I’d like to briefly summarize my thinking about literacy as a large issue and then turn to some thoughts about reading and writing within academic contexts and close with some suggestions regarding the implications for instruction.
With opportunities to participate in a literate community and to engage in literate activities, most individuals are likely to acquire and practice at least some literacy. If you have access to lots of books, chances are that you are more likely to become an avid reader than if you have access to none. Perhaps needless to say, nothing works automatically. There are individuals who come from homes where little literacy is evident who become quite proficient. And there are others who come from homes where a great deal of reading and writing go on who appear to be uninterested.
In general, though, individuals’ literacy habits are significantly influenced by the particularities of their material and cultural circumstances and experiences–in other words, by the social contexts that they experience. James Gee has suggested that literacy can be defined as “the mastery of a secondary discourse”–wherein a discourse is interpreted as a set of mutually understandable meanings attached to words and other human artifacts. For Gee, the primary discourse is the discourse spoken in the home, and perhaps the extended family, of a child. Since that discourse is not usually shared in its totality beyond a family, individuals do not usually become literate in it. A secondary discourse, on the other hand, is one that people acquire as they engage in the variety of life activities—including contexts as varied as religion, sports, hobbies, work, play, shopping and, of course, school. What is perhaps worth highlighting the point that mastery of a discourse brings with it membership in a group and a certain degree of self-confidence associated with being able to say what you mean and being understood. Conversely, not being a master of a discourse tends to exclusion and reluctance to become active within it—even if such activity is the way to acquire mastery.
Gee recognizes that some primary discourses are more similar to some secondary discourses than others. As a result, some students come to school far better prepared to start engaging with and becoming good at the practices that schools value. Others can be bewildered by the conventions of language use that seem so important within school and their own patterns of language use can frequently go unrecognized, discounted and discouraged. Shirley Brice Heath spent a decade studying literacy and language practices in different communities in the Carolina Piedmont (Heath). She concluded that there were many different “ways with words” that people employed and that their different ways of using language (either oral or written) affected the types of literacy they valued and how they evaluated literate performances.  Therefore, we should speak not so much of people becoming literate, but rather of people acquiring and/or learning many different literacies.
It is frequently the case that a false start in the process of academic literacy development will have profound and lasting effects on children’s school lives. There is often a complicated inter-play between primary discourse and secondary discourses. These discourses are not small matters—they are bound up with individuals’ ides about who they are and who they might be. If we want to assist students in expanding their proficiency within the academic literacies essential for college success, we may have to provide them with opportunities to re-imagine their projective identities.
We also should acknowledge that individuals engage in many literacy and numeracy activities which, while perhaps not looking like school-oriented activities, provide evidence of students’ capacity to learn.  Since these behaviors are deeply embedded in individuals’ everyday lives and since neither the lives nor the literacies are transparent, the actualities of literacy performance and the possibilities of literacy development can only be captured through careful investigations. Fortunately, some very revealing investigations have shed light on actual literacies. Sylvia Scribner, until her death a professor at the City University of New York, researched literacy practices and uses among farmers in Liberia and among dairy workers in Baltimore. She and her colleagues did so by conducting extensive field work where they paid close attention to what people actually did and then presented them with some specially designed tasks to assess the significance of the literacy they possessed. In both research instances, Scribner concluded that literacy came in lots of different shapes and sizes and its significance depended on what people were trying to do and why they were trying to do it. 
More recently, James Gee has been arguing that young peoples’ experiences with video games have transformed what initially appeared to be an inconsequential way of wasting time or worse into a powerful learning context that is characterized by extensive forms of engagement with texts.
In the eyes of researchers such as Scribner, Heath and Gee, literacy processes and products are part of a larger social context. People use literacy when it is appropriate to accomplish something that they desire or that they have to do. Everyday reading and writing are seldom used to communicate information by themselves. Reading and writing occur during social interactions and almost never stand alone. Similarly, researchers into patterns of workplace literacy have remarked that people at work who perform reading and writing tasks as part of that work seldom think of the activity as reading and writing.
Literacy activities may involve reading and writing short‑term notes and messages, filing and retrieving information from documents to answer a short question over the telephone. These would rarely be identified as literacy activities by people performing them, yet they require reading and writing, and, in fact, they occur frequently during the workday. It is these kinds of activities that people often discount as “not really reading.” 
Cite the article on new forms of writing.
Reading and Writing in Academic Contexts
It is frequently assumed that a reader’s task is to find or to “get” the meaning that had been encoded in the text by the author. But comprehension can be re-defined to stress the active meaning-making involved in reading—so that meaning is understood as the result of an interaction between the reader and the text. Thus, any particular reader’s ease or difficulty with a particular text is not determined only by the content, vocabulary or syntax of the text. It is also influenced by the prior knowledge that the reader brings to bear, the purposes he or she has for reading, and the strategies he or she applies.
