Making Connections to Re-engage Young People in Learning: dimensions of practice

Andrew Chodkiewicz
Jacquie Widin
Keiko Yasukawa


The education of young people who have previously been excluded from formal education is a field often associated with a high risk of failure – failure for the learners, teachers and the program. In researching the teaching practices in this field, it is tempting for the researcher to do so through the lens of what they perceive as the pedagogical theories that should be informing contemporary practice. In the field of literacy and numeracy education, the social practices approach has gained prominence among researchers who are sympathetic to a socio-cultural study of literacy and numeracy because of its inclusiveness of multiple literacies and numeracies that can be found in different social contexts. This article analyses one of four case studies in a research project on the teaching practices of experienced literacy and numeracy teachers: teaching literacy and numeracy to socially excluded young people in an inner city youth centre. In their research, the authors had to critically challenge their taken for granted assumptions about what a pedagogy informed by a social practices approach to literacy and numeracy should look like. The teaching methods that they observed at the youth centre, while clearly effective – particularly in establishing connections with the learners to form strong relationships of mutual trust -  appeared on the surface to defy some of the key features of a social practices approach. In understanding the apparent contradictions between what the authors had expected to see and what they were seeing, Kemmis’s framework for the study of practice that is based on the notion of practices as reflexive and dialectical proved fruitful. The framework allowed us to interpret both the theory (the social practices approach to literacy and numeracy) and the practices at the youth centre in more  nuanced ways that deepened our appreciation of the theory – practice relationship.

Full Text:



Appleby, Y and Barton, D (2008) Responding to People's Lives, National Research and Development Centre for Language and Literacy, London.

Atkinson, P and Hammersley, M (2007) Ethnography: Principles in Practice, 3rd edition, Routledge, New York.

Aylward, N (2008) Learning from the Edge, Adults Learning, vol 19, no 5, pp 24-25.

Barton, D, Appleby, Y, Hodge, R, Tusting, K, and Ivanic, R, (2006) Relating Adults' Lives and Learning: Participation and engagement in different settings National Research and Development Centre for Language and Literacy, London.

Baker, D (1998) Numeracy as Social Practice, Literacy and Numeracy Studies, vol 8, no 1, pp 37-50.

Balatti, J, Black, S, and Falk, I (2007) Teaching for social capital outcomes: The case of adult literacy and numeracy courses, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, vol 47, no 2, pp 245-63.

Baynham, M (1995) Literacy Practices: Investigating literacy in social context. Longman, London.

Beckett, D (1996) Critical judgment and professional practice, Educational Theory, vol 46, no 2, pp 135-149.

Brookfield, S (2006) The Skillful Teacher, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Jarvis, P, Holford, J, and Griffin, C (2004) The Theory and Practice of Learning, Routledge -Falmer, London.

Kelly, P (2007) Governing individualised risk biographies: New class intellectuals and the problem of youth at-risk, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol 28, no1, pp 39-53.

Kemmis, S (2005) Knowing Practice: Searching for saliences, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, vol 13, no 3, pp 391-427.

Kemmis, S (forthcoming 2010), What is professional practice? In Kanes, C, (ed), Developing Professional Practice, Springer, Amsterdam.

Kinsella, EA (2007) Embodied reflection and the epistemology of reflective practice, Journal of Philosophy of Education, vol 41, no 3, pp 395â409.

Long, M and Curtain, R (2005) How Young People are Faring, Dusseldorp Skills, Glebe, NSW.

Merriam, SB (1998) Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

McNeil, B and Dixon, L (2005) Success Factors Informal Learning: Young adults' experiences of literacy, language and numeracy, National Research and Development Centre for Language and Literacy, London.

Noddings, N (2003) Is Teaching a Practice? Journal of Philosophy of Education, vol 37, no 2, pp 245-251.

Papen, U (2005) Adult Literacy as Social Practice: More than skills. Routledge, London and New York.

Schuller, T (2004) Three Capitals: A framework, in Schuller, T, Preston, J, Hammond C, Brassett-Grundy, A and Bynner, J (eds), The Benefits of Learning: The impact of education on health, family life and social capital, Routledge-Falmer, London, pp 12-33.

Selinger, M (1994) Understanding, in Selinger, M, (ed), Teaching Mathematics, Routledge, London, pp. 185-194.

Street, BV (1995) Social Literacies : Critical approaches to literacy development, ethnography, and education, Longman, London.

Yin, RK (2008) Case Study Research: Design and methods, Volume 5 of Applied Social Research Methods, Sage, New York.