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Are schools wrong to demand formal literacy skills from pupils whose home backgrounds mean that they inevitably feel they are failing in all areas of the curriculum and who may think that they will not need such formal skills in the future?

by Imogen Brown‹ (Willgress as of 2001)

A Dissertation submitted in

‹part fulfilment of the

degree of MA (Ed)

by examination and dissertation

University of Southampton Á 1999


One of the units that I have studied as part of my course was entitled Gender and Literacy: Tackling Underachievement. I prepared an assignment for this course which involved a brief ethnographic study of a family. The family that I investigated in terms of literacy were Sally Jones (age 33), and her children Katherine (14), David (11) and John (9). SallyĂs father is also a regular visitor to the home. My husband and I became involved with the family just before Sally was widowed nine years ago. Our children were playing in the brass band Sally played in, and we used to help her husband look after the three small children while the band was playing. When he was killed in a car accident we offered practical and emotional support to Sally, and have been there as background support for the family ever since.

For my initial assignment I decided to look at SallyĂs family because I knew that their lifestyle did not conform to stereotypes, and I was curious as to what literacy actually was in their home environment. I wanted to find out what literacy meant in this single parent home and what the roles of the mother, daughter and sons were in terms of gender and literacy. More deeply than that, I wanted to tell their story because I wanted to be in a position from where I could imagine what life is like for them, identify the tensions that occur in their literacy lives, and see how I could help them make improvements, or how I could suggest improvements that could be made by the school. I wanted to tell their story because it is real, but distanced from my own experience. I hoped that any readers would find my account interesting, as I had found the research absorbing and fascinating even though I knew the family well.

I soon found that I had embarked on a descriptive rather than analytical study, and I used Barton, (1994), Heath (1983) and Solsken (1993) for my main points of reference for this study. I focused on two types of data collection. Firstly, I gave the family disposable cameras and asked them to take photos of literacy activities over a week. This enabled them to capture their view of literacy, which was what I wanted to discover too.‹ One of the aspects that the Lancaster Literacy Research Group (Barton et al. 1993) were keen to capture on camera were literacy events that gave Śpositive images of literacyĂ (p.127) for people with literacy problems. This is what I hoped to do for the Jones, and in reality they did it for themselves because they chose the moments to capture on film. The photos provided much more positive feedback for me to work with than interviews alone would have done. The photos gave the family a chance to express their understanding without feeling that they were being tested in any way. Taking the photos allowed them‹ to be actively involved in the research, and it ŚfrozeĂ moments for me to analyse at my leisure. It also made them more aware of their literacy activities. If I had only collected data by interview the outcome would‹ have been quite different; by recording activities on film the family are displaying a more positive image than the interviews alone would have done. The interviews would have portrayed the family as being non-readers, the photos show otherwise.

The second data collection activity was interview. Sally was especially nervous about being interviewed because she didnĂt want to disappoint me with her answers. She is self-conscious about her weakness with literacy skills, which appears to stem from her patchy attendance at secondary school. She attended the same school as Katherine, and when I mentioned her name to a few remaining members of staff they remembered her as potentially capable, but not attending school regularly enough to gain qualifications. I wanted to talk with the family about their tastes in books so brought home from the school library a selection of books (Appendix 1) for the children to choose some they liked the look of to read and talk about when they visited me for a day, and a collection of magazines for their mother to look at. I wanted to give the children an opportunity to tell me more about their literacy habits and interests.‹ I knew that they would not have a wide range of material available in their home. It was not unusual for me to bring home a selection of books for them to browse through or have read to them at our house. I recorded these informal interviews and the transcript of KatherineĂs is in Appendix 2.

As a researcher I was ŚhamperedĂ in some respects by the familiarity I had with the household. I knew the context, the relationships and the events that appeared to be shaping literacy behaviours and found myself interpreting data without realising what I was doing. I was aware that I needed to distance myself and look more objectively at what was before me. I was caught in a position of tension between being a friend /‹ teacher / researcher, but without discussing this openly with the family have managed to establish a stance towards them and data collecting. Our relationship has not changed perceptibly as a consequence.

As Barton writes, ŚThe family is an ecological niche in which literacy survives, is sustained, and flourishes.... many everyday activities invoke the use of literacy in some way.Ă (1994: 149) At the same time literacy is not the aim of these activities, it is an integral part . This makes it very difficult to examine in isolation, as it is constantly intertwined with general family life.

Looking at literacy in the household and SallyĂs stance in particular I was interested to consider a point made by Kress . He writes that ŚLiteracy for the ŚletteredĂ, comes eventually to be second nature, their means of representing their selves to the world and to themselves.Ă ( 1982: 209) This is something I rather took for granted until I carried out this study. Now I can see that in SallyĂs experience much of literacy is not second nature, but she manages to function adequately from day to day from a literacy point of view. She also maintains a settled home environment, and encourages her children, albeit from a rather passive standpoint.

I had planned to give a definition of what I had found, but that was naive. The multimodality of literacy in the home does not allow for simple description; what I have found is that literacy is developing and flourishing in the unique way that the Jones are nurturing it.‹ However, while I am looking at what I see in positive terms I would be remiss not to acknowledge that this particular family are missing out on the wider cultural literacy of the society we live in. They are not likely to ever have a home computer, and achieve computer literacy with ease as so many children do in the 1990s. This family cannot afford to go to the theatre and see live performances, or to visit museums, unless it is with a subsidised school trip. Their level of poverty will always leave them disadvantaged.

Having explored this family briefly I felt that I was left with all sorts of observations that surprised me, and that I wanted to investigate further. Katherine I found most fascinating because there was such a marked difference between her Śhome literacyĂ and her Śschool literacyĂ. On one hand I was looking at a daughter ŚcoachingĂ her mother through health and hygiene tests for her employment, and on the other I was looking at a pupil who is generally in lower sets, and struggling. I expected Katherine to read a certain type of fiction, but she read almost no books at all, and what she did read was not what I would have predicted. So...I have read more widely in an attempt to find KatherineĂs place in the ŚliteracyĂ context, I have talked to Katherine, asked her lots more questions and also spoken to some of her teachers, past and present. Initially I thought I would explore the relationship between literacy events and practices that go on at home and those that go on at school. I also wanted to examine where teachers and teaching fitted into this. As I have delved more into KatherineĂs‹ experiences both at home and school I realise that my question is changing and developing into an interest in the pupil who is linguistically impoverished from birth onwards. Having arrived at a stance of seeing KatherineĂs home literacy as thriving in a unique way I have come round to a standpoint where I realise the toll of poverty and deprivation on her life, which is not readily recognisable, or obvious. Suddenly my focus has narrowed and sharpened and I have opened a floodgate of questions .....

1.  What does a study of a pupilĂs home environment and home language background reveal about why she might fail to cope with the language demands of school?

2.  ‹Is it true that teachers can only significantly assist a pupil who struggles with the language demands of school, if they have a full understanding of the home language environment from which she comes?

3.  At a time when only what is easily measurable seems to be regarded as important, is the complex interplay of a childĂs home language and the language she is called on to use at school too easily ignored?

4.  We forget too easily that even those children who seem to struggle with language in the classroom use language effectively beyond the school gates. By ignoring their language background and home language use, are we demanding that they use language skills that they do not really need, or merely failing to provide properly, and individually, targeted assistance to help them develop their language skills?

Are schools wrong to demand‹ formal literacy skills from pupils whose home background means that they inevitably feel that they are failing in all areas of the curriculum and who may think they will not need such formal skills in future?

Hopefully most of these questions will get answered in the course of this study. I have decided to focus on the last question as one that encompasses the others. The answers will inevitably be personal ones, and while they will be teased out of observations, patterns, contrasts, and probably conflicts, they will also be smattered with my idiosyncrasies. In a study of this nature I cannot avoid expressing myself, with my ways of looking at, and interpreting the world. In the process I am achieving a new level of self awareness and self knowledge, as I grow into this creative role of researcher and writer which is novel to me. At the same time I am being no more creative or expressive of self than anyone who puts pen to paper, because all knowledge is personal and cultural to some degree. It is for this reason that I decided to use whatever quantitative data was available, so that I had established some form of triangulation (see p.29) where I could compare data from different sources, to ensure that my findings were not merely idiosyncratic.

Chapter 1 Á Literacy and Katherine

Originally I had intended to restrict this study to a close examination of KatherineĂs reading habits and ability, but I soon realised that my interests lay in the full gamut of literacy at home and literacy at school, and all the aspects of these ecologies. Having said that, I am restricting myself to examining reading and writing as prime activities. So what do I mean by literacy? The Oxford dictionary (1976 edition) defined it as Śability to read and writeĂ while the Macquarie dictionary‹ (1981) defined it as Śthe state of being literate; possession of educationĂ. The Literacy Dictionary edited by Harris and Hodges gives a far more detailed definition which places the concept in its historical context:

Literacy derives from the Latin litteratus, which in CiceroĂs time, meant Śa learned personĂ. In the Middle Ages, the litteratus (as opposed to the illiteratus) was a person who could read Latin, but after 1300, due to the decline of learning in Europe, it came to signify a minimal ability with Latin. After the Reformation, literacy came to mean the ability to read and write in oneĂs native language. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the substantive literacy first appeared in English in the early 1880Ăs, formed from the adjective literate, which occurred in English writing as early as the middle of the 15th century. (1995:142)

That seems straightforward enough, but these definitions are only looking at part of the picture. Literacy is not just the simple activities of reading and writing; there is an extra element of assumption involved in that we assume that individuals understand the appropriate use of these abilities in our print oriented society. When I was thinking about KatherineĂs reading, I was simultaneously considering two very different aspects of her activity; I was looking at her ability to decode the words on the page in a mechanical way, and I was also trying to gauge her level of response to the text. What had looked simple wasnĂt as the event was influenced by the environment. For instance, reading a worksheet in a French lesson is a totally different activity to reading a penpalĂs letter at home, even though both events involved reading and response to that reading, whether it be to complete the worksheet or write back to the penpal. That led me to another area of exploration; the inextricable link between reading and writing in modern life. We write shopping lists, and we read them, we send and receive letters and we read them, and so it goes on. Writing also carries its own label of ambiguity; there is distinction between scribing, that is being able to form neat correct texts on the one hand, and writing creatively using imagination on the other. We use both forms of writing without considering their existence, and we combine the two as the occasion dictates. Having linked reading and writing, I realised that oral language is also inseparable from the other activities, and furthermore is a major link. One of the favourite social events for Katherine and her mother is an evening spent playing Bingo, and this literacy event would not exist without spoken language. This shows how literacy is Śultimately about the communication of meaning, not simply the perceptual and motor skills that may be required in particular reading and writing systemsĂ. (Hannon 1995:16)

Literacy as an area to be explored is a fairly recent phenomenon. Indeed in recent years it has been adopted to describe an ability in a chosen field, which is not necessarily reading and writing. For instance, the terms computer literacy, film literacy, and visual literacy are not uncommon and imply an understanding of an area of knowledge. The literacy that has been explored has until recently been the school literacy, and traditionally home literacy has been ignored as an inferior version of school. Studies of literacy were concerned with sociolinguistics, psychology, social context, and the theory behind the acquisition of literacy skills. Vygotsky has influenced the study of literacy in that he was a psychologist who realised how childrenĂs ŚinternalĂ thinking is based on their ŚexternalĂ social interactions with other people. We use literacy to represent these experiences, just as children do, and as literacy provides the bridge between thought and communication his findings are relevant to developing theories. Barton, (1994) traces development in literacy studies and states how he discovered that prior to 1980 hardly any books had literacy in their title. One exception to this was HoggartĂs work in 1957 entitled‹ The Uses of Literacy, in which he gives a fascinating account of‹ changes in working-class culture with the advent of technology, and the introduction of television, film and other mass publications. He showed how Britain was gradually being introduced to a new ŚclasslessĂ culture as publications were crossing the class boundaries. He also showed how previously womenĂs magazines were written in different styles to appeal to different audiences, but gradually styles were mingled in pursuit of a wider circulation, and class was not such a determining factor as it had previously been. Hoggart undertook other intriguing data collection which helped to indicate the position that the country was in at that time. He discovered that the circulation of newspapers was higher per thousand of population here than it was anywhere else in the world, and also that book production was highest in Britain at that time. On one hand he found that literacy was encouraged and promoted with a significant percentage of the working class using libraries regularly, but on the other he voices disappointment about the quality of the majority of their reading. One of the conclusions he reached was,

... one of the most striking and ominous features of our present cultural situation is the division between the technical language of the experts and the extraordinarily low level of the organs of mass communication.‹‹ (1957: 11)

Immediately I get a sense of what Hoggart was saying here, especially when I consider the quality, and literacy level of the tabloid newspapers and magazines which the child featured in this study is exposed to in her daily life.

In the early 1980s there were only one or two books with literacy in their title, but a trend developed during the decade and by 1991 fifteen books had been published in that year with ŚliteracyĂ as the first word in their title. This shows how‹ literacy is a new area for exploration. Shirley Brice Heath is one of the best known researchers of literacy in recent times. She spent approximately seven years investigating three communities in the USA. She used ethnographic and sociolinguistic methods to provide detailed description of peopleĂs use of reading and writing in the home and in the community. She then examined the relation between home literacies and school literacies. When defining literacy Heath says,

... the concept of literacy covers a multiplicity of meanings, and definitions of literacy carry implicit but generally unrecognised views of its functions (what literacy can do for individuals) and its uses (what individuals can do with literacy skills). (1980:123)

One of the things that HeathĂs research did show is that literacy will always be unequally distributed in society, and it is strongly related to factors beyond school, particularly the home environment.

