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Taking account of extracurricular literacy practices: problems and stakes1

Yves Reuter

Résumé

Taking account of learners’ extracurricular literacy practices is fashionable. Three factors will be put under scrutiny to understand why it is a topical issue: the changes in the type of learners, the evolution of teaching and learning conceptions and the development of new research fields in human sciences. I will then analyse the problems raised by this attitude to work (practice knowledge, selection procedures, risks of perverse effects, etc.) and potential benefits (knowledge and acknowledgement effects, “bridging” effect between students’ and school cultures, development of a research space within the classroom, specification of objectives and approaches, etc.). The heuristic value of the notion of practice will finally be put under scrutiny.

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  • 1 Originally published in Repères, 23, 2001, 9-31
  • 2 See for example issue 15 of the journal Repères (Dabène and Ducancel, Eds.,1997) et issue 27 of La (...)

1Taking learners’ extracurricular literacy practices into account is undeniably fashionable at the moment. Several recent publications in our field, especially Marie-Claude Penloup’s work (1999) devoted to lower secondary school students’ writing practices beyond academic prescriptions testify to this phenomenon2.

2However, novelty should not be overestimated. Indeed ongoing debates around education, official writing (Chervel 1985 a et b; Fournier, éd., 2000) or reading (Chartier et Hebrard 1989) guidelines and the approaches of teaching bodies towards educational reform are evidence of a long-standing issue.

  • 3 To put it clearly, literacy practices were not envisaged in learners’ extracurricular culture.

3By contrast, the current forms of this debate cannot be denied as it still stirs heated reactions. The very recognition of literacy practices that have been too long and too often ignored is a case in point3.

4I will accordingly seek to understand why it is a topical issue. I will then investigate both the limits and the potential benefits of current proposals before considering the potentialities in terms of didactical research.

1. Understanding why it is a topical issue

5Three main reasons explain why it is a topical issue: changes in the student population, some developments in teaching and learning approaches and new research fields within social sciences.

1.1. Changes in the school population

  • 4 Especially Chariot, Bautier, Rochex, 1992; Rochex, 1995; Bautier, Rochex, 1998; Bautier and Françoi (...)

6The growth in the student population (mass access to education and diversification) at all educational levels over the past few decades has coincided with the feeling that ever more conflictual relationships between the school system (ends, objectives, knowledge outcomes) and a whole fringe of learners has plunged education into crisis. Theoretical literature abounds, whether from the perspective of global analyses (see for example Dubet and Duru-Bellat, 2000) or from analyses focusing on a particular dimension (see for example the research of the team ESCOL into the relation to knowledge4). There are two opposite attitudes to this situation. The first one consists in lamenting the present situation and mentioning an idyllic past although much historical research has shown it was an illusion. It often coincides with the negation of student knowledge and competences, as Marie-Claude Penloup (1999:14) argues about writing.

“What is striking is the opaque silence surrounding extracurricular practices and the determined ignorance of the school system about them. […]

The first assumption is in keeping with prevailing representations. It is held that overall students do not write. Even if they do, it is worthless as it is only ‘ordinary writing’ remote from ‘literary’ or ‘imagination’ writing taught at school.”

7By contrast, supporters of the alternative approach argue that students must be accepted as they are, then detail the troubles mentioned and develop resources likely to remedy them if the ultimate objective is to work towards better student learning outcomes and against academic failure. One of the possible ways consists in being better acquainted with students, strange strangers within school walls.

1.2. The evolution of teaching and learning approaches

8Research faces significant changes in teaching and learning approaches. Those that tend to prevail – at least symbolically – in the fields of education and didactics are based on five complementary assumptions:

  • Students are at the heart of the school system and at the centre of the didactical-educational relation;

  • Students are neither “empty” (tabula rasa without any representations, knowledge or competences) nor totally “negative” (combination of mistakes and disastrous practices);

  • Learning is crucial (ie it is at stake in academic tasks and as such teaching is in its service);

  • Learning connects new knowledge outcomes and practices with those of learners (ie learning is always related to what constitutes and structures subjects);

  • As a result, teaching should take students into account to optimize learning outcomes.

