. Merely speaking or writing means little unless it is understood.
  • Context is within. Content is external.” – Roxanne Kala. Without an authentic and meaningful context, knowledge is simply external and short term.

Courses are dead

I love that title! ūüėÄ

I have been reading and re-reading parts of Informal Learning by Jay Cross. Naturally, a heading such as Courses are dead is going to be provocative, partly because it is such a blanket statement, but also because there is an element of truth in it. Cross is referring to courses as the solution to corporate training, often simplistically seen as an easy way to upskill staff and meet learning needs in one go.

When I first started teaching by distance, I attended a full day training workshop about the technicalities of using Blackboard as a learning management system. Making the move from classroom teaching to online distance learning was a challenge I was both anxious and excited about. However, I became increasingly uneasy during the training day when learning was referred to as ‘developing a course’. I was going to be teaching Y3-4 students; they don’t take courses! It became clearer that course was the technical term used to describe whatever we were teaching. It took several years of using different terminology, namely programme of learning, to start seeing a shift in how staff thought about their teaching and, as a result, their students’ learning.

Pill bottle imageThis year, the New Zealand tertiary education sector is charged with the task of embedding literacy and numeracy strategies into all level 1-3 courses. Embedding explicitly involves not sending students off to complete an external course then come back with their learning needs ‘fixed’, leaving them ready for the ‘real’ learning they are enrolled for. True, they are invariably still participating in a course of learning, but hopefully the embedding strategy will help address students’ learning needs in a more holistic manner rather than ‘popping a learning pill’ of sorts.

I believe the same concept applies for professional learning in the workplace. Expecting staff to attend a series of courses pre-determined by management might not be the best way to address individual or personalised learning needs, nor recognise prior learning and experience. Establishing a baseline of essential knowledge and skills for all staff to demonstrate can be a helpful way to approach professional learning as long as there is enough flexibility to be able to effectively customise elements of the programme. I am in the process of developing a professional learning programme that is online and modular, with components that are interchangeable and based on an inquiry based learning approach. The framework consists of modules from six strands and is grounded in reflective practice. It’s early days yet, but it is very exciting developing a model which I believe will explore in depth and strengthen the fundamental knowledge and skills required for successfully teaching in our learning environment. Watch this space!

The demise of bookshops

Book pile animationWe woke to the news this morning that REDGroup, the Australian company which owns Whitcoulls and Borders bookshops in New Zealand, is in voluntary administrationnot quite liquidation, but the situation probably raises the same questions and concerns from the general public. As a bookworm, my first reaction was one of shock. How could such a substantial and well-known supplier of books be in trouble? It doesn’t seem so long ago that Dymocks, an arguably better book retailer, also shut up shop in central Wellington. And, what does this mean for people who have gift vouchers – are they still valid?

My own personal reading journey has been constant throughout my lifetime. As an avid reader, I always have several books on the go and more ready ‘just in case’ I finish a book and am caught short without another to go on with. Although I love all things digital and have dabbled in apps which allow me to read books on my iPod touch, the ‘real thing’ is my first preference. Apart from the ‘curl up in bed with a book’ feel good factor, I prefer to read large amounts of text¬†in print. However, I’m not much of a book buyer. I borrow¬†books extensively¬†from libraries (and friends),¬†as the cost of feeding my reading addiction at ~$30-35 a time is simply not financially viable for me. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. When comparing the cost of buying books in New Zealand compared to somewhere like the UK or US, it’s no wonder that bookworms turn to Amazon or The Book Depository, who can ship a book to your home for far cheaper than buying it¬†from a local retailer (who may or may not have it in stock or even available in their catalogue). I have spoken to bookshop owners who agree that their business has been hurt by online trading and see it as a sign of the times.

Bookshelf animationShould traditional bookshops be more proactive in responding to consumer demand in order to maintain their place in the market? Think about it: a similar thing happened in the music industry with record and CD stores and chains going under after MP3s and suppliers like the iTunes store really took off. Sure, listening to music on my iPod does not give me the same experience as playing a CD or record on a stereo with surround sound, but I am able to make personal selections what I listen to and when from the comfort of my work desk. The same goes with buying books; book buyers have access to literally any book they want when shopping online and are not restricted to what is simply available in store.

So, although I am definitely sad at the potential demise of another book seller, I’m not overly surprised. Perhaps this is a sign that¬†how we read has more of an influence on the book retail industry¬†than what we read or whether we read at all?