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Presentation to RaPAL Conference Norwich, July 2011

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1 Presentation to RaPAL Conference Norwich, July 2011
Moving Testimonies , Uncertain Truths: Constructing Adult Literacy Learners across 30 years of Policy and Practice Mary Hamilton Literacy Research, Centre, Lancaster University 1

2 Outline History, Change and Continuity in discourses of literacy and literacy learners and why this matters Public narratives: where are the places that literacy and learners get represented? Specifically, how have students voices been represented in policy and practice? How far and in what ways are these “authentic” voices Implications for advocates of literacy 2

3 Changing discourses – do they matter?
Changes in how the field of adult literacy is named and talked about tell us about how it is viewed by different – sometimes competing – groups; they signal how the goals and boundaries of the field are drawn and how learners and practitioners are constructed. Discourses frame the possibilities for action for literacy, the way we imagine what literacy is, who writes and reads and for what purposes 3

4 “Literacy” and “literacy learners” get publically represented in many places
Policy (international and national) Media news but also popular media and film (e.g. Precious, The Blind Side, Freedom Writers) Research - Surveys but also in qualitative interview research Within Teaching and Learning In Teacher Training programmes and materials In materials for use with students In teacher talk In classroom interactions eg. ILPs In “everyday” chat and ephemera....

5 Looking at how literacy and literacy learners are represented in policy documents shows:
a pervasive deficit discourse construction of an excluded “underclass” with sub-groups needing priority attention from the state changing notions of participation construction of a current view of citizenship with obligations as well as rights 

6 Three Decades of Adult Literacy Policy in England
Mid 1970s 1970s: The Right to Read campaign: an activist manifesto for devolved action that contains competing discourses but foregrounds literacy as a human right and presents adults as highly motivated to learn New Labour 2001 The Skills for Life strategy steers the field strongly from the centre, and argues that rights and obligations of citizens have to be balanced in the service of the economy and that many adults have little motivation to learn. 2010 – the future Changing Lives: adult literacy becomes functional skills and is no longer distinguished from vocational training

7 Mid 1970s- addressing “ the problem of adul illiteracy in Britain”
“We believe that the power for social action depends on the ability to handle communications. In order to participate, to exercise certain rights, to choose between alternatives and to solve problems, people need certain basic skills: listening, talking, reading and writing. Geoffrey Clarkson, Development Officer, British Association of Settlements. May 1974. 7

8 THERE are at least two million functionally illiterate adults in England and Wales…….
That means that something like six per cent of the adult population is either unable to read or write at all or has a literacy level below that which you might expect to find in a nine year-old child. Two million people who are at a chronic disadvantage in their work and their leisure. Two million people effectively isolated from many of the benefits, pleasures and experiences that the rest of us take for granted: people who cannot participate fully in our predominantly literate society

9 The United States National Reading Center provides a good working definition of functional literacy:
`A person is functionally literate when he has command of reading skills that permit him to go about his daily activities successfully on the job, or to move about society normally with comprehension of the usual printed expressions and messages he encounters.' Mimeographed (Washington NRC, 1971). (quoted in BAS, 1974, P. 5)

10 Renewal: present Development of Skills for Life strategy and a new infrastructure for literacy. Government strategy unit created. £1.5 billion of government money is committed with targets set to 2010. 10

11 Foreword to the Skills for Life Strategy
“A shocking 7 million adults in England cannot read and write at the level we would expect of an 11-year-old. Even more have problems with numbers. The cost to the country as a whole could be as high as £10 billion a year. The cost to people’s personal lives is incalculable. People with low basic skills earn an average £50,000 less over their working lives, are more likely to have health problems, or to turn to crime.” 11

12 National test of achievement Core Curriculum
International and national survey research –new measures of literacy and league tables National test of achievement Core Curriculum Close monitoring of student progress Professional Qualifications for tutors 12

13 The discourse of Skills for Life: Literacy and Economic Prosperity
‘One in five employers reports a significant gap in their workers’ skills. And over a third of those companies with a literacy and numeracy skills gap say that they have lost business or orders to competitors because of it.’ (para.4). And up to half of the 7 million people are in jobs. Many are in low-skilled or short-term employment. We must increase these people’s earnings potential and the country’s wealth and productivity by giving them the literacy and numeracy skills they need to participate in a global, knowledge-based economy. (paragraph 17)

14 Literacy and Social Exclusion
People with poor literacy, numeracy and language skills tend to be on lower incomes or unemployed, and they are more prone to ill health and social exclusion. (Sk4L executive summary, para.3).