9In this perspective, the purpose is no longer to deny or eradicate what learners are but to be aware of and build upon it. It is indeed the founding idea in Marie-Claude Penloup’s work (1999: 198):

“Taking extracurricular writing into account cannot be implemented unless the most common perspective on learners is reversed. The purpose is to build on what students do and know to develop a learning situation, use one’s expertise as teachers and point to learners’ achievements and not only their failures. What is at stake is simply to actually put students at the heart of the learning process. We believe that only this posture can guarantee the effective implementation of extracurricular writing and guard against excesses.”

1.3. The development of new research fields

10But this type of research would not have become so popular without the supplementary development of new knowledge fields in social sciences generated by emerging issues, the legitimation of some topics and changes in analysis frameworks themselves.

  • 5 I could have included a fourth factor to explain why it is a topical issue: the scripturalization-l (...)

11To take only a few examples among many others, didactics raised specific issues in keeping with problems faced in the school environment relative to students’ extracurricular practices and their being in line or not with practices taught at school or in training (Bourgain, 1988, 1990; Dabène, 1987, 1990, 1991). It was not until “ordinary” literacy practices became legitimate research topics that ethnology (Fabre, ed. 1993, 1997) or sociology (Chaudron and de Singly, ed. 1993; Lahire 1993b, 1995) started focusing on them. It was also necessary for many subject areas such as linguistics or history (see for example Artières 1998 or 2000 and Métayer 2000) to take a significant methodological step forward to consider analysing reading or writing in relation to the life or professional environment. It finally took research in all social sciences to break with academic ethnocentrism (Grigon and Passeron 1989) to view reading and writing as something other than an abstract unit and appreciate them in their daily, concrete practices5.

2. Taking account of extracurricular practices and the problèmes it raises

12However, taking account of learners’ extracurricular practices requires reflection on the problems it raises. I will analyse three of them that I consider essential, albeit underestimated: what is known of practices, how they are selected and integrated into educational and didactical approaches.

2.1. How can learners’ extracurricular practices be found out?

  • 6 A questionnaire about reading and writing often calls for answers focused on the practices in which (...)

13This is a tricky research question. How can we collect and process practice-related data knowing that observation is generally ruled out both for reasons of feasibility and deontology and that the only option available is to analyse statements with all possible biases? How can we handle the fact that this type of investigation is often viewed as an intrusion in the privacy of children and families? How can we avoid predetermining the forms of an activity through a survey that selects and emphasises one aspect of human deeds taken out of their environment6?

14Handling these problems is all the more difficult for teachers who are not trained to research methods, are on a tight schedule and have numerous classes. As a result, many experiments conducted with goodwill and undeniable commitment may be based on disputable foundations because of loose data collections, poor mastery of survey procedures and the side effects of an investigation within one’s own class by teachers themselves.

2.2. How should learners’ extracurricular practices be selected?

15The selection of practices depends on two elements at least: the definition of what is referred to as practices and the principles behind didactical approaches. Surprisingly enough, the notion of practice(s) is rarely defined explicitly, including by those who promote the inclusion of extracurricular literacy practices. It seems to be a self-evident notion that refers to what students read or write after school.

16The selection of extracurricular practices is guided by three principles:

  • 7 This is a typical problem in education, whatever the field concerned (see Durning 1985 for family e (...)
  • 8 To put it bluntly, failure to evaluate this selection might result in the reproduction of represent (...)

17Main literacy practices: these practices, which are seldom put under scrutiny, are those in which reading or writing are considered central, visible and explicit: reading a book, writing a poem, a diary, etc. As a result, unless we pay careful attention, many other practices might be excluded: reading assembly instructions, reading or writing when playing, cooking, etc. Admittedly, making a choice between impossible exhaustiveness and disputable selection7 is difficult but the representations of reading and writing, the conceptions of learners’ practices and classroom activities conducted depend on this selection8.

  • 9 Michel Develay (1992, 1995) in particular focused on this dimension of didactical transposition.

