National Writing Project

On Discourse and Language Learning

By: David Bloome
Publication: Language Arts
Date: September 2013

Summary: David Bloome and Arlette Ingram Willis remind us that the discourses we use to understand literacy and literacy education have a profound impact on how we teach it, and identify what they see as problematic aspects of the dominant discourse.


I think that some of this flows, not just from the limitations and how we might understand children, but also from some of the ideologies that we, in education, are caught by—that is, the ideologies that tend to dominate what we do in schools and classrooms. I think these ideologies, in some sense, flow from autonomous models of literacy. That is, they cause us to hold on to some binary oppositions, such as literate and illiterate. There are literate people and there are illiterate people; there are oral cultures and there are literate cultures; there is literate thought—and I guess the opposite of literate thought is illiterate thought or a-literate thought or non-literate thought. Then we need to problematize all of these sorts of binaries. Many, quite frankly, don't exist; they're non sequiturs when we start thinking of literacy not as a thing in and of itself but as different kinds of social practices situated within particular settings, and different kinds of social events also situated and that involve the non-trivial use of written language. These binaries make no sense from that kind of perspective, so, from that perspective, then, we can begin to ask questions like, What might be the repertoire of language and literacy practices and ways of participating in a variety of language and literacy events that children might be invited into? How might children develop the communicative competence to be part of those sorts of events?"

About the Authors

DAVID BLOOME is a professor at The Ohio State University, and is the co-director of the Columbus Area Writing Project.

ARLETTE INGRAM WILLIS is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Bloome, David and Arlette Ingram Willis. "On Discourse and Language Learning." Language Arts 91:1 (2013) 61-68. Copyright ©2013 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

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