This also suggests that there is not necessarily one right meaning in any particular text – although there are some texts that invite a very limited range of reader responses (for example, a list of food items to be purchased at the supermarket). However, even in those situations, individuals will be able to read the texts quite differently depending on their prior knowledge, purposes and strategies. Thus, an individual reading a list of phone numbers of individuals that he or she knows reads that list differently than someone else reading the same list who does not know the individuals on it. The range of possible reading responses grows with the increasing complexity of content, vocabulary, syntax and rhetoric, as well as with the expanded purposes of the text creators. Thus, fiction, poetry and drama invite extended interpretation–interpretation that can be enriched by a consideration of other interpretations down through the years. In fact, one of the most characteristic aspects of academic reading, especially in the postsecondary context, is the fact that texts frequently involve references to other texts and that the interpretation of any particular text requires an understanding and point of view about other texts. 
Asked to do a relatively simple task with a relatively uncomplicated text, many students will succeed. Faced with the same text, but with a more demanding task, a good number of the same students might fail. Faced with a relatively simple task with a complicated text, some students will succeed. Faced with a more demanding task with a complicated text, many students will fail. This aligns well with the views of Jaap Tuinman who suggests that reading can be understood as consisting of complementary processes of recognition and reasoning. Readers recognize texts and their meanings when they are familiar with the content and the context; on the other hand, when they encounter text with unfamiliar words, structures and content matter, they must instead reason through the text. When faced with such texts, versatile readers rely on a variety of strategies to make sense of what they’re reading.
While I think a good case can be made that most high school exit exams or college placement exams are not especially well designed to assess powerful literacy skills, it is also likely that students who perform at the highest levels of those exams, without terribly much explicit test prep, are individuals who have powerful literacy skills. By way of comparison, students who achieve marginally passing scores on those exams, especially those individuals who do so after extensive test prep, have limited literacy skills. The predicament of high school graduates who have not yet acquired powerful literacy skills (by which I mean the ability to read and write efficiently and purposefully across a fairly broad array of genres and topic areas) is quite different from the situation of younger students who have not yet had an opportunity to acquire those skills.
It is very likely that they have not been especially active readers of school-oriented materials; they may or may not have been active readers in other contexts; it is also likely that they have more or less confused understandings of what effective readers do and that they over-rely on a very limited range of strategies to get by when they have to read for purposes of completing assignments or taking tests.  Similarly, when they write in academic contexts, it is likely that they have a very limited understanding of what counts for good writing. Interestingly enough, the recent proliferation of digital devices seems to be leading many young people to do a lot more writing than they probably would have otherwise.
In any case, their years of becoming and being ineffective readers and writers in school contexts have taken a toll and a strategy to assist them in acquiring literacy skills will have to be developed on the basis of that recognition. However, such a strategy will have very little in common with a commonsensical notion of going back to basics and retracing a development of skills. Michael Cole and Peg Griffin argued that what many students need is not so much a remediation of basic skills as a systems reorganization that allows them to rediscover what productive reading and writing look like. To some extent, their recommendation is founded on a conviction that much literacy instruction mistakes “basic” for “easy.” The nature of an alphabetic system and the broad range of conventions that have developed to characterize academic literacy are genuinely basic to academic literacy. However, they are not easy. Written scripts only developed in three places in human history and their further refinement into the kinds of languages that can accommodate the intricacies of modern thought took many hundreds of years. This suggests a need to figure out some other strategies to use with these “latecomers to literacy.” 
I’d like to emphasize my conviction that the acquisition of the kinds of literacy practices and skills that are made possible through successful schooling is an invaluable accomplishment. Reading and writing are all but indispensable to the acquisition of knowledge in different academic domains. It is, for all practical purposes, essential to the possibility of success in postsecondary education and, for prospective teachers, it is all but essential to the likelihood of their effectiveness as educators. Teachers must be proficient and versatile in their uses of literacy in order to ensure that they acquire very sophisticated forms of content and pedagogical knowledge during their preparation and that they are prepared to respond to the wide array of challenges they will confront in their classrooms.
At the very least, this means that we have to take the matter of good instruction very seriously and not allow instruction to be developed through a process of trial and error or delivered through a mode of instruction that relies overly much on the mastery of skills or conventions. For students to engage in the kinds of productive literacy learning that are essential to the development of proficiency, they have to have good reasons and good contexts for practice. They also need expert assistance—even more so if they have not had significant prior success in this area.
