my research in plain english

I’ve been inspired by the conversations on #phdchat on twitter to try to articulate my PhD research topic in an easily comprehensible way. If you’d like to read some other examples, go to the phdchat wiki. I still consider myself to be in the very early stages of my research and feel a bit bogged down by what my aims are so this is a particularly useful exercise at exactly the right time. In fact, while my general topic area is one I’m committed to and passionate about, I can see my actual research questions and focus changing the further my reading into current research goes. Anyway, here goes – comments and suggestions would be appreciated.


It is widely acknowledged that children’s experiences before they start school contribute to their development of literacy skills. In Australian schools, this is supported through the assessment of students at the beginning of each of their first three years of schooling to identify the experiences they have had and skills they bring with them into the classroom. Many of the classroom practices in the Early Years are then shaped by the experiences it is assumed children will have had at home (such as bedtime story reading or writing letters or cards to relatives).

However, what constitutes literacy outside of school has changed and continues to do so with the advent of digital technologies. By the time they come to school, children will have been exposed to and interacted with a range of technologies such as televisions, computers, mobile phones, ipods and games consoles. The skills they have developed to ‘read’ or interact with these technologies are different again to those that they require for interaction with books, paper and pencils.

My research focuses on the gap between the literacy skills students are bringing to the classroom in their first 3 years of schooling and what schools focus on as literacy during this period. This will involve a definition and analysis of children’s literacy practices at home and at school to see how digital technologies are used and viewed in both settings. I also intend to consider how teacher perceptions of the students’ ‘digital literacy’ skills alter their classroom practice.

If we accept that part of the role of education is to prepare students for full and active participation in society, this gap between literacy practices in-school and out-of-school becomes a crucial one. Potentially, such a gap creates a situation where students arrive at school already skilled in a range of literacy practices however are assessed in the classroom as failing because the in-school and out-of-school literacy practices do not match. It also raises questions about the relevance of classroom content and how this is preparing students for a technologically rich world that they are already experiencing outside the school walls.

2 thoughts on “my research in plain english

  1. I think the gap between in-school and out-of-school literacy practices are the biggest issue faced by educators today … however I don’t think that it automatically means that current classroom content is irrelevant …

    … I could make the same argument about the skills and knowledge students bring to my food tech classroom … sometimes it is the teacher’s job, as the professional, to challenge students (and parents) to consider other options (skills and knowledge) … just because kids can survive by eating reheated food from the microwave doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue to teach them traditional cooking methods such as baking cakes!

    However, the crucial thing is for teachers to keep up their professional reading and continue to have robust critical discussions of issues such as this one! Now more than ever we need to be aware of how traditional literacies blend with and enhance emerging literacies.

    I look forward to reading more and I am sure we will continue to have robust critical discussions until you finish this research and beyond ;p

    • You’re right – all current classroom content is not automatically irrelevant however it does need to be questioned, particularly in the context of Early Years literacy. I’m sure, in your food tech classroom, you challenge students by acknowledging skills and ideas they have and building on them rather than announcing when they walk in “You might think you can cook but I’m here to tell you you’re wrong.”

      Effectively, that’s what we do to students in their formative years of school when it comes to literacy, albeit in a well-intentioned, kindly voice! While some of the literacy practices they take part in outside of school have no place in the classroom, many of the skills they’ve gained could be built on and should be acknowledged.

      Yes, definitely looking forward to more ‘robust critical discussions’ – I’m counting on them to help me formulate strong enough opinions to get this research done!

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