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