Language and Literacies

Language and Literacies

Language and literacies are the key to understanding and contributing to the world around us.

Learning to communicate effectively lays the foundations for life-long learning, economic and social participation and future well-being. By enabling individuals to  understand and evaluate information effectively, express their thoughts, emotions and opinions, interact productively with others and think critically and creatively, language and literacies pave the way for a lifetime of opportunities. The Language and Literacies Research Group is building a deep understanding of how individuals learn to read, write, talk and listen — and how these critical foundational skills can be further developed. Uniquely, we are investigating language and literacies across all the life stages, from birth, throughout formal education and into the adult years.

By conceptualising language and literacy learning as a dynamic, life-long process, the Language and Literacies Group is delivering new evidence in many key areas. This includes investigating how babies build their vocabularies, how teenagers communicate via images, how to support literacy for learners with special needs and how to enable adults from non-English speaking backgrounds to participate fully in their new lives. Through research and practice we are seeking new ways to address the complex and multi-generational challenges of poor literacy levels and to promote the life opportunities that improved language and literacy skills offer.

Many Australians are inadequately equipped with the literacy skills they need to successfully navigate modern life.

Today, some 7.3 million Australians are hampered by poor literacy skills, which the World Literacy Foundation estimates costs Australia some $25 billion a year in unfulfilled human potential and the resulting socioeconomic inequality and health and welfare costs. Research suggests Australia is currently locked in a vicious cycle. Poor literacy skills underlie socioeconomic disadvantage, but so too does disadvantage underlie poor outcomes at school. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds lag well behind their more privileged peers in reading literacy. The gap is growing and exceeds similar socioeconomic disparities in comparable advanced economies, suggesting Australia’s education system is currently less effective in overcoming a child’s prior disadvantage.

Although Australia has many examples of truly excellent teaching, we have, to date, too often been guided by assumptions, rather than rigorous evaluation or research. A stronger evidence-base to help improve outcomes for our diverse range of learners is both a social and an economic priority. As every learner is different, we need to understand how, why, when — and in what circumstances — certain teaching approaches work best. We also need to recognise and understand the myriad of complex interactions that can support, or frustrate, learning at home, in childcare centres, schools, tertiary education and in the community. And, as 21st century communication is rapidly evolving, we need to look well beyond conventional reading and writing to incorporate different media and modes, including popular culture, new technologies and community resources. By conceptualising language and literacy learning as a dynamic, life-long process of empowerment, we can begin to combat the corrosive socioeconomic disadvantages of poor literacy skills. The Language and Literacies group is delivering new evidence and insights in many key areas. Through research and practice we are promoting the invaluable opportunities that language and literacy skills offer to improve life outcomes for every learner.

Our researchers:

Sarah Carlon: Special education; early literacy; early intervention and parent decision-making

Alice Chik: Narrative inquiry into life-long and cross-generational language learning; popular culture and technologies in second language learning; multilingualism

Emilia Djonov: Early language and literacy learning; multiliteracies; social semiotics and educational linguistics; (critical) multimodal discourse analysis

Janet Dutton: Secondary students’ writing across KLAs; impact of high stakes testing on literacy pedagogy; identity texts and second language learning

Ruth French: Literacy education; teaching and learning of knowledge about language; educational linguistics; children’s literature; curriculum and pedagogy (primary education)

Sally Howell: Special education; Reading difficulties and other disabilities

Kerry-Ann O’Sullivan: Literacy policy and curriculum; English teachers’ professional identities, pedagogies and meeting of competing demands; critical discourse analysis

Rauno Parrila: Reading instruction, interventions and difficulties; reading acquisition; learning difficulties across life-span; cognitive and socio-cognitive compensation of learning difficulties; special and inclusive education

Mary Ryan: Writing pedagogies and young learners’ identity in school-based contexts; literacy in professional contexts; combining critical discourse analysis with various theories (especially socio-spatial and reflexivity theory)

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