Key Principles:

Synoptic Overview of Key Themes


“A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view ... A perspicuous representation [portrayal] produces just that understanding which consists in ‘seeing connections’." (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, #122)


The following collection of notes (in the form of quotes) provides an overview of key themes raised in the topics discussion. In short, it suggests that human language is a practice and it involves practice. Acquiring language and literacy requires mastering salient aspects of language and of the literacy code. This development is incremental and occurs best when learning is purposeful, meaningful and goal-directed. The "teacher’s" role is to help the child by arranging tasks and activities and establishing routines, habits and ways of using language and literacy. It is vital that the learner has adequate time and space as well as emotional commitment and attachment. 

We must acknowledge that all learning is conducted with others in context and that there are multiple ways of reading and writing that an individual will encounter as he or she grows into social, community and economic spheres. Teaching practitioners must be aware of the material and social factors that impinge upon an individual's success and that these factors are diverse in nature. Consequently, learning of language, literacy, practices and knowledge is a product of experience, perception, social interactions and culture, both symbolic and material.

In short, when a teacher, for instance, engages a learner in a literacy event - an act of reading and/or writing - he or she needs to consider the linguistic (or language) demands, the cognitive requirements (e.g. noticing patterns, retrieving from memory, visualising, etc), the socio-cultural practice and expectations, and the developmental appropriateness of the literacy event under investigation.


i - iii  I  iv - vii  I  viii - xi  I  xii - xiv  I  xv - xx  I  xxi - xxvii  I  Conclusion  I  References  I  Comments

Human language is a practice and it involves practice.


i. “The human language ... is not based on knowledge but on practice.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107)

    • PI 25: Commanding, questioning, storytelling, chatting are as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing.
      • “Wittgenstein is emphasizing that ... our language is part of a practice, and a practice rests on contingencies.” (Gerrard, 1996, pg 187)
        • “Without a natural environment of a certain constancy, without a shared humanity of similar needs and reactions, unless we spoke of a shared language, unless there was enough agreement, then it would be meaningless [to speak credibly].” (Gerrard, 1996, pg 192)

        "When children learn language, they are not simply engaging in one kind of learning among many; rather, they are learning the foundations of learning itself … language is the essential condition of knowing, the process by which experience becomes knowledge." (Halliday, 1993, pg. 93)

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        That practice involves attending to and mastering salient aspects of language.


        ii. “We acquire our linguistic capacities and our ability to participate in human life rather by imitation and habituation, by drill and practice … [in] such simple things as learning to direct our attention, practicing the voicing of sounds so uttering them becomes easy, establishing associations between words and objects, etc.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107)

          • “Language, which ‘did not emerge from some kind of ratiocination’ (OC 475), is grounded, rather, in practices and habits inculcated in us in childhood.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 69 - 70)
            • “‘Nothing could seem less remarkable than a one-year-old child requesting ‘More juice’ or commenting ‘Doggie gone’ ... From an ethological perspective, perhaps the most astounding fact is that something on the order of 80 percent of all Homo sapiens cannot understand these utterances at all. That is,  whereas the individuals of all non-human species can communicate effectively with all of their conspecifics, human being can communicate effectively only with other persons who have grown up in their same linguistic community.” (Tomasello, 2003, pg 1)


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            Whilst spoken language is arguable developed by all, literacy is the acquisition of a code that many take for granted.


            iii. [This is what] Vygotsky has to say about why it is not at first easy for a child to learn to write. For: Even its minimal development requires a high level of abstraction. It is speech in thought and image only, lacking the musical, expressive, intonational qualities of oral speech. In learning to write, the child must disengage himself from the sensory aspect of speech and replace words by images [or forms] of words’  (Vygostsky, 1986 p.181, emphasis in Shotter, 1996).

            • TLP 4.011: At first sight a proposition - one set out on the printed page, for example - does not seem to be a picture of the reality with which it is concerned. But neither do written notes seem at first sight to be a picture of a piece of music, nor our phonetic notation (the alphabet) to be a picture of our speech. And yet these sign languages prove to be pictures, even in the ordinary sense of what they represent.
            • Z 209: This shape that I see - I want to say - is not simply a shape; it is one of the shapes I know; it is marked out in advance. It is one of those shapes of which I already had a pattern in me; and only because it corresponds to such a pattern is it this familiar shape. (I as it were carry a catalogue of such shapes around with me, and the objects portrayed in it are the familiar ones.)
            • “As the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker eloquently remarked, “Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessary that must be painstakingly bolted on.”” (Wolf, 2008, p 19)

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            Language/literacy development is impacted by neurocognitive, linguistic, intellectual, sociocultural, political, and material factors.


