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Young Children, Schooling and Literacy: An ethnographic study of literacy practices in a London primary school

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis adopts a Literacy as a Social Practice perspective to challenge dominant assumptions about the relationship between young children, literacy and schooling. It takes an ethnographic approach to data collection and analysis to explore what it is like to be a five-year-old child encountering the literacy curriculum in a West London primary school in the 21st Century. The thesis argues that young children’s reproduction of literacy practices in schooling can be understood through the application of William Corsaro’s theorisation of ‘interpretive reproduction’. From this perspective, children’s interpretive reproduction of in-school literacy practices is contingent upon their interpretations of the social world of the classroom. Within this social world, differing values, attitudes and beliefs about literacy co-exist in the same social space. The thesis concentrates on: a) the dominant ‘schooled literacy’, which is explored through the use of Foucault’s theorisation of schools as disciplinary institutions; and b) the children’s in-class peer culture literacy, which is explored through Corsaro’s theorisation of interpretive reproduction. The thesis presents ethnographic data that shows how the children in Amber Class negotiated this complex world through the interpretive reproduction of literacy practices especially adapted to the classroom. A close and detailed analysis of these practices demonstrates that, alongside their acquisition of ‘basic skills’ in schooling, many children learn to manage the procedures and practices of the dominant schooled literacy in ways that enable them to maintain their own in-class peer culture priorities. The thesis argues that the complexity of these practices means that more attention should be paid in literacy education policy to young children’s interpretations of the literacy curriculum they encounter in schooling and the effects of those interpretations on their acquisition and practices of literacy.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2017


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