MMU Postgraduate Sessions: @DrMGallagher on Sound in Schools

Dr Michael Gallagher will host the next MMU Postgraduate Sessions workshop on the topic of Sound in Schools.

THURSDAY 9TH MARCH – 6-8PM

Brooks Building, BR 1.22

How does sound function in schools? In this session we will discuss the politics of noise and quiet in classrooms, how sound creates atmospheres in school spaces, and how it is used to exercise power. We will begin with a short film I made as part of my research, which draws attention to school soundscapes that are often ‘filtered out’ by conventional research methods. We will then discuss  what expanded practices listening might do for education and research.

‘I’-ING THE DATA

Raj Patel presented his doctoral work today on reflexive practice and intersectionality in schools. He developed the approach of i-poems after amassing a mountain of data from interviews and participant observation in a school. After spending a long time thematically coding in Nvivo, he explained that everything was coded and yet patterns were not emerging. The risk with a thematic coding approach is it reveals recurring concepts, but overlooks tacit experiences.

The I-poem draws on Gilligan et al’s (2003) Listening Guide; immersing yourself in the data in order to understand the plot, and then focussing on the voice of I/me/my in order to reveal subject positioning and power relations. Raj then worked with these extracts from the data to create poems.

I went for an interview

I didn’t get it

I got back here again one of the staff said to me don’t see it in a negative

“you’re gold to us” she said it in Gujarati “honanichhe” and

I went away

I went away

I didn’t really think about it but then it kept coming back to me so

I wrote it down

I went back to it a couple of days later

I thought …gold

Patel, 2015

Overall, we were interested in the way in which the I-poems displayed intersectionality in a more nuanced way. When the effects of race and gender are felt through subject positioning and through what is left unspoken, can arts practice such as poetry be a fruitful way of articulating this?

Reference

Gilligan, C. et al (2003) On the listening guide: A voice-centred relational method. In Camic, P. et al (eds) Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design. Washington DC: American Psychological Association Press.

Patel, R. (2015) The Role of Reflective Practice in Educating About Race, Identity and Difference Unpublished PhD Thesis Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University available at http://www.e-space.mmu.ac.uk/espace/handle/2173/582935 [Accessed 14/01/17]

This was originally posted on the Arts Based Methods at MMU blog.

An interview with Jill Blackmore on Space, Learning and Feminism and the Politics of Education

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Jill Blackmore is Professor of Education and former Director of the Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation at Deakin University, Victoria, Australia.

She has published widely in education and sociology with a longstanding interest in issues of equity, feminism, teachers’ work and classroom practice. Recently she has led teams studying school learning environments leading to an extremely useful literature review, Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes (PDF, 3MB) as well as the Innovative Learning Environments Research Study (PDF, 1MB) (See also learningspacesportal.edu.au). Jill also advises the OECD on their Learning Environments Evaluation Programme.

This interview crosses a lot of ground – from her recent work exploring teachers’ use of space to her own teaching in Victoria schools in the 1970s, feminism, the realities of doing research, and recent challenges to an equitable educational entitlement. The interview took place in May 2016 following a talk organised by Dr Ruth McGinity and Professor Helen Gunter at Manchester University where Jill spoke about her recent research on space, pedagogy and teachers.

Thank you for your talk earlier, Jill. Such a close focus on teachers’ work in and with space is vital but sometimes overlooked. When teachers are training in Australia, is an explicit focus on space part of their mandatory courses?

No, there’s nothing at all about the spatial aspects of teaching – what I call spatialised pedagogies. I think they are becoming more recognised because of this sudden surge of interest cross-nationally around the notion of the 21st century learner. That and a sudden realisation that during the 1980s and 90s there was a lack of investment in school buildings due to privatisation, a lack of public funds and a more competitive situation in most Anglophone countries. But this real increase in interest is also happening across Italy, Mexico and where there’s been natural disasters such as New Zealand and Japan.

As I said, it’s closely connected to the notion of the 21st century learner who they believe has to be able to work in teams, in groups… There’s interdisciplinarity, intercultural competences, critical thinking skills, being flexible and being able to work and learn in different ways.

The argument is that we need new types of curricula which reflect many of these issues and that this can’t be done in a classroom with desks in rows. That’s the background but there’s a lot of different things happening at the same time. In Australia, for example, with the Building the Education Revolution now that was an economic move, it was nothing to do with education really, it was to keep our economy going and it did. $6.7 billion dollars helped reduce the impact of the economic crisis in 2007 as well as provide new buildings to both public and private schools.