            • neurocognitive:  “In [the act of reading], you engaged an array of mental or cognitive processes: attention; memory; and visual, auditory, and linguistic processes. Promptly, your brain’s attentional and executive systems began to plan how to read [a text] speedily and still understand it. Next, your visual system raced into action, swooping quickly across the page, forwarding its gleanings about letter shapes, word forms, and common phrases to linguistic systems awaiting the information.” (Wolf, 2008, p 8)
            • cognitive: “All reading begins with attention -- in fact, several kinds of attention. When expert readers look at a word (like ‘bear’), the first three cognitive operations are: (1) to disengage from whatever one else is doing; (2) to move our attention to the new focus (pulling ourselves to the text); and (3) to spotlight the new letter and word.” (Wolf, 2008, pp 145)  
            • linguistic “To become literate, children must develop the ability to decode print fluently and the skills to understand what they read; whereas decoding skills depend on phoneme awareness and letter knowledge, broader language skills are required for successful reading comprehension.” (Fricke et al, 2013, pg. 280)
            • linguistic: "When children learn language, they are not simply engaging in one kind of learning among many; rather, they are learning the foundations of learning itself … language is the essential condition of knowing, the process by which experience becomes knowledge." (Halliday, 1993, pg. 93)
            • intellectual: "Much about performing competently or expertly in any domain has to do with confronting problems that inevitably arise and resolving those problems efficiently and effectively. Strategies are the tools that we ply during problem solving. In effect, strategies can be defined as the general cognitive procedures used in task performance (e.g., predicting,  questioning, and summarizing). Strategies also encompass the monitoring or regulation of learning and performance, processes associated with metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies. (Alexander, 2005 pg. 11-12)

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            • cultural: “Our language is, after all, not the product of a free consensus among speakers; it is handed to us through the authority of parents, teachers, writers, academics, publishers, the media and finally even government.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 145)
            • social: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.57)
            • social/material: “That writing in [serving] communicative functions, is both social and material. The social aspect is perhaps seen most obviously in the writer’s concern for the reader ... [And] writing is grounded in the material world in at least three ways: the writer communicates using material objects (letters, pen, paper, word processor, internet), which in turn shape the writing; the product of writing, that is the text itself, is a material object in itself; and the text also often influences events in the material world.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)
            • political: “What if there is more than one language that lays claim to being the common medium of communication? What if the linguistic group is stratified by social and class divisions? … As with all rules of social life, we need to ask of these rules; whose rules are they? What authority do they possess? What do they demand from us? … There all kinds of institutions that regularise our everyday language (academics, textbooks, bureaucracies, churches, etc). (Sluga, 2011, page 128 to 129)
            • political: “[Being an outsider] is not simply a matter of learning the language and customs, but rather it is about finding the self in the Other, of being lost in relation to the self in a way that creates a rupture with familiar things, that shore up ontological security and identity understood as a form of self-knowledge.” -- (Peters, 2010a, pg 30)
            • political/material: "It is of paramount importance to recognize that in actual linguistic communities there is no equal access to linguistic resources. There are differences in upbringing, in schooling, in access to higher learning, and more generally in the social environment in which one leads one’s life. And these differences result in the mastery of different vocabularies and rhetorical devices; in different pronunciations, dictions, and writing styles; and in different discursive competences. It is important to note that language is not used in an abstract space of logical relations but in a social space that is structured by power relations.” (Medina, 2008, pg 99)
            • CODA #1: In the social view of language acquisition, the learner must be "a biologically and socially adept human being ... susceptible to training ... [with] fundamental trust [in] the authority of the teacher ... [engaged in] socio-linguistic interaction ... transmissible ... through enculturation" (Moyal-Sharrock, 2010, pg 6 - 7).
            • CODA #2: Any act of teaching is in some way an act of persuasion. "I can imagine a man who had grown up in quite special circumstances and been taught that the earth came into being 50 years ago, and therefore believed this. We might instruct him: the earth has long ... etc. - We should be trying to give him our picture of the world. This would happen through a kind of persuasion." (OC 262)

            This development is incremental and moves through stages. Adults must be ever vigilant and sensitive to this development.


            iv “Understanding comes in degrees.” (Klagge, 2011, pg 44)

            • “Becoming virtually automatic does not happen overnight and is not a characteristic of either a novice bird-watcher or a young novice reader. These circuits and pathways are created through hundreds or, in the case of some children with some reading disabilities like dyslexia, thousands of exposures to letters and words.” (Wolf, 2008, p 14)
            • “The first is the fact that although it took our species roughly 2,000 years to make the cognitive breakthrough necessary to learn to read with an alphabet, today our children have to reach the same insights about print in roughly 2,000 days.” (Wolf, 2008, p 19)

            v. “Every child, scrawling his first letters on his slate and attempting to read for the first time, in so doing, enters an artificial and most complicated world.”  (Hermann Hesse, Quoted by Wolf, 2008, p 79)