18Ethics: it corresponds to the selection and systematization of objectives and contents in the various subject areas9. Bernard Schneuwly and Joaquim Dolz focused on this topic as part of their research on teaching and learning oral comprehension and expression (Dolz, Schneuwly 1998). Here is what they write about discussion (Schneuwly, Dolz 1997: 35-36):

“Discussion is a genre that is immediately recognisable by everybody. In its most distorted forms – which may be its prototypical forms as televised debates are so prevalent in representations – it refers to a merciless opposition/struggle between debaters who seek through every possible means, especially through persuasion, theatrical behaviour, feats, posturing, and even false assertions, to prevail and even ridicule one’s opponent. S/he listens only to find a flaw and throw the speaker off balance. The purpose of discussion is less to find answers to questions than to see one’s argument prevail over that of the opposite debater. Lack of respect for others and the incapacity to learn from them tend to be the lot of these media events which partly build their interest on their aggressive tone. What could be learnt from this genre as it is practised and as it prevails in common representations? Isn’t there a risk of teaching a vision of arguments as a fight during which the question of truth would tend to disappear and the opportunity to learn from others is denied?

While students should be familiar with the mechanisms of discussion, it seems inappropriate to teach these mechanisms, neither to develop students’ capacities and representations of reasoning nor to think collectively about the social problems that might concern them. The right approach should focus on the development of a genre adapted to educational needs.”

19This soundly based position can only be warmly welcomed by the educational community according to its traditions but also to the current context in which the emphasis is put on the relations between oral expression, reasoning and civic education. However, this position implies strong commitments such as:

  • a prescriptive attitude based on a sociocultural model of discussion that is probably far from being shared;

  • the selection of practices according to their adequacy to this model.

20Consequently, there is a high risk of excluding most of learners’ extracurricular practices or use them as counter-models or even as foils. There is an equally high risk of developing an activity according to procedures that are irrelevant to many social practices.

21Precaution: exemplified by jokes and funny stories (Petitjean, 1981; Penloup, 1999: 139-162), this principle is less due to ethical acceptability than to possible criticism over contents and their lack of legitimacy made by fellow teachers, families, the administration, etc. It is also explained by the fear of seeing learners focus more on contents than on the analysis and learning of formal mechanisms. In that light, risks are often similar when “self-writing” practices (autobiographies) are taken into account. Some fellow teachers are indeed fully aware of these risks as they have experienced them. Paradoxically enough, the evaluation of these practices can lead to exclude most meaningful practices for learners.

22As can be seen, the path to students’ extracurricular practices is full of pitfalls. It can be all the more biased as it is driven by the best of intentions. It can also increase stigma by excluding what is crucial to learners’ identities and commitment.

2.3. How can learners’ extracurricular practices be included?

  • 10 With its variant “building on”

23“Taking account of”10 didactical approaches must be put under critical scrutiny. Beyond the conceptual vagueness of this expression, I think it is essential to question the common presupposition according to which “taking account of” would necessarily bring about positive effects.

2.3.1. Fitting extracurricular practices into curricular approaches: from innovation to mainstreamization?

24It is indeed paradoxical to decide to fit extracurricular practices into curricular activities. The mechanisms behind the decontexualisation-recontextualisation of subjects and their related practices are inevitably accompanied with material, situational, functional, and evaluative transformations that affect their forms, meanings, values and how individuals consider these practices.

  • 11 Especially when they were not connected with an actual project-based approach and objectives design (...)

25It was observed both in so-called authentic writings, which often became similar to mainstream academic texts (Blaret-Kastelik 1984) once they were read aloud in the classroom, and in many reading situations11. As a result, the initial objective of embracing alternative cultures is not met. Even worse, the inclusion of extracurricular practices is literally pointless. This is indeed what Élisabeth Bautier and Dominique Bucheton (1997:18-19) strongly expressed:

“Is it possible to ‘purify’ the social practices we would like to refer to, ie isolate them from the social, historical, and cultural stakes that are constitutive of them?

This is a crucial issue in the references to non-academic social and linguistic practices. Asking students to write a recipe according to a canonical model without referring to the socio-historical conditions behind its preparation will not help future cooks to understand why some cook books are obscure and reserved to the “happy few”, why a particular master cook does not mention a major step or ingredient that lay people ignore but his/her peers are familiar with. Admittedly, it may be necessary to teach how to write so-called “social” texts and make students proficient in this type of writing. But the task is only partly accomplished unless students are led to appreciate the essence of texts and language: giving a voice to a variety of viewpoints set in specific social, institutional and scientific environments. There are ideological stakes, values, convictions and positions behind writing an article on the latest sport feat of a student. Deciphering the social rationales underlying the most institutionalised language practices is worth considering at an early stage. Otherwise, students could believe that writings and language are neutral! They could also imagine that the difficulties they meet in written comprehension and expression and oral interactions in class are due to syntactic or lexical difficulties whereas they are often the result of social and linguistic practices.