It’s interesting that a focus on young people and their educational spaces has come about for such different reasons – in that case economics, in others natural disasters – education can be incidental…

There’s a global policy forum so an opportunity is seized for a variety of reasons. The OECD has been working on this for some time and I’m involved with this project looking at innovative learning environments. They been looking at this since the mid-1990s and the OECD is very powerful, informing what governments think and they’ve been promoting the whole stuff about the 21stcentury learner and what constitutes an innovative learning environment.

Their work in learning environments and school buildings comes together in a project I’m doing with the OECD called LEEP (Learning Environments Education Programme). It’s about trying to link school improvement and the process of that with space.

Can I just ask – when we’re talking about school improvement, we’re talking presumably about some kind of outputs that they’re interested in measuring? What are they?

Well, there’s school improvement and effectiveness literature and they are the mainstream. They are the things that inform all kinds of policy, they are the paradigm, the dominant, global paradigm in education research. I do think the notion of continuous improvement is ridiculous but we do obviously want to improve what we do in schools.

Now those of us who come from a critical perspective might say ‘Of course we want things to get better, but we’d do it through much more participatory action research and teacher knowledge’, in that way, rather than the imposition of pre-specified outcomes and outputs. This is what we now call the Transnational Leadership Package which we study in a Routledge series of books drawing on critical perspectives on educational leadership that Helen Gunter (2014), Pat Thomson (2016) and I (Blackmore 2016) have written with others. So we have a different way of thinking about what to do in schools and how to make things better for teachers and students which address context and the situatedness of ethical practices of leadership.

Within that paradigm, how do you negotiate your space to be able to say, ‘Hold on, things need to be thought of broadly here…’? How do you do that?

As academics? Well, for example, Pat Thomson’s done a fantastic project on creative partnerships and done fantastic work too in arts education and space in the arts. Helen does it through critical analysis of what’s going on policy-wise, I’ve done it through getting involved with things I really don’t like.

Such as?

Well, the notion of effectiveness as used in the OECD LEEP project is in some forms is totally contrary to what I believe. But being involved it gives me the opportunity to sit down and talk to 23 countries, to talk to people about how to think about this differently in ways that address complexity and context. I’ve done this three or four times now and the framework we developed out of the Innovative Learning Environment in Victoria project which I talked about earlier informed the LEEP project.

It’s an opportunity to actually inform the people who do the work on the ground, to say ‘There’s a different way of viewing the world and this is the way to go.’ So I see that as an opportunity with some costs too. Systems have to make decisions and the reality of life is that systems of schooling have to do the best with what they know. So I see my role is to broaden their understanding.

Ok, so things spin off from what you do?

Yes. I think people see we have to put teachers first, get teachers to think about their practice, give them opportunities, give them support. They’ll change their practice if they understand the warrant, the reasons why they need to change it. Most of the time. Sometimes it’s too hard but most of them will try. And you’ve got to give them the opportunity – the current system doesn’t give any teacher any opportunity at all to do anything. We’re not in the straight jacket quite so much in Australia but here in England it’s devastating.

So making sure that the people who are in the buildings, using the spaces in their teaching – they need to be connected more closely to what policy-makers do and those doing the more arm’s length, big systems work?

Well one of the notions that Pat Thomson and I use is ‘redesign’ which came out of the New London Group and Multiliteracies. The notion of redesign implies that, as practitioners, there’s no such thing as innovation in the sense of experimenting, bringing it into a technical manual and then you just do it. With redesign in education we’re trying to change the very thing that we have to keep on going and maintain. In a sense you’re trying to rebuild the plane as it’s flying – you can’t stop it at any time because you’re constantly having to meet certain outcomes at the very time you’re trying to change practice. It’s really hard for teachers to balance that. So it is how teachers try to manage that constant tension, to do the things that they think will really make a difference to their kids and still keep things going. We talk about the various elements of redesign: the aesthetic, the cultural, the spatial, the emotional and affective as well as all the other dimensions that school improvement always talks about.

So you seem committed to recognising the complexity of this…

Because that’s how it is – it is complex.

Of course, but this is a problem isn’t it when people want simple solutions?

Yes, simple solutions to complex problems and they just don’t exist.

Has this always been a problem?

It’s always been a problem except there hasn’t always been the research around to point it out. And I do think that things are far more complex than they’ve ever been before. The digital revolution is changing the relationship between the individual and society and education – radically.