            • OC 473: Just as in writing, we learn a particular basic form of letters and then vary it later, so we learn first the stability of things as the norm, which is then subject to alterations.
            • CV: A script you can read fluently works on you very differently from one that you can write; but not decipher easily. You can lock your thoughts in this as though in a casket.
            • “My other vivid memory of those days centres on Sister Salesia, trying her utmost to teach the children who couldn’t seem to learn to read. I watched her listening patiently to these children’s torturous attempts during the school day, and then all over again after school, one child at a time ... My best friend, Jim, ... looked like a pale version of himself, haltingly coming up with the letter sounds Sister Salesia asked for. It turned my world topsy-turvy to see this indomitable boy so unsure of himself. For at least a year they worked quietly and determinedly after school ended.” (Wolf, 2008, p 111 - 112)
            • “To be sure, decoding readers are skittish, young, and just beginning to learn how to use their expanding knowledge of language and their growing powers of influence to figure out a text. The neuroscientist Laurie Cutting of John Hopkins explains some nonlinguistic skills that contribute to the development of reading comprehension in these children: for example, how well they can enlist key executive functions such as working memory and comprehension skills such as inference and analogy.” (Wolf, pp 131)

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            At every stage it is important to emphasise and model how language and literacy are meaningful, purposeful and about discovery.


            vi. “Through literacy, children are able to construct meaning, to share ideas, to test them, and to articulate questions ... The notion of literacy engagement is closely linked to views of children as having an active role in their own development. ” (Verhoeven and Snow, 2001, pg 4-5) 

            • “[We are] the species that reads, records, and goes beyond what went before, and directs our attention to what is important to preserve.” (Wolf, 2008, p 4)
            • “As the twentieth-century Russian psychologist Leo Vygotsky said, the act of putting spoken words and unspoken thought into written words releases and, in the process, changes the thoughts themselves.” (Wolf, 2008, p 65 - 66)
            • “In his brief life Vygotsky observed that the very process of writing one’s thoughts leads individuals to refine those thoughts and to discover new ways of thinking.” (Wolf, 2008, p 73)
            • PI 569: Language is an instrument. Its concepts are instruments.
            • “The school literacy learning of students of diverse backgrounds will be improved as educators provide students with both authentic literacy activities and a considerable amount of instruction in the specific literacy skills needed for full participation in the culture of power.” (Au, 1998, pg 312 - 313)
            • "These approaches to classroom instruction that appropriate the language and cultural knowledge of low-income and language minority students are radical departures from the textbook memorising or even experimental demonstrations found in most classrooms. Here we see students constructing literary and scientific understandings through an iterative process of theory building, hypothesis testing, and data collection. These students pose their own questions, generate their own hypotheses, and analyse their own data. These activities facilitate students' appreciation of responses that were different from their own, which Vygotskian and Piagetians alike agree is essential in learning to take the perspective of the other." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 61-62)

            vii. PI pp 208 - 209: “The substratum of this experience is the mastery of a technique … It is only if someone can do, has learnt, is the master of such-and-such, that it makes sense to say that he has this experience.

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            The teacher’s role is to help the child by arranging tasks and activities in such a way that they are more easily accessible.


            viii. “The teacher’s role is to help the child by arranging tasks and activities in such a way that they are more easily accessible.” (Verhoeven and Snow, 2001, pg 4-5)

            • "The act of teaching requires deliberate interventions to ensure that there is cognitive change in the student; thus the key ingredients are being aware of the learning intentions, knowing when a student is successful in attaining those intentions, having sufficient understanding of the students’ prior understanding as he or she comes to the task, and knowing enough about the content to provide meaningful and challenging experiences so that there is some sort of progressive development. It is a teacher who knows a range of learning strategies.”  (Hattie, 2012, pp. 19)
            • “Research suggests that a coherent curriculum helps students make achievement gains because they have time to acquire basic skills as well as the strategies needed to tackle challenging tasks (Newmann, Smith, Allensworth & Bryk, 2001) ... Success builds on success, because as students gain confidence, they are willing to work harder and can more readily learn.” (Au, 2005, pp 175)
            • "Literacy can be seen as dependent on instruction, with the corollary that quality of instruction is key. This view emphasizes the developmental nature of literacy-- the passage of children through successive stages of literacy, in each of which the reading and writing tasks change qualitatively and the role of the instructor has to change accordingly." (Chall, 1996 as referenced in Snow, 2004)

            ix. “Rules are insufficient for establishing a practice, one also needs examples. Our rules leave loop-holes open, and the practice has to speak for itself.  (Peters, 2010b, pg. 117)