15 Definition of priority groups in need of help with literacy
People who are unemployed and on benefits Low-skilled adults in employment: Offenders in custody and those supervised in the community: Other groups at risk of social exclusion (deprived neighbourhoods, lone parents, women with low numeracy skills)

16 In Skills for Life the concept of individual rights as citizens is subtly changed…Lifelong Learning as duty as we now regard it as a duty on government to take adult literacy and numeracy seriously, so we will impose duties on the relevant agencies – and in certain cases on the individuals themselves – to do so too (paragraph 15 my emphasis). Dwyer, P., 2004. Creeping conditionality in the UK: from welfare rights to conditional entitlements . Canadian Journal of Sociology. vol 29  (2) , pp

17 From the forward to Changing Lives:
“Put simply, a better-skilled workforce is a more productive, adaptable and flexible workforce, better able to respond to the challenges posed by ever-greater competition, technological change and new products.” “Equally, giving everyone in our society the opportunity to develop their skills will help us tackle social exclusion and create a fairer society in which everyone has the opportunity to realise their full potential. By helping people improve their grasp of the basics, we help them develop the platform of skills they need to find, stay and progress in work. We help them to improve their earnings. We help them to play an active role in their children’s educational development. And we help them to play an active role in their community.”

18 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report on Literacy 2006:
The right to literacy Literacy is a right, indeed an essential part of the right of every individual to education, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also a means to achieving other human rights. Those who can use literacy skills to defend their legal rights have a significant advantage over those who cannot. Indeed, it is often the poorest, most socially excluded and least literate individuals (especially women) whose rights are violated by those with more power. Their inability to read, write and calculate keeps them from knowing what they are entitled to, and how to demand it. It limits their ability to participate politically in society. It denies them a voice.

