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Life histories, identities and participation in literacy courses Sandra Varey Postgraduate Researcher Department of Educational Research Lancaster University.

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Presentation on theme: "Life histories, identities and participation in literacy courses Sandra Varey Postgraduate Researcher Department of Educational Research Lancaster University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Life histories, identities and participation in literacy courses Sandra Varey Postgraduate Researcher Department of Educational Research Lancaster University May 2011

2 Why focus on learners’ life histories and identities? My own background A decade of the Skills for Life Strategy Increasing focus on skills, employment and the economy Recent research indicates the importance of understanding: Where learners are coming from (Barton et al, 2007) What learning means and does in adults’ lives (TLRP, 2009) ‘We are all storytellers, and we are the stories we tell... our narrative identities are the stories we live by’ (McAdams et al, 2006) ‘People telling their own stories reveal more about their own inner lives than any other approach could’ (Atkinson, 1998)

3 Project participants

4 The life history interviews Stages of data analysis Data constructed into a narrative (Stewart, 1997) Feminist methodologies (Gilligan et al 2003; Goodley et al, 2004; Woodcock, 2005) A focus on participants’ voices – I poems The main storylines, plots and characters How participants’ describe themselves and others Their relationships with others

5 Domains of activity ‘Contemporary life can be analysed in a simple way into domains of activity’ (Barton and Hamilton, 1998, p.9) Family, neighbourhood, education, workplace, religion and healthcare Why are domains of activity important to identity? Membership Participation Relationships Critical events Participants’ life stories reveal a dominant domain Inform and influence participation in others Interplay between different domains All are social institutions but some are more socially powerful than others (Barton and Hamilton, 1998, p.10)

6 Responding to life events Critical events = changes in membership (and identities) within domains of activity Responses to this: Welcome Resist Reject Motivations behind these responses: Do these changes create tension or threaten membership (and therefore identities and relationships) in the adult’s dominant domain?

7 Two case studies Molly Short literacy course (level 2) Suzanne Literacy workshop (level 1 and 2)

8 Molly

9 Molly’s divorce Molly rejected the identity of what she saw to be the ‘typical cheated / divorced woman’ ‘... you’d think I’d be bitter, wouldn’t you really, about it? But, no, I wanted the children to be happy around everyone in the family.’ Instead she welcomed other identities – peacemaker, friend ‘Like if they had to wait outside the front door or at the top of the drive. I’d hate that!... I didn’t want for when the kids get married or they have a party, I’m on one side of the room and their dad’s on the other side because that would be awful so I didn’t want that.’

10 Molly’s ambition to be a nurse I found out I was pregnant a few weeks before I did the test I cancelled the test ‘cause I thought, ‘There’s no point me doing it if I’m pregnant’ I’ve still kept that letter I could have brought that in actually I’ve kept it I couldn’t - I didn’t have the heart to shred it I thought, ‘I’ve got to keep this’ (laughs). It’s a reminder that I actually almost got there, to university! (laughs)

11 Molly and the literacy course ‘I enjoyed school but I wish I could go back and actually learn more because, at the time, I thought, ‘Oh this is great, this is. It’s just a social’. That’s all it was for me! (laughs) But my GCSEs were awful. That’s why I need to do these courses again.’ ‘I’m so glad I did it because I thought I was confident at English – until I did the course. But I’m glad I’ve done it because there’s certain things in English that you forget.’ ‘I wouldn’t mind doing a Catering course, you know a Cake Decorating course? I wouldn’t mind doing that. It’s only a six week course. It would just be something for yourself.’

12 Suzanne

13 Suzanne and bullying I started school at 4 until I was 11 I enjoyed it so much I was doing well in school I was in clubs and had the best teachers and met the best friends I’ve ever had, and things were great at home I only remember the silliest of things I guess they make the best memories I got to 12 and started high school and the first year was great I met new friends, I liked my teachers, got my first boyfriend I hit 13 and in year 8 I started to get bullied and my whole world fell apart in a matter of a few months I hated to wake up and face every day I needed a way out I turned to self-harming, in which I found a release

14 Bullying and bottom sets I was in the class with a lot of the rough ones I got bullied by a girl and then it went on for a long time and spoke to the teachers and they didn’t do out and it just got really frustrating I just weren’t given a chance, at all I knew I could do it and it was just so frustrating, and then there was the bullying and it all just built up You had to do loads of tests when you started and then you got your sets, and I weren’t in any with any of my friends I was annoyed! Because I was in the bottom sets, you just did what you liked Well there was one I didn’t get on with and he just sat there and read his book and we were just left and we just did nothing I mean, we used to go out of school and come back and he didn’t even notice, he was asleep! I just didn’t turn up for any lessons and none of the teachers cared

15 Skiving A way of rejecting the identity of the ‘low achiever’ Creates tension in family domain Suzanne is ‘patient and calm’, like her mum They used to ring my mum up and she’d say, ‘My Suzanne wouldn’t do that’ and I’d say, ‘Well, I did’. Most of them said I don’t pay attention, and I didn’t really speak. And I just weren’t there, I didn’t really turn up for about a year. I probably went to just a few lessons. I mean, she didn’t go mad, she just didn’t go to them anymore.

16 Suzanne and the literacy course Identity be a ‘good student’ to achieve regain confidence I feel so different I’ve no idea, but I think it is this course because now I want to move on with more education and it’s just pushing me forward and I know I can do things I don’t think [my literacy skills] have changed I think just probably my confidence again has helped me

17 Some concluding points Domains of activity: some more socially powerful than others dominant domain Education – a socially powerful domain: threatening other less-powerful domains? Responses to life changes – welcome /resist / reject: welcoming Skills for Life opportunities what about those who resist / reject?

18 Discussion and Questions....

19 References Atkinson, R. (1998) The Life Story Interview: Qualitative Research Methods, Volume 44. London: Sage. Barton, D., Ivanič, R., Appleby, Y., Hodge, R. and Tusting, K. (2007) Literacy, Lives and Learning. London: Routledge. Barton, D.and Hamilton, M. (1998) Local Literacies. London: Routledge. Gilligan, C., Spencer, R., Weinberg, M. K., & Bertsch, T. (2003). On the Listening Guide: A voice-centered relational method. In P. M. Camic, J. E. Rhodes and L. Yardley (Eds.), Qualitative research in psychology: Expanding perspectives in methodology and design (pp. 1-31). Goodley, D., Lawthom, R., Clough, P. and Moore, M. (2004) Researching Life Stories: Method, theory and analyses in a biographical age. London: Routledge Falmer. McAdams, D.P., Josselson, R. and Lieblich, A. (eds.) (2006) Identity and Story: Creating Self in Narrative. American Psychological Association: Washington DC. Woodcock, C. (2005) ‘The Silenced Voice in Literacy: Listening beyond Words to a “Struggling” Adolescent Girl’, Journal of Authentic Learning, Volume 2, Number 1, September 2005, pages 47-60. Stewart, R. (1997) ‘Constructing Neonarratives: A pluralistic approach to research’. Journal of Art and Design Education, Vol 16, No 13, 1997, Blackwell, p.p.223-229. Teaching and Learning Research Programme (2009) ‘Learning Lives: Learning, Identity and Agency in the Life Course homepage’. Available at: [Accessed on 3 May 2011].

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