              • "A socioculturally informed theory of learning entails a well-designed curriculum with the coherent learning trajectory, connections that build on students' prior knowledge and experiences, explicit instruction that involves connections between academic and everyday language, just-in-time feedback as experience is unfolding, meta-conversations about how you know what you know, activities that permit meaningful participation in the group work, and so on." (Haertel et al , 2008, pg 8)
              • "[Providing adequate opportunity to learn mean scaffolding dynamic interactions between students'] "forms of knowledge and ways of using language [from their] everyday experiences in families and communities." (Lee, 2008, pg 136)
              • Z 318: I cannot describe how (in general) to employ rules, except by teaching you, training you to employ rules.
              • “[Wittgenstein] says that his account in [Tractatus] is like a ladder that is necessary to reach a higher level of understanding that, once attained, provides a vantage point from which such ladders can be seen as flawed and unnecessary - once it has served its purpose for the ladder can (must) be thrown away ... We want to emphasise that this should be regarded as an educational argument: that it is exploring the question of how understandings and ways of seeing are changed. It has affinities with (among other things) Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. But most significant, it suggests that the means of argument and cognitive changes are (must be) extra-rational at key junctures.” (Burbles and Peters, 2010, pg 69 - 70)

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              This requires an introduction to the routines, habits and ways of using language and literacy as mediating tools.


              x. What is important in the midst of all this diversity and change, is discovering ‘the means and methods that subjects use to organize their own behavior’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p.74) 

              • OC 211: Now it gives our way of looking at things, and our researchers, their form. Perhaps it was once disputed. But perhaps, for unthinkable ages, it has belonged to the scaffolding  of our thoughts. 
              • Z 674: If in a particular case I say: attention consists in preparedness to follow each smallest movement that may appear -- that is enough to shew you that attention is not a fixed gaze: no, this is a concept of a different kind.

              xi. “What we want to focus on is people’s willingness to engage with ... activities in a particular way, thus changing ‘mere’ activities into practices where standards of excellence do matter.” - (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010 pg 196)

              • “There are important development dynamics here: the more children are spoken to, the more they will understand oral language. The more children are read to, the more they understand all the language around them, and the more developed their language becomes.” (Wolf, 2008, p 84)
              • “What is the major channel for such transmissions? What are the principles which regulate such transmissions? What are the psychological consequences and how are these stabilized in the developing child?” (Bernstein, 1964, pg. 55)
              • "[It is important to recognise] the links between events in the school and conditions in the larger society, the centrality of the teacher’s role in mediating learning, the inseparability of affective or motivational factors and academic achievement, and the connection between schooled knowledge and personal experience.” (Au, 1998, pg 304)

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              It is vital that the learner has adequate time and space for this engagement to be modeled.


              xii. “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.57)

              • “Few scholars would have been more comfortable with the importance Socrates gave to ‘living speech’ and the value of dialogue in the pursuit of development than Lev Vygotsky. In his classic work Thought and Language, Vygotsky described the intensively generative relationship between word and thought and between teacher and learner. Like Socrates, Vygotsky held that social interaction plays a pivotal role in developing a child’s ever-deepening relationship between words and concepts.” (Wolf, 2008, p 73)
              • “Here, interactive, intersubjective dialogue with more advanced peers and masters appears to be crucial.” (Gee, 2008, pp 99)
              • ”In rule-following, we join a consensus in action - a consensus grounded in the kind of training that we, as humans, can successfully undergo and the kind of training that we actually do undergo in the community in which we are reared. The consensus is grounded, as Wittgenstein puts it, in facts concerning our natural history.“ (Fogelin, 2009, pg 28)
              • “Decade after decade of research shows that the amount of time a child spends listening to parents and other loved ones read is a good predictor of the level of reading attained years later. Why? Consider more carefully the scene we just described: a very young child is sitting, looking at colourful pictures, listening to ancient tales and new stories, learning gradually that the lines on the page make letters, letters make words, words make stories, and stories can be read over and over again.” (Wolf, 2008, p 82)
              • “But here again these actual social interactions can also take the Vygotskyan form of internalised deliberations that do not apparently involve others - our deliberations seem to be entirely personal and self-determined - yet which obviously derive from previous conversations with others, in which their voices and perspectives are represented in one’s own internal deliberations. Often this dynamic is what we call ‘conscience.’” (Burbles and Smeyers, 2010, pg 180)

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              We should not underestimate the important role that emotional commitment and attachment (e.g. motivation and interest) play in the intake, uptake and embodiment of learning.


              xiii. “Another dimension of the relation that a practice encourages or discourages through different ways of learning or enacting it is how it is intertwined with our self and sense of identity, on the one hand, and our relations and ways of interacting with other people, on the other hand.” (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010, pg 196)