The issue of literacy has taken on a political dimension, as the debate about education in this country has been largely targeted towards raising standards of literacy for the average and below average achievers so that the UK can maintain its position and be able to compete in the wider global economy. This political view is far too simplistic as anyone involved in education would know, but the vision of John Stannard, an HMI who was the director of the National Literacy Project has impressed the political parties; with the result that a major emphasis is being placed on the teaching of literacy in primary schools. The framework of the National Literacy Project which targeted poorer performing schools scattered through the local authorities has been incorporated into the National Literacy Strategy. In this academic year the National Literacy Strategy has been established as a programme of study in almost all primary schools. It is non-statutory but children are expected to study literacy activities for the prescribed hour a day. No one method of teaching children to read has been proven to be best, but any skills view is usually closely linked to the need to assess. Schools are required to be able to test, grade and evaluate their pupilsĂ performances. As yet it is too soon to judge the efficacy of this strategy;‹ what is known is that it has been a huge burden to the primary teachers who are conscientiously spending hours and hours preparing the content of the course, and then delivering it in the style that is dictated.‹

In 1995 Brian Street called for a change in direction, which is in direct contrast to the narrower, more prescriptive approach of the National Literacy Strategy. He suggested that,

Research needs, instead, to begin from a more comparative, more ethnographically based conception of literacy as the social practices of reading and writing and to eschew value judgements about the relative superiority of schooled literacy over other literacies. (1995:111)

This is a direction that I have followed in the course of my study. I have referred to both literacy events and literacy practices in my writing up of observations. I have taken these terms from David Barton‹ who defines them thus,

‹‹‹‹ Literacy events are then particular activities in which literacy has a role: they may be regular repeated activities. Literacy practices are the general cultural ways of utilising literacy that people draw upon in a literacy event.Ă (1991:5).

These practices are not easily observable since they also involve values, attitudes, feelings and social relationships. These definitions have helped me to focus on KatherineĂs experiences in a more organised, logical way, and also make sense in the way I have chosen to look at literacy.

Before considering KatherineĂs literacy habits in detail, it is relevant to provide a Śpen sketchĂ of her so that the reader can imagine the person who is central to this study. Katherine is fourteen, and has her birthday in August so has always been one of the youngest in the class. She is not particularly mature for her age and is of a slight build. She is athletic, and enjoys swimming and ice-skating, and would love to go horse riding. She can be stubborn and independent. For example, she has insisted on being vegetarian against her motherĂs wishes for some years now. Katherine tends to be attention-seeking and demanding, but probably no more than the average teenager. She loves new clothes, and spends hours poring over the shopping catalogues deciding what to buy with her paper round money. She resents the poverty the family lives in but will spend her own money on cat food, bread or milk if this becomes necessary. She can be rude, and tends to ignore adults she does not wish to communicate with, but equally can be delightful company. She is supportive towards her mother although they argue about the usual things young people argue with parents about.

Katherine reading, TV control in hand!

It is difficult to examine home style literacy as a separate entity from school style literacy because the two overlap and intermingle as Katherine goes about her day to day existence. This has only happened since Katherine has been old enough to bring schoolwork into the home. The major difference between school style literacy and home style literacy is that certainly for the young pupil school style literacy is a subject in itself. A large amount of time is devoted to talking about and learning literacy, which is then central to the vast majority of classroom activities. At home literacy is much more implicit;‹ it is used as a tool to get things done. It is at home where children first encounter written language, and first become aware of the variety of forms of reading and writing in everyday life. They learn the difference between a jotted shopping list or a letter, and learn that some forms of literacy are more accepted than others according to the environment. What does not generally seem to be taken into account is that each and every home is in its own way providing a rich and varied literacy environment, and every child will be encountering some form of drawing, writing and reading, (albeit cereal boxes and advertisements on television)‹ before they go to school to be taught to read. Some childrenĂs experiences will be much more passive than others, and for Katherine the activity side of the home literacy environment was extremely limited. For example, she drew on her bedroom walls when approximately three, and her motherĂs response was to ban crayons and felt tip pens rather than supervise the activity. This meant that colouring and drawing became playgroup activities, and were removed from the home. The same thing happened when the boys were toddlers, and by then Katherine had her own pencil case to take to school, and had supplied the boys with the crayons! Again the response was to ban the crayons, not supervise their use. For children like Katherine who do not experience Śschool typeĂ literacy at home, whose mother did not naturally take on the role of teacher before she started school, or make an effort to reinforce the learning she was doing at school, then school literacy became a separate entity from the limited reading and writing that went on at home. In a situation like this it is easy to dismiss the parent as lacking in interest, but knowing Sally I appreciate that she did not feel sufficiently confident to become involved in what she saw as the teacherĂs territory, and she has anxieties stemming from her own school days which make it difficult for her to talk to teachers in a relaxed manner. She still will not attend parentĂs evenings alone, because she feels intimidated by the teachers with their fast flow of speech and quick answers that she feels she cannot respond to adequately. As professionals I feel that we teachers should try to empathise more with the many parents like Sally, and change our tactics. A relatively informal phone call when an issue arises is much less confrontational and confidential than facing a teacher at a desk in a hall crowded with eager parents.

The major difference between home style literacy and school literacy for Katherine now is that she is in control of the literacy events she pursues at home, in contrast to being controlled at school. Having said that, schooled literacy is not the only form of literacy going on in school. There is another range of more unofficial literacy practices, for example, doodling, graffiti, magazines brought in from outside and letters passed between pupils. Although Katherine is in control of the literacy events she is involved in at home, there are constant demands on her‹ within the household, and in reality most of these literacy events are more functional for her than recreational.

KatherineĂs younger brothers both have homework to do, and inevitably it is Katherine who gets asked to help them. This makes sense because not only is she reasonably familiar with the curriculum, she also is familiar with the format and expectations of homework, and is able to help. She is being positioned in the family by the roles that are being demanded. Here she is occupying the more powerful teacher or parent role while she helps the boys, and she expects them to respect this and behave appropriately which they do because Katherine is giving them the help they need. She also listens to them read on a fairly regular basis, and will share a story with them occasionally, actually reading it to them. Ironically she is much keener to help the younger members of the family than to do her own work. In the first couple of years of secondary school, Katherine worked conscientiously and was given extra support from the Learning Development Department because she was targeted as being weak with general learning difficulties and was on stage 2 of the SEN code of practice at point of transfer. Her primary teacher wrote on KatherineĂs transfer document (Appendix 3) that, ŚKatherine, due to family circumstances, has a number of additional responsibilities which reduces the amount of available time for homework.Ă. Katherine explained to me in a recent conversation, śI never do much homework,” and when pushed to give a reason explained, śThereĂs no point .... I need time to myself when I get home..” Having discovered the comment from her primary teacher, written when she was ten and a half, I can understand her sentiment. Her primary years were not carefree childhood, and she resents constantly being directed and expected to respond.

Needing time to herself and dismissing the demands of homework so lightly gives the impression that Katherine is a lazy girl. However, this is not the case as she spends hours writing letters to friends that she has met when playing with her local band. At the moment she is corresponding with two in Ferndown, three in Wales, twelve in Leicester, and is also writing to a friend in London and a girl who left her class at school and moved on to a new school. This is a very private activity for Katherine, and one she gets a lot of pleasure from, especially as most of the correspondents will meet her again at the Wessex Youth Band Course she will be going to in July. This is one aspect of home literacy practice that there has been some research into. Millard quotes the findings of the APU (1987a) that‹ Ś ...over one-third of girls ( from a random sample of 100) replied that they wrote letters, either to relatives or to pen friends.Ă (1997:17) This shows that Katherine does fit into some of the patterns one would expect for a girl of her age.

Katherine is aware of the differing standards as far as literacy is concerned between home and school. She maintains that she really doesnĂt need to go to school anymore because she knows as much as she will ever need to know which I found fascinating, partly because it was obviously something she had thought about before our conversation, and partly because I was taken aback by her line of reasoning. Katherine reckons, śI can read all I want, and if I come across words I donĂt know I can usually work them out ....and I can write. My spelling and that isnĂt good but it doesnĂt matter. I can still write to my friends and they donĂt complain.” (Appendix 4) So literacy in KatherineĂs own style is flourishing, she is regularly reading and writing to fulfil the purpose of keeping contact with friends and she is also asserting her identity at the same time. All the same this could be described as an impoverished view of literacy, because it is so narrow in outlook. I will be examining it in more depth in a later chapter.

Katherine helps her mother with a considerable portion of ŚofficialĂ mail that needs answering. When the letters drop through the letter box in this household there is an anticipation that negative communications may have been received, and the atmosphere changes until those present are reassured. It is not unusual to receive rent demands, council tax demands, or bills associated with the many household items at present being purchased on instalments. Katherine helps her mother fill out forms, and checks those that her mother has filled in. She is also learning that most agencies will treat you fairly if you contact them straight away when you have problems. She would know how much rent etc. her mother has to pay, and she is able to calculate that there is not much left for treats of any kind. Much of the clothes and shoe shopping is done via a catalogue because the family do not have a car and it is expensive and difficult to travel from the village to Swindon or Marlborough to the shops. Also catalogue shopping allows payment by instalment which is the most likely reason for the JonesĂ to use it. Katherine competently fills out the order forms and knows exactly how to handle the account, as her mother has taught her.

One of the other home literacy activities that Sally has shared with Katherine is music. Sally has been a member of a local brass band since she was a small child, and being part of the band has offered her all sorts of events and experiences. Katherine plays the cornet and attends practices every week, and plays at functions and band competitions. She can read music accurately, and play competently. She will be playing in the final Wessex Youth Band Concert at the end of her summer course and this concert will demand her attention and effort for three hours at least. Katherine has acquired friends through music, and has travelled to a wide range of venues in the south west. This literacy event involving reading music rather than words has broadened her social environment considerably because her mother has no car. It has also provided her with cultural enrichment that she would otherwise miss out on, because the band is asked to play in a wide range of venues from stately homes to formal settings of band competitions. It has given her a sense of identity in belonging to a group of people who share an interest, wear uniforms and perform together.

Katherine practising her cornet

Playing music is a literacy event that requires a high level of concentration as players listen carefully to each other as well as their own performance. It is also a social literacy event where band members can meet up with friends and ŚescapeĂ from their everyday existence as others might ŚescapeĂ by reading a novel.

I am in the group of people who can ŚescapeĂ into a novel with relative ease. I can pick up a fiction book, and once my attention is focused on it the rest of my life fades away temporarily. I presumed that that was how it would be for Katherine, but I was wrong. Katherine in her interview with me at Christmas had the chance to choose a range of fiction books from the pile I provided. (Appendix 1). She rejected all that I had provided and when asked about fiction that she had read and enjoyed commented, firstly on Spot the Dog, Mr Men and Winnie the Pooh stories. I thought that she was referring to a secure experience from her infancy, and was mildly surprised at the inclusion of Winnie the Pooh because I couldnĂt imagine her mother or grandfather reading it to her. Katherine soon put me straight on this, by saying, śI watch it on video before I read the books” (App.2 Line 136) This raised an issue which troubled me when the children were younger. In this family bedtime stories did not exist, and were not an expected part of the childrenĂs daily routine. Barton writes at length about the importance of stories and explains, Ś In listening to stories children are exposed to the rhythms of written language being spoken. They are listening to extended discourse and they learn the structure of a story.Ă (1994:145) He goes on to say how talk around the text is equally important for the developing child. He also explains how children make sense of the world through stories. They use stories to test out reality, to explore possibilities and to go beyond the here and now, and to fantasise about what is not possible. Dombey adds another dimension to this by pointing out that in psycholinguistic terms,

ś ... the listening child is developing a familiarity with the meanings and linguistic forms of printed texts which will materially assist her in later attempts to read, that is to make sense of written texts on her own ...” (1992: 29).

Katherine has missed out on a lot; her mother does remember reading little books with her once she started school, and she did enrol her in playgroup, but sharing story books together was not a natural activity in this home where books were not readily available. Each home has its own culture, and in this one reading stories to young children was not the norm. Sally reminds me of a study of mothers and their children with reading difficulties in LondonĂs Docklands that Gregory (1988) carried out. She found that reading in the home was not interpreted as enjoyable but as hard work, and rather than enjoying the stories as a sharing activity the emphasis had switched to concentrating on the words in the text. Sally was not confident enough as a reader herself to share the stories because she was concerned with decoding the text accurately, and as she didnĂt enjoy this activity tension was created, and the pleasure dissipated. It worries me that KatherineĂs present literacy behaviours‹ are created out of past experience, and I wonder if part of her reluctance to read fiction is associated with her meagre diet where stories were concerned in her early years, and her motherĂs negative attitude towards reading as a leisure activity.

Later on in the interview Katherine commented on Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, śI found that fascinating actually Ścos it tells what happened in the war and / itĂs a really good book....” (App.2, lines 154-155) Katherine had read this with her class and had taken a copy home to read with Granddad ś ...Ścos he likes that sort of thing.” (App.2, line 160). (Granddad is a fluent reader and takes The Bandsman magazine every month.) Katherine hadnĂt followed it up with any other novels despite enjoying it, and she summed up her feelings towards reading, śBut I donĂt like reading everyday, I just do it when IĂve got time and when IĂm bored and when I have to do something with it for school work.” (App.2, Lines 189-190)

Katherine reading with David

Katherine did admit to enjoying Goosebumps books with her brothers. She had been listening to them reading some stories and I knew that she had disappeared to her bedroom to finish the story on her own. She commented that the books were interesting and we had a mutual laugh about them being easy to read. Katherine commented through her giggles, śI donĂt like these little print and big fat books” (App.2, Line 197). She then told me that she wouldnĂt read romance, ś ... because theyĂre a load of rubbish ...” (App.2, Line 198) but that what she would prefer to do is to watch scary videos.

