Questioning the Separation of In-School from Out-of-School Contexts for Literacy Learning: An Interview with Donna Alvermann

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This article challenges the premise that the divide between in- and out-of-school literacy learning is real and, as such, needs bridging. She challenges this divide because she sees educators creating learning conditions, especially with interactive
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  Alvermann: Research Connections - 1 NOTE: A version of this paper was later published. Please cite asfollows: Alvermann, D. E., & Moore, D. W. (2011). Questioning the separation of in-school and out-of-school contexts for literacy learning: Aninterview with Donna E. Alvermann.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55 (2), 156-158. DOI: 10.1002/JAAL.00019 Questioning the Separation of In-School from Out-of-School Contextsfor Literacy Learning: An Interview with Donna Alvermann  Donna E. AlvermannDavid W. MooreDonna E. Alvermann is a University of Georgia Appointed DistinguishedResearch Professor of Language and Literacy Education. Formerly a classroomteacher in Texas and New York, her research focuses on young people’s medialiteracies in digital environments. Author of numerous articles, she was Co-Director of the National Reading Research Center from 1992-1997. Her co-authored/co-edited books include Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives (2 nd ed.);  Adolescents’ Online Literacies: ConnectingClassrooms, Digital Media, & Popular Culture ; and Bring It to Class: UnpackingPop Culture in Literacy Learning . She edited Reading Research Quarterly  andserved as president of the National Reading Conference (NRC). Currently, amember of the Adolescent Literacy Advisory Group of the Alliance for ExcellentEducation, she is a past recipient of NRC’s Causey Award for OutstandingContributions to Reading Research and its Kingston Award for Service. In2006, she was awarded the International Reading Association’s William S.Gray Citation of Merit.  Alvermann (Research Connections) - 2 DWM: How do you think about contexts for literacy learning? DEA:  To me, contexts for literacy learning do more than formdisciplinary boundaries around acts of reading and writing. Instead,contexts for literacy learning point to the instability, or indeterminacy, of categories such as in-school and out-of-school. Said another way, mythoughts about contexts challenge the premise that the divide betweenin- and out-of-school literacy learning is real and, as such, needsbridging. They also challenge the common assumption that the type of literacy learning that takes place in each locale is qualitatively different. DWM: Why do you question the idea of separating in-school from out-of-school contexts for literacy learning? DEA: I question this idea because I have repeatedly observed teachers andschool library/media specialists create learning conditions that pushagainst perceived needs to bridge a divide that exists more in theprofessional literature than in actual practice. Practically speaking, it isalmost impossible to eliminate overlapping literacy practices andlearning. Furthermore, who would question a class assignment thataligns with a particular common core standard but also permits studentsto satisfy a penchant for remixing texts, such as cutting and pastingfrom sound clips and images to create a nuanced text on the Civil War?As Black (2008) noted, youth who create derivative texts are “far frombeing ‘mindless consumers’ and reproducers of existing media” (p. xiii).Indeed, encouraging active engagement with underlying messages in all  Alvermann (Research Connections) - 3texts can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of critical reading, writing,viewing, and listening.New interactive communication technologies and a definitionalbroadening of  text  to include moving images, words, sounds, gestures,and performances support the folding of literacy practices, regardless of their place of srcin. In fact, the ease with which multimodal contentcan be edited and remixed to create new texts that are freely availableon the internet contribute in no small way to young people’s fascinationwith the new literacies (Lankshear & Knobel, in press). DWM: At what point in your research did you begin questioning theseparation of in-school from out-of-school contexts for literacy learning? DEA: During the 1990s, I began questioning this artificial divide betweencontexts as a consequence of spending considerable time in schoolsobserving class discussions that crossed disciplinary areas. In one study(Alvermann, et al., 1996), which was funded by the National ReadingResearch Center and spanned multiple classroom sites in three states,there were numerous instances in which students folded out-of-schoolliteracies, such as Bible reading, into school-sanctioned textbookdiscussions. Unsurprisingly, their small group discussions suggested agood deal about their social lives and experiences in and out of school.However, it took a study of adolescents' perceptions and negotiations of   Alvermann (Research Connections) - 4literacy practices in after-school Read and Talk Clubs (Alvermann, Young, Green, & Wisenbaker, 1999) and the publication of  Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives (Alvermann,Hinchman, Moore, Phelps, & Waff, 1998) for me to grasp the extent towhich young people use literacies that are multimodal, shifting, andrelational—the very kind that defy simple categorizations of in- and out-of school learning or learning that is qualitatively different by locale. DWM: How might folding perceptions of in-school and out-of-school contextsfor literacy learning inform classroom teachers, school library/mediaspecialists, and curriculum developers? DEA: As I always stress in my content literacy courses, many youngpeople of the Net Generation find their own reasons for becomingliterate—reasons that include, but go beyond, reading and writing tocomprehend school-related texts, pass required tests, and eventuallygraduate. This is not to say that academic literacy is unimportant, butrather, to acknowledge the potential in young people’s multipleliteracies for informing classroom instruction, school library/mediacenters, and the curriculum. With sufficient research available tosupport the claim that academic literacy achievement at the middle andhigh school levels hinges in no small part on students’ motivation, self-efficacy, and engagement (Carnegie Council on Advancing AdolescentLiteracy, 2010), there is even more reason for questioning the  Alvermann (Research Connections) - 5separation of in-school and out-of-school contexts.Research suggests that youth-produced digital media texts generated inclassrooms provide opportunities for students to examine their identitiesin relation to a curriculum’s master narratives and to push back withtheir own counter-stories. Such was the case in Jen Curwood’sclassroom (Curwood & Gibbons, 2010). As a high school English teacherwho collaborated closely with the school’s library media specialist, Jenencouraged her students to create digital poetry for the express purposeof letting them ground their work in their own interests and livedexperiences. Jen’s action research project focused on a particular boy, Tommy, who had experienced difficulty fitting in with others at hisschool. Under Jen’s guidance, Tommy remixed stories, traditions, andvarious modes of representation to foreground his identity in a manner—Shakespeare’s approach to comic relief—that diffused his school’s andclassmates’ positioning of him as an outsider.As part of a five-year research project at the middle school level,Margaret Hagood (Hagood, Alvermann, & Heron-Ruby, 2010) studiedhow teachers connected their state’s literacy standards to theirstudents’ uses of popular culture. Chandler Dabit, an eighth-gradereading teacher, designed a lesson on Paul Revere’s Ride that tappedinto her students’ fascination with online mapping. Well aware that 21 st
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