              • “As every teacher knows, emotional engagement is the tipping point between leaping into the reading life ... An enormously important influence on the development of comprehension in childhood is what happens after we remember, predict, and infer: we feel, we identify, and in the the process we understand more fully and can’t wait to turn the page. The child ... often needs heartfelt encouragement from teachers, tutors and parents to make a stab at more difficult reading material.” (Wolf, 2008, p 132)
              • “Without an affective investment and commitment, our words become unintelligible and empty; with that commitment words begin to show other manners of signification beyond the realm of literal meaning and correspondence.” (Krebs, 2010, pg 138)
              • “The pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world, and that what is said must be worth saying, have a point (warning, informing, amusing, promising, questioning, chastising, counting, insisting, beseeching, specifying the location of pain, and so on), then is there some question left as to whether the pupil has to find warning, informing, amusing, promising, counting, beseeching, chastising, and so on themselves worth doing? 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 at all.” (Cavell, 2005, pg 115)
              • "Although at first glance the working class students' rebellious behaviour, their low academic achievement, and high dropout rates seem to stems from lack of self-discipline, dullness, laziness, or inability to project themselves into the future, the actual causes are quite different. Their unwillingness to participate comes from their assessment of the costs and benefits of playing the game ... Peer groups, parents, and students' perceptions are three such influential mediating cultural processes, [and perceptions are affected by structural constraints and social agency]." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 57)

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              We must acknowledge that all learning is conducted with others in context and is dependent on access to tools and resources.


              xiv. “[And understand that] explicit linguistic acts take place on the background of a great deal of practical ability, and that their significance depends both on the particular circumstances in which they take place, and the broader context provided by the ‘weave of life’ (PI II.i, 174/148).” (Stern, 2004, pg 177)

              • “For activity theorists, the proper unit of analysis in studying activity, certainly including learning, is an activity system; that is, a group (”community,“ though without any connotation of people personally having to feel close to each other) of actors who have a common object or goal of activity (Cole and Engestrom 1993; Engestrom 1987). An activity system as a unit of analysis connects individual, sociocultural, and institutional levels of analysis.” (Gee, 2008, pp 89-90)
              • “Figure 4.1 (from Engestrom 1987) models the integrated elements of an activity system. The whole system has certain intended and unintended “outcomes.” The outer triangle contains the integration of “instruments” (various tools and technologies), “rules” (norms of use), and “division of labor” (the differential expertise of different actors in the system). Various other relationships in the model capture the diverse ways in which “subjects” (actors), the “object” (goal) of the activity system, and the “community” (various types of actors in the system) interrelate with each other and with the instruments, rules, and division of labor.” (Gee, 2008, pp 90)
              • "All the questions about meaning, experience, language, culture, positioning, identities, and so on need be asked about the interactions between particular learners and their environments as they evolve over time (their learning trajectories)." (Haertel et al , 2008, pp 8)
              • “An activity system does not exist by itself; it interacts within a network of other activity systems.” (Gee, 2008, pg 91)
              • “Forms of life consist of a plurality of language-games, ‘a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities in details (PI, 66) ... It resembles a medley-like mixture of garlands of practices somehow supporting or complementing one another.” (Kober, 1996, pg 418)
              • “Understanding certain human practices may turn out to be equally unattainable, if we are unable to detect any regularities (PI 207; Z, 390; RFM, VI-45; LWII, p. 72) Hence, even the observable actions of one particular person may never become transparent to use (PI, p. 223).” (Kober, 1996, pg 432)
              • "It may be argued that both success and failure in literacy learning are the collaborative social accomplishments of school systems, communities, teachers, students and families.” (Au, 1998, pg 298)
              • Social constructivist research on literacy learning focuses on the role of teachers, peers and family members in mediating learning, on the dynamics of the classroom instruction, and on the organisation of systems within which children learn or fail to learn. (Moll, 1990).” (Au, 1998, pg 300)

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              It is important to recognise that there are multiple ways of reading and it is vital to create contexts where a range of literacies are developed.


              xv. “We have to worry about what texts students have read and how they have read them, not just about how much they have read and how many books they do or do not own (though, of course, these are important matters).” (Gee, 2003, pg 30 - 31)

              • “The sheer volume of writing and the flowering of literary genres contributed hugely to the knowledge base of the second millennium BCE. The titles of works tell their own story - from touching didactic texts like Advice of a Father to His Son and legends like Enlil and Nilil. The impulse to codify led to what is probably the first encyclopedia, modestly titled All Things Known about the Universe. Similarly, the Code of Hammurabi in 1800 BCE gave the world a brilliant codification of the laws of society under this great ruler, and the Treatise of Medical Diagnostics and Prognostics classified all known medical writings. The level of conceptual development and organisation, abstraction, and creativity in Akkadian writing inevitably shifts any previous focus on what is cognitively required by an individual writing system to what aspects of cognitive development are being advanced.” (Wolf, 2008, p 41)

              xvi. “Literacies are not mastered as ends in themselves, but rather as means of opening the disciplines up to students ... All too often means and ends become confused in this area ... Individuals should be motivated to read because they are curious about essential questions and because they are convinced that some inroads can be made through reading.” (Gardner, 2000, pg 218)

              xvii. “In real reading … the reader is positioned in a state of conviction in relation to the words in the text.” (Fulford, 2009, pg. 52)