It is detrimental to students to mask the social, cultural and identity stakes behind these practices.”

2.3.2. Fitting extracurricular practices into curricular approaches: from motivation to deterrent?

  • 12 See the works of Baudelot, Cartier and Deprez (1999) on reading.
  • 13 Survey procedures, types of comments, etc.

26In a similar vein, many sociologists mentioned an additional risk. Fitting literacy practices whose extracurricular or even anticurricular12 nature is their raison d’être into syllabi might lead to the opposite effect to that sought, ie putting youths off reading and writing. I already addressed this problem in a paper published in Pratiques (Reuter 1986) about marginal literature and emphasised that the inclusion of marginal literary writings in unchanged school practices altered their meaning radically. I also pointed out that when paraliterary texts were included, it was done in such a manner that it reproduced what put students off the mainstream literary corpus13 and might increase the effects about the value of students or texts (studying these texts because students are considered under-achievers; regarding paraliterature as a stepping stone to literature; showing how pointless and empty these texts are, etc.).

27In this light, extracurricular practices are either denaturalised or implicitly or explicitly stigmatised and tend to reinforce the most traditional educational approaches.

2.3.3. Fitting extracurricular practices into curricular approaches: from openness to closure?

28Some theoreticians (see the works of the ESCOL team or those by Bernard Lahire) pointed to another paradox: the school system is blamed for locking underachieving pupils in their original culture and background when it seeks to help them by embracing their extracurricular practices. This approach is said to prevent some learners from developing relationships that are deemed more profitable to education, knowledge, reading, writing, etc.

  • 14 At least if the educational, didactical work procedure remains unchanged.

29Although this argument runs counters to many studies on adult education and the fight against illiteracy (Bernardo 1999), it is worth being taken seriously14 as it points to four potential pitfalls proper to this approach:

  • It does not contribute to embracing other cultures, whatever the original culture;

  • It could increase cultural gaps between pupils insofar as the relations between extracurricular and curricular practices are differentiated;

  • It fosters what is considered in the educational field the least fruitful to the cognitive development of individuals (“purely” practical and/or utilitarian relations to knowledge and language);

  • It does not focus enough on legitimate culture, either according to its status and practical ends (diplomas, labour market) or to its symbolic value (more formal or “intellectual” way of thinking).

30In this context, taking account of extracurricular practices may be very harmful to academic specificities – universalism, formalism, distance – that are here viewed positively.

31In a word, taking account of learners’ extracurricular literacy practices, like any other approach, cannot be regarded as the panacea. The very lack of a definition for “practice” is problematic and has a number of consequences on data collection and selection. This selection is based on principles which may cause undesired effects. The introduction of practices in educational and didactic approaches should also be handled cautiously so as not to cause effects opposite to their initial objectives. In other words, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

3. Taking account of extracurricular practices: potential benefits of alternative approches

32Beyond the critical analysis and the problems mentioned, it is still true that taking account of these practices is probably necessary if it is intended to know students better and if it is believed that the way in which the school system is currently run and its effects are unsatisfactory. In addition, many in-school feedbacks and adult education studies show their interest. Therefore I will now focus on these feedbacks and detail them on the basis of five supplementary axes: cognition and recognition effects, a gap-bridging effect between pupils’ cultures and school culture, the development of a research space within the classroom and details brought on the objectives and approaches pursued.

33I believe that the inclusion of learners’ extracurricular practices is likely to alter the traditional didactic configuration because of three effects relative to the objectivization of these practices: cognition, recognition, and gap-bridging effect.

3.1. The discovery effect

34The discovery effect is probably structurally attached to the objectivization of practices. For example, Marie-Claude Penloup’s works (1999), which have already been abundantly referred to, are likely to radically alter the image of lower secondary school pupils’ relationship to writing.

