Beyond the Page: Exploring the Socio-Cultural Perspective of LiteracyFeb 28, 2023
by Rachel Cartin, Research Officer at Bangor University
When watching Joanna’s first video of her Literacy: A Path for All CPD course, it struck me that we’re often so focused on reading as the process of decoding and understanding text, that we forget that there are so many more processes and perspectives. Undoubtedly, these processes of decoding and comprehension are important for reading, but it is so much more than that…
Joanna insightfully touches on four perspectives which, in all honesty, I had not considered before. These are:
- Psycholinguistic (reading as a problem-solving activity),
- Cognitive (working out what the words are, and what they mean)
- Socio-cultural (considering the role of reading within a family),
- Socio-political (access to literacy being associated with increased political awareness).
The socio-cultural perspective really resonated with me, and was one which I was interested in delving a little deeper into…
Literacy: A Socio-Cultural Approach
Close your eyes. Consider your earliest memory of reading. Were you reading alone, with a friend, or a family member? Were you in school, at home, or in a library? Were you happy to read, were you encouraged, or were you forced to read a chapter before you could watch your favourite TV show? Did it excite you, interest you, make you feel frustrated, bored, proud or disheartened?
My earliest memory is when my siblings and I would clamber onto our parents’ bed, and we would all take it in turns reading a page of McElligot's Pool by Dr Seuss. My parents believed that having a positive attitude towards reading and making it a fun activity would foster a lifelong love of learning and exploration. I believe they were right!
The Socio-Cultural Perspective
The socio-cultural perspective of reading views reading as a socially and culturally constructed process that is influenced by various factors such as the reader's background, experiences, language, culture, and context. It emphasises the importance of considering these factors when studying reading and argues that reading is not just an individual cognitive process, but a social and cultural activity that is shaped by the larger society and culture. The perspective highlights the role of reading in shaping identity, forming relationships, and transmitting cultural knowledge and values.
Often, when we ask children what they think the purpose of reading is, their responses can vary from ‘no purpose’ to ‘to be able to read my favourite book’ and ‘help me fill out job applications when I’m older’ to ‘help me play Minecraft’. Each of these has helped us to consider and explore children’s perspectives of reading, what value they place on it. Perhaps most importantly, knowing what reading means to them, helps us to know how best we can support them. We can see the barriers and facilitators, and work towards embedding positive and aspirational feelings towards literacy. Especially in the current context, where there is a significant amount of primary aged children experiencing a lot of literacy related anxiety, this is perhaps more important now than it ever has been.
The Socio-Cultural Perspective for Educational Professionals
Understanding the socio-cultural perspective of reading from the CYP and family perspective gives educational professionals the opportunity to create more inclusive and effective reading instruction and assessment practices. For example, we can provide materials that reflect the diversity of their students' cultures and backgrounds, and we can design instruction that addresses the different ways in which students approach reading based on their experiences and beliefs. Additionally, understanding the socio-cultural perspective can help educators to recognise and address any potential barriers to reading that their students may face, such as limited access to appropriate books matched to their abilities (i.e. can read 80-90% of words), a lack of their own cultural representation in the materials they are using, a lack of personally enjoyable materials, or not seeing a purpose to reading longer-term.
We know there are socio-cultural differences in reading achievements, and by understanding these specific barriers and facilitators to the individual school / CYP context within which we work, we can work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive reading environment for all.
The following provide some key tips for improving socio-cultural perspectives towards literacy. However, while easy to relate to, these can be hard to actualise and embed within the classroom due to the level of reflection and time needed. Like most things, it’s best to choose one of these, and do it well:
- Create connections between school and home: We can help students develop literacy skills by creating connections between the school and home. This can include involving families in literacy activities (e.g. inviting them into school for literacy activities), encouraging parents to read with their children at home (e.g. choosing materials which their children enjoy, even things like scripts on computer games), and recognising the value of home language and culture in supporting literacy development.
- Recognise and value the diverse backgrounds of your students: Students come from different cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds. We should take time to learn about students' backgrounds, cultures, and languages, and create a classroom environment that respects and values their identity and aligns literacy with this (rather than as something perceived to belong to a different culture to their own).
- Foster a positive classroom culture: We can create a classroom culture that values and encourages literacy, and where all students feel safe and supported. This can include setting high expectations for literacy achievement, providing opportunities for students to share their ideas and perspectives, and creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment.
- Provide opportunities for student collaboration: Collaborative learning allows students to learn from each other's perspectives and experiences. We can create opportunities for students to work together in groups, share their ideas, and learn from one another.
Overall, improving socio-cultural perspectives towards literacy requires a commitment to creating a culturally responsive and inclusive learning environment that values and respects diversity. By incorporating these tips into teaching practices, we can help all students develop the literacy skills they need to succeed.
Hall (2003) stresses that we must adopt a multifaceted approach, looking at literacy from a wider perspective than just word reading. The socio-cultural perspective focuses on expanding an individual’s knowledge, attitude, and understanding of the intricacies and nuances in literacy. It allows them to be active learners, using what they know to guide their experiences and engage with their surroundings, as well as learning from those around them in their everyday contexts.
Interested in learning more?
Literacy: A Path For All CPD course is now live.
Dr Joanna Stanbridge's course for Educational Psychologists covers practical tools and approaches within EP practice at levels of casework and consultation through to systemic approaches which we can support schools to create a system which works for all.
Access 3 key resources from this Literacy course for Free.
Hall, K. (2003). Listening to Stephen Read: Multiple Perspectives on Literacy. OU Press
Preece, J., & Levy, R. (2018). Understanding the barriers and motivations to shared reading with young children: The role of enjoyment and feedback. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 20(4), 631–654. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798418779216
Quigley, A. (2020). Closing the reading gap. Routledge.
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