On top of that you’ve got neoliberal policies permeating every aspect of our lives, making promises that can’t be fulfilled and so you’ve got education unable to fulfil its promise of social mobility for anybody anymore. Middle class anxieties are now blossoming in every country with the internationalisation of education and a rising middle class in China and India who seek comparative advantage for their kids. In Australia you’ve got increases in private schooling because people think they can buy their way into a good career but even that’s not necessarily happening anymore. And education itself is now under threat because it cannot fulfil its promise. University education can no longer fulfil the old promise – you get a good degree, you get a good job…

A promise made by earlier generations…

We made the promise! We believed in education and we got it! Our generation is the only one that has really achieved those benefits.

I’d like to move then to this more personal side of things if that’s ok. Do your experiences of school shape what you think of school now? How?

Well I’m from a family of teachers, my mother was the first female principal of a coeducational school, she helped to get equal pay for women teachers, she was active in the Victorian Secondary Teachers’ Association. My dad was a teacher and my brother, my partners…!

I joke about my vintage but I think education was our religion, it really was. For the baby boomers it was a religion – we saw feminism, we saw a capacity for social change, to change the world, we educated women. Well, where are we now? Education’s totally feminised and it hasn’t changed the world at all because it’s moved on, it’s moved out of education to somewhere else. Educapitalism at a global level basically!

But yes, I was educated in a government secondary school where and when only 8-10% went on to university and we were in hugely crowded classes: 40 or 50 in one higher certificate Maths class with a first year teacher who was teaching Maths and Science had failed these subjects at second year University because they didn’t have enough trained teachers then. So the union goes into action. In the 60s and 70s it was the teachers’ union promoting the registration of teachers.

The union was doing that?

Oh yes, it was the union we would look to for ideas about curriculum. In the 70s there was a real blossoming of increasingly interesting ideas. We chose to do General Studies, much of which is what they talk about in 21st Century Learning. That’s what we were doing then – we knocked down the walls of classrooms, we built outdoor classrooms, we had group work, we had teams of teachers working together so none of that was new to us, it just wasn’t out there in the literature – we just knew it was a good thing to do. And we read. We read Illich, we read the Little Red Book and of course we read feminist literature. It was a time of blossoming, a time of fantastic activism, a time of feminism…

And you weren’t constrained by assessment systems?

We had school assessment, we had exams. The union threatened to boycott the Year 12 exam because it reproduced inequality. I was president of the Staff Association and Union Branch in the particular school where I was teaching – there was so much going on. After my first year teaching I was thrown into a role of looking after 200 students. I was a careers advisor, I’d take them to the doctor’s around the corner when they got pregnant – we did everything! I was in charge of a mini school by the end of my first year of teaching.

It sounds like your vision of education as complex is directly because of your experience?

Well it was complicated. In Victoria we had an interesting case. My first published academic paper was written about it: school-based decision-making. The unions were quite powerful so we got rid of inspections, we had committees in schools to help principals make decisions, we had an agreement with the unions that every school would have an equal opportunities person and there was someone to promote gender equity for girls. I remember bringing action research into the school. In Australia then you had a very critical edge and that was developing particularly in Deakin University. You had a women’s movement – our first female premier in Victoria came out of the women’s movement – you had a strong parents’ movement. I’ve written about that and now what I’m writing about is much more corporate managerialism. I look at it now and think those 20 years were an aberration, those 20 years teaching and being an activist feminist academic.

And in terms of space – learning spaces – in the 70s?

Well we made a case then for why we needed a big space in General Studies, we needed flexibility, we needed the capacity to move the tables around. We’d do drama so we needed to change things – we don’t have that now. We’ve got technology, we’ve got computers now but…

Sorry, you mentioned flexibility there and one of the things that I find most difficult things in reading about learning spaces in academic literature and outside it, is the incredible lack of ‘What are we talking about here?’ Is your flexibility the same as mine? So a real lack of preciseness about these terms.

Yes, is it flexibility about the space? Is it flexibility about the furniture? Is it multi-purpose-ness? Or is it flexibility arising from the technologies being used? Is it flexibility about what you do?

Exactly. How do you conceive of it?

I see it as all of those things but each of them is different and they don’t necessarily converge. In the classroom, flexibility of furniture requires a whole lot of organisational things to be happening with the teaching – it does take more time. And it changes the temporality of everything. When you change the spatial dimensions you change temporality because often, ironically, you can’t have movement in the same way especially if you have really big spaces as some schools do – everyone has to know what everybody else is doing. In other words, there needs to be synchronicity between activities because of the noise that’s being made.

