Chapters 1 & 2 HALR (ENGL 515)


This blog post is sort of a messy experiment this time around. These are essentially my notes, which at this time mostly consist of quotes and paraphrasing of sections I found interesting for this week’s reading, with more discussion of both the HALR and the two articles for the week being forthcoming. I’m sure future posts will be more condensed, and content-specific, with more discussion.

Disclaimer: I am finding I greatly dislike electronic texts, and am disappointed (despite some of the advantages), with having electronic versions of the class texts.

Handbook of Adolescent Literary Research

Chapter 1

Who is the adolescent?

Adolescent literary research has reached its…adolescence.

“Adolescent identity emerges in the culture in which young people’s development takes place;

literacy practices are afforded and constrained by what is available in their settings;

and research is a cultural practice that reflects local goals and practices.”

The term adolescence became widely accepted and used as a term in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gaining broader acceptance alongside child labor laws and different schooling practices.

This makes it a modern/postmodern term for the period of time between childhood and adulthood.

We are still working against the stereotype of adolescence as a period of Sturm und Drang and moving towards the understanding of it as a “vital stage of human development that deserves our attention and respect”. The roles, responsibilities, expectations, and duration of adolescence varies widely among different cultures. All of these are of course also tied to economics, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and other factors.

This book plans to focus on the postindustrial, postmodern, adolescent in the Western world.

Lesko (2001) notes the “idea of time as holding seemingly opposing identities simultaneously is, I believe, a necessary dimension of a retheorizing of adolescence” (p. 197). In other words, most adolescent youths must see themselves as both old and young, both working and in school.

Adolescents have always had their own rules and boundaries, and are characterized by their own language, “both as a traditional defense against outsiders and as a group identity-sharing”.

Some of today’s problems facing adolescents are founded in insecurities…they are over-tested at school, over-scheduled at home, facing earlier physical, and later emotional and economic maturity, and society…is what it is.

How do we define literacy?

literacy – the quality or state of being literate

literate – started as a reference to the written word, more broadly came to mean people who are “able to read and write” and recently indicates “having knowledge or competence”.

So the origins are in letters, and have evolved to encompass all kinds of competencies.

Resnick and Resnick give it four stages:





Difficulties arise among those whose job it is to both foster literacy, and account for it in concrete ways.

For example, it is difficult to operationally define what it means to comprehend written speech.

It is even harder to assess comprehension because of the “constructive, interrelational nature of the meaning that emerges through reading and response” (which may be completely different from what the test-makers see).

All of the above rest on an autonomous view of literacy, “one that takes literacy out of its social and cultural context and views it as a discrete skill.”

“literacy in its autonomous conception is reductive, eliminating attention to the contexts, intertexts, intercontexts, and other factors that are implicated in readers’ efforts to become engaged in their reading”

“a semiotic perspective on literacy is based on the notion that every human construction is a text that is composed of signs and therefore has potential for providing a meaning to be constructed by its readers”

Semiotic literacy has contributed to the emerging notion that text is more than just writing. It has led to terms/concepts such as multiliteracies and multimodality, produced via design and composition.

“Gee (1990) argues that literacy is not limited to words but comprises the full set of attributes and attitudes that one brings to social interaction. Literacy is thus ideological in that it represents a stance in relation to the world.”

Kintgen et al. (1988): “literacy must be defined in relation to a particular society or culture” (the meaning of literacy is local and situated).

Heath (1983): a culture’s organization of its social life suggests different purposes for literacy and different stances toward literate practices.

“The degree to which a person is considered literate, them, is not static, but is a judgment based on the local standards that follow from the ways in which particular cultures construe the purpose of using texts for communication and expression.”

What are the limitations of research?

If literacy is not ability to read and pronounce, the methods that measure these skills are not up to measuring literacy. If literacy is semiotic, and cultural, and contextual, statistics and tests do not provide a full picture.

“There is…a special value attached to studies that describe systematically the sorts of things that go on when literacy is occurring in situ

literacy = a set of socially organized practices which make use of a symbol system and a technology for producing and disseminating it. (Scribner & Cole, 1981)

literacy – an event in the social and material world, something that needs to be located and observed to be fully understood.

