The Learning Cultures curriculum operates on a theory of literacy instruction called Genre Practice (McCallister, 2008). Through opportunities to read and write texts of their choice across the curriculum, students practice using an unlimited range of genres. From a Genre Practice perspective, literacy competence is more than the sum total of knowledge and skill required to read and write, which is the traditional focus of the linear transmission curriculum. Literacy includes an array of dispositions that stem from a strong sense of purpose, clear intentions, and the ability to use generic conventions flexibly and creatively to achieve goals. The ultimate aim of the Genre Practice curriculum is to foster literacy dispositions in addition to literacy skills. This is how it’s done:
Practice: Every student reads and writes a lot. The English language arts curriculum alone ensures that every child reads a minimum of 40 different texts and writes a minimum of 20 complete compositions each school year. In a nutritious medium of high productivity and creativity, students learn how to strategically apply text conventions from the vast repertoire of generic categories to successfully achieve personal goals. Unlike conventional curriculum models, organized to expose students to a narrow range of generic forms in an incremental survey approach, Genre Practice emphasizes flexibility and creativity with genre forms. With an emphasis on student agency and purpose, and with ample freedom to make choices about what to read and write, the Genre Practice curriculum fosters genre awareness (Devitt, 2004) as opposed to genre mastery.
Social interaction: As a social, action-oriented approach to reading and writing instruction, Genre Practice views literacy as a form of social action. A text is a form of action because it is written by an author to achieve a specific purpose, or read by a reader, also for a purpose. Because a text is created and used along an arc of activity, its structure, content, and conventions embody goals and intentions of its author. Since the social dimension of a text is integral to the nature of its form, it’s impossible to learn how a genre works in isolation from the social context for which it is intended. Because literacy includes the social competencies that are integral to the way texts are used, in addition to basic reading and writing skills, the social dimensions of literacy are integral to the Learning Cultures curriculum.
Curriculum formats: How does the curriculum integrate the text feature and social action dimensions of genre into a pedagogical approach? Learning Cultures formats are each organized to capitalize on the power of social interaction as a strategy for building a facility with genre. Group instruction and sharing formats of the Learning Cultures curriculum are designed to play texts in slow motion for discussion and analysis. Unison Reading and The Share act as echo chambers that magnify and enhance the meanings of texts so that they become more concrete and accessible for reflection. As students read texts in Unison, or present written compositions in the Share, they have opportunities to gain insights from the multiple perspectives of their group members. Through recurring opportunities to participate in these social literacy groups, and by using these vicarious learning opportunities to make revisions in writing compositions and reading interpretations, students learn flexibility and creativity. Students share reading, writing, thoughts and ideas, exchange opinions, and feedback to gain greater agency and cognitive flexibility.
A focus on 21st Century literacy skills: Genre Practice broadens the instructional agenda beyond a narrow focus on subject content and skills toward an equal concern for the intentions and dispositions that students bring to literacy situations. Genre Practice isn’t limited to coverage of a narrow range of school genres with an emphasis on mastery of their requisite formal features. Instead, Genre Practice invites students to find their own purposes for writing, to identify text forms to suit their aims, and to be accountable to using text features and conventions appropriate to the form chosen. Because Genre Practice teaches to the intentions and dispositions of writing and reading, it is a pedagogy that teaches 21st Century literacies.