Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A valuable article: "Developing Socially Just Subject-Matter Instruction: A Review of the Literature on Disciplinary Literacy Teaching" by Elizabeth Moje

Thanks to Anne Edwards and Viv Bozalek, my attention was drawn to Elizabeth Moje's review article, "Developing Socially Just Subject-Matter Instruction: A Review of the Literature on Disciplinary Literacy Teaching" (Review of Research in Education, March 2007, Vol. 31, pp. 1–44 DOI: 10.3102/0091732X07300046). Based on reading of a wide range of studies, focusing mainly but not solely on the US and on schooling and post-school youth, she provides an extremely useful introduction to educationists interested in making their disciplines more accessible to students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. From this point of view, the article is useful for a potential researcher who wants to situate him or herself in this field. It is a long article and I would not like to reproduce it here in any detail, but simply to say why I find it useful for the SOTL @ UJ - Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy research project.

Starting from the idea that we can fuse the 'moral' and the 'intellectual' projects in teaching, she  makes a distinction between socially just pedagogy and social justice pedagogy. A socially just pedagogy is one which initiates students in to the powerful knowledges and ways of knowing, and which provides students with the means to engage with and critique these knowledges. On the other hand she writes that 'Social justice pedagogy should, in other words, offer possibilities for transformation, not only of the learner but also of the social and political contexts in which learning and other social action take place (Saunders, 2006)". This is a broader purpose, and I would assume that the former is part of the latter, broader purpose. She covers various approaches:
  • Social Justice as Access to Expert Subject-Matter Knowledge (this, she claims has largely fallen by the wayside)
  • Social Justice as the Foregrounding of Everyday Knowledge (this is more of a 'way in' than an endpoint)
  • Social Justice as Access to Useable Disciplinary Knowledge and Ways of Knowing (though valuable, this will not lead students to criticality)
  • Social Justice as Access to Knowledge Via Access to Ways of Producing Knowledge (thus enhancing students' capacity for synthesis and critique).
A crucial point she makes along the way is with regard to the line of argument that we should make the norms, conventions and practices of the disciplines explicit to students. She points out that whilst this may be important, it does not cater for the phenomenon of students learning via apprenticeship, and that there is the danger that it can reify these ways of knowing. She also stresses the value of inducting students into the disciplines, and not selling them short at 'usable' or 'everyday' knowledge:

"It is not enough to talk about developing disciplinary literacy as useable knowledge for the average citizen. Producing and assessing knowledge in the disciplines and in everyday life relies heavily on one’s ability to access, interpret, critique, and produce texts, both oral and written, on both paper and electronic media. Those youth who come to school with high levels of fundamental literacy skill (see Norris & Phillips, 2002) across a range of textual media will be more likely to participate not only in advanced disciplinary study but also in civic conversations and activities driven by the natural and social sciences, by mathematical processes, and by themes and concepts informed via the study of literature (not to mention the domains of visual arts, music, and sports and fitness). Across these different perspectives, scholars agree that knowing how to connect disciplinary knowledge to everyday knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for full societal access. People need to be able to
navigate across disciplinary and everyday forms of representation, including print, numerals, and other inscribed symbols." (p.33)

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