  • 15 It is therefore not structurally linked to teenage, which is confirmed by Régis Burbidge’s master d (...)

35Her investigation – the first true research approach to lower secondary school pupils’ extracurricular writing practices brings to light the fact that “lower secondary education (collège) is also the time of writing” (p.59), unlike many commonly received ideas: writing practices are widespread and diversified, whatever the social background, the school or gender (even though the supremacy of girls in this field is real). Lower secondary school pupils also have a strong liking for writing (73% of the population concerned). In addition, “self-writing” is common in the preteen15 period and some practices (lists, reproduction) are far more invested and varied than was previously thought. Some students even play with signifiers in a sort of literary games.

3.2. The recognition effect

36I assume that this discovery effect is likely to generate a two-faced recognition effect:

  • Pupils are recognised by their teachers who opened their eyes on their pupils’ extracurricular activities (Penloup 1997: 133-134; Barré de Miniac 1997: 41). A number of misunderstandings have also been cleared up: they were generated by the confusion between a lack of visibility or legitimacy of practices and their supposed absence (Barré de Miniac, Cros, Ruiz 1999; Barré de Miniac 1997);

  • The recognition of pupils by their teachers and the objectivization of their extracurricular practices revealed that students had acquired knowledge and skills that were worth exploring by the school system itself.

3.3. The gap-bridging effect

37This dual foundation (discovery and recognition) can pave the way to what I refer to as a gap-bridging effect. It corresponds to many mechanisms that are often mentioned in the literature on these issues. It should be added that at least three dimensions come into play.

38This effect can at least initially refer to mechanisms that strongly depend on the sole objectivization of practices. Teachers at least can be expected to realise that they do not have to start from scratch because some foundations have already been laid in this field.

39But it also requires didactical work to turn an evaluation into the analysis of the relations between the extracurricular and the curricular so that:

  • Subjects in French change status with a shift from radical strangeness to appropriation. As a result, the clarification and valorisation of some of pupils’ daily knowledge can be used.

  • Pupils’ practices serve as a benchmark or an analyser of these very subjects.

40The theoretical framework is that of learning approaches according to which learning takes place when something new is added to what is acquired. In this perspective, resorting to extracurricular practices and making connections between subject-specific topics and these practices is neither a token measure nor a stopgap solution but a structural constraint.

  • 16 The debate on the effectiveness of educational practices was held or is ongoing in all the places i (...)

41The educational and didactic strategy, which makes this reference framework operational, consists in building bridges rather than increasing gaps between pupils’ cultures and that of the school system16.

3.4. Developing a research area within the classroom

42If these possible effects are taken seriously, the traditional didactic configuration can thus be radically altered as each of the poles of the didactic triangle can be investigated, thus modifying the relations between teachers, students, and knowledge.

  • 17 Design of questionnaires, analysis and categorisation of answers.
  • 18 Others would call it a « meta » posture.

43First of all, it is assumed that pupils are examined by and for themselves in situations that are likely to lead them to question subject-based topics, their relations to these topics, to themselves as practitioners and even the questions to which it would probably be relevant to associate them17. It is about developing a reflexive attitude18 towards formalisation and distantiation from empirical categories. It should be noted that developing students’ practices is viewed as a possible educational and didactical response to the problems raised above: the objectivization of their practices is a process towards formalising and solving the tensions between the necessity and difficulty of being aware of these practices.

44In the same light, teachers may also be questioned and investigated:

  • Because they indulge in extracurricular reading and writing practices which are in line or not with students’ practices;

  • Because they launch activities which are not necessarily the result of systematic critical reflection;

  • Because they may face an unexpected situation: the knowledge they are supposed to teach may be destabilised as this very knowledge is partially altered by the knowledge they have to gain about extracurricular practices.

  • 19 See for example the modifications depending on IT development.

45The importance of subjects is indeed not so obvious in this environment. This is a loose didactic model for three reasons: its development through didactical research is still in progress, it can be influenced by changing social literacy practices related to professional19 and family environments and it can be refined by the knowledge of students’ extracurricular practices and the sense they give to it.

46In this case, there are real opportunities for critical appropriation and codevelopment of knowledge insofar as extracurricular practices change status and become heuristic tools.