              • “The world of fantasy presents a conceptually perfect holding environment for children who are just leaving the more concrete stages of cognitive processing. One of the most powerful moments in the reading life ... occurs as fluent, comprehending readers learn to enter into the lives of imagined heroes and heroines.” (Wolf, 2008, pp 138)
              • “Comprehension processes grow impressively in such places as these, where children learn to connect prior knowledge, predict dire or good consequences ... interpret how each new clue, revelation, or added piece of knowledge changes what they know.” (Wolf, 2008, pp 138)
              • “One’s understanding of the sentence “The guard dribbled down court, held up two fingers, and passed to the open man” is different, in some sense, deeper and better, the more one knows and can recognize about the social practice (game) of basketball.“ (Gee, 2003, pp 29)
              • CV: A thinker is very much like a draughtsman whose aim it is to represent all the interrelations between things.
              • CV: Thinking too has a time for ploughing and a time for gathering the harvest.

              xviii. “From this perspective, an engaged reader is one who is motivated, knowledgeable, strategic and socially interactive. The engaged reader and writer is viewed as motivated to read and write for diverse purposes, an active knowledge constructor, an effective user of cognitive strategies and a participant in social interactions.” (Rueda et al., 2001, p. 2)

              • PG 125: A puzzle picture. What does it amount to to say that after the solution the picture means something to us, whereas it meant nothing before? (seeing connections)
              • PI II, xi: One kind of aspect might be called ‘aspects of organisation’. When the aspect changes parts of the picture go together which before did not.
              • “[Wittgenstein] goes on to suggest that we need “a surveyable representation” that can generate “the comprehension that consists in ‘seeing connections.” The concept of surveyable representation, he adds, “signifies our form of presentation, how we see things.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 99)
              • “Expert teachers and experienced teachers do not differ in the amount of knowledge that they have about curriculum matters or knowledge about teaching strategies -- but expert teachers do differ in how they organise and use this content knowledge. Experts possess knowledge that is more integrated.” (Hattie, 2012, pp 29)

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              An individual's reading and writing practices become more specialised as he or she grows into social, community, economic, cultural and intellectual spheres.


              xix. “The degree to which expert reading changes over the course of our adult lives depends largely on what we read and how we read it.” (Wolf, pp 1156)

              • “How we attend to a text changes over time as we learn to read ... more discriminatingly, more sensitively, more associatively.” (Wolf, pp 156)
              • Even when we want to think about a child learning to read initially, we want to think about what sorts of texts we want the child eventually to be able to read in what sorts of ways. No learner grows up able to read all sorts of texts in all ways. (Gee, 2003, pp. 28)
              • People who learn to read the vernacular often have great trouble reading texts written in specialist varieties of language. Of course, there are some texts written in specialist varieties of language (e.g., nuclear physics) that many very good readers cannot read.“ (Gee, 2008, pp 96)

              xx. “The end of reading development doesn’t exist; the unending story of reading moves ever forward, leaving the eye, the tongue, the word, the author for a new place from which the ‘truth breaks forth, fresh and green,’ changing the brain and the reader every time.” (Wolf, 2008, p 162) 

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              Teaching practitioners must be aware of the material and social factors that impinge upon an individual's successful development of a range of language, literacy and learning practices.


              xxi. “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.” (Macedo, 2001, pg xiii)

              • "In general, students who live in poorer neighbourhoods and attend schools with a higher concentration of underrepresented minority and limited English-proficient students score lower on every measure of academic achievement – reading proficiency, high school completion, college participation, and college completion rates ... The students who have the greatest scholastic needs are provided with the fewest resources that foster opportunities to learn. Poor, underrepresented minority, and students learning English as a second language are concentrated in schools where there are fewer *material* resources such as college offerings, laboratories, theatres, science, art, music equipment, and textbooks." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 46-47)
              • "Teachers who instruct poor, underrepresented minority and English-language-learner (ELL) students have the fewest professional qualifications such as credentials and academic degrees ... Students in high-poverty schools have more than twice the number of new teachers than low-poverty schools ... Furthermore, teachers in high-poverty schools are more likely to harbour negative attitudes about the ability of poor, underrepresented minority students and English learners to learn and achieve at the highest levels of performance." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 48)
              • "Bourdieu (1985; Bourdieu and Passeron, 1997; Bourdieu and Waquant, 1992) has provided a more subtle account of inequality ... [In Bourdieu's theory] children of the elite classes inherit substantially different cultural knowledge, skills, manners, norms, dress, style of interaction, and linguistic facility than do the sons and daughters of the lower classes ... [These attributes are those] that the educational system implicitly requires of its students for an opportunity to learn ... In some, Bourdieu claims that schools contribute to the reproduction of inequality by organising schooling so it rewards the cultural capital of the classes and systematically devalues that of the lower classes." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 54-55)

              xxii. “[Therefore] change ... is technically simple and socially complex.”  (Sparks, 2003, pg 5)

