New literacy studies at the end of the world: a ground-controlled approach from Chile.

When I first arrived to Lancaster I felt as a practitioner that needed more tools to improve the communities I was working with as an educational assessor that assessed children’s reading and writing skills. Through my path in the research, I was able to read and meet people that chanSociocultural context

Roberto's drawing

Roberto’s drawing

ged completely my views about assessment and literacy, I thought I had something great to support students and teachers. NLS became a tool to provide solutions around the educational problems that have been haunting the Chilean classrooms for decades.

However, when I landed in Chile, I had a quick encounter with the Chilean reality. I started working in an academic environment where all the discussion should be always contextualized and grounded on teachers’ and schools’ resources and classrooms. This shocked me at the beginning, I was not aware of talking about the concepts and theory in plain language, furthermore, I was not able to talk about it in Spanish.

All the theoretical problems I faced when working on the PhD were now part of a distant past. Here the problem has to be translated into a solution. There is no time to lose, we are creating tools that teachers and students need to use ASAP. It is amazing to know that our work will reach the classroom but in order to produce this transfer from academia to classroom I had to think again about some of the dilemmas that I addressed in the thesis. Although I tried to keep my practitioner’s heart, I was caught in academia and the practical implications I had developed in the thesis needed to be grounded again into practice.

In Chile I was faced with the question of practice instead of implication and I quickly realized that there was such a difference between the two terms. One of the main issues that my thesis addressed is that school literacy practices have to emerge in partnership between families, schools and communities. This slogan challenged my own understanding when I was invited to represent the Research Center for Advanced Research in Education in a stakeholders meeting that aimed at establishing a reviewed public policy on parents’ involvement into the school system. At that meeting I had to transfer the findings of my thesis to support the argument towards certain ways of community participation. It was until this invaluable opportunity that I came to realize that I needed to translate this knowledge that I have acquired, otherwise my PhD and the tools I identified would become irrelevant.

In this ‘ground-controlled approach’ the solution has to land safely at schools and the teachers or students cannot crash with obscure dilemmas that they cannot understand. Transparency is key to achieve impact. I am at that process now, trying to translate this academic piece of writing into practices that I can teach to teachers and transfer to students.

Margarita Calderón

Lecturer in childhood literacy at Universidad de Chile

Research Assistant at Centro de Investigación Avanzada en Educación, Universidad de Chile (Center for Advanced Research in Education).


It’s not a hobby

The Lancaster Literacy Research Centre is currently home to the ESRC-funded project, ‘Dynamics of Knowledge Creation: Academics’ writing practices in the contemporary university workplace’, led by Karin Tusting.

This project aims to understand how knowledge is created, shaped and distributed through the writing practices of academics. We are working with academics at different stages of their career, in three main disciplinary areas, and in three different types of English HE institution. The first phase of the project involves interviewing these academics about the range of writing practices they engage in.  We have asked what different types of writing they do, who they do it with, which tools they use, and the physical spaces in which it gets done.

Even though we are interested in all types of writing, including teaching-, impact- and admin-related writing, what our participants most want to talk about is scholarly writing. When asked what they enjoy most about their work, perhaps unsurprisingly, they talk about their research rather than their admin. Some participants differentiated between scholarly and other types of writing by referring to the former as “proper” or “serious” writing. When prompted to tell us about other types of writing, one professor said, “I can’t think of other types of writing” before pausing and adding, “I mean, there are other types of writing, aren’t there, like when you produce documentation, say, for courses you’re teaching.”

So far so obvious. But here’s the rub: When we looked at their calendars and asked about their typical day, what they considered the “proper” writing scarcely featured during their allocated working hours. Instead, days were swallowed up by exactly the types of writing they did not consider central.  One professor began, “If I have a work day…” When I asked what this meant, she described a day when she came to the office and had meetings, dealt with emails and did admin.  I was reminded of Rowena Murray’s article about academic writing, entitled, “It’s not a hobby”, in which she explores the place of scholarly writing in academic work.  Almost every participant in the Academics Writing project, has said that they do little, if any, scholarly writing in the office, and that they struggle to find time for it.

The next phase of the project will shed more light on any patterns associated with this, to do with, for example, discipline or type of institution, but it paints a compelling picture of the challenges facing academics, particularly in an era when research output is assessed as never before.

by Sharon McCulloch, Lancaster University

Murray, R. (2013). ‘It’s not a hobby’: reconceptualizing the place of writing in academic work. Higher Education, 66(1), pp. 79–91.