Videos are treated with the same regard as books in this household, and provide a major form of entertainment for the whole family. Living in a rural situation with the only local amenities open in the evening being public houses, the video provides economical entertainment. Television is bringing literacy into this household in a pleasant, enjoyable, non-threatening way,‹ and in media form the family are enjoying a wider range of material than they could read. They are geared towards what has been described by Wood as Śthe novel of the twenty first century,Ă (1993:185) and have enjoyed Roald Dahl, R.L.Stine, Michelle Magorian and lots of other authors via video, and regard that as a perfectly sound alternative to the novel. Considering that the National Curriculum has incorporated media education as an aspect of English, surely it is time for educators to recognise childrenĂs competencies as users of television more fully than they have done in the past and, instead of treating television as an inferior alternative to text, should accept it for its strengths? For children who do not have access to written stories read at home, then the visual images and sound they see on television become compensation of a sort. Watching a video sometimes becomes a prelude to the text. Having watched the video of Titanic, Sally and Katherine have a shared interest in the film. They both mentioned the Titanic book they had bought and read, and Sally reckoned it was the only book she had ever read,ś‹ ...the only book that IĂve ever read is the ŚTitanicĂ book because I was interested in the Titanic. Other than that I donĂt read books.” (App.4, Line 17-18) Katherine commented, śI read quite a lot about the Titanic Ścos ...IĂm interested in it. I liked the video as well....” (App.2, Line 181). Katherine is keeping up with the teen culture of girls her age who are interested at the moment in the fashion, romance and story of the Titanic as presented on screen. She wanted a black dress, and had a feather boa for Christmas. Mother and daughter were able to share an interest even though Sally is coming from a different perspective, and is more interested in the event the film was based on and how the film was made. Video has helped them both access the story, and then extend their literacy experience of it by exploring the available text. Similarly Katherine has developed an interest in Elizabeth 1st, and when interviewed about trying to Śget into a bookĂ said, śIt depends what ...like youĂre interested in. I went to see the video ŚElizabethĂ, I found that really interesting. One of my older friends, sheĂs got the book and she started reading it to find out more. In my book (referring to a History Encyclopaedia) that tells me the dates of loads of people I read about Elizabeth in there, I canĂt remember what it was.” (App.2, Lines 171 -175) There was another interesting aspect to Sally and KatherineĂs discussion about Titanic and their respective interests. Charles Sarland mentions in the introduction of Reading the Difference : Gender in Reading in the Primary School (Barrs and Pidgeon) He showed that girls and boys reacted differently when presented with the same texts. The girls, on the whole Śwere much more responsive to details that render the characters human...Ă and Ś ... they also read for relationships and characterisation.Ă (1991: 7) This is interesting because despite being at the start of a book concerned with younger readers, this was how Katherine was approaching both the Titanic and Elizabeth, while her mother was not interested in the romance side of the Titanic story, but was interested in the event itself and the technical details of how the film was made. It appears that Sally is fulfilling the male role at this point. It also appears that video is providing a level of social and cultural enhancement, as well as the enhancement of literacy events.

Sally is more able than is first obvious. She was interested enough to pursue technical details of the film making, and she is interested enough to pass on to her children her skills as a cook.

She has taught them all how to cook, following directions from recipe books. This is a demanding home style literacy activity, involving numeracy as well as the reading skills, and when I visited the house once Sally was showing Katherine how to convert a recipe to double the quantity, rewriting the amounts besides the original recipe. Sally is good with figures and Katherine had no problems understanding her. Katherine likes to try new recipes, and in the school holidays will regularly make bread, which has become a speciality of hers because it is so successful. Cooking is not only a social activity; in this particular family it has become part of the culture to be interested and capable. Sally works as a school cook, and her brother who lives locally and has been a role model for the children was a chef on a ship some years ago, and regales them with tales of his life then.

Katherine is an active individual who enjoys practical situations. She chose books from the selection offered that she could use as reference guides, and was very keen on the Draw Fifty Cats book, spending almost an hour after our conversation using the book, and experimenting with it. The other practical book she chose was the Mary Quant Classic Book of Beauty and Makeup and it interested me that she was competent at using the index rather than just browsing through and then was aware of the way one ŚreadsĂ a book with a mixture of text and photos on the page, śWell it depends really it depends if you wanna / um / read the actual text bit to find out what you really have to do, or if you can go straight into the actual thing // to see about making your eyebrows look bigger and your eyes look bigger and stuff.” (App.2, Lines 32-34). It also appeared that what Katherine read magazines like Sugar, Minx and Miz for was practical advice, and she mentions the real life stories, competitions, problem pages, and make up and beauty pages. She also reads J17, and J19, which her mother doesnĂt approve of, but accepts that it is partly peer pressure because Katherine buys these when she is out of school at lunchtimes. This may be a school influence that is all part of the school culture for girls of this age who are trying to establish their identities in the adult world. When I asked Katherine what her favourite magazine was she answered that she didnĂt really know, but that she ordered Mr Men magazine on a monthly basis. I presumed that she ordered it for her Child Development coursework, and this was partly correct although she said, ś ... I get the Mr Men one Ścos itĂs got lots of cute pictures in ...” (App.2, Lines 233-234). Here is a fascinating insight into the life of one adolescent who on the one hand is seeking a passport into adulthood by reading up on issues of sex, health, beauty and relationships, and on the other is enjoying the security of the bold Mr Men figures of childhood.

Knowing that Katherine was reading magazines on a regular basis I was surprised that she read no romance fiction, indeed no fiction aimed at her age group. There is no shortage of suitable material in the school libraries, and although Katherine had been taken into the library regularly by her English teachers in the first three years of secondary school, she did not become a ŚreaderĂ. She constantly had books out overdue, and often these were long Stephen King novels or similar which I suspect she borrowed to impress her peers. She did borrow quite a range of non-fiction too, although most of this was directly linked to coursework. This academic year Katherine has been taken to the library during Tutorial time but claims not to have been there at any other time. The library is situated at the top of the building, and its location does seem to be an easy excuse for not visiting it. I suspect that even if it was on the ground floor the only thing that would persuade Katherine to go in would be a friend who was a keen reader.

The top ten novels of the year have recently been selected for the Federation of ChildrenĂs Book Groups Annual Award. This is an award which is judged solely by children throughout the country and our school is lucky enough to be a testing centre, so we get copies of the novels and our pupils send in their votes, thus helping to find a winner. One of the novels in the top ten is in the‹ section for young teenagers, and is a book by Morris Gleitzman called Bumface. It features a young teenager, Angus, whose mother works as a tv mother in a soap opera, and is single with various ex-partners and a boyfriend. Angus has to collect his younger brother and sister from the day-care centre and give them tea, and put them to bed each day. His mother does not listen to him, and his life is stressful, and also amusing for the reader as he encounters a variety of situations. I hoped the book would appeal to Katherine, and in a way I was helped by the fact that her cat had given birth to five kittens in a cardboard box in her bedroom, and she was delighted to stay in her room in the evenings and Śkitten watchĂ. Once the kittens became more mobile her interest in the novel waned, although she complained that she had outstanding coursework to do too. Katherine did read sixty six pages, and said that she would finish it. She commented, śI donĂt usually read books at home but this one is OK so IĂll carry on. I wouldnĂt have chosen it unless someone else had read it.” Her last comment particularly interested me, she read the story because I had read it and recommended it, and that was something her mother would never do. Sharing novels is not on their agenda as mother and daughter.

School literacy events and practices obviously consume a large part of KatherineĂs life at the moment. A lot of her present values and attitudes have been influenced by her school life. She has always enjoyed school for the social aspects of it but has been inclined to have friendship problems which have temporarily affected her concentration and application. She is ruled by peer pressure to a large extent, and certainly would not let her friends know that she was reading a novel for pleasure, because in her friendship group that would not give her any credit. Peer pressure is not to be underestimated in the life of a fourteen year old, and Katherine certainly wouldnĂt want to lose acceptance; she is insecure about friendships at the best of times.

Literacy events and school practices are constantly intertwined, whatever subject is being studied. Sometimes lessons are supported with media, which demands its own sort of reading, but the vast majority of the time is spent listening, reading, writing and speaking. One of the major differences between home based and school literacy is the measurement that is associated with school literacy. Within a couple of months of entering school infants know whether they are succeeding with reading and writing, however the teacher may think they have disguised this factor. Children very quickly spot if some pupils are reading a different colour coded or type of book, or are writing some words for themselves. Katherine was no exception to this, and I distinctly remember her voicing her worries about being unable to read when she was five and a half. Her school used the ŚLetterlandĂ phonic scheme and poor Katherine was terribly confused between the name of the letter, the sound of the letter, and the rhyme of figure that accompanied it. She had had very little contact with books at home so I took photos of her and her family and made her a few little books about herself. I thought they would have been destroyed quite quickly, but she told me recently that she still has them and remembers trying to read them. As primary school progressed Katherine produced lovely neat writing which was of varying accuracy. Her numeracy skills were better, and still are now. As far as reading went Katherine struggled, did not enjoy what she was doing, did not get regular support and encouragement at home, and stopped attempting to read for pleasure. As she practised literacy skills at school she made progress but was aware that she was not keeping up with her friends. Throughout her primary schooling the teachers were supportive and gave Katherine as much attention as they could. She attended a village school which had a long serving staff so most of them appreciated the trauma she had been through and the lack of support she had at home. For the first year of her secondary education she was in mixed ability teaching groups, and then was set for some in Year 8. Although the setting was a relief to her for some subjects it did demonstrate her weaknesses to her and she was anxious even though she was not placed in the lowest groups where there were more than two groups. Gradually she accepted the streaming and made new friends within teaching classes.

Schools vary in their literacy practices although a lot of elements are similar from school to school. There are special ways of recording information with exercise books provided by the school, and books for reading are often colour coded in primary school and only available on limited access. You have to have reached a certain proficiency in reading to look at a particular book, and if you are very proficient you get to choose any book you want. This seems absurd in comparison to home literacy, and if you donĂt have many books at home it puts books into a strange framework for the young child. Not all primary schools are organised in this fashion, although KatherineĂs was. In some schools an ŚapprenticeshipĂ approach is adopted which takes into account the childĂs interest and the idea that reading does not have to be a graded activity. Waterland (1985) as found in ClayĂs book Becoming Literate, outlined that,

There is only one criterion that needs to be taken into account when choosing books for any age child if reading is to be approached as a natural learning activity. Will the child enjoy the book? There is no need to worry about vocabulary control, type face, phonic consistency or any other problems beloved of teacherĂs manuals ... If the adult is to provide support, it matters only that the child should want to read that book. (1991: 178)

This approach would be ideal if the teacher is working with a small number of children, but in reality would be too onerous to administer and monitor effectively.

Books are treated in a variety of ways in the secondary schools, where there are text books in some subjects. Sometimes they are issued and carried between home and school, and for other subjects they remain in the teaching room and are distributed when required. This is a genre of book that is quite distinctive and separate from home style reading. Books at school are largely used for information, for dipping in and out of as the need arises, and as primary pupils learn to research there is a lot of talking around the text. In fact much of school literacy for both primary and secondary pupils involves talking around text as classes share information, listen to instructions, ask or answer questions, or discuss the subject matter quietly amongst themselves. This is a distinct difference between home style literacy events and school ones. Admittedly at home Katherine might ask for suggestions for the shopping list she is writing, but by and large both reading and writing activities will be accomplished without conversation.

Chapter 2 Á Methodology

In the process of undertaking this individual case study I have learnt much more about researching, about collecting data, and then interpreting it. I have sometimes found that what I set out to collect was not what I collected, and I have had other fascinating insights that I could not possibly have anticipated.

Even in a small study of an individual like this there are decisions to be made on how to collect data, and how to use what is collected. There are other considerations, like ethics, and obligations to the subject of the study. The pupil concerned happens to be a child I have known for approximately nine years, so I am unable to claim that my observations were entirely unbiased. In this study I donĂt believe this has affected the end results in any significant way. The trust and enthusiasm to help me with my studies which the child and her family have shown towards me outweigh the disadvantages of familiarity. Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved, but all other details are accurate.

One of the temptations of studying an individual closely is to generalise the conclusions into the wider school and social context. It is very tempting to advocate changes in school courses based on listening to the views of this individual, because those views make good sense in her situation, and would appear to be practical. It would be wise to bear in mind those views, and seek out others at an appropriate time, but what would be unwise would be to apply changes based on an individual study like this one. That is not to devalue this study; if I were looking to improve or change courses as my focus I wouldnĂt choose a study of this kind in the first place as it would not be the most appropriate method. On the other hand, I could move from discussing this particular case to looking at more general patterns, if the observations I had made with the individual in their situation seemed to hold constant for others in a wider range, in similar social settings.

Researchers use a variety of sources of data and will use different kinds of analyses. Both quantitative data and qualitative data have their limitations but I intend to use both, and attempt to analyse both appropriately. Initially I set out to use quantitative data to counterbalance the interpretative ethnographic material I would be presenting. Naturally the more I read, and the more I collected the more I realised that I was handling two very different forms of analysis. Together they make up a picture of the subject, but they donĂt neatly complement each other. As can be seen in our country today where those in education strive to raise standards against a climate of continual data collection and media publication, one of the problems with quantitative data is the way in which it is used and what it is used for. Quantitative data is collected in a situation where the researcher has minimum contact with the subjects and rigid controls are in place. It is a reflection of a pupilĂs performance on one day, for a small amount of time and can be affected by many circumstantial features; perhaps the pupil had a head cold on the day, perhaps their parents rowed all the previous night, perhaps the pet cat had been run over as they came to school. None of the social situation can be taken into account, and only with this proviso in mind am I happy to consider quantitative data for any pupils that I teach.