Research in education does not lend itself well to the formal laboratory setting. Researchers need to go where the action is, so to speak. There are many vital and valid methods of inquiry, and inventiveness in methods and practices continues to grow.

“The national conversation around the federal policy…has built a sense in the profession as a whole…that education research is of high quality when it produces certainty about particular ways of teaching all students, when it randomizes subjects, when it standardizes and broadcasts treatments to large numbers, when its analysis employs statistical tools.”

Teachers are “thoughtfully adaptive decision makers, who may benefit from understandings that research produces as they take up a wide range of considerations in responding to the particular students from particular backgrounds with particular histories in their particular schools in particular communities.”.

Especially critical is the understanding that the research is, and should be, something that generates new and differing ways of thinking, and alternative perspectives. It is not meant as a replacement for proven methods.

My conclusions: this is an incredibly important and sadly neglected field of study that should be researched and talked about a lot more. As noted, this is not a simple situation where x causes y and therefore z should be done to stop x from causing y. Obviously, this issue of how we treat adolescents and how we treat literacy has farther-reaching implications within our culture. It is about how we view adolescents, what we deem their “importance” to be, and of course there are so many other concerns of psychological, pedagogical, and socio-economic natures. To name a few.

Words I don’t know, or words that are misused and bother me:

compathy – feelings shared with another or others

discrete – individually separate and distinct

discreet – careful and prudent in one’s speech or actions, especially in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment

emic – studying or describing a particular language or culture in terms of its internal elements and their functioning rather than in terms of any existing external scheme.

Chapter 2 Sociocultural Constructions of Adolescence and Young People’s Literacies

Donna E. Alvermann

“for unless [adolescence] is scrutinized to reveal at least some of its various constructions, one runs the risk of prescribing solutions for a subpopulation that may or may not fit any of its members particularly well”

From Literacy to Literacies: A Necessary Training

Universal literacy is a very recent goal of nations. At the same time, nations began to privilege the written over the spoken word-thereby devaluing oral communication as an equally valid indication of human intellect and creativity.

Two Dominant and Competing Models of Literacy

The autonomous model, (prevalent in the U.S.), views reading and writing as neutral processes that are largely explained by individual variations in cognitive and physiological functioning. It assumes a universal set of reading and writing skills for decoding and encoding printed text.

Brian Street points out that the autonomous model acts as though it is natural, without an ideological position. He claims ideological for its counterpoint to show that the discussion moves beyond the technical features of writing and speaking. The underlying (and sometimes overt) dynamic of both = power relations.

The ideological model subsumes the autonomous model and simultaneously incorporates an array of social and cultural ways of knowing that can account for seemingly absent but always present power structures. (power – something that circulates and speaks through silences as well as utterances)

Discourses – socially recognized ways of being in the world (Gee, 1990) with an “aura of naturalness or inevitability to them” (Lesko, 2001). In adolescence, this produces expectations of your across social sites and practices, including reading and writing.

The New Literacies

Multiliteracies grew out of Gee’s work to denote more than “mere literacy” (language and print-centered); it includes integration of communication modes such as linguistic, visual, oral, sound and kinesthetic.

“The social semiotic theory of multimodality is concerned primarily with communication in its widest sense-visual, oral, gestural, linguistic, musical, kinesthetic, and digital. It attempts to explain how people play a central role in making meaning, how they use various resources (signs) that are available to them in representing through different modes what they wish to communicate to others.”

Representational choices indicate what is salient to the individual, indicating the person’s perception of his or her audience’s needs and interests.

“through the representations people make of the resources available to them, it is possible to infer what matters to them”

A Challenge to Studying Literacies in Local Contexts

Preoccupation with local contexts led to methodological biases in research and conceptual impasses in theory building. Critics of the autonomous model, by focusing attention almost exclusively on individual agency in reading and writing practices at the local level, all but ignored the material consequences associated with literacy at a more global level. The recommendation came (Brandt and Clinton) to treat literacy (like Latour) as not just an outcome of local practices, but as an actor, or participant in those practices. They claim it is necessary to remain alert to the possibility that decisions made in distant places can constrain people’s literacy practices in local contexts. “Where anyone is observed reading and writing something, it is well worth asking who else is getting something out of it; often that somebody will not be at the scene”.

