Curriculum Literacies: Experiences of teaching curriculum literacies in an independent middle school in South East Queensland; a complex relationship between the practices, the site, and the practice architectures that enable and constrain.

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Grootenboer, Peter

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Kitson, Lisbeth

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Over the past decade, the apparent decline in the literacy levels of school aged students in Australia has been of interest to governments, researchers, and the general public. Research has shown that literacy is important for academic and learning success (Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2003). Therefore, in Australia, the national curriculum documents state that all teachers across every phase of schooling are responsible for teaching literacy (ACARA, 2013). However, as the literacy demands of the middle and senior secondary phases of schooling are complex and discipline-specific, it is more appropriate to consider the notion of teaching curriculum literacies across the learning areas rather than literacy in the singular. Thus, teachers in the middle and senior phases of schooling need to teach students how to switch between the different literacies they will encounter in a typical school day. Nevertheless, research has suggested that teachers often fail to address the literacy of their own subject areas and, instead, rely on English teachers and students’ past literacy learning experiences in the early primary years (Christie & Derewianka, 2008; Luke et al., 2003; Parris, Fisher, & Headley, 2009). Furthermore, independent schools in Australia have experienced growth in enrolment numbers over the past two decades but there is little current research into the teaching of curriculum literacies at these sites. Therefore, this qualitative, ethnographic case study aimed to investigate the curriculum literacies teaching practices of middle school teachers at an independent school in South East Queensland. A practice theory framework was employed, specifically the theory of practice architectures and the corresponding theory of ecologies of practices. These two theories allowed an examination of the site-specific nature of the curriculum literacies teaching practices and hence, provided an ontological perspective. The perspective enabled the study to focus on the site-based nature of the curriculum literacies teaching practices rather than the individual teacher. The data for the study was collected through a combination of classroom observations, interviews and document analysis. Data analysis occurred through an iterative process of reading, rereading, and analysing teacher sayings, doings, and relatings and the corresponding cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political site arrangements or practice architectures. The data sources revealed that teachers across a range of subjects were teaching aspects of the underpinning curriculum literacies using a range of approaches. Furthermore, while the curriculum literacies teaching practices evident at this site occurred in the current Australian educational context of accountability, performance, and high stakes testing, a surprising finding was the lack of focus on the external testing regime in the practice architectures that shaped the observed curriculum literacies teaching practices. Rather, a common finding was that all teachers linked the importance of curriculum literacies to the well-being of the students’ future lives. Additionally, the findings in this study showed the complex nature of the curriculum literacies teaching practices, and the cultural-discursive, material-economic, and social-political site arrangements. Hence, curriculum literacies teaching practices cannot be seen in isolation. Rather, they shape and are shaped by the social; by the site arrangements and exist in ecological arrangements with other practices visible at the site. Thus, the notion of Best Practice in curriculum literacies teaching practices, as mandated by the national curriculum documents policy or even other research, is incongruous with the theory of practice employed in this study. Instead, research into curriculum literacies teaching practices requires a consideration of what is relevant and appropriate to schools, students, and teachers at a particular moment. Therefore, if governments, researchers, schools, teachers and parents want to change curriculum literacies teaching practices, policy mandates are insufficient. Any changes to current curriculum literacies teaching practices can only occur at the site level and need to take into account the site-specific arrangements that enable and constrain the curriculum literacies teaching practices.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School Educ & Professional St

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Curriculum literacies

Middle school


Practice theory

Practice architectures

Site arrangements

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