From my mid-teens onwards when I read avidly accounts in the National Geographic magazine of the newly discovered worlds of tribes in various locations I have been interested in how others live. I was interested in what Malinowski (as found in Hitchcock and Hughes 1989) gave as a definition of the goal of ethnography. He said it was, Śto grasp the native point of view, his relation to his life, to realise his vision of his worldĂ (Malinowski 1922 : 25).‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹

Ethnography, as a means of data collection appealed to me in my original assignment on Gender and Literacy because I knew I had access to a family who did not reflect a middle class pattern of success and ease with matters written or read, and I wanted to show how they were flourishing in their own way. Throughout the time I have known this family I have had to be restrained so as not to unwittingly impose my views which are founded in my social upbringing and education. At times I have presumed, or taken for granted situations which have not been approached in a way that I would consider to be reasonable or even common-sense. I have a profound respect for the mother who has struggled with extreme poverty and very little family support to raise her children, but that does not prevent me from feeling intense frustration at times that those children have missed out on so many everyday experiences that my children took for granted. Bed-time stories would be a classic example, but I want to return to them later. Whatever I bring to this study in terms of past experience, I have tried to present the portrayal and interpretation of it as openly and honestly as possible, and I believe that I have managed this by ensuring that at every stage I remained an observer and not a participant. I have been able to maintain a position of detachment from where I could reflect on what I had found. Ironically as I and my family have got to know the family better we have increased our detachment. Sally does not need us imposing our views on her parenting skills, and we have maintained a position rather like a safety net; we are there for her and the children if and when they need us, but we respect their independence too.

Although I have been an observer in this research, with Katherine I have shown interest in the individual and have listened to what she has had to say without imposing any of my ŚteacherĂ power on her. Again I have had to maintain a position of detachment. This has reduced the normal distance between teacher and pupil and has been interesting in itself. It has given me opportunity to reflect upon my professional practice from a different standpoint, although I was not actively seeking to change my own behaviours in the process. I am aware that qualitative data can always be criticised for not being objective. I find this amusing, because there is no way it can be totally objective because it implies interpretation, and we all bring our experiences, assumptions, anticipations and passions to interpretation, whether we imagine we do or not. This does not stop qualitative research being scientific in its own way. Providing the approach is Śsystematic, rigorous, and analytical then qualitative research can meet the criteria of being scientificĂ (Hitchcock and Hughes 1989: 36). If qualitative research is not objective because it involves interpretation then surely quantitative research also suffers the same handicap to a degree? Interpretation of data is always part of data analysis.

Having examined some of‹ the limitations of ethnography, we can now examine the strengths of it as an approach to data collection in a study like this. By its nature, the collection of data comes from the inside of the environment the researcher is concerned with, not from observations on the outside. Shirley Brice Heath (1983) pioneered the ethnographic approach in her famous Trackton and Roadville studies, and it took her years of being part of the wider community, and gradually being accepted by them before she was able to embark on detailed study. I was in a similar privileged position in being accepted into an environment which was not my natural setting, and being trusted like Shirley Brice Heath was, albeit I am only carrying out one small study. I have to acknowledge that subjectivity is more a part of the research process than I initially thought it was. I had set out on a quest investigating members of a family, and was placed in a privileged position of communicating their way of life, their emotions, their opinions, and their hopes. This kind of research would not be possible without subjective involvement because trust is required on both sides, and sensitivity on the part of the researcher. I make no apologies for the level of subjective involvement; I am grateful to the family for allowing me to record on paper what I found.

Ethnography as social research appealed to me because there didnĂt seem to be a rigid framework that I must follow in order to obtain data, and this suited my intuitive nature. Having established that, there are certain customary elements to ethnography that Hammersley (1993) outlines that my study has followed. He lists various features including: the analysis of empirical data that is collected for the purpose;‹ the collection of data in Śreal lifeĂ not experimental conditions; data being gathered from a range of sources, with observation and/or relatively informal conversations usually the main ones. The approach to data collection is ŚunstructuredĂ, it does not involve following through a detailed plan set up at the beginning and there are no pre-given categories used for interpreting what people say, the focus is a small group or even an individual. The analysis of the data involves interpretation of the meanings and functions of human actions and usually takes the form of verbal descriptions and interpretations, with statistical analysis playing a subordinate role. In my unstructured way I had fulfilled all these features and realised that I was embarking on a discovery-based activity.

‹Ball‹ wrote,

Ethnography not only implies engagement of the researcher in the world under study; it also implies a commitment to a search for meaning, a suspension of preconceptions, and an orientation to discovery. (1993: 32)

One of the most fascinating aspects of interpretative ethnography for me has been that I have found the data incredibly stimulating while I have been collecting it. I havenĂt just been left with a pile of papers to sift through and make analyses of; I have been constantly analysing and appreciating the given situation in a new light. I didnĂt expect this to happen, and I certainly didnĂt anticipate the amount of reflection I would naturally be doing. I hadnĂt previously considered the richness of the home environment as an area to explore; in this case I was aware of the mismatches between home and school and I must confess that from my teacher standpoint and my middle class attitude, I had tended to view the home as being inferior in ŚletteredĂ terms. That is because it didnĂt match my experiences and I found myself judging the situation without realising that I was. Through applying an ethnographic approach to this study, I have had the opportunity to look at this household as part of a social and cultural scene with its own status, class and context. I have been able to re-examine the particular contextual meanings and significances of events and activities as an outsider. I have looked closely at the interactions between family members and the significance of these, within the literacy events in the everyday lives of this family.

For this study I have used several methods of data collection, and have enlisted the help of the family concerned in order to do this. As I have already outlined, I gave the family several disposable cameras so that they could take photos of literacy activities over the period of a week. I was delighted with the variety of pictures that were taken, but with hindsight would Śbuild inĂ to any subsequent research like this, some form of written record or diary of the pictures taken. As it was they were not difficult for me to interpret, but only showed a part of the activities, and it would have been helpful to have had the context explained more fully. On the other hand I may well have found that, if I had asked for this documentation to accompany the pictures, the strain of the writing task would have discouraged the participants from taking the photos. With hindsight I can see that it would have been a good idea to build in a time to look at the developed photographs and discuss them together. The photos showed information that I wasnĂt looking for;‹ however, this was relevant to the whole picture. A good example of this would be the discovery that in none of the photos, be it of a writing or reading activity, was there any sign of a table. When I quietly commented on this I was told that the table is in the dining room, and during the winter Sally can only afford to heat one room, so the table is only used in the warmer months. This affects the literacy events in the household for all members of the family because it is much harder to complete homework on the floor or lap. The boys love drawing and would use the table if it were available and Sally has paperwork to complete for her job too. This shows that poverty is affecting children in Britain today in fundamental ways that are not readily obvious to the casual observer.

Conversations and interviews formed the rest of the qualitative data collection. I have analysed these at length further on. I found it frustrating that the one member of the family, Sally, who could provide me with answers in terms of KatherineĂs early literacy development was not comfortable with the prospect of being interviewed, or thinking too deeply about other aspects of those early years. This is not surprising as it coincided with her husbandĂs death, and adjustment to being a widow at the age of twenty four with three children. It became obvious that Sally wanted to give me the answers she thought would not disappoint me, so as a researcher I resorted to using very superficial questions that I knew she would feel comfortable with. Although a researcher would not normally have access to a subjectĂs biographical details, it is really important in a study of this nature to develop detailed knowledge of the respondentĂs life history, life-style, customs and outlook in order to be able to relate more fully and be to able to appreciate their circumstances and way of life. Katherine enjoyed the first interview, and when part of it was played back to her was quite happy with it, but then said she would prefer it if I didnĂt record our next conversation, so I made notes and wrote it afterwards. I could see that the success of the informal interview was going to depend largely on the rapport between interviewer and subject and that if Katherine was worrying about the tape recorder this would distract her. By the same token, I preferred not having the buzz of the machine in the background, and although the conversation was inevitably slowed at times by my need to scribble down notes, this minimal time off conversation gave me chance to think of further questions, or comment on observations. It also seemed to make the situation more balanced in that I wasnĂt so obviously conducting an interview, and we were also able to talk outside in a relaxed setting.

Having said that there was still structure, even in the unstructured interview. We took turns to speak, and we listened politely to each other. I was the dominant member because I was the one asking the questions, and setting down the pattern of the discourse. I had scope to introduce new ideas as Katherine responded to my questions, and indeed this did happen. It also allowed the conversation to flow without any particular sequence, and allowed Katherine to steer it in any direction‹ she wished to. Naturally I had a‹ mental list of topics that I was working through during the course of the conversation and most of the time I was able to guide Katherine in the direction I had elected. Having stated how the conversation flowed informally, it would be naive of me not to also realise that this actual situation was still an unusual one, both for Katherine and myself. Our usual conversations are more geared towards discussing clothes, boyfriends and other family matters, not literacy activities!

While I was talking with Katherine I was aware that I was in a powerful position, and could easily exploit her openness and honesty, and I was worried that she might feel intimidated by me, but I am sure she didnĂt because conversation flowed naturally enough. All the same it did make me more aware that as researcher I need to avoid dominating my subject, albeit unwittingly.

Another benefit of choosing to pursue an ethnographical approach to collecting data is that Katherine would not have appreciated me administering standardised tests or similar. She lacks confidence under pressure, and I would not have gathered the rich data I have got if‹ I had relied on quantitative methods. All teachers are expected to keep their own quantitative data which will range from assessments and marked written work to cassette tapes of oral work, all of which will signify a mark in the teacherĂs mark book. The teacher can compare pupilsĂ performances at a glance in his mark book, which is much more precise than expecting qualitative research to provide the same answers. As Hitchcock and Hughes point out,

....it is argued that in searching for quantifiable data researchers destroy or ignore the qualitative context out of which all ŚdataĂ emerge, that is out of the day -to-day lives of ordinary people in routine everyday situations.” (1989: 25)

Sometimes the only option left to teachers is to choose some form of standard test because lack of time impinges, and we want to compare a cohort of pupils. I am immediately reminded of the incoming Year 6 pupils who are tested in both reading and spelling before entering secondary school, in addition to their teacher assessed National Curriculum levels that they bring with them in their transfer documents. The spelling test is written by Helen Chasty for the Dyslexia Institute, and was chosen by the school because it is also a diagnostic test. It is commonly used and accepted in schools but is not actually standardised. Both these tests allow us teachers to place pupils, and that is only half the picture because assessments are used to support the pupilsĂ learning, and when they have the results teachers can move on to the next stage of planning the most effective course of action.‹

Quantitative methods of data collection have become highly developed in recent years, and at our school we use Cognitive Ability Tests, Spelling Tests and Reading Tests for all pupils in Years 7 and Year 9, so I do have data for Katherine that I have copied from her file. I have decided to look at that more closely to see if there are patterns I can trace that may or may not confirm my theories on her impoverished language development. I decided to examine the quantitative data as a kind of triangulation point or test for validity for the data I had found through an ethnographical approach. I do realise that all the quantitative data relates to school practices while all my ethnographic data relates to home literacy practices. It was not possible for me to examine KatherineĂs school literacy in an ethnographic way; even if I had had the luxury of time granted to observe her in the classroom this would only have provided part of the picture because it would not include the full school experience of breaks and lunchtime spent wandering around Marlborough with her peers. Triangulation implies validating information from three different sources, and I have collected data from my observations of the household, KatherineĂs conversations with me giving her viewpoint, and my analysis of quantitative data available. Validity is important to me in this study because it reflects the internal consistency of my research, while reliability is more likely to reflect the generalizability of my research, which being focused on one person rather than a sample, is not ever going to be used in that way.‹‹‹

KatherineĂs‹ schooling commenced during the second year of the National Curriculum, so she has been tested in the key subjects of English, Science and Mathematics at school since she was an infant. This is the literacy context of KatherineĂs education to date and is worth looking at in some detail as I examine the nature of quantitative research and why we teachers are interested in it.

Quantitative data involves numerical measurement of some kind, and therefore allow various numerical comparisons to be made. With the advent of National Curriculum, which was introduced as an initiative to raise standards, has come a framework of national testing which would seem on the surface to be a good idea, as it would enable comparisons to be made between different individuals in different parts of the country. Standardised tests may be used to screen children with specific needs, and also allow diagnosis of individual pupilĂs strengths and weaknesses. In reality this new kind of national assessment has actually been used more to monitor schoolsĂ performances than individualĂs performance. Similarly results of public examinations and national assessment are used to monitor the performance of the education system, and the performance of schools and their LEAs. The background to the publishing of National Curriculum performance table results has been troubled, with conflicting policies and recommendations. Accordingly, it could well be argued that the National Curriculum initiative has in many respects, failed pupils such as Katherine in that test results have been used more to criticise teachers, schools and LEAs, than as a tool to improve the performance of those pupils who most need it. It should be borne in mind that the tables relate to approximately 18,500 schools, and therefore over-simplification is inevitable, and furthermore most ignore the teacher assessment by only recording the test scores. The helpfulness of these documents must be questioned when they give national comparisons that very few people are going to actually use, or even be interested in. There is no doubt however, that the introduction of the National Curriculum has brought practice across schools closer, and that is a step in the right direction for the development of a national system.

‹For a test to be valid it actually needs to be used for a purpose, otherwise it becomes meaningless. Key Stage 2 SATs is rather in this category because generally the information that is used in transfer documentation between the primary and secondary schools will be the teacher assessed levels rather than the test levels, because of the timing of these documents. Ultimately the results filter through to the secondary school and are noted, but targets are not developed from them as they would be from Key Stage 1 results, where teachers can develop the curriculum to suit the childĂs strengths and weaknesses. I know from experience in teaching part-time in a primary school from 1986-1992, that the phasing in of the National Curriculum caused enormous anxieties and confusion, as would be inherent in any enforced large scale change, involving teaching staff having to develop new ways of looking at key areas of the curriculum, and assessing it. Somehow the Ścraft knowledgeĂ side of the job was being submerged by folders, and amendments, and then rapidly followed by more pages and amendments, including complicated tick charts for recording pupil progress which we all took seriously. Teachers were required to contribute to policies and share their expertise, and support colleagues who were occupied observing and assessing their pupils, and this brought tension as the professionalism of the job was expanded beyond what had traditionally been each teacherĂs territory, their classroom. There was constant flux and change as the new system was being Śfine-tunedĂ. I feel that at this initial stage our pupils did not receive the same quality education they had previously had, and Katherine would not be an exception.