So it requires a huge amount of planning on the part of teachers and that requires dedicated time for teachers to plan. You can’t have, I think, good pedagogies in an open space without dedicated time for teachers to plan. And it changes if you go to block timetabling because you can’t have too much movement all the time. Time changes things. The divisions of time change according to the space: smaller slots, bigger blocks or the idea of time out.

To wrap up then. A café somewhere, and an architect and an educationalist sitting down together. What would you want them to talk about or what principles might guide their conversation?

Well this happens quite a lot, I do it a lot, and we normally agree on many things. But really they should be looking to come up with some key pedagogical principles of design. You then carry these basic principles of learning into what kind of spaces you need – it starts with pedagogy and works backwards to the space.

And that’s often the problem isn’t it, it happens the wrong way round… space is seen to be an agent of change…

Well space doesn’t do it. You’ve got to work with people and change their practices. There’s an interaction obviously but I would argue that there’s an interaction in any space, one that doesn’t have a particular purpose. But we have purposes. That’s the thing with education – there’s a purpose.

Adam Wood

This was originally posted on the Architecture and Education blog.

A Ghost knocking at the door?

There’s a ghost knocking at me door

And he’s asking…

(Ribbon Road, from the song ‘The Ghost’ from the 2016 cycle ‘Our Streets are Numbered’)

3Part of our contribution to the AHRC Utopia Festival, 2016

A team led by ESRI Research Fellow Geoff Bright has recently won more funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to develop the ‘impact and legacy’ of their arts-based investigation into the ‘social haunting’ of deindustrialised communities. Under its full title of Song Lines to Impact and Legacy: Creating Living Knowledge through Working with Social Haunting the new project builds on two earlier AHRC Connected Communities investigations also led by Geoff – Working with a Social Haunting and The AHRC Utopia Festival project Opening the ‘Unclosed Space’: Multiplying Ghost Labs as Intergenerational Utopian Practice. Once again using the Ghost Lab approach, the team will take their innovative technique of ‘Community Tarot’ readings to new audiences in marginalised de-industrialised communities in the UK and, from there, to other national and international audiences in the Basque Country, Slovenia, US, Hungary, Haiti and Malawi through the channel of community radio.

If you’re a follower of this blog, you’ll know that our earlier projects drew very significantly on the conceptual framework of a ‘social haunting’ articulated in Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, and developed the Ghost Labs – essentially a “participatory art-philosophy-political event-space”, in Brian Massumi’s words – to query how difficult affective meanings carried into the present from contested pasts might, rather than narrowing the scope of imaginable futures, might actually be harnessed as energies for benevolent change. The Ghost Labs’ success seems rooted in their capacity to allow participiants to reflect on community histories and values and to reimagine alternative futures in a way that is enjoyable and social, even when those communities have suffered divisive traumatic change. As one of our participants from a previous project summed up: “We had a laugh, did something different, got to know each other and ourselves a bit better…It felt good to try to express myself through unusual means (for me) like poetry or even drawing. Doing it together created a powerful and lasting feeling…”. The Community Tarot is just one of a repertoire of arts based methods that the Labs employ. It offers a simple, playful, but richly productive device with which to bring to light contradictory aspects of what Valerie Walkerdine has called “communal being-ness” in de-industrialised communities that exist in the form of ‘sticky’ and difficult affects, like those surfacing in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. There is thus a real timeliness to the work.2

The Ghost Lab Tarot cards, designed by our project partner: comic strip artist, Jim Medway

The new project will have two phases: the Community Tarot technique will be rolled out by means of Ghost Labs held in five new communities: three in the NE of England – Seaham, Horden and Willington on the Durham coalfield – and two in the NW – Rochdale and Hyde, Tameside. In the second phase, the creative materials generated through those Community Tarot readings will stimulate the creation of a set of contemporary ‘video ballads’ that ally with local traditions of dissenting song and will be specially written and recorded by our partner folk musicians, Ribbon Road. The video ballads will be used to initiate “song lines” of living knowledge outwards from, and back into, the originating communities as they circulate through a series of interactive public engagement and dissemination channels that will have a local, regional, national and international reach. These channels will include pop-up theatre delivered by our partner New Vic Theatre Borderlines; community open air video projection by film maker, Steve Pool; interactive community radio; a specially commissioned website: and a practitioner and policy maker conference to take place at the People’s History Museum in late autumn 2017.