3.5. Detailing objectives and approaches

47The didactic transformations that have been outlined above can be made operational across several dimensions – objectives, progress and types of situations and didactic tools.

48As far as objectives are concerned, it is necessary to shift from setting a single standard to developing a variety of standards according to the application field. This is indeed what Marie-Claude Penloup rightly emphasises when she mentions “multistandard didactics”:

“It seems unwise to overlook variety and set the main standard blindly. Those who are already in trouble may indeed feel even more insecure and those who have a good grasp of the mainstream standard through social heritage may not benefit from the variations they have to face in their lives anyhow.

In terms of didactic effectiveness, the emphasis should be on showing the variety of standards and teaching the main standard for what it is, ie a purely social phenomenon. It is also the opportunity to give a new impetus to foreign languages as the conveyors of a variety of standards.

Many diaries are clearly remote from the standards expected and promoted by the school system. Intimate or private writing is a way of addressing multiple language variations, appreciating their singularity according to their functional and communicational effects through an explanatory, non-prescriptive approach. It does not amount to dismissing the school norm but to holding it as one socially valued norm that is needed to become familiar with major cultural works but also to relieve those who resort to other norms.

As part of such didactics, taking the emergence of personal writing practices seriously and considerately is a way to teach language variation and to give legitimate consideration to a socially undermined group. What comes to my mind are the problems faced by our colleagues in ZEP (the equivalent of educational priority areas).”

49This is also probably what Élisabeth Bautier and Dominique Bucheton refer to, albeit differently, and show to what extent this objective relates to cultural purposes:

“Showing that a piece of writing, whatever it is, is submitted to rules that cannot be simply reduced to arbitrarily valued school norms but that are those of a common culture, of an intellectual tool, of how language and texts operate (always at a given time in their social history) is an approach essential to most students.

Examining these rules introduces students to this culture, compels them to confront these simultaneously social, cognitive, linguistic, historical and individual rules, to work on and with language and leads them to see in daily social practices something different from speakers’ spontaneity or intentionality. In addition to increasing language skills and proficiency in new types of texts, this is above all about the contribution to culture.”

50The principles of progress can also be refined and adapted by taking better account of:

  • Learning outcomes;

    • 20 It is not because an individual is engaged in extracurricular practices that he faces no problems.

    What is a problem or an obstacle in these very practices20 or in the relations between curricular and extracurricular practices;

  • What could connect curricular and extracurricular practices with targeted objectives.

51Concerning the last point above, Marie-Claude Penloup’s work is full of examples (1999: 11-37) such as the possible use of lists. She shows how the objectivisation of their importance and diversity is necessary to see lists emerge with a game on signifiers and suspended pragmatic and referential dimensions from which bridges can be built towards “literary” practices and their analyses.

  • 21 For example, why repetition is not accepted at all at school and accepted or even prescribed in oth (...)

52The objectivisation and possible contribution of unnoticed practices and writings – reproductions, jokes, self-writing, lists, beginnings of novels, etc. – can help diversify didactic situations, tools and teaching aids. It can also contribute to designing drills or problems which are either more meaningful to students because they are similar to the questions they ask themselves during their extracurricular practices or allow to better mark the specificities of the different areas and their raisons d’être21. It can also increase student motivation because pupils are recognised and knowledge and competences can be reintroduced consciously among students.

4. Reflections on the notion of practice and the debates about it

53I have already mentioned (see 3) that even among those who to see students’ extracurricular practices taken into account, the notion of practice was rarely defined. This is the task that I would like to perform now by showing the problems but also the interest that such a definition can raise.

4.1. Draft definition of the notion of practice

  • 22 By revamping my previous suggestions (Reuter 1996: 58-74) and taking account of the works of Élisab (...)

54Here is a tentative definition of practice22:

  • The notion of practice is a theoretical construct that refers to a specific distribution of human activities;

  • It defines a set of operations and actions that transform the situation, the world, the subject…and produce effects;

    • 23 By “socioinstitutional spheres” (school, family, occupation), I mean differentiated social sets at (...)

    These operations and actions are determined by a (physical, material, social) context and socioinstitutional spheres23

    • 24 Consequently, the methodological bias consisting in seeking to isolate these dimensions is meaningf (...)