Reading instruction must attend to all of the different aspects of reading – the orchestration of prior linguistic and content area knowledge, the variation of purposes and the application of strategies, as well as the varieties of text types. It must also be especially attentive to what each individual student is actually doing when he or she “reads.” Since the act of reading remains locked inside human minds, a good deal of attention must be devoted to developing methods of getting inside the process. Teachers can use assessment opportunities to provide assistance to readers in order to expand and extend reading performance. Relying on a conviction that extensive opportunities to read are among the most valuable components of good reading instruction, teachers can ensure that assessment does not become yet another moment when a developing reader is convinced that he or she should not read since it only confirms how little he or she can do. In addition, they can use assessments as opportunities to gather information on areas of interest and prior knowledge in order to suggest additional texts to be read in the same area. Rose Marie Weber has argued that strategies to encourage extended reading (such as the cultivation of areas of expert knowledge) should be accorded a very high priority in any instructional scheme.  For example, a student with an interest in a particular topic, such as the use of video games for learning, would be pointed towards a multiplicity of texts dealing with the designs and potentials (as well as shortcomings) of video games. He or she might read about some of the same basic information many times over again. But each time, he or she would be becoming a somewhat more versatile reader of texts on video games since the relationship between known and unknown would be shifting in favor of the reader. As prior knowledge increases, the difficulty of texts decreases. iw
The intent should not be to accelerate the remediation of skills but instead to nurture the acquisition of substantial knowledge. For the most part, I believe that efforts focused on skills remediation have fostered a preoccupation with minimum competencies. What has become clear, however, is that minimum competencies are not enough. No student, and least of all those who have been least successful, can be too well prepared. Rather than defining the task as more efficient movement through a traditional skills hierarchy towards some anticipated level of basic skills mastery, the task should be understood as the development of essential skills and deep knowledge (that reciprocally reinforce each other) through enriched contexts.
But, somewhat paradoxically, it’s essential to value the significance and potential of practical knowledge–which might be considered synonymous with skills in context. That undervaluing springs from a failure to recognize the distinctiveness of the two over‑arching contexts of school and non‑school. School knowledge is a very particular sort of knowledge that is usually expressed in particular ways of talking about something. On the other hand, out‑of‑school knowledge oftentimes is demonstrated in the course of accomplishing some task and is not necessarily spoken about or precisely understood.
This suggests that a full measure of an individual’s performance cannot really be taken in a de‑contextualized situation such as a traditional standardized test. It might be clearer to spell it out this way:
What we can do, when we know what we are trying to do, in a situation that we understand the social rules of –
is quite different from
what we can do, when we are asked to do something, that has been set for us in a more or less arbitrary way, in a situation that we do not understand the social rules of.
Unfortunately, most academic‑oriented assessment relies on models of performance evaluation that are rooted in traditional lab‑based psychological studies. All participants are required to perform the same set of tasks even if they have very different backgrounds and experiences and even if the tasks themselves are ones that they would never perform in any other situation. Indeed, the “strangeness” of the tasks is intentional since it is designed to insure an “objective” measure. However, such tests fail to capture essential aspects of individuals’ capacities. For example, because reading tests demand that test‑takers demonstrate what they “can” do under test conditions rather than what they “must” do in the course of actual reading, they tend to underestimate knowledge and exaggerate apparent deficits. 
As part of an effort to reconstruct the relationship between classroom learning and actual performance, I believe it essential to draw upon the knowledge and skills of individuals who are experts in different contexts. The most natural way to tap this knowledge is to create opportunities for our students to enter schools and to participate, alongside experienced educators, in the work itself. Apprenticeship models, which value both the knowledge of experienced individuals and the capacity to learn of novice ones, are especially valuable in the bridging of the gap between learning in school and learning for “real life.” What is crucial to the success of apprenticeship programs is the commitment on the part of the journeyman to the development of the apprentice. Apprenticeships are predicated on the assumption that the novice can learn everything the expert knows. In all cases, knowledgeable practitioners work alongside novices–showing them how something is done, encouraging them to try it out themselves, assisting them when they do and explaining difficult tasks
Lauren Resnick, “Learning in school and out,” Educational Researcher, 16, pp. 13-20.
__________________, “Literacy in School and Out,” Daedalus, Spring, 1990.
Sylvia Scribner, “Studying working intelligence,” In Rogoff and Lave (Eds.), Everyday Cognition: Its Development in Social Context.
J. Jaap Tuinman, “Reading is recognition when reading is not reasoning,” In S. de Castell, A. Luke and K. Egan, Literacy, Society, and Schooling: A Reader. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Reder, S.M. (1987). “Comparative Aspects of Functional Literacy Development.” In The Future of Literacy in a Changing World, edited by Daniel Wagner. New York, Pergamon Press.
Rose, M. (1989). Lives on the Boundary. New York: Macmillan.
Shaughnessy, M. (1977). Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Shirley Brice Heath
 See Pittsburgh Courier article on new forms of writing.
 Sylvia Scribner. See below.
 Jacob and Crandall
 I would suggest that one of the most significant shortcomings in most of the standardized assessments of reading is the all but complete absence of assessments of an individual’s ability to interpret one text in light of others. It may be that a request for this kind of assessment is completely unrealistic since the tests, by design, are intended to minimize the significance of prior knowledge.
 In this regard, it is important to note that two individuals who obtain the same score on a reading test do not necessarily have the same literacy skills. By way of example, a seventh grade student who scores at an eighth grade level all but certainly can read quite a bit more productively than a twelfth grade student with that same eighth grade score.
 See Peter Johnston and Michael Cole and Peg Griffin.
 See James Gee.
 Rose Marie Weber
 Jaap Tuinman
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