Change is technically simple and socially complex

I think I have driven myself mad on the topic of literacy. I do not exaggerate. The opening statement is not meant to be a rhetorical device. I mean, I just completed a sizeable pile of notes, diagram and essays which all centre around the following two questions:

  • What is the sequence of skills developed across the stages of literacy development? and
  • How do we as policy makers, teachers, parents, and community members arrange the right instruction at the right time with the right resources so learners are developing toward rich, diverse literacy practices?

I've also recently finished an online course with eminent literacy academic Catherine Snow, which was inspiring and insightful as well as being challenging for all participants.

So ... every diagram, lesson, assessment and lecture that I view, read or write appears to help resolve the above questions from me, yet at the same time these resolutions do not immediately impact on the lives of learners that I have in the forefront of my mind: the refugee children and indigenous children which I regularly have come into contact with. What we require are daily activities of challenging learning with high support that are based on a keen understanding of the learner’s developmental trajectory. 

However, this is easier said than done. As I once read (Spark, 2003), “change is technically simple and socially complex”. Doesn’t that hit the proverbial nail on the head!

So I need to remind myself of something I wrote in the essay entitled Never forget language and literacy are learned with steady guidance from others. In that essay, I told myself that there are no silver bullets, there are no quick fixes and there are no jumping the queue when it comes to the gradual development of strong language, literacy and learning practices. A learner requires instruction that is based on quality teaching with quality resources in quality spaces through quality relationships with a clear understanding of the learner’s needs. Easy! Right?

There is a certain degree of pressure to gain skills in a timely manner. And learners benefit from the time and enabling environments to gain a command of the salient features of language to build confidence in certain familiar uses of language, literacy and also numeracy before being faced with more advanced forms, content and uses. Learning language and literacy are technical achievements. Sure! Right?

But at the same time, Stanley Cavell reminds us that this learning is initially grounded in the compulsion to know and to communicate. First, he stated, ”[we] forget that we learn language and learn the world together” (Cavell, 1969, pg 19). Second, he stated “the pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world, and that what is said must be worth saying [and writing], have a point (warning, informing, amusing, promising, questioning, chastising, counting, insisting, beseeching, and so on) … If it is part of teaching to undertake to validate these measures of interest, then it would be quite as if teaching must, as it were, undertake to show a reason for speaking [writing and reading] at all.” (Cavell, 2005, pg 115)

So … these budding learners need to become skilled, practiced, knowledgable, capable, curious, trusting and confident regardless of their age. This goal is technically simple and socially complex. Or as Donaldo Macedo (2001) wrote, “reading specialists … who have made technical advancement in the field of reading … [must] make linkages between their self-contained technical reading methods and the social and political realities that generate unacceptably high failure reading rates among certain groups of students.” (pg xiii)

There are no quick fixes. There are no easy solutions. What is the way forward from here?


Cavell, S. (1969). Must We Mean What We Say?. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Cavell, S. (2005). Philosophy the day after tomorrow. In Philosophy the day after tomorrow (pp. 111 – 131). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Macedo, D. (2001) Foreword. In P. Freire, Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy and civic courage (pp. xi - xxxii). Maryland’s: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Sparks, D. (2003). Interview with Michael Fullan: Change agent. Journal of Staff Development, 24(1), 55-58.