Louise Wheeler
Not write, not save": literacy, language & agency as social practices.

Author: Louise Wheeler, University of Birmingham.

Title: “Not write, not save”: literacy, language & agency as social practices”


Agency has been conceptualised as the “socioculturally mediated capacity to act” and it has been argued that second language learning can be seen as the development of agency in the new language (Van Lier 2008). However, much of the previous research into language learning tends to overlook the extent to which classroom practices may be patterned by literacy. This presentation draws on research that takes a sociocultural view of language, literacy and agency to explore the relationship between the development of literacy practices and learner agency in second language learning. Rather than seeing on reading and writing as neutral skills , the research focussed on ‘literacy practices’ : cultural ways in which literacy is used and understood in particular social contexts (Barton and Hamilton 1998). It aimed to explore how literacy practices are shaped, negotiated and transformed in the tension between the agency of individual language learners and the cultural and social constraints in which learning is embedded. The study adopted an ethnographic approach, drawing on data from classroom observation, documentary evidence and interviews to construct a detailed account of the literacy practices developed by one adult English language learner at a UK language school. This presentation will focus on a particular set of practices the learner referred to as ‘saving’, to illustrate how learner literacy practices develop in the tension between an agency that is culturally and historically shaped and the resources available in context of learning. By examining the way in which the learner’s ‘saving’ practices mediated his language learning, the presentation will consider how opportunities for agency development are created or limited by the English language classroom. The presentation also aims to demonstrate the value of attending to learner ‘improvisations’: both as researchers of agency in educational contexts and as teachers concerned with developing agency in our learners.

The DARE Collaborative is a research partnership focused on the digital arts in education, led by the UCL Institute of Education and the British Film Institute. It has a membership of university researchers, teachers and educators in cultural organisations with an interest in arts, media, culture and new literacies in the context of education and digital media.
Centro en Investigación Avanzada en Educación