Unfortunately I have been unable to track down KatherineĂs Key Stage 1 assessment results as her mother has disposed of them and the primary school no longer has them. Her transfer documents (Appendix 3) probably written in March but undated state that her teacher assessed NC level in English was mid-top 3, and her Maths was lower 4 -mid 4. Although I know what her teacher meant in approximate terms by awarding these grades they do show how ŚlooseĂ the grading system is. Is the teacher saying that the pupil is working towards a level 4 in English, or is only just achieving level 3? Is she working towards a level 4 in Maths, and in a test situation would only be awarded a level 3? The reliability of these results is questionable. Part of the problem with this is that the bandings for levels are too wide, and contain too many elements which means that teachers are having to interpret the levels sensitively before they can award a level. One benefit of a teacher assessed level is that it includes the pupilĂs achievements in all aspects of the subject, the testing of reading and writing only in English seems inadequate when speaking and listening are also vital skills. For a pupil like Katherine this is important, as orally she is stronger than she is in written skills. Katherine took the Key Stage 3 tests in May 1998, and achieved level 5Ăs in all three tested areas of English, Maths and Science which showed that she was achieving what would generally be accepted as a reasonable level for a Year 9 pupil.(Appendix 5) I was pleasantly surprised to discover her scores, and while I appreciate that they only reflect her performance on one occasion, nevertheless I feel they show that she does have potential.‹

Katherine has encountered other assessments providing quantitative data that have been used for various purposes. Her primary document records that her reading age in December 1994 was 8.11, but does not indicate which test was used. Her chronological age at that time was 10.4, a difference of 1 year and 5 months. In June 1995, she completed the Daniels and Diack reading test and her reading age was calculated to be 9.3, while her chronological age was 10.10, indicating a difference of 1 year 7 months. As I donĂt know what test was used in the primary school I cannot compare those results accurately. In April 96 on the Daniels and Diack test her score gave her a reading age of 10.7 in comparison with her chronological age of 11.8. Having used the same test twice it is reasonably reliable to compare the results. They indicate that her reading was improving and that the gap between her chronological and reading ages was closing. (All these results can be seen in Appendix 6) Her reading was tested again in May 1998, using the Macmillan NFER Nelson Group Reading test, which the school has decided is a more reliable and contemporary test and on this Katherine scored a reading age of 12 years and 4 months while her chronological age was 13 years 9 months. (Appendix 7)‹ Again one cannot compare results directly, but they do indicate a difference of approximately 18 months.

By contrast all the spelling tests Katherine has had in secondary school are the Dyslexia Institute test which has been adopted as the most appropriate for diagnosis, and intervention where necessary. In September 1995 her spelling age on this test was 8.1 in comparison to her chronological age of 11.1. She was next tested in April 1996 when her spelling age had gone up to 9.9, while her actual age was 11.8. Her spelling age had improved by 11 months in 8 months which was pleasing. She was having extra support in a small group at the time. In May 1998 her spelling age on the same test was found to be 10.4 years while her chronological age was 13.8. (Appendix 8) Interestingly the gap had widened again to the level it was on at point of transfer. I could only speculate on reasons for that; certainly Katherine was doing so well in mainstream in year 8 that it was felt she did not need extra support as she was already in a setted situation in most lessons. By year 9 the support was still present in several lessons but basically Katherine had taken on more of the responsibility of learner for herself.

Sometimes standardised tests are used as predictors, and our school uses Cognitive Abilities Tests in Year 7 and again in Year 9. They were introduced while Katherine was in Year 8 so she took them in November of 1997. The three areas of testing concentrated on Verbal Reasoning (English), Quantitative Skills (Mathematics) and Non-verbal Reasoning, which is not dependent on school based learning and equates to a pupilĂs general ability. The test results give an indication of a pupilĂs overall ability when compared with pupils of the same age on‹ a national basis. As with any test, the results only show performance levels on a given day. The level of ability is not fixed and can be influenced by factors such as environment and attitude. The scores in each of the three areas range between 1 and 9 and Katherine scored 3 in the Verbal Reasoning, 4 in the Quantitative, and 6 in the Non-verbal sections. (Appendix 9) The English and Maths results do bring her into the category of low average for English, and just below average for Maths which is in line with the teacher assessment from primary school. The tests also indicate that her general ability is above average, and this would indicate that Katherine is not performing to her full potential. Having looked into her life outside school I know from the complicated literacy events she is involved in like completing shopping catalogue forms, that Katherine is able in ways that donĂt show at school, and it is good to see the potential gauged and recorded somewhere. As a follow up to these results, Katherine is on a list of pupils who are being targeted with offers of extra help, especially as part of the information given with the Cognitive Ability Test results is a predictor of future performance at GCSE. Katherine has been predicted as ultimately achieving D/E grades in English, Maths, History, Geography, and Modern Languages, and a D in Science. The next standardised tests Katherine encounters will be her GCSEĂs in June 2000.

Chapter 3 Á Looking at the Question.

Are schools wrong to demand formal literacy skills from pupils whose home backgrounds mean that they inevitably feel they are failing in all areas of the curriculum and who may think that they will not need such formal skills in the future?

It would be very easy at this stage to simply point out that KatherineĂs weaknesses at school are the result of her upbringing and social situation, and that as a teacher that is not my responsibility. I am at school to educate pupils, not compensate for their inadequacies, or am I? If I am employed to carry out the schoolĂs mission statement which states that our mission is, Śto be a school recognised for excellence in teaching and learning, that places the learner at the centre of all endeavour and sets the standards to which others aspire ...Ă (St JohnĂs School & Community College Prospectus), then surely it is my duty to serve each pupil in the most appropriate way for them. It would be very rare to have the luxury of getting to know the background of pupils as I have learnt about KatherineĂs, but there is no doubt that the information I have gleaned will be useful if it is sensitively communicated to other staff. She needs a different sort of teaching from the average middle-class pupil, because she needs so much more encouragement; or is it compensation she needs? Coping with pupils from poorer backgrounds is not a new phenomenon. In 1971 Bernstein wrote,

If children are labelled Śculturally deprivedĂ, then it follows that the parents are inadequate; the spontaneous realizations of their culture, its images and symbolic representations, are of reduced value and significance. Teachers will have lower expectations of the children, which the children will undoubtedly fulfil. All that informs the child, that gives meaning and purpose to him outside of the school, ceases to be valid or accorded significance and opportunity for enhancement within the school. He has to orient towards a different structure of meaning, whether it is in the form of reading books (Janet and John), in the form of language use and dialect, or in the patterns of social relationships. (1971: 62)

Bernstein goes on to describe how, when we think about compensatory education, we are focusing on the deficiencies within the community, the family and the child rather than looking at the situation in terms of school deficiencies. He suggests we should consider Śseriously and systematicallyĂ (1971: 62) the conditions and contexts of the educational environment. He states how it is important for us as teachers to show pupils that we consider their social experience to be significant and valid, and to make use of it as part of the learning experience that we create, rather than unwittingly imposing middle-classness onto our pupils. Having tried to curb my middle-classness in dealings with KatherineĂs family, I have developed an understanding of how difficult this is because it involves looking from a perspective that is alien, just as the child may find the school culture alien in relation to home culture. However, I am obliged to use what I have learnt to somehow move KatherineĂs literacy education forward. I have no contact with her in my teaching, but I am able to liaise with her English teacher who has been fascinated by my quest, and supportive in genuinely wanting to raise the standard of her performance in his lessons. Bearing this in mind I would like to focus my attention now on Katherine and English as a subject in which her literacy skills are most obviously used.

At the moment Katherine is in Year 10, so is almost half way through her GCSE coursework . The English GCSE exam requirements are quite complex, resulting in pupils receiving two grades, one for literature and one for language. The school enters its pupils for the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board exams for English. Katherine does not cope particularly well with literacy tasks, and her inadequacies are brought sharply into focus by the demands of the exam. Her background leaves her inadequately prepared to cope with the extensive literature appreciation on the paper. The written coursework is awarded 20% of the total mark for the Language paper and consists of four pieces of work;

1.  Shakespeare - close textual analysis, personal response to text, and audience response to the dramatic nature of the text,

2.  Comparing a piece of pre-twentieth century text with another written in the twentieth century,

3.  A piece of work generated in response to wider reading, which is chosen from a selection by school,

4.  Media analysis - this is analytical so pupils need to learn appropriate terminologies and style of writing.

Not having taught GCSE the elements and combinations of assessment seem very complex, but from what I understand one piece of the coursework can be tested orally, but only the Shakespeare and wider reading categories qualify for this. The same piece can be used as a crossover piece for the Literature exam. Similarly the Shakespeare and wider reading elements are marked for reading only, while the media analysis is marked for reading and writing and cannot be tested orally. The piece of original writing is also tested for reading and writing. In the Literature syllabus there are three pieces of work that account for 30% of the marks:

1.  Shakespeare,

2.  Wider reading,

3.  Twentieth century play, studying it as a performance text.

Again the Shakespeare and wider reading can be used as crossover pieces, and one of the three pieces can be tested orally, but the twentieth century play cannot be used as a Language piece. The language exam includes 20% of the marks, awarded for speaking and listening. This is teacher assessed and then moderated. The Language written exam is in two papers, worth a total of 60%, and consists of different elements. The first part of‹ Paper 1 consists of a comprehension piece. This is non-fiction and demands a detailed response where pupils are expected to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction, and manipulate the information in the text. The second part of the first paper consists of a choice of questions related to directed writing. They require the pupil to write to argue, persuade or instruct. Paper 2 consists of two sections, the first containing‹ questions on multicultural poetry of which pupils are obliged to answer two in one hour. The poems are ones that they have prepared in class. The second section of the paper consists of questions relating to descriptive writing and may require pupils to write to explain or instruct as well as describe. Similarly, the Literature paper is also in two sections, one featuring questions on the novel the pupils have studied, and the other on another selection of poetry which the pupils will have prepared during the year.

Taking into consideration KatherineĂs comments about herself, ś... I know all IĂll ever need to know already, I probably knew enough when I left primary school,” and, ś... I can read all I want, and if I come across words I donĂt know I can usually work them out, and I can write. My spelling and that isnĂt good but it doesnĂt matter. I can still write to my friends and they donĂt complain,” (Appendix 3)‹ it becomes obvious that she is viewing the ability to read and write in a totally functional way. It is for her, a means to an end and not a process to be developed and enjoyed for itself. Katherine is not acknowledging any form of transaction between herself and the text. Her exam paper contains a large portion of literature, and especially poetry, which compounds and reinforces her problems and sense of failure and irrelevance. When I asked her about the texts she had been studying in English ( Appendix 2), she was quite emphatic that she did not enjoy the play An Inspector Calls, and then went on to tell me how boring the anthology of short stories and poems was. She did qualify this by saying, śYou just canĂt understand half the stuff in there,” (line 122 ). I suggested to her that it was not that boring, but was a bit complex to which she replied, śYeah, if I had the choice I would never choose it, it would be last on my list.” (Line 124) Our conversation continued as I tried to find a novel that Katherine would say something positive about. She dismissed Buddy by Nigel Hinton as being dated and śfor old people who like that sort of thing,” (line147) and also declared that the video was śreally boring as well”(line 149). That fascinated me because I thought she would respond to the video version more positively. She did volunteer that Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian was a book she had enjoyed in Year 8 and commented, śI found that fascinating actually Ścos it tells what happened in the war and / itĂs a really good book. I liked that one, the video was good as well.” (Line 154-155) She talked about taking the book home for Grandad to read, but did not feel sufficiently interested to look for any other books by the same author. I wish now that I had asked Katherine more about her response to the novel; I was hoping at the time she would talk about the main character and his experiences, but she maintained a purely historical stance on the novel. She then went on to tell‹ me about the video of Elizabeth she had seen, which had acted as a stimulus for her, and caused her to find her encyclopaedia and read some of it relating to the appropriate period. The interesting aspect of this is that this was something that Katherine had researched purely for pleasure, because she was interested in it, and it proves that she is prepared to pursue some literacy events for pleasure. Katherine talks of other books and videos she has enjoyed, including Titanic, the Mr. Men stories and Winnie the Pooh as well as some Goosebumps books. I must admit I was surprised by her mentioning the Mr Men and Winnie the Pooh books, and it highlighted several aspects to me. Katherine missed out on sharing these stories with an adult in her childhood, so why not enjoy the humour in them now; and then on the other hand no wonder she is finding it hard to cope with the expectations of the GCSE English coursework!

The few books that Katherine chooses to read do not demand a committed Śreader responseĂ in the way that more challenging literature would. She reads recipe books, browses through encyclopaedias, and reads novels for much younger readers. Much of her reading is what‹ Rosenblatt‹ (1985 ) would label ŚefferentĂ; it is utilitarian and the focus of it is beyond the actual reading and more concerned with what she can do with this information in the future. What Katherine does not appear to be doing effectively is reading aesthetically, experiencing feelings, ideas and emotions that are produced at the time of reading. In this instance the focus is in the present, while the reading is actually happening. In order to look at KatherineĂs reading more closely it would be helpful to consider what is meant by Śreader responseĂ.