The established project team of Dr Geoff Bright; award-winning poet Andrew Mcmillan Dr Sarah McNicol; Unite Community; the Co-op College; New Vic Theatre Borderlines and community broadcaster, Max Munday, is joined this time by Workers’ Education Association in the NW; East Durham Artists Network; Durham Participatory Research Hub; community broadcast media specialists Sheffield Live and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). So there’s quite a bunch of us.

1A 2016 Communty Tarot ‘reading’, at the New Vic Theatre Ghost Lab, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire. Max Munday recording.

We’ll keep you posted on our activities in our new community settings and our out-and-about ‘ghost hunting’ activities at the 2017 editions of the Durham Miners’ Gala, Great Yorkshire Show, Wigan Diggers’ Festival, and the Co-op College Conference. Listen out for the beautiful voice of Ribbon Road’s, Brenda Heslop! It’ll make you burn with righteous fury, marvel at the capacity of communities to survive, and weep with joy and sadness. Get a taste of it here: Ribbon Road. Try listening to Daddy for You; Eddie’s Tattoo Studio; or The Numbered Streets and you’ll see what we are getting at. Also, if you’re interested in the more experimental arts-based approaches we’re messing with in our attempt to ‘hear and say the ghosts’, then also check out this roughly recorded demo of a freely improvised sound/word/data collage that we are working up for the European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry in Leuven, Belgium this year https://soundcloud.com/socialhaunting/ecqi-final-shortened​. Geoff Bright is on soprano sax, Andrew McMillan on “poetics”, Max Munday on Ghost Lab “data”, and Gill Whiteley on accordion.

So, there’s a ghost knocking at the door according to Brenda Heslop of Ribbon Road, and according to life of our Ghost Labs. Why? Well, here’s a bit of an interactive blog task. Look at the geography of the Brexit vote, and zone down to the coalfields and look at the level of the ‘leave’ vote. Then Google “miners’ strike 1984-85” and have a look at some of the images. Alright, coal has had its day, and done a lot of damage. So there’s no going back. But park that thought for a moment, and ask yourself what it might be like to live live through 84-85 and then witness the closure of the last UK deep mine in late 2016. And then ask yourself again what it might be that the ghosts are saying. And leave us a post.

Geoff Bright

Opening up about youth loneliness: Young researchers to tackle isolation among their peers

YOUNG people are being helped to provide a unique glimpse into the loneliness that is sometimes experienced by their peers.

This innovative project will develop the capacity of 12 young people (14-25 years) to conduct peer-research into youth loneliness in Manchester and across the UK. Youth loneliness is increasingly recognised as an important and timely issue for action.

The Loneliness Project is being developed by a partnership between Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Childhood, Youth and Community and 42nd Street, a Manchester-based mental health charity for young people.

The project fully embraces a ‘peer-research’ approach, with a young person, trained by the University and 42nd Street, leading the project.

‘Honest and frank’

Janet Batsleer, Principal Lecturer in Youth and Community Work at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “Loneliness can be understood from many different perspectives and can be an awkward thing to talk about both in research and in everyday life. So, we will work with young people to develop new creative methods for talking about and researching youth loneliness. By talking to their peers it will provide an honest and frank account, giving a unique glimpse into this underreported area.”

The peer-researchers will conduct research across Greater Manchester in 2017, talking to a range of young people about loneliness before visiting other places in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to share the findings and broaden the conversation.

The 12 peer researchers will talk to 180 young people from diverse backgrounds and different experiences of loneliness, producing insight to help organisations that work with young people better understand and engage with their needs. The results will ‘lay the foundations of a campaign against youth loneliness’.

It is funded with £60,000 from the Co-operative Foundation as part of its engagement with youth loneliness. The academic leads for the project are Janet Batsleer, Dr James Duggan, and Dr Sarah McNicol. It runs from October 2016 to December 2017.

Opportunities 

The Co-operative Foundation’s interest in investigating youth loneliness builds on its recently completed five-year programme, ‘Truth about Youth’. The Foundation worked with a group of young people to help it select a project that would combine high-quality research with strong development opportunities for young people.

Co-operative Foundation panel member Nicolle Hargadon said: “We really wanted a research project which involves young people in decision-making at all stages. Manchester Metropolitan and 42nd Street’s project exceeded our expectations by including a residential weekend that would build peer researchers’ relationships and skills, and offering them accreditation from the University which they can add to their CVs. This showed a real commitment to helping these young people and also investing time to ensure that the research collected will be valuable.”

Simone Spray, 42nd Street partner, added: “Although loneliness and isolation is often not seen as an issue relating to younger people, at 42nd Street we feel there is a real need to better understand young people’s experiences around these often complicated and sensitive issues.