              • Appropriation of Wittgenstein’s TLP 6.52: “We feel that even if all possible [linguistics] questions be answered, the problems of [learning language in an individual’s] life have still not been touched at all.”
              • “The problem requires specification of the sociological processes which control the way the developing child relates himself to his environment. It requires an understanding of how certain areas of experience are differentiated, made specific and stabilized, so that which is relevant to the functioning of the social structure becomes relevant for the child.” (Bernstein, 1964, pg. 55)
              • “What seems to be needed is the development of a theory of social learning which would indicate what in the environment is available for learning, the conditions of learning, the constraints on subsequent learning, and the major reinforcing process.” (Bernstein, 1964, pg. 55)
              • “From a social constructivist perspective, it can be argued that poverty and school failure are both manifestations of historical and systemic conditions rooted in discrimination.” (Au, 1998, pg 302)
              • “The theory of cultural discontinuity, or cultural difference, suggests that cultural mismatches between teachers and students may result in difficulties in communication and interaction in the classroom (Jacob & Jordan, 1993). These differences, or mismatches, work against literacy learning for those students whose home culture does not reflect that of the school ... It suggests that structural inequalities in the broader social, political and economic sphere (Ogbu, 1987; Au, 1993).” (Cairney & Ruge, 1998, pp. 10)


              Successful teachers must provide learners with opportunities to transform their learning into success beyond the school walls.


              xxiii. “Caring about [students’] rights means caring ... about the trajectories of learners as they develop within content areas in school as part of communities of practice, engaged in mind, body, and culture, and not just as repositories of skills, facts, and information.” (Gee, 2008, pg 105)

              • "Learning entails social scaffolds beyond the classroom that support academically oriented friendships; productive connections among home, school, college and business; explicit socialisation in how to participate in these social networks; and so on." (Haertel et al , 2008, pg 8)
              • "In a situated view, learning by an individual in a community is conceptualised as a trajectory of that students' participation in the community – a path with a past and present, shaping possibilities for future participation." (Haertel et al , 2008, pg 13)
              • "In sum, providing students with the rigourous curriculum accompanied by academic and social supports is vital to the success of untracking and detracking efforts ... Scaffolds that expose the hidden curriculum and build bridges between high school and college help ensure that students who have not had experience with academically oriented classes succeed in them." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 65)
              • "Ethnographies of successful conventions ... reveal several common features. They recognise that learning involves the construction of identities and the skill to participate as a member in many different settings. Learning occurs when students have effective access to appropriate resources, such as well-prepared teachers, well-designed curricula, sufficient and current laboratory equipment, books, and technology, as well as comfortable and safe facilities. [In addition, success occurs when] schools and their agents act collectively in a deliberate, intensive, and explicit fashion to generate a socialisation process." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 68)
              • “Have all children in a given learning environment had equal opportunity to learn the specialist forms of language vital for thought and action in the domain they are seeking to learn?” (Gee, 2008, pp 100)
              • “People are smarter when they use smart tools. Better yet, people are smarter when they work in smart environments; that is, environments that contain, integrate, and network a variety of tools, technologies, and other people, all of which store usable knowledge.” (Gee, 2008, pp 89)
              • “People are always parts of environments, whether they are particularly smart ones or not.” (Gee, 2008, pp 89)
              • “At the heart of constructivism is a concern for lived experience, or the world as it is felt and understood by social actors (Schwandt, 1994).” (Au, 1998, pg 299)
              • “Empowered students are confident in their own cultural identity, as well as knowledgeable of school structures and interactional patterns, and so can participate successfully in school learning activities.” (Au, 1998, pg 304)

               (back to top)


              We must recognise that not all perspectives are represented in formal learning environments. The political context can determine which languages, which language-games and which world views are supported, developed, resourced and expanded in learning environments.


              xxiv. “Our language is, after all, not the product of a free consensus among speakers; it is handed to us through the authority of parents, teachers, writers, academics, publishers, the media and finally even government.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 145)

              xxv. “[Wittgenstein’s] pluralism raises thorny questions. How do we differentiate between language games? ... What disassociations, links and possible transitions are there between different systems of thought and different world pictures? (Sluga, 2011, pg 70)

              • ”If we want to engage people with some narratives that we consider more important than others (say, moral or aesthetic ones), a possible foothold could be found in the informal practices children find themselves involved in.“ (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010, pg 196 - 197)
              • ”In other words, it is easier to be a ‘tacit teacher’ within an ongoing community of practice, where one is not the only influence drawing learners into reflective participation; conversely, it is harder to be a ‘tacit teacher’ when a cacophony of other influences distract and compete with one’s own influence.“ (Burbles, 2010, pg 212)

              xxvi. “What if there is more than one language that lays claim to being the common medium of communication? What if the linguistic group is stratified by social class and division? ... Some ... possess an authority over us that is ratified by society and the state ... But from where have my teachers (parents and other language users) got the rules that they teach me? (Sluga, 2011, pg128 - 129)