Street’s response to this is to call for “staying the course with a correction”. His correction would be to increase the generality without losing the specificity. Specifically, he advocates taking up the question, “What is a text?” as a central focus, allowing then for studying texts in all their representations, and accounting for intersecting issues. He says this is complemented by work in multimodalities, each with a distinctive look: one that tries to understand what people acting together are doing (NLS), the other that tries to understand about the tools with which the same people do what they are doing (multimodalities).

Constructions of Adolescence: A Social and Cultural Analysis

The modern, scientific adolescent, constructed around the turn of the 20th century has relegated young people to marginalized positions on the edge of adulthood, and the discourse (system of reasoning) about youth in the U.S. offers a limited set of options for engagement with society and literacy learning.

Evolving Views of Literacy and the Discourse of Adolescence

Two criticisms of adolescence: the issue of biological determinism and its claim that adolescents are trapped within bodies destined to fall prey to the so-called physical, sexual, and emotional “excesses” of youth. Critics dispute a literature based in developmental psychology that is based on Strum und Drang (which it no longer is!)

“The second critique of adolescence as an isolatable category separating young people from adults draws on a perspective that points to the centrality of people’s use of language to socially construct negotiatied understandings about their lived experiences and the experiences of others. This approach fails to address the underlying assumption that adolescents as a group are basically the same owing to developmental, age-driven factors.” (though it does deal with gender, race, and class)

Lesko looks at how adolescents are not “lacking in adult knowledge and experience” so much as they are utilizing knowledge that is relevant to them…and experiencing their adolescence using the contexts they are in. She also argues for “viewing adolescents as having at least some degree of agency within a larger collective of social practices”.

What if Adolescence and the Struggling Adolescent Reader Are Fictions?

I am heartened by the quote from William Ayers, which states, “Puberty is a fact; everything surrounding that fact is fiction. We construct the myths, and just like that, the myths construct us”. This is more in line with my understanding of the adolescent in relation to current knowledge in developmental psychology. Adolescence, in my understanding, is by no means the nightmare we have superficially understood it to be. In fact it is often characterized by solid relationships, emerging identities, growing understanding of one’s body and one’s self, and general emotional well-being. In short, it is no more fraught with trouble than any other stage, and is less stressful than some.

Hmmm…some provocative material on cultural relativism and how to avoid pigeonholing one’s thinking about adolescence.

Adolescence as a Site for Exploring New Possibilities in Youth’s Multiliteracies

This section is related to the literacy environments adolescents are in, Leander finding data that suggests that multitasking may not be a concrete negative, and that it is not indicative of participation or class discussion. There is discussion of the “cyberspatial mindset” and its effect on the ethos within the discourse of adolescence. Some research shows that ubiquitous multitasking experienced by some adolescents informs their experiences of authority and expertise distributed through “old-school” identity markers-which works for some and not others.

There are many factors affecting index achievement and communicative competence, among them, collaborative and participatory literary practices, opportunities for dialogue, the gratification from immediate feedback, and the lure of community (that show people reading and visiting). Lankshear and Knobel have pointed out the less restrictive norms for publishing in cyberspace, which makes for less uniformity in the form of responses and less dependence on monomodal representations of meaning.

“not prone to taking chances that could lead to failure by reading critically” (hahahahaha)

It is shown that print means are used to demonstrate literacy in standardized testing most of the time…but new assessments are being developed with electronic texts, in which differences among results are shown between those who have used multimedia platforms and those who have not.

Implications for Educators, Researchers, and Policymakers

Summary quote: “Listening to and observing youth as they communicate their familiarity with multiple kinds of texts across space, place, and time can provide valuable insights into how to approach both instruction and research–insights that might otherwise be lost or taken for granted in the rush to categorize literacy practices as either in-school or out-of-school, adolescents as either struggling or competent, and thereby either worthy of our attention or not”

Words I don’t know, or words that are misused and bother me:

epistemology – the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.

seminal – strongly influencing later developments.

NLS – New Literacy Studies (local contexts included)

reify – make something abstract more concrete or real


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