“This is tricky subject matter; it means different things to different people and different communities and the impact is very personal. That is why we are so delighted to be involved with this ground-breaking piece of nationally significant work. Supported by the Co-op Foundation, we will be partnering the University and working alongside peer researchers to use new technology and creative approaches that help us to build a picture of what loneliness and isolation means to young people across the UK.

“Our experience tells us that peer research is the most powerful way to explore what’s really going on for young people; to reveal relevant and enlightening insight that can inform how we better support young people with their emotional wellbeing and mental health.”

For more information, you can follow the project on Twitter and Tumblr

Why should critical literacy matter to information professionals?

magnifying-glass-text

Critical literacy is an approach to learning and teaching that has gathered momentum in recent years as it has become widely used in classrooms around the world. Critical literacy is not just important for formal education settings however. It is also relevant for libraries because it is an approach that can engage students (or other users)in more active forms of reading and more creative ways of critiquing texts, as well as equipping them with skills and strategies to challenge social and political systems.

What is critical literacy?

Critical literacy differs from most models of information literacy because it is not simply about the ability to evaluate information for features such as authenticity, quality, relevance, accuracy, currency, value, credibility and potential bias. Instead, it addresses more fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge.

One way of describing critical literacy is as a process that, ‘challenges the status quo in an effort to discover alternative paths for self and social development’ (Shor, 1999). This description highlights two key components of critical literacy. Firstly, it has a focus on practical action and community engagement. Secondly, critical literacy is concerned with the social and cultural contexts in which traditional, digital, multimedia and other types of texts are both created and read. Critical literacy is not about studying texts in isolation, but developing an understanding of the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic contexts in which they are created and read. It involves an explicit commitment to equity, social justice and inclusion.

Authors and readers

A fundamental notion of critical literacy is that all texts are constructed(by one or more authors) and serve particular interests or purposes. As texts are written or created by people, who all have their own views of the world, no text is completely neutral and objective. For example, when they write, an author makes conscious and unconscious choices about what to include and exclude and how to represent the things or people they depict.

However, it is not just the author who has an important role. Just like authors, all readers have their own experiences and knowledge whichthey bring to a text. This means that each person interprets a text differently and multiple ways of reading a single text are not just possible, but inevitable. In contrast to more conventional approaches to resource evaluation, with critical literacy there is no single ‘correct’ way to read and respond to a text.

This means that critical literacy can allow students to move beyond merely retelling information to become actively engaged with texts as they start to exercise their power as readers to interrogate what is written and question the ideological standpoint of the author to form their own interpretations. Critical literacy also helps students to see connections between texts they read and the ‘real world’ as they come to realise how the experiences and opinions of both the author and reader are integral in shaping any text.

Some practical examples

Critical literacy is a theory that is highly relevant to the practical work of library and information workers across all sectors including academic, schools, public, workplace, prisons and health. In the case of public libraries, it can support social inclusion activities and offer alternative ways of framing reading promotion. In healthcare settings, critical literacy approaches can empower patients and challenge stigma. When working with young offenders, or at-risk young people, critical literacy can help to improve decision-making skills. In schools, it can have a role both within subjects such as Communication studies and in extra-curricular activities. It can also enhance the school librarian’s role within the school as they become engage in debates around the use of new media and academic honesty. When working with both undergraduate and post-graduate university students, critical literacy can move the librarian’s contribution to the learning process far beyond the simplistic database demonstration session to a more active, questioning approach that can profoundly impact on how students interact with information. Critical literacy can also support librarians’ work with particular user groups. For example, in the case of international students, disabled users; or adult learners, critical literacy can help to reframe difference as an asset rather than a deficit.

There is no doubt that adopting a critical literacy approach in a library setting can be highly challenging. Teaching students that there is no single ‘correct’ way to read a text and that evaluating a resource is not a process which can be reduce to a simple checklist requires considerable time, skill and confidence. However, the potential benefits can be immense.

These are just some brief examples of the ways in which critical literacy can be used within libraries and information services. Is your library using (or planning to use) critical literacy approaches in any way? If so, please let us know.

About ‘Critical Literacy for Information Professionals’

Critical Literacy for Information Professionals edited by Sarah Nicol

Critical Literacy for Information Professionals, edited by Sarah McNicol, provides a foundation of critical literacy theory, as applied to libraries, combines theory and practice to explore critical literacy in relation to different user groups, and offers practical ways to introduce critical literacy approaches in libraries.

You can buy the book from this link.