    It focuses on the complex and synthetic nature of human activities that inextricably combine physical and psychological attributes, individual and collective features, cognitive, social and affective characteristics24;

  • These actions are influenced by the physical, material, and social environment and socio-institutional spheres that codify its functioning, products, evaluation norms, etc.;

  • The notion of practice also sets individuals in a history or rather in two important diachronic series: the social history in which practices emerge, borrow certain forms and values, change and possibly disappear; the individual history of the subject according to which practices emerge or not, borrow some forms or values, are modified or tend to disappear…or even to reappear;

    • 25 For example, reading is associated to work for some while it is a leisure activity for others.

    In addition to these diachronic dimensions, the notion of practice sets actions in synchrony with other individual practices: those it is associated to and those it is disassociated from.25

    • 26 For other examples of tensions, see my book on writing (Reuter 1996: 71-74)

    It finally refers to a person’s imperfect activity (Reuter 1996: 59 and 71-74):
    - This activity is never completely nor perfectly mastered, which challenges some theoretical models and the notion of experts; which starts complex reflections on teaching and learning objectives;
    - It is always structured by various tensions that are as many problems to be handled by the person in question26.

55In a word, I would say that the notion of practice is a theoretical and methodological construct that is aimed to focus on the variety of activities, its multiple dimensions, social anchoring both diachronically and synchronically, functions, values and meanings for the subject as well as its structural imperfection.

56This tentative definition can certainly be discussed but it at least exists, which is quite rare in many studies, even the most interesting ones, in our field.

57However, this is not enough insofar as these elements raise issues about other notions that are often used in didactics.

4.2. Tensions between the notion of practice and the definition of teachable contents

  • 27 In fact, the theoretical and methodological biases to design an activity somehow tend to be transfo (...)

58The notion of practice throws light on tensions that have been concealed by its naturalisation: its underlying formalisation procedure and the features selected accordingly are opposed to the academic formalisation procedure of teachable contents. The latter focuses on what is supposedly common, central and invariable in a given activity and assumes that what does not fit into this abstraction is secondary or peripheral27. This kind of construction can be considered an effective response to five types of concerns:

  • The necessary selection of teachable contents;

  • The desirable permanence of teachable contents;

    • 28 See Chevalard (1985) on the “right” position of educational knowledge.

    The distancing of academic knowledge28;

  • The neutrality of teachable contents;

    • 29 From the perspective of indexing, no research movement can escape this tension according to which t (...)

    The economic adjustment of teachable contents29.

4.3. The heuristic value of practice

  • 30 They are at the origin of controversies within research on French didactics about “contributory” di (...)

59As a conclusion, I have no miracle solution to solve these tensions30. But these tensions are the opportunity to examine in greater details three problems that are crucial to forthcoming research in didactics.

  • 31 For example, reading or writing in other subject areas than French.
  • 32 See for example how reading is often confused with questioning practices, especially in primary edu (...)

60The first problem is curricular practices themselves. Laying down the category of extracurricular practices involves thinking the curricular area in the same way. Basically, it means detailing curricular practices within which a task is explicitly intended for teaching and assessment (and the others with a paradidactical status31) in order to know to what extent these practices gives a specific and concrete turn to the said task32, how they are in line or not with students’ extracurricular practices and the effects they may have. In this perspective, Bernard Lahire’s theory according to which socially differentiated failure to understand writing basics could be partly explained by the opposition between the relation to language in teaching and that at play in many families’ language practices is useful to appreciate this problem.

  • 33 See the Genevan works and Reuter 2000 on this notion.

61The second problem is how teaching contents are designed. If one admits that didactical research cannot take up as such the positions and proposals of the school tradition or of other research disciplines, then its mission is to approach subject-based topics according to its questions and imperatives. It is therefore necessary to design didactical models33 of teaching topics and provide prospects towards the formalisation of activities and practices.

62The third problem is the specificity of objectives. If a competence can only be assessed when it is actually performed, then the purpose is to determine which curricular and extracurricular practices are targeted and why.

63The notion of practice, which is neither the panacea nor a pre-existing phenomenon, could therefore be a wonderful heuristic tool both for research and didactics.