Reader response is an area that has been explored extensively by Rosenblatt (1978 & 1985) and the distinctive feature of her hypotheses is that she brings both the reader and text together as contributors, instead of viewing the interpretation of literature as depending solely either upon the personality of the reader, or on the written conventions of the text. Rosenblatt suggests that, ŚThe reading of any work of literature is, of necessity, an individual and unique occurrence involving the mind and emotions of a particular reader.Ă (1978: xii). This implies a transaction between reader and text, which she describes further,

... an element of the environment (the marks on the page) becomes a text by virtue of its particular relationship with the reader, who in turn is a reader by virtue of his relationship to the text. At the same time the term transaction, as I use it, implies that the reader brings to the text a network of past experiences in literature and in life. (1985:35)

This highlights the active process that is going on when we read, and points to how we come to take the meaning from text depending upon our past experiences of sensations, images, objects, ideas, relationships, and feelings and emotions created in real life or in literature.‹ Rosenblatt then describes two distinct transactions mentioned above, the Śefferent and aestheticĂ transactions. In efferent reading the readerĂs attention is centred on what should be retained as a residue after the actual reading event - the information to be acquired; for example in KatherineĂs case it might be the date that Elizabeth 1st died. The readerĂs attention is focused on what the words refer to, or what is to be taken away from the transaction. By contrast, in the aesthetic transaction the readerĂs attention is focused on what he is living through during the reading event. Every reader brings their past experiences of life and literature to their reading and without realising it they are constantly selecting, sorting and organising their understanding depending upon these experiences. That is straightforward enough for me, as reading has become second nature and I donĂt even have to think about it. This process is not so straightforward for Katherine. From the start of her life she has not had a carefree existence. When she was born her mother was still living at home, and her father was on a period of enforced absence. SallyĂs mother died from cancer when Katherine was a small baby, and Sally was left to housekeep for her father and brother until her husband returned and they went into a home of their own. I recently read an article in The Daily Telegraph (24th May 1999) which gave a brief report on research carried out in America into the interaction between depressed mothers and their babies. The report states how four month old babies take little notice when their depressed mothers talk to them in flat monotones in contrast to the positive reactions the babies showed to the enthusiastic speech of happy women. The speech development is not as fast in the babies of depressed mothers and, knowing Sally from the period after her husband died, I suspect that Katherine did not receive much of the incessant babbling that mothers naturally use to communicate with their babies. KatherineĂs speech developed normally as far as I know although her vocabulary was limited. I have already referred briefly to the fact that Katherine did not have bedtime stories or regularly share books with adults around her. As Barton (1994) explains, the literacy event of story time provides a great opportunity for children to learn about language. The child hears written language, and learns about books while also listening to the rhythms of the spoken story. The child learns that stories have a structure, and they also extend their vocabulary in a way that would be unlikely in everyday life because the language of the written story is richer than ordinary speech in the home. Talk around the text is equally important, and yet again, Katherine has missed out. Stories are important because having a sense of story is one way of making sense of oneĂs own life. Barton points out,

Children use stories to test out reality, to explore possibilities and go beyond the here and now, to the past and to the future. Stories can provide a way for children to understand other worlds, and to fantasize about what is not possible”. (1994: 146)

Children also learn attitudes and values via text in stories, and Katherine has missed out on so much.

Rosenblatt is aware that not all children find it easy to select whether an aesthetic or efferent response to a text is appropriate and points out that this process depends ultimately on the childĂs development of habits of selective attention. This would be far easier for a child who has been exposed to a wide variety of texts since birth, but much harder for the less experienced child. Rosenblatt then suggests,

Research is needed to accumulate some systematic understanding of favorable and unfavorable environmental factors, and the relation of cognitive and emotional development to the growth of aesthetic capabilities.” (1985: 43)

So, looking at KatherineĂs reading it would seem that she tends to take an efferent stance rather than an aesthetic one. This might also give me a clue as to why she doesnĂt enjoy reading romance, and declares,‹ ś... theyĂre a load of rubbish.”. (App.2, Line 200)

Perhaps she cannot naturally Ślive throughĂ the text while reading it, and enter an aesthetic relationship with it.Interestingly in her home literacy events she is able to read and write letters to penpals that would have to involve feelings, emotions, thoughts and hopes, that is, the qualities associated with aesthetic response. I wonder now whether she gave up reading the novel Bumface by M. Gleitzman because the storyline was straying too far from her experience, as at the point she stopped reading, the main character makes friends with a fourteen year old who is about to be sent to India to an arranged marriage, and this would be totally beyond KatherineĂs experience. She wasnĂt willing to give me a particular reason for abandoning the book, except that she had other coursework to do. I suspect it was influenced by her lack of aesthetic capabilities, due to inadequate practice at reading novels, or lack of experience of life as the character in the novel was living it.

Rosenblatt argues that language activities in school often put the child in the position of having to adopt an efferent stance. For instance, as teachers we read a poem, and then immediately ask pupils to give us facts deduced from their reading of it, using the poem more for information gathering than literary appreciation. In doing this we are testing the pupilsĂ comprehension for our own reassurance. This helps to move pupils further from developing aesthetic skills, and is something we teachers should be aware of.

One of the other things that concerns me in terms of KatherineĂs responding to literature is that she is being expected to analyse plays as performance pieces, when she is unlikely to ever go to the theatre or have a sense of performance in the normal run of events. She has been taken to a pantomime by the local Lions Club when she was smaller, and she has seen a Shakespeare production with the school, but going to the theatre is not a literacy event in her home. She watches lots of videos, and a lot of the GCSE material is supported by video, but that is not the same as live performance. The school does its best to counteract the poverty side, and subsidised places are available on theatre trips, but KatherineĂs village is six miles from school and she would need a lift home, as her mother has not got a car.

I decided to look at the Year 10 English Paper 1 that I have as an example of KatherineĂs written work (Appendix 10) because it is the least literary part of the exam. I wanted to see what I could learn about her school literacy skills from it. I learnt that she is struggling with this aspect of the course too, and her problems are not simply founded in the response to literature. The sample is a NEAB Higher Tier paper from June 1998 (Appendix 11). In the first section she is asked to read a newspaper article on ŚHomelessnessĂ, and then an extract from George OrwellĂs Down and Out in Paris and London, and then answer all the questions. Immediately I notice that the newspaper featured is The Guardian‹ and I know that Katherine will never have seen a broadsheet newspaper in her home, and would not be familiar with the formal language of it considering that the only newspaper going into her home is the free local one which is largely advertisements and a few stories of local interest, but no political items. She may have studied newspapers in class but the language of a‹ broadsheet paper like this would still be foreign to her experience, and not the natural part of her daily life that it would be to some of the other pupils. While my children might have seen the Orwell text before, Katherine would not have, and my immediate impression is that this is a very middle class paper being given to a pupil for whom it has little meaning. It might be worth saying that KatherineĂs poor performance on this paper was one of the deciding factors in her being moved from a middle group to a lower group. She did not fare well in the section on writing to argue, persuade or instruct either, for various reasons. Her punctuation was scant, her description lacking, and her whole piece lacked any shape. It was also too brief and basic. The whole paper leaves me with the impression that she was Śout of her depthĂ with the comprehension section, and then did not have the confidence to tackle the second section competently. We did discuss the exam briefly, and I told Katherine that I had a copy of her answers, and she volunteered that it had been too difficult for her. She will be sitting a Foundation level paper now that she is in the lower group, and I hope it will be more in keeping with her out-of-school experiences so that she is able to respond more appropriately.

Having looked closely at the type of exam paper she will sit for her GCSE, I can see what she means in her comment that she knows enough English already, and I suspect I understand better why she made it. Much of what she is encountering in lessons must seem so remote from her ordinary life, in which ultimately she wants to live independently. Looking at KatherineĂs home life I can see that her literacy skills are adequate, as long as she is content to live a similar existence to her motherĂs. Katherine needs to somehow learn that education is for life, not just until one is sixteen, and she needs to develop a sense of ambition beyond having a loving relationship and a baby at eighteen which is roughly her present plan. While I do not wish to dismiss this we need to offer her opportunities to do more than this with her life. It is our responsibility as teachers to help pupils like Katherine achieve the highest success they can, and have access to the most appropriate career plans, because little constructive guidance will be available at home.

Chapter 4 Á Reflections and Recommendations

This study has provided me with lots of food for thought. While I have been able to highlight the differences between KatherineĂs home and school literacies, and show how she has been disadvantaged in various respects I feel it is relevant for the reader to know that this pupil is not always co-operative or helpful to herself. She can be manipulative and is proficient at ŚstirringĂ among groups of pupils in the class, and she occasionally intentionally Śblocks outĂ what is said to her, and ignores the teacherĂs comments. This has never reached the stage of open confrontation because she backs down, but this behaviour pattern does show that like any other adolescent Katherine is finding her place in the world. If she likes a teacher she will work well for them, if she doesnĂt the amount of effort made is significantly reduced. This seems immature behaviour to us adults, but to her it makes sense, and is quite straightforward. Generally she is pleasant, and always clean and tidy, but one of the main difficulties is the lack of homework. Having listened to her I can sympathise, but naturally at some stage she has to realise that qualifications are necessary, and work at home and at school is vital in order to attain them. KatherineĂs tutor takes an interest in her, and tries to boost her self-esteem whenever she has the opportunity.

It has occurred to me that if Katherine had had the benefit of the National Literacy Strategy when she was starting school the structured approach of it might have helped to counteract her lack of introduction to literacy before school. As it is too early to judge the success of the literacy hour yet, it is only possible to speculate on this.

In September 1999 it will become a legal requirement for Home / School Agreements to be in place for every child of compulsory school age. These documents will outline the expectations of the teachers and school, matched with those of the parents and pupils, and will be signed and used as an agreement. It will not be compulsory to sign the document, but most people would be expected to want to do so. Those who do not want to sign it will not be under any pressure; indeed, there are specific embargoes on making the declaration a pre-condition for admission to school or allowing any adverse consequences to follow from a refusal to sign. It is the process by which the Home / School Agreement comes into being that gives it meaning and value. It has given the school an opportunity to embark upon an ambitious debate about our aims and responsibilities to pupils, the responsibilities of parents in the education of their children and what we can expect of pupils. The success of the project will depend on how comprehensive and genuine are the efforts to involve all the members of the school community. This means not only consulting parents but also teaching/non teaching staff and pupils. If this had been in place when Katherine was starting secondary school it might have helped her to stay on task with homework, as long as her tutor made the steps towards communicating when there were lapses, and both Katherine and her mother were prepared to accept their responsibilities. I fear that the Home / School Agreement is in danger of just being a paper exercise, which will try to provide simple answers to complex underlying problems, and will miss the real issues involved. While the home or school part of the agreement will be feeling guilty if they do not fulfil the criteria, I wonder if any opportunity will be given to explore the question of why there are problems? As this is a new initiative, time will tell how successful it is.

Communicating with parents is something that we teachers, by and large, do not do particularly well. We see approximately forty parents in a three and a half hour slot on a parentĂs evening, and we write comments in a pupilĂs contact book for parents to read, but generally we donĂt have much contact. As tutors we may make an occasional phone call to home if a pupil is having friendship problems or is misbehaving. I would like to see staff being trained in how to talk to parents, particularly parents like Sally. However, parents have to bear some responsibility for their childrenĂs education. Every time we have a parentsĂ evening the comment is made in the staff room that we never see the parents we need to see; we almost always are visited by proud mothers and fathers who know their children are progressing well. What we donĂt take into consideration is people like Sally for example, who have no transport. An evening out is difficult for them to arrange, and‹ more importantly, for people like her who are not confident in the company of teachers, the whole experience is too nerve-wracking to contemplate. She is worried that her comments will appear clumsy to the teachers and that she will look stupid. We need to know how to reach these parents in what they perceive as a non-threatening way, so that we can work together in a genuine partnership to provide the best education for their child. I wonder if any time is devoted to instructing trainee teachers on how to talk to parents, and I would like to see inset training available on it for all staff. I see it as an important element in the partnership process of educating the child; from experience I have learnt that the more constructive communication there is between teacher and parents, the more positive attitude the pupil will develop about school.

Katherine is being targeted as a pupil who is underachieving in a new initiative being set up by the school. Her mother will be invited in to attend a meeting initially with the head of the Learning Development Team (special needs) before the end of the summer term, and steps will be taken to ensure that Katherine receives the encouragement and support she needs. For the first time in my memory, staff involved in this programme have decided that they will carry out home visits to parents who are unable to attend at school. I whole heartedly support this, and see this as a real step forward in a genuine desire to provide the best education for individual pupils.‹

Poverty has been an underlying factor in KatherineĂs story, and her progress would be typical of the children who Hannon (1995) mentions when he outlines research carried out by Newson & Newson (1977). They looked at seven year olds in Nottingham and found that 39% of working class seven year olds were said by parents to be non-readers - twice the proportion found in the middle class. In yet another study, Hannon and McNally (1986) compared the reading test scores of middle class and working class seven year olds and found a twenty seven point difference in mean scores, which is equivalent to more than two years development. This evidence suggests that childrenĂs reading attainment, at least as measured on reading tests, is strongly related to social class, not forgetting that knowing a childĂs social class only gives a very crude view of what is going on in the home environment. While I feel this is true to KatherineĂs experience, I am not forgetting that there are plenty of working class children who do succeed, so I am not making generalisations from it. More recently there has been an article in the Times Educational Supplement (May 21st 1999) which maintains that Śpoverty is the best predictor of inspection grades, according to an analysis of more than two years of figures from the Office for Standards in Education.Ă OFSTED dismissed the analysis, but there is no doubt that failing primary schools are overwhelmingly found in areas of high poverty. In this respect Katherine is fortunate, for she is living in a very pleasant village in rural Wiltshire, and attending a school in a middle class catchment area. Although I describe Katherine as being fortunate there are significant problems associated with being a working class pupil in a middle class school. There are literacy problems, and there are social problems, and Katherine is a victim on both fronts. Our school is well resourced, which is a slight compensation for her lack of facilities at home. While she can word process her work at school she is never likely to have the benefit of a computer to use at home, but at least school is providing the opportunity for her to experience information technology and research using Internet and multimedia. We are living in a society experiencing rapid social changes, which in some instances increases literacy demands on us; for instance e-mail and fax messages are becoming more and more commonplace and Katherine needs to have the opportunities to keep apace of these developments. She also needs the opportunity to keep apace of her peers who increasingly take it for granted that most homes have satellite television, computers and e-mail facilities.

I am still concerned by KatherineĂs view that she knows all the English she needs to know, and there are two aspects to my anxiety. On one hand, I would like to see her being able to be assessed on the kind of practical English that she will use, and I am talking more in terms of a vocational syllabus here. On the other hand, that is playing to the narrowness of her home literacy situation where the familyĂs existing literacy practices show the two different worlds Katherine is operating in. Working at the home - school literacy boundary is difficult because both worlds of literacy have value, but neither can be accepted wholly or uncritically. By contrast, a child from a middle class background experiences school as a natural extension of home, which makes life so much easier as, for example, he could discuss poetry, essay writing and so forth, and receive positive feedback; these are subjects that Katherine would not even venture discussing with Sally. By way of support I feel that we could offer pupils more opportunity to do their homework in school, where they can get the guidance and encouragement they need.