19 Profiles from A Right to Read, 1974
my two brothers. The best man at my wedding. A couple of Youngsters at work, and a couple of the older ones too.' Tony Dawes is a seventeen year-old interior and exterior decorator in Birmingham. `When I left school I was fifteen', he says. `I couldn't read at all then. Well, there'd be bits here and there, just the odd word I could pick out. `I could write my name. I couldn't write my address at all. `At school they put me on those tape recording machines for about half an hour a day. You were left on your own in a corner of the room with a tape recorder and a book, and nobody helped you. `You just tried to work out what it was and then play it back to yourself. If it didn't sound right you'd read it again. Then the teacher listened to it. You got fed up of it because you didn't know what you were reading.' Tony has now been receiving individual tuition one night a week for four months. `I think there's been a great improvement since l started. I've got some faith now and I can pick up a paper and read a lot better than I did. `I've got the confidence now. I can see what's on TV, and I can fill my timesheet in at work. I used to have to take it home to my parents. `Nobody knows about it at work now. But I'm not ashamed of it. I used to be, but I'm not now. I stopped being ashamed of it as soon as I realised I wasn't the only one. `I tell my girlfriends about it, and I haven't really got that many mates, just a few. Some of them laugh at me, and some of them just say, "So what?" ' Tony found help through the Samaritans: `I got fed up because I couldn't fill in my tax forms or anything. `If I went on holiday I couldn't write to my girlfriends. And if I got letters my parents had to read them for me. Now I can read them for myself.' Mary Timms, a thirty-two year-old Liverpool housewife struggled for years with the reading ability of a seven year-old and without really being able to write at all. In her case it has actually cost the family money: `My husband works for himself as a plasterer and I have to take phone calls, and I have to write people's names down. You wouldn't believe the things I do. If I'm given the name of a road and I can't get it I'll just try and draw something that resembles the name. 'I'll say, "It's an awfully bad line on part and can you spell it out please?", and they go, "ta-tum ta-tum ta-tum", and I have to say, "Sorry can you repeat that please?" `Pve lost many jobs for him.' She explains: `Mine's spelling problem rather than a reading problem now. When I left school it was both. `But I never went to school hardly at all when I was a child, and I had to go in a home because my parents were separated and then my mother had TB and she died. Brian Marks is twenty five. He's a London motor fitter and has been married for four years. He is quite articulate but can neither read nor write. `If someone asks me to spell something', he explains, `I can get the first letters and sometimes the end, but not the middle. `If I pick a paper up there are things I've seen lots of times and I have no problem. But if it's different I'm beaten. If I see a word like "police" or "ambulance" I know what it is because I've seen it so many times before. But if somebody just asked me to spell it I couldn't. It doesn't really matter about the length either, some of the smallest words can beat me. `I just look at the front of the paper and maybe the TV pages. But it's only in the last two years that I've really bothered. `But now we're buying a house and I've found it very awkward. `Sometimes letters come and they're important, and I come home for lunch and my wife doesn't, so I can't read them. I just have to wait for her to come home.' As a motor fitter Brian earns about £33 a week. He's a skilled man, but his reading difficulties have prevented him changing to a better job and could well have prevented him getting as far as he has. `It was awkward at first. We had time sheets to fill in every day. When the fitter I was working with first found out he hit the roof. Then he did them for me. `Now I'm a fitter I have to do them myself. But where I work there are quite a few like me, and one word that one of us doesn't know another will. And you use the same words every day and get to know them. `There was a job vacant for a receptionist/tester, but I couldn't go for that. It would have meant about another £15 a week. `And the people who make the automatic gearboxes we fit have offered me a job as a representative. But at the moment I just couldn't do that.' Brian puts his illiteracy down to bad school attendance. He blames it on his mother who, he says, was always keeping him at home to look after her in imaginary illnesses. `I kept it from my wife', he says, `more or less until we got married. She gradually got to know over quite a long period. 'The main thing is that if we went out in the car I couldn't read the map and had to give it to her. That's a giveaway. `Before I met her I always used to go to Herne Bay year after year for my holidays, simply because I knew how to get there. `And my driving test itself. That was a hard one. I didn't pass until third time. I was really frightened about the Highway Code. `Another bad one was when Dad died. I had everything to do. Especially the Town Hall-I had to fill in the Death Certificate. I was in a right state over that. Luckily one of my aunts came with me. `Even getting the colour TV, when we rented that I had to wait for my wife to do it. And the log book and insurance for the car are in her name.' Brian has taken the step of asking for help and is waiting to start work with a tutor in an independent literacy scheme. He says he comes across plenty of other people who can't read either. `For a start there's 16 of the 25 pages of this document are given over to the profiles.

20 Brian is a “skilled man” with a car and job and has been offered promotion.
Tony is employed, has girlfriends, goes on holidays. Mary has worked, now is married and has children and survived being orphaned and put in a home. Keith is a “successful 45 year-old London shopkeeper” who was good at other things in school Susan is a single mother with children who found work after leaving school at 14. Andrew works on a car assembly line, was an NCO in the army and stood in for his supervisor in his previous job in a printer’s.