              • ”recognise the importance of location on thinking, especially in relation to education in an age where increasingly globalisation, multiculturalism, and internationalisation are the norm rather than the exception.“ (Peters, 2010a pg 16)
              • ”Exile, in other words, is distinguished by the fact that it is an ‘othering’ experience. It demands a certain kind of learning at the level of practice that is necessary for knowing how to get on within a culture. It also generally involves the risk and prospect of failure: both also failure at the deeper cultural level that helps to determine a sense of what is culturally appropriate. This continual risk of failure and lack of understanding of the underlying agreed cultural judgements requires a kind of learning that can only be obtained through practical encounters.“ (Peters, 2010a, pg 28)
              • ”Ensuring that all learners have had equal Opportunity To Learn is both an ethical prerequisite for fair assessment and a solid basis on which to think about educational reforms that will ensure that all children can succeed at school.“ (Gee, 2008, pp 76)
              • ”A situated/sociocultural viewpoint looks ... knowledge and learning in terms of a relationship between an individual with both a mind and a body and an environment in which the individual thinks, feels, acts, and interacts. Both the body and the environment tend to be backgrounded in traditional views of knowledge and learning.“ (Gee, 2008, pp 81)
              • ”Yet environment is a complex term in this context. For human beings, the material world and our bodies are part of our environment; human-made tools and artifacts are part of our environment; and other people and their actions and talk are part of our environment.“ (Gee, 2008, pp 82) 
              • "In a mainstream constructivist orientation, it may be assumed that students primarily need to acquire the proficiency in literacy needed for self-expression and for success in the larger society. From a diverse perspective orientation, it can be suggested that a concern for proficiency should not be allowed to override a concern for the transformative possibilities of literacy, for the individual and for the society.” (Au, 1998, pg 308)

               (back to top)


              Even if structural disadvantage is addressed within the school walls, there remains the matter of broader structural and political inequality and discrimination that still impinges upon success.


              xxvii. “Although Luperon managed to shepherd a significatntly higher proportion of graduate than its peer institutions, many of the students stalled in their educational trajectories ... Broader economic and social structures constrain the efforts of schools to promote social change.” (Bartlett & Garcia, 2011, pg 243

              • "Leaving an environment where notions of equality and social justice are espoused and re-entering a society where these values are not necessarily present proved, ... suggesting that students are forced to reassess their sense of agency. .... This process can be challenging and can lead to social isolation." (Bajaj, 2009, p. 562) 
              • "Having experienced the pain of prejudice and discrimination, Latinos and African-Americans in AVID realised that the individual effort and hard work would not automatically lead to success. Furthermore, the African American and Latino students in AVID recognised that they must develop linguistic styles, social behaviour, and academic skills that are acceptable to the mainstream. They developed these skills but without sacrificing the cultural identity they nurtured at home and displayed in their neighbourhoods ... In order to manage the tension created by their participation in academics during school with the participation in life with friends after school, AVID students adopted a number of strategies. Some hid their academic activities entirely, but at school and with their local friends, but most worked to manage two identities." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 63-64)
              • "Before we celebrate the transformation of the schools from settings for the reproduction of social inequality into instruments of social equity, we must, of course, determine if the actions we have observed are substantial, long-term institutional changes. If we have only revealed changes on the margins, we do not have genuine mobility patterns but a cynical process of allowing a precious few members of the underclass through the gates so as to legitimate achievement ideology, while the the great masses are kept down." (Mehan, 2008, pp. 69) 

              xxviii. Appropriation of Wittgenstein’s TLP 6.52: “We feel that even if all possible [linguistics] questions be answered, the problems of [learning language in an individual’s] life have still not been touched at all.”

              Back to Top


              What the above review or related work leads me to conclude is that language, literacy and learning development is influenced by:

                • The product of the individual perceiving, engaging in and evaluating social processes and ways/forms of generating meaning within and across contexts;
                • The manner and degree of being exposed to, accessing and being initiated into the forms, features and outcomes of language and living;
                • The exact content of the learning and how these beliefs, practices and knowledge mesh with the learning circumstances (e.g. form of life and relationships);
                • The extent to which students have the capacity, orientation and opportunities to engage / participate in discourse practices as well as the extent to which educators respect and utilise the assets, skills, experiences and affinities that students bring to the class; and
                • The distribution of opportunities, resources (including time) and enabling experiences and relationships that supports the relevancy of the language activities and practices.

                The language practices that students interpret and engage with are part of not only their language development, but also their social development. They are introducing students into “way of being” that either will advantage them in the future or be a potential source of frustration. The types of practices and how students are positioned or position themselves by these practices are crucial. Do students see the practices as useful? Do they have the skills, experiences and orientation necessary to fully engage? The answers to these questions are not isolated within the students, but are part of the sociocultural context where diverse individuals and discourse practices come to define and occupy spaces and activities. It is also this sociocultural context that is shaping the relevant diverse language forms and practices that are encountered and engaged in.


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