Literacy, learning and identity

Vicky Duckworth, Angela Brzeski

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper draws upon our research within the context of Further Education which has a focus on literacy, learning and identity. According to Gee (2004), the primary identity, or ‘sense of self’, is molded in the home during childhood. Later in life, for example within the college classroom, people adopt a student identity in which they complete tasks and activities for the purpose of knowledge and skill development and also for the purpose of assessment. However, now that they are adults, these same people also have other identities in their lives. In this paper, the authors argue that the multi-faceted identities (Ivanic et al 2009) that students have affect, and are affected by, engagement in literacy practices across both the classroom and home domains. The paper has a strong focus on how the identities of the college students have impacted upon their literacy practices and their learning. The research that was undertaken for this paper was grounded in an understanding of literacy as a social practice (Barton 1994; Barton and Hamilton 1998, 2000; Gee 1996; Street 1984). One of the aims of the studies was to examine the relationship between literacy practices, literacy demands and engagement in learning within Further Education. Another aim was to recognise the complex view of the nature of literacy and highlight that literacy has many purposes for the learner. Here, this challenges the dominance of the autonomous model and recognises how literacy practices vary from one cultural and historical context to another in order to develop a critical curriculum which empower people across the domains of their lives. An ethnographic methodological framework was chosen for the research. This methodology is traditionally used by members of the New Literacy Studies (NLS) for researching literacy and social practices (Barton and Hamilton 1998, 2000; Papen 2005a, 2005b). In addition, it is a methodology which is particularly suited to the concept of literacy as social practice (Papen 2005). The research was underpinned by theoretical frameworks including the autonomous and ideological models of literacy (Street 1984) and the mobilisation of literacy from one context to another, which includes third space theory (Levy 2008), incorporating the concept of ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll et al 2005), together with resonance and dissonance (Minion and Goodman (2006, Goodman et al 2007, Ivan et al 2009, Minion 2006). The research was carried out within North West Further Education colleges. Participants in the research included both students and staff. Data collection procedures included participant observation, analysis of a range of artefacts and a number of 1:1 interviews. These interviews focused on classroom and home literacy practices, which the students were asked to photograph using disposable cameras. Analysis of the literacy practices was undertaken using a framework developed by the Literacies for Learning in Further Education (LfLFE) Project team, of which one of the authors of this paper was a member. The Project team argued that home literacy practices can be broken down into micro-practices (Ivanic 2009, p. 113) or aspects (Ivanic et al p. 50). One of the aspects was ‘roles, identities and values’. Emerging conclusions from the paper include how insights into the identities within the home literacy practices of college students can help to understand the engagement/disengagement of these students with the literacy demands of their courses. The sharing of the authors’ research findings illuminate the importance of New Literacy Studies and critical approaches to education, in offering a potential space for critical reflection, dialogue and transformation where learners can challenge notions of literacies and explore their narratives and society around them.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012
EventCentre for Learner Identity Studies (CLIS) conference - Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Jul 201213 Jul 2012


ConferenceCentre for Learner Identity Studies (CLIS) conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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