Much of this study has focused on literacy problems;‹ however, it should be remembered that this is a relative concept. At some time in our lives we will probably all have literacy problems; I for one have found aspects of the MA(Ed) course extremely challenging, and when I was first introduced to the reading material for the course I felt a sense of panic and inadequacy. I believe that people can actively decide whether to improve their literacy skills; actively learning and making changes in their lives, and their attitudes are a key factor in their success. Sally is having to take ŚFood and HygieneĂ tests because she has been promoted to cook in charge, and she is coping with the bookwork involved with that. She is also doing all the ordering of provisions and budgeting, with KatherineĂs assistance to check it over. She is picking up the continuum of literacy where she left off years ago, and is using largely neglected skills. I donĂt know what has caused her to shy away from literacy activities in the past, but I feel sure that there is an element of insecurity, and a lack of belief in her own ability which is founded upon her experience of leaving school feeling inadequate. Hopefully, Katherine will decide to use her skills to the best of her ability before she becomes a member of the ŚaliteracyĂ club, as her mother has been for years. Harris & Hodges (1995) define aliteracy as, Śthe unwillingness to use literacy even though the capability is presentĂ.(p142) That is where the challenge lies for so many of us teachers.

Perhaps the time has come to look towards a new definition of literacy for the twenty first century. Meek urges us to look at literacy again, and re-define reading to incorporate wider uses of reading,

We must extend our notions of literacy, the uses and functions by which it is described, to include images and notations which are common, current and important in our world beyond language in print. Representations of the world can be read in other places than in books. Other symbolic systems map our world as metaphoric recognition of space and time, form and colour. Musicians, mathematicians and artists have more in common with poets than any of us make plain, so rooted are we in the final vocabularies of our specialisms.....Surely it could be possible to redescribe reading to encompass these other notational processes. I want to believe that, not least because I know that the young will quickly become sophisticated users of all new technologies more quickly than their elders and that they need alternative ways of describing and framing what they know and what they imagine could be the case. (1992: 231)

I believe Margaret MeekĂs re-definition is exciting and challenging, and at the end of this study my work as a promoter of literacy skills with the full range of pupils is as challenging as ever. I also believe that Katherine is reasonably well off in literacy terms because she will be able to function effectively in MeekĂs wider definition; it would be interesting to do more research on this at a later date and see how she is faring in five, or even ten yearĂs time. Although I am sure that she will develop her literacy skills in other notational forms than reading, I do wonder whether she will ever develop a wide enough range of aesthetic skills to be able to enjoy reading poetry or novels. It would also seem that someone who is trained to read aesthetically would be able to use information efferently, but as it appears in KatherineĂs case, it is not so straightforward the other way around; and limitations with the written word are likely to stay.

So, finally I am left with the view that school is right to demand formal literacy skills from pupils whose home backgrounds mean that they inevitably feel they are failing in all areas of the curriculum, and who may think they will not need such formal skills in the future. How can any child of fourteen predict exactly what literacy skills they are going to need, when they have no idea what they will be doing with their lives? The simple answer is that they cannot, and it would be to take a very narrow-minded view to imagine that they could.

From my study of Katherine I would like to reiterate the recommendations already made. These are that:

staff are trained in communicating with parents;

the Home / School Agreement is taken seriously, and worded carefully to be relevant;

pupils like Katherine are targeted individually by a mentor from the teaching staff;

there is more provision given in school for help with homework or coursework;

there is more of an understanding and acceptance by teachers of the background of working class pupils like Katherine;

pupils are given more career advice, so they can fulfil their potential.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the adoption of these recommendations will go a long way towards bridging the gap between KatherineĂs and similarly placed pupils low expectations of their own literacy abilities and their true potential. A policy along these lines would enable them to develop skills which they could apply not only in their chosen occupation or career, but also in the pursuit of an enjoyable and enriched life.


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Barton, D. and Lancaster Literacy Research Group (1993) śPhotographing Literacy Practices” in Changing English vol 1 : 1. Pp127-140

Barton, D. (1994) Literacy, Oxford, Blackwell

Barton, D. and Hamilton, M. (1998) Local Literacies, London, Routledge

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Daily Telegraph 24th May 1999, London

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Appendix 1




Selection of Books





101 Dalmations

Dodie Smith


Advanced Friendship Bracelets

Henderson Publishing

Amazing Anthony Ant

Lorna & Graham Philpot


Classic Make-Up & Beauty Book

Mary Quant

Dorling Kindersley


John Landon


Dennis the Menace - A Sackful of Trouble


Draw 50 Cats

Lee J. Ames


Extreme Sports - Inline Skating

Ben Roberts


Eyewitness Guide - Jungle

Theresa Greenaway

Dorling Kindersley

Foals In The Field

Lucy Daniels

Hodder Headline


Caroline Cooney


Goosebumps - Vampire Breath

R. L. Stine


Horrible Histories - Sick!

Watts Books

Incredible Explosions

Stephen Biesty

Dorling Kindersley

My Dad's A Fire-Eater

Roger McGough


Orson Cart and The Magic Maze

Steve Donald

Red Fox

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes

Josie Fison & Felicity Dahl

Red Fox

Ronnie The Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Martin & Tanis Jordan


Step-by-Step Pizzas

Wendy Lee


Superman - The Death of Clark Kent

Dan Jurgens etc.

Titan Books

Sweet Valley Twins- Stretching the Truth

Francine Pascal


The Babysitters Club

Ann Martin


The Boyfriend Club - Ginger's First Kiss

Janet Quin-Harkin


The Oxford Book of Scary Tales

Dennis Pepper


The Second Usborne Book of Puzzle Adventures

Karen Dolby


The Usborne Complete Soccer School

Harvey, Dungworth,Miller & Gifford


The Witches

Roald Dahl


Ziggy and The Ice Ogre

Chris Powling


Appendix 2


Informal interview with Katherine



Transcription of Data.


These are the transcription conventions I have used :

(...) words undecipherable

[ marks the point at which speakers overlap


(&) indicates where one speaker is continuing to talk over another speaker, whose turn is

‹‹‹‹‹‹ presented next in the written record.

/‹ pause of less than 2 seconds

// pause of more than 2 seconds.

{ } used to enclose contextual information. eg. { giggles}

= when someone carries straight on from someone else.


Informal interview with Katherine

20th Dec Ś98.

Katherine had just taken the selection of books out of the box and was looking at them.

I: Tell us which one is the best for you.

K: Draw fifty cats.

I: OK, so why did you choose it?

K: Because I like drawing and I like // my favourite animals are cats, so I chose this so I could learn how to draw different sorts of cats.

I: Yes it is quite impressive actually because its got cartoon ones as well as real ones.

K: Yeah.

I: OK and youĂve got the Mary Quant book open so what did you reckon to that Classic Book of Beauty and Makeup?

K: Its OK if you wanna know how to do more things with makeup and you want to get into a career or something.

I: When youĂve got a book like that and its got a lot of photos in hasnĂt it,‹ nearly every page has got pictures and charts and diagrams and stuff;‹ how do you actually read it? Do you start at the first page and do you just read it through or[

K:[ No you just / what you do is find what you want to read about,‹ like if you want to know how to pluck your eyebrows // or[

I:‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹‹ [So what / If you wanted to find out how to pluck your eyebrows would you just flick through the book Śtil you came across an eyebrow picture or would you look in the [

K:[Look in the index at the back

I: All right, OK,‹ has it got that in there?

K: Eyebrows plucking 92, 93.

I: Right fine, I think I could have learnt a lot from this book / and have you ever done it

K: Yes I do my own.

I: Is it painful?

K: Very.

I: OK, well done, so if you were going to pick up this book you wouldnĂt read the whole thing youĂd just read what you were interested in.

K: Yeah.

I: And when youĂve got a page that like this thatĂs got photos do you read this large paragraph at top or do you go straight to the photograph that looks closest to what youĂre looking for?

K: Well it depends really it depends if you wanna / um / read the actual text bit to find out what you really have to do, or if you can go straight into the actual thing //to see about making your eyebrows look bigger and your eyes look bigger and stuff.

I: All right, OK fine, now the third book youĂve got there I canĂt see at the minute, whatĂs that?

K: Roald DahlĂs Revolting Recipes.

I: OK and what sort of things has it got in there?

K: ItĂs got hot frogs / nearly everything you can do / fresh mud burgers.

I: And what in them?

K: Um // mince beef, medium onion, tomato puree, mild French mustard, Worcester sauce /um/ fresh parsley and an egg.

I: Oh right, not really mud after all then. I wonder how many vegetarian recipes as youĂre vegetarian do you think they would have them split into a section or [

K: [I donĂt really know because I havenĂt had a chance to look at it but / no not really, they would have it all mixed up and you have to find what youĂre looking for because there are quite a few recipes which donĂt have meat in / a couple do but its like mainly / um cakes and desserts, a few starters a couple of snacks and quite a few main courses but cakes drinks um /‹ are the main things that //

I: Oh right and is it designed really for children to do their own cooking ?

K: Yeah, it is really because it got like pictures of / um pictures / funny pictures of Roald Dahl and what the // like in /um the Twits, what Mr Twit ate / wormy spaghetti /‹ they show you how to make that and //

I: I wonder if theyĂve got GeorgeĂs Marvellous Medicine in there anywhere, ah thereĂs the BFG.

K: What he liked the magpies of the Twits

I: Have you read the Twits?

K: Yeah .. its OK .. the Enormous Crocodile.

I: So which would be your favourite Roald Dahl book?

K: The Enormous Crocodile because I found it quite funny.

I: All right, I havenĂt read that.

K: Toffee apples are disgusting.

I: Did you read Matilda?

K: Yeah, and IĂve watched it on video, it was easier to watch it on video than to read it Ścos you had to get into the book before you knew what was going to happen.

I: OK, looking at the books youĂve picked up there you havenĂt got any story books there at all.

K: No.

I: What about / youĂve rejected the Baby Sitters, have you ever read any Baby Sitters?

K: No, my friends told me they were all / um boring.

I: And youĂve rejected the boyfriend club?

K: Yeah.

I: YouĂve / oh and I thought you might have enjoyed the um // this Lucy DanielĂs, thatĂs a horsy story. Do you ever read any horsy stories at all?

K: Sometimes, but / I donĂt really like reading books much.

I: YouĂve also rejected a Point Horror with Forbidden.

K: TheyĂre not that scary as um / stuff on TV {giggles}

I: So you prefer to watch a scary thing on TV rather than read it?

K: Yeah.

I: Why do you think that is?

K: Because you can see whatĂs going to happen, itĂs more difficult to get into an actual book than to watch it on TV, and you get to see all the different characters and //

I: OK the Oxford Book of Scary Tales I thought looked really promising.

K: No, itĂs not my sort of thing.

I: So what is your sort of thing?

K: Well, stuff like drawing and cooking and make up.

I: OK you prefer practical books that show you how to do things?

K: Yeah, yeah.

I: ThatĂs fine, were you at all interested in the friendship bracelets if we had the stuff to do it? would youĂve [

K:[Yeah, its all right.

I: But youĂd rather have the other things?

K: But IĂd rather have these books.

I: OK thatĂs not a problem‹ / tell me / so you donĂt read much fiction at all?

K: No.

I: So when you have a set book at school that youĂre reading, what are you doing for GCSE, because youĂre in Year 10 now have you started doing a book?

K: We read a book.

I: What is it that youĂre reading / what was the story about?

K: ItĂs about this girl called Eva Smith and how she changed her name and how the / um Berling family got involved, The Inspector Calls!

I: Now is that a play or is that a novel?

K: ItĂs a play.

I: Did you enjoy it?

K: No.

I: You seem very definite about that Katherine.

K: Very definite.

I: So you havenĂt started reading a novel yet?

K: No.

I: IĂm sure you will.

K: WeĂve started to do our GCSE, itĂs a book full of stories and poems.

I: Oh, your anthology.

K: Yeah, thatĂs it.

I: And whatĂs that like?

K: Boring.

I: Why is it boring?

K: Because itĂs just got loads and loads of poems in and stories that are really boring.

I: Have they all got a theme running though them are they all about one sort of thing?

K: No, itĂs loads of different things.

I: Oh, all right.

K: You just canĂt really understand half the stuff in there.

I: Oh right, so itĂs a bit complicated really, itĂs not really that itĂs boring, itĂs a bit complex.

K: Yeah, if I had a choice I would never choose it, it would be last on my list.

I: I wonder how many people would‹ // so going back, tell me about any book you can remember reading that you enjoyed.

K: Spot the Dog and Mr Men and Winnie the Pooh stories.

I: OK, Spot the Dog is fun because of lifting the flaps.

K: Yeah.

I: And the Mr Men books you enjoy [

K:[I like Mr Men Ścos thereĂs loads of different stories how Mr Nosy gets involved with everything, and Mr Bump and all the characters, and I like Winnie the Pooh because heĂs just a cuddly teddy bear.

I: Winnie the Pooh stories are quite complicated I reckon.

K: I watch it on video before I read the books.

I: Oh right, OK,‹ so / but that must have been a fair while ago? You might be reading them to little children now when you are baby sitting but for your own reading think of a book you have read over the years. What did you read in Year 8 ? What did you read in Year 9 at school?

K: Shakespeare

I: You did Shakespeare in Year 9 and what did you do for a novel you must have done a novel of some sort, did you do Buddy?

K: Oh yeah, we did Buddy.

I: You obviously didnĂt think much of that.

K: No, I didnĂt like it was too old.

I: What‹ do you mean? Dated?

K: Yeah, and itĂs like really for old people who like that sort of thing.

I: That fascinates me.

K: The video was really boring as well.