21 (Brian) is quite articulate but can neither read nor write
(Brian’s) a skilled man, but his reading difficulties have prevented him (Brian, p.12) (Keith) is quite sure he would have been a good deal more successful if only he could have learned to read and write. (pp. 14/15)

22 Profile from Skills for Life, 2001
Wayne wants to become a studio sound engineer. At his home in Jamaica, he spent some time around singers and studios, and he realised that, although there are lots of singers, there are not many people who can work sophisticated studio equipment effectively……. By the end of November he had started to improve his written and spoken English and Maths. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” he says. “I think coming on the course has changed me. It’s made me have a wide open mind. I feel cool and calm, thinking constructively.” 22

23 Manchester Training – work-based training provider
Profile from Changing Lives, 2009 Manchester Training – work-based training provider In September 2008, Manchester Training opened a warehouse dedicated to learning, sponsored by major industrial leaders in the sector, where learners can acquire skills and experience in a live working environment. The company developed a learning programme that seeks to develop learners’ confidence to get a job, enable them to gain a qualification, and demonstrate their job-competence through the practice given in the warehouse environment. Literacy and numeracy are embedded into the programme via a two-week intensive programme, delivered by learndirect. Learners often approach this part of the programme with reluctance, but once they experience the one-to-one support, this attitude changes. The provider has a 96 per cent success rate and a number of learners continue on to take further qualifications once in employment. One such learner, Paul, went to Manchester Training aged 24 with very little confidence after experiencing six years of unemployment. He worked through the programme and was then accompanied by staff to an interview for a logistics job which he succeeded in getting. The company has since reported positively on his work performance.

24 Student Writing and Publishing – A Different Point of View?
He'd just come out from England, from the agricultural college. So I took my machete and chop a banana leaf. He take his tape and the banana leaf is six feet. I say, "You want banana eight feet apart. You get a good growth, a good bearing" And then he believe what I'm saying. I show him the right way but his way was wrong for he only learn it from a book. But I work on a farm, that's my living. William, from Just Lately I Realise, 1985, p 38 He only learn it from a book Back in '51 an English bloke come to Jamaica as a agricultural instructor. He come to St. Thomas, that's where I born and grow. I work at a place in New Monkland planting banana. He come to tell us how to plant banana. He said, "Banana suppose to plant three feet apart." I say, "No". He say, "Yes":


26 Jane Mace…. “a culture of public literacy on the part of people only previously half-seen” (p. x) Introduction to Mace, J. (Ed.) Literacy, Language and Community Publishing: Essays in Adult Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

27 Sue Gardener Conversations with Strangers, 1985
What’s it about? Floods, washtubs, mothers, ghosts, unemployment and the smell of paint – anything people talk about. It’s about words. Getting them down on paper….Pulling out into books our truths that no-one heard….


29 The Gatehouse Books catalogues reveal a wide diversity of writers, topics and forms……
Range of writers – ethnicity, gender, older, younger, middle, disabled, refugees, migrants, worker writers, survivors of sexual abuse, bullying and more Autobiographical/general life story reminiscence Themed collections – particular groups, places, aspects of experience Bilingual texts, including dialogical ones like “Telling Tales Reflections on education and literacy Teaching and learning resources – including “Opening Time” Poetry Graphic stories Newspapers and newsletters

30 Stella Fitzpatrick talking about the idea behind Gatehouse Books
“It’s always been a part. I think it was bred in to the whole team in those days and it’s remained so. Its giving a voice where none is given and making it visible, if you like, and tangible.” Changing Faces Interview, 2003

31 In 1984, Gatehouse Books published a collection of accounts from students about their life experiences entitled Where do we go from here? One contributor, Gordon talks about the power of student publishing: “I think it is very important that a student sees something of their writing in print. I got a wonderful feeling when I saw it, a feeling that I could never explain. I feel as if people over there in other parts of Manchester or over there in other parts of the country need to see these things, need to see my work in print say “Oh, if he can do it, I can do it.” (Gatehouse,1984, p.6)

32 Not just autobiography but solidarity: writing as “Testimonio”
where the author takes up a special position as a decentred “I” that speaks on behalf of a collective, not just as an individual author

33 What do students writing have to say about the themes apparent in the policy documents above?
the deficit discourse construction of an excluded “underclass” changing notions of participation and citizenship, rights and responsibilities the nature of learning and literacy

34 Being Written off ........ The power of labels
“We’ve all got something but we’re led to believe that we haven’t got anything, that we’re not worth trying with.” Kath Newsham, p.19 Where Do we go from here? “I would always put myself down and I still do. It is hard to get out of the habit When you have been told you are thick for most of your life, you start to believe it.” Georgina Carrington, p.27 My New World

35 Literacy and feelings of exclusion
“When I was say about 16 or 17, I felt like the kid who had his nose up against the glass looking into the shop window. All the goodies were there but I couldn’t get them….I couldn’t lift a pen” Jim, frontispiece Where do we go from here: Adult Lives without literacy, Gatehouse Books 1983.