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Bibliographie

ARTIÈRES P. (1998) : Clinique de l'écriture. Une histoire du regard médical sur l'écriture, Le Plessis-Robinson, Institut Synthélabo.

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Notes

1 Originally published in Repères, 23, 2001, 9-31

2 See for example issue 15 of the journal Repères (Dabène and Ducancel, Eds.,1997) et issue 27 of La lettre de la DFLM (Barré de Miniac et Reuter, Eds.,2000).

3 To put it clearly, literacy practices were not envisaged in learners’ extracurricular culture.

4 Especially Chariot, Bautier, Rochex, 1992; Rochex, 1995; Bautier, Rochex, 1998; Bautier and François, Eds., 1999; Chariot, 2001

5 I could have included a fourth factor to explain why it is a topical issue: the scripturalization-lecturization of the whole society that somehow requires that research and the school system change perspective on learners and take account of many social practices, including writing in its various forms.

6 A questionnaire about reading and writing often calls for answers focused on the practices in which these activities are considered central (reading a novel for example) to the detriment of other activities ( reading a recipe when cooking for example).

7 This is a typical problem in education, whatever the field concerned (see Durning 1985 for family education).

8 To put it bluntly, failure to evaluate this selection might result in the reproduction of representations and practices that can reflect an academic vision as it was the case when literature symbolically prevailed in the teaching of French.

9 Michel Develay (1992, 1995) in particular focused on this dimension of didactical transposition.

10 With its variant “building on”

11 Especially when they were not connected with an actual project-based approach and objectives designed and appropriated by pupils themselves.

12 See the works of Baudelot, Cartier and Deprez (1999) on reading.

13 Survey procedures, types of comments, etc.

14 At least if the educational, didactical work procedure remains unchanged.

15 It is therefore not structurally linked to teenage, which is confirmed by Régis Burbidge’s master dissertation (2000) about pupils’ extracurricular writing in primary education.

16 The debate on the effectiveness of educational practices was held or is ongoing in all the places in which cultural mediation is at stake (see for example the discussions about the selection of books and classification typologies in libraries).

17 Design of questionnaires, analysis and categorisation of answers.

18 Others would call it a « meta » posture.

19 See for example the modifications depending on IT development.

20 It is not because an individual is engaged in extracurricular practices that he faces no problems.

21 For example, why repetition is not accepted at all at school and accepted or even prescribed in other social areas.

22 By revamping my previous suggestions (Reuter 1996: 58-74) and taking account of the works of Élisabeth Bautier (1985: 200-219) who developed this notion extensively and of many others (Bourdieu, de Certeau, etc.).

23 By “socioinstitutional spheres” (school, family, occupation), I mean differentiated social sets at legal, organisational, and practical levels (Cf Reuter 1996: 60-63).

24 Consequently, the methodological bias consisting in seeking to isolate these dimensions is meaningful only if it contributes to better explaining their connection. In any case, what is inextricably intertwined in reality can only be disassociated abstractedly.

25 For example, reading is associated to work for some while it is a leisure activity for others.

26 For other examples of tensions, see my book on writing (Reuter 1996: 71-74)

27 In fact, the theoretical and methodological biases to design an activity somehow tend to be transformed in essence.

28 See Chevalard (1985) on the “right” position of educational knowledge.

29 From the perspective of indexing, no research movement can escape this tension according to which the variety of criteria is always appreciated on the basis of criteria that are supposedly common to some of them.

30 They are at the origin of controversies within research on French didactics about “contributory” disciplines because the suggested formalisations are almost term-to-term opposites: unicity vs diversity, decontextualisation vs contextualisation, etc. (Cf Chiss, David, Reuter, Eds. 1995).

31 For example, reading or writing in other subject areas than French.

32 See for example how reading is often confused with questioning practices, especially in primary education (Guernier 1998).

33 See the Genevan works and Reuter 2000 on this notion.

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Référence électronique

Yves Reuter, « Taking account of extracurricular literacy practices: problems and stakes », Repères [En ligne], Hors-série | 2013, mis en ligne le 12 septembre 2013, consulté le 28 juillet 2017. URL : http://reperes.revues.org/511 ; DOI : 10.4000/reperes.511

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Yves Reuter

University Charles de Gaulle – Lille III - Team Théodile (E.A. 1764)

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