I: Right fine, OK thatĂs Buddy wiped out. What did you read in Year 8? You read a good book in Year 8.

K: Goodnight Mr Tom.

I: Yeah, thatĂs what you read in Year 8.

K: I found that fascinating actually Ścos it tells what happened in the war and / itĂs a really good book. I liked that one, the video was good as well.

I: So you enjoyed Goodnight Mr Tom, now thatĂs a hard read. Goodnight Mr Tom is over 300 pages long, 304 to be precise. Did you read every page of that at school or did you read some of it at home as well?

K: We mostly read it at school, the teacher read it or we took turns to read it in groups or reading it aloud and I read some of it at home Ścos Granddad likes that sort of thing.

I: So you shared it with Granddad too.

K: Yeah.

I: Did you feel at all inclined afterwards to go and get another one of her books because Michelle McGorian has written lots of books not just Goodnight Mr Tom?

K: No because I havenĂt heard of anymore books except for Goodnight Mr Tom.

I: There are others actually, thereĂs a really nice book‹ / um also written about the second world war about two girls who were about 16 and 18 and live in a cottage theyĂre sent to be evacuated and in fact end up living on their own, you might enjoy it / yes, NatĂs laughing at me. If it was a video I would // Do you thinks itĂs worth even trying to get into any books because you enjoyed that, you got a lot out of that?

K: It depends what like youĂre interested in. I went to see the video Elizabeth, I found that really interesting.One of my older friends, sheĂs got the book and she started reading it to find out more. In my books that tell me dates of loads of people I read about Elizabeth in there, I canĂt remember what it is.

I: You mean your encyclopaedia.

K: Yeah thatĂs it.

I: So do you find that when you get your encyclopaedia out to look up something you might browse through and find something totally different and read about that?

K: Yeah.

I: See, you do read quite a bit.

K: I read quite a lot about Titanic Ścos / IĂm interested in it. I like the video as well, Romeo and JulietĂs good.

I: OK, fine, did you do Romeo and Juliet for your SATS last year?

K: No, we did the Tempest I found that boring cartoon version //

I: If you read your encyclopaedia and youĂre reading books you do actually read quite a bit but what youĂre not reading is a lot of stories.

K: Yeah.

I: So you are still doing quite a bit of reading arenĂt you?

K: But I donĂt like reading everyday, I just like do it when IĂve got time and when IĂm bored and when I have to do something with it for school work.

I: So sometimes you look at the boysĂ Goosebumps books with them donĂt you?

K: Yeah theyĂre interesting.

I: And theyĂre easy.

K: TheyĂre easy to read. {giggles}

I: Yeah, big print, small pages.

K: Yep. {giggles} I donĂt like these little prints and big fat books.

I: What about romance books / have you got into reading any of those?

K: No, theyĂre a load of rubbish.

I: Well, fine, thatĂs fine Katherine.

K: ItĂs all right if people like that sort of thing but IĂm more into scary things, watching videos and scream.

I: Right, magazines you mentioned, was it Sugar you mentioned?

K: Sugar and Miz and Minx.

I: I havenĂt heard of Minx at all, tell me about it.

K: Um // itĂs just a / itĂs /um an adultish magazine, itĂs got loads of rude pictures in it {giggles} it just tells you {giggles}

I: Do you buy this magazine‹ / are you able to [

K:[I bought it once well once or twice, once it had a load of rude pictures in .

I: When you say rude pictures is this pictures of men or pictures of women or what / ?

K: Pictures of men.

I: So like pinups?

K: No, itĂs just a series of just famous peopleĂs ŚoojiesĂ‹ {giggles}

I: Right .

K: My other Minx book didnĂt have it in, itĂs just got stuff, competitions and real life stories and help pages, problem pages, /‹ things.

K: They give you quite um / they do make up and beauty pages like hair stuff and /

I: Is that what SugarĂs got in it?

K: Yeah, SugarĂs got quite a bit in it, itĂs about fashion and whatĂs in and whatĂs out.

I: And whatĂs the other one you mentioned?

K: Miz.

I: Miz, is that similar to Sugar?

K: ItĂs,‹ yeah, itĂs really exactly the same.

I: And do you buy those down the shop when you doing your paper round?

K: No, I canĂt get them down there. I have to go into Marlborough to get them.

I: Oh right because they only stock what people order?

K: Yes.

I: So you can go into Smiths and browse?

K: And WoolworthĂs and newsagentses.

I: OK so which is your favourite magazine?

K: Um / I donĂt really know.

I: And how often do they come out? Are they weeklies or monthlies or //?

K: TheyĂre weeklies, and Mr MenĂs oneĂs monthly, because I get the Mr Men one Ścos itĂs got lots of cute pictures in and‹ //

I: Do you find that useful for your child development though?

K: Yeah, I ordered a load of Mr Men stuff.

I: So that when you have to do projects and things with little ones you can use it.

K: Yeah.

I: Oh right, fine, OK, thatĂs really helpful. Thank you um // now writing, are you still writing to your pen pal in France?

K: Yes, but in English.

I: Well sheĂs got to have practice doesnĂt she?

K: Yes she writes in English back to me.

I: So do you add a little French in the letter at all?

K: Yeah, I do bonjour, au revoir, ca va.

I: Just odd little bits.

K: Odd little bits like Happy Christmas, Happy Birthday.

I: Did you feel that her English was so much better than your French.

K: Yes.

I: That you were embarrassed to write in French.

K: Yeah.

I: You used to write in French didnĂt you?

K: I wrote once in French with the help of the teacher because I had no idea.

I: ItĂs quite difficult.

K: My French pen friend says itĂs easier to learn to write um // English is easier to write in then IĂll understand it and sheĂll understand it because she knows quite a bit of English.

I: SheĂs been learning English longer than youĂve been learning French.

K: Yeah.

I: Are you still writing to anybody you met at Wessex?

K: Yes, IĂve got loads / about 30 people IĂm still writing to.

I: Do you so how many letters are you writing a month?

K: Around 30, more than that occasionally.

I: You are productive, brilliant, so have you sent them all Christmas cards?

K: No, not yet, but IĂm doing that tomorrow, IĂve started writing one.

I: All right, well done, so you actually do lots of reading and writing, you donĂt just sit down with a thick book and read it, but youĂre doing a lot of dipping into books.

K: Yeah.

I: And a lot of using books, and you use recipe books at home sometimes donĂt you?

K: Yeah, Ścos I like cooking.

I: So really youĂre somebody who likes practical books?

K: Yeah.

I: Tell us, youĂre 14?

K: Yeah.

I: ThatĂs been very useful, thank you Katherine.



Appendix 1

Appendix 4



Conversation with Katherine 2nd April 1999

Katherine was not keen to have our conversation recorded so I scribbled as much down as I could, and found this easier myself because I wasnĂt worrying about the technology involved. Naturally some of the hesitations and pauses of spontaneous conversation will be missing but the essence of the communication‹ is here. I havenĂt adhered to a code for transcribing this because I have no way of listening to the conversation more than once and framing it in an analytical way.

Imogen: Tell me more about school... how are things at the moment... were you disappointed with all your results of your Year 10 exams, or did some please you?

Katherine : Well, some were OK. I got 45% in Maths and it was a GCSE paper I think, I donĂt know whether that was good or not but I was pleased with it, it was better than my friends.

Imogen : Your teacher was pleased, he commented to me about it, and also said that if you made a bit more effort you could do even better.

Katherine : Oh, yeah..

Imogen : Yeah, like not ignoring him when heĂs trying to help you, and offering you individual help.... like saying śItĂs OK, Jane can show me, she knows how to do it”.

Katherine (laughing) Did he tell you that? ItĂs true, so he must have done ...did he say anything about homework too? I never do much homework.

Imogen : Why not?

Katherine : Well I just donĂt ...thereĂs no point ... I need time to myself when I get home ... to have a bath and that, and maybe go out. Sometimes VickyĂs mum will pick me up to go ice-skating. I have band too, and I need time to myself after being at school all day.

Imogen : Well you must do some homework, Katherine, no-one in Year 10 could get away with doing no homework at all.

Katherine : Yeah, but I do it at school in tutor time on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. ThatĂs 25 minutes a session.

Imogen : You must have lots of work to catch up on then.

Katherine (laughing): Well, I just say that IĂve lost my book or left it at home, you know...anyway school is a waste of time.

Imogen : In what way?

Katherine : Well, I know all IĂll ever need to know already, I probably knew enough when I left primary school.

Imogen : Tell me more, I donĂt quite follow you.

Katherine : Think about it.... I can add up, take away and that... if a till wonĂt work in a shop I know how much my shopping will be. I can read all I want,‹ and if I come across words I donĂt know I can usually work them out, and I can write. My spelling and that isnĂt good but it doesnĂt matter. I can still write to my friends and they donĂt complain.

Imogen : How many people are you writing to regularly?

Katherine : I still write to Alice at Marlborough College, I still miss her. (Alice transferred to the College at the end of Year 8) I write to one person in London, one in France, though I havenĂt heard from her since Christmas.

Imogen : That was your exchange partner?

Katherine : Yeah, she didnĂt send me anything, or write so I think she doesnĂt want to bother anymore.

Imogen : But there are others you write to arenĂt there?

Katherine : Yeah, two in Ferndown, three in Wales, twelve in Leicester ...all of them IĂve met through band except the girl in London who is a friend of RoseĂs and Alice.

Imogen : Wow! You must be busy, and always buying stamps!

Katherine : Well, I found a book of ten first class stamps in the road today which was handy. (Laughs)

Imogen : So, you reckon youĂve cracked the Maths and English you need, where do other subjects fit in? ... What about Science for example?

Katherine : I hate it. We haveFAR TOO MUCH of it. (Said with great emphasis) .We have 5 lessons one week, and 6 the next. Do you know what that means? It means that we even have double Science one day. (Lessons are one hour long)

Imogen : I have sympathy with you, I didnĂt realise that you had that much Science, it is a government requirement though, it isnĂt the school setting out to torture you. Anyway, Science is interesting, you get to do experiments, and quite a lot of it is practical isnĂt it?

Katherine : I canĂt be bothered to do the practicals. I just write up what the others have done. Nicola does all the experiments and I do the writing for both of us. ...ItĂs quicker that way, and we are both doing what we like... I do her writing in her notebook and then she copies it up neatly after the lesson.

Imogen : Oh, I see. ...How are you getting on then, you canĂt be doing too badly if you are managing to do two peopleĂs writing quite a lot of the time?

Katherine : No, I had a good yellow referral for improved attitude and work. I took it home to show Mum and then I should have taken it back to school to Mr. B. (Head of Year ) but the dog ate it! (Much mirth) I could take him the bits.... but I donĂt really care....Science is so boring anyway, and itĂs not much use to me anyway . I understand a lot of it but they want me to learn the periodic table and thereĂs no way I can learn that ... the questions in the exam were on it too, and I just couldnĂt do them. I canĂt learn things like that but IĂm not exactly going to need it am I?

Imogen : No, but the problem is that you need to pass exams in these subjects to get into college or whatever. What do you plan to do when you leave school?

Katherine : DonĂt know, maybe even work with Mum. (Sally is the cook at the local primary school)

Imogen : You need to make your own life, come on, what are you interested in ? You really enjoy Childcare donĂt you? And youĂre very good with young children... had you considered that?

Katherine : Yeah, and people say IĂm good at doing hair and that, you know, beauty stuff, so I might do that.

Imogen : When is it that you do work experience? ItĂs in Year 11 isnĂt it? Why donĂt you ask the woman in the village, Jenny Whats-her-name if you could help in her beauty salon for the week? If you go in and ask her politely now perhaps sheĂll keep a place for you?

Katherine : Yeah, but sheĂs a bit posh isnĂt she? (Laughs nervously)

Imogen : She is, but you are very polite, and itĂs worth a try if you are interested.

Katherine : Do you think she might give me a Saturday job when IĂm 15?

Imogen : Well, thereĂs no harm in asking is there?

Katherine : I think I might go into the army. In Year 10 complimentary studies the army visit school and do obstacle courses and paintballing, and that. I like that sort of stuff.

Imogen : And the men that go with it....

Katherine ( laughing) Yeah, you got it!

We talked at length about the other subjects Katherine studies at school; food technology, drama, french, religious education and English. It became abundantly clear that she only works if she likes the teacher and feels comfortable in the lesson. At the moment she is being moved down from the middle English group to the bottom group, and blames this totally on the fact that she took an instant dislike to the teacher in September. She admits that she has been rude and lazy, and has rebuffed his attempts to help her, and also admitted that she didnĂt really think she would be moved. Now she is dreading going to the other group because there are only three girls in it, and one has bullied her before. On the other hand the teacher taught her mother, so he must be good! (Sally more or less dropped out of school by the time she was 15. She‹ once explained to me that she was always getting sick ...and her brother who was in the room at the time disputed this .... so‹ attendance at school was not a high priority for her.)

Imogen : So, Katherine, I can see your criticisms of school ... and I can understand why you feel as you do ... now can you think of some ways to improve it for you? What changes would you like to see? ... not that they will happen but if you were in charge and could change things what would you do?

Katherine : Well, I would like to have more variety of lessons like I did in Years 7, 8 and 9. I liked it in the lower school and I did better then, I could understand more. I wanted to do Art, and music, and history too, but just not do exams in them. I donĂt like the pressure of exams and work, work, work.... I want to do things that interest me ....IĂd even like to know more about business studies if I could but not do an exam. I donĂt want to do Science and that all the time... these others would help me too, mind you IĂm rubbish at art, but I enjoyed it.

Imogen : I think you have some‹ very good ideas. Sadly youĂre stuck with things the way they are for now, and you need to remember that youĂre only going to get back what you put into your work. Criticising the teacher is not the answer, and sooner or later the months of undone homework will catch up with you. So, IĂm going to keep a special eye on you....

Katherine : Like you do now ... yeah I know, IĂll get my work planned better this term and fill out my contact book anĂ that.

Imogen : Well done! Thanks, thatĂs been very useful.


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