36 Getting by -- or not “An interesting thing was when I got my driving licence and I had to plead guilty to something I hadn’t done….The day I arrived at court…I said “Not guilty”. So they said, “Right, will you step out of this box and go into this other box and read this form?....I thought “Jesus, I can’t read that bloody form, and I’m not going to tell them for there’s so many people in the room. What do I do? What do I do? So I said “I’m guilty”. I just had to say it.” Doug Meller, Where do we go from here: Adult Lives without literacy Gatehouse Books 1983.

37 Expressing Ideas in different media Speaking, Writing and more….
“I can go to a council meeting and talk with the best of people and argue out that I want to. Whereas if I had to put it down in writing in their way, the way they wanted it, I couldn’t do it. It’s better written as you want to write it even if it doesn’t sound right. I always feel that when I’m writing and I put big words in, it distorts the writing altogether. After all, you don’t use big words everyday when you’re talking. Why do they put it in writing?” p 7 Quotes from Mary Unit 11 Learning from Life – Opening Time

38 And…. p.9 “Writing and dressing are similar, because you can get a dress that might suit you but won’t suit me. Writing should relate to all things in life not just to paper and a pen. It’s like sitting down on a chair – I might sit on a chair and be very comfortable, you might sit on it and think it’s bloody awful. It’s relating things. You see, where a lot of teachers go wrong and a lot of schools go wrong, they relate writing to paper and pencil, not to peoples’ minds and not to people seeing. Writing is part of seeing, feeling, touch or even wearing.”

39 Victor Grenko Monsters of the Mind Gatehouse Books, 1991

40 Literacy as the freedom to be who you are…(not to make you into something else)
At the Launch of his book of poems The Moon on the Window Peter Goode said: “What was important for me in the classroom was not that it’s about putting you in a box, away from mystery and love and hate, but the daydreams – to see a bird fly past the window and learn to sing with it and become that freedom.”

41 Central to Gatehouse’s ways of working were
the workshop, where discussion stimulated initial pieces of writing the editorial process of selecting and working on pieces of writing for publication the reading clubs which tried out new publications and fed back on them from the point of view of literacy students

42 The Powers of the Scribe
The tutor/scribe may not be attending to the same features of the conversation as the student. They may interrupt and “model” the students’ language rather than listening carefully. They may “re-voice” students words to eliminate non-standard features and re-order of telling events to make the account more conventionally coherent. Moss, Wendy (1995) Empowering or Controlling? Writing through A Scribe in Adult Basic Education. in Mace, J. (Ed.) Literacy, Language and Community Publishing: Essays in Adult Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

43 the panorama of it all – the deep individuality of each piece of writing
the variety of the metaphors used to talk about writing and blocks to expression the variety of language represented in the texts – spoken language forms, local vocabulary the painstaking specialist descriptions of everyday activities the contradictory complexity of it – the ordinary everyday/everynight stories of living The variety of ways of learning and ways of working to produce writing and the relationships that these are embedded in. Lots of very critical stories of schooling and experiences of bullying from both peers and teachers This issue of control, feeling free to be yourself, without judgement, and to use literacy to explore this comes up in many places from many authors. The many aspirations, sometimes unreasonably held on to in the light of limiting circumstances. The sense of strengths assumed – a strong sense of agency comes across what ever peoples’ analysis of the situations they face.

44 The idea of “authentic voice” is problematic, but nevertheless, when accounts are generated in a skilfully organized, participative environment then greater diversity and a different perspective on the experience of literacy learning does come through to interrupt the dominant policy and popular media narratives.

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