Schools as meeting places:  Critical and inclusive literacies in changing local environments

Year: 2012

Author: Comber, Barbara, Nixon, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Schools bring people together, yet their positive functions as meeting places where meanings and relationships must be negotiated (following Massey, 2005), are often ignored or seen merely as contextual. In an era of rampant standardisation in educational policy, many children experience major discontinuities between their learning lives in and out of school. Such differences impact on literacy teaching and learning in both predictable and unpredictable ways. However if schools were reconceptualised as meeting places, where different people are thrown together (Massey, 2005) curriculum and pedagogy could be designed to take into account students' and teachers' different experiences and histories and to make those differences a resource for literacy learning. This paper draws on long-term collaborative inquiries with administrators and teachers working in a school situated in a site of urban regeneration and significant demographic shifts, including an ongoing ARC Linkage project.

These research projects have been informed by poststructuralist theories of space and time, educational research which considers the political, social and spatial relations inherent in literate practices and theories of place-based pedagogy. New theorizations of 'space' in the social sciences which emphasize the 'produced' nature of 'space' (Lefebvre, 1991) hold out significant potential for re-inventing critical literacies in school sites. Such activity allows for youth subjectivities not constrained by dominant educational discourses and opens up possibilities for engagement with spatial literacies and architectural discourses and practices normally reserved for adults and professionals.

Longitudinal case studies, collaborative practitioner inquiry (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) and classroom-based design experiments (Cobb, Confrey, di Sessa, Lehrer & Schauble, 2003) have been employed over the period of investigation. Data include student and teacher produced artefacts in range of media and modes portraying young people's relationships with place(s), real and imagined, at different times. This paper will draw upon recent project archives which include autobiographical writing and memory-related work. It will explore the ways in which young people's relationships with place(s) across time can provide rich resources for developing literate repertoires. It draws particularly on the ways in which one teacher re-positioned her grade 4/5 students as researchers, designers and journalists exploring student and staff memories of a school. It argues that place, and people's relationships with places, can be a rich resource for literacy learning when teachers make it the object of study


Cobb, P., Confrey, J., di Sessa, A., Lehrer R., & Schauble, L. 2003. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 9-13.

Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S.L. 2009. Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research in the Next Generation. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lefebvre, H. 1991. The production of space. (D. Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). Cambridge: Blackwell.