Henderson, Robyn and Hirst, Elizabeth (2007) Reframing academic literacy: re-examining a short-course for 'disadvantaged' tertiary students. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 6 (2). pp. 25-38. ISSN 1175-8708
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This paper revisits a successful short-course in academic literacy that was conducted for 50 ‘disadvantaged’ students enrolled in the first year of an education degree at an Australian regional university (see Hirst, Henderson, Allan, Bode & Kocatepe, 2004). Based on a sociocultural approach to learning and drawing on a conceptualisation of tertiary literacy as a social practice, the short-course disrupted deficit views of individual students and worked to help students expand their literate repertoires. However, recent discussions about learning have helped to problematise academic literacy and its place within an increasingly plural, multicultural, multilingual and textually multimodal society (Gee, 2003, 2004; Kalantzis & Cope, 2004; The New London Group, 1996). Rather than accepting academic literacy as the metaphoric opening of a “significant gate to economic success and sociopolitical power” (Gee, 2004, p.91), recent views suggest that a homogenisation is at work and that courses in academic literacy serve to enculturate students into particular – and possibly outdated – social and literacy practices. Gee (2004), for example, argues that academic language represents a family of “old literacies” and that the take-up of language “once thought to be central to what counted as a ‘schooled’ and ‘intelligent’ person is now at best a necessary, but not sufficient condition for success in society” (p.94). Drawing on Gee’s (2003, 2004, 2005) discussions of learning principles in multi-mediated contexts, and his preference for the notion of affinity spaces over communities of practice, this paper reframes academic literacy, then considers whether the short-course described above – which was judged as successful – has the potential to work with the increasing diversity of tertiary students’ learning and life experiences as well as to prepare them for successful participation in tertiary education contexts.
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