Decolonizing Literacy

Page 1

April, 2022

Table of Contents Introduction ........................................................3 Reading Readiness Literacy Theory .......................4 Emergent Literacy Theory.....................................5 Shifting Perspectives of Literacy Practices .............6 Literacy as Social Practice Theory - Ai’s story ........8 Multimodal Literacy Theory – Nikki’s story ......... 10 Artifactual Literacy Theory – Carol’s story ........... 12 Critical Literacy Theory ....................................... 14 Place Literacy ..................................................... 16 Lingering Thoughts............................................. 18 References ......................................................... 19 Authors ............................................................. 20


Introduction We are a group of early childhood educators, coming from Japan, Hong Kong and India living in Canada. On this journey, we come together in this place and time to think and collaboratively reconceptualize our views of learning. We seek to disrupt and challenge our ongoing settler-colonial ways of being in the world, in our homes, in our work with children, and in our communities. We aim to decolonize ourselves by disrupting our knowledge of print literacies, literacies that have been imposed on the world through the Eurocentric Western colonial language of English. Thinking about the various literacies all around us, the literacies that envelope us and blanket us through multimodal ways of being and critical literacies of social practices, artifacts, and place. This gaze has a particular way of being, that we carry with us through our histories, our memories, our stories, our biases, our prejudices, our identities, our languages, and our cultures. By opening our eyes through a kaleidoscope of literacies that does not have to be black and white.

Land Acknowledgement: We acknowledge with deep respect that we meet on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish), ̱ xʷməθkʷəyə̓ m (Musqueam), Shishá7lh (Sechelt), Stó:lō, and kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Coquitlam First Nation) peoples. Unceded means that the land we are on has never been surrendered by treaty. And visit to view which Native lands you are situated in. For more about land acknowledgements, please watch the short video, ‘Acknowledging Our Shared Territory,’ at


Reading Readiness Literacy Theory There is no universal definition of readiness. It aims to get children “ready” for school: a smooth transition to school and future academic success. In the 1920-1950s, there was a belief that literacy was taught at school and not before. It did not acknowledge literacy practices within the home or community. Readiness assessments were frequently completed by educators and administrators. Their belief was that children must know how to read before they are taught how to write. In this pedagogy of literacy, children are passive consumers of literacy knowledge. The focus is on whole class learning - phonics, drills, (rooted in behaviourist theory). Often using direct instruction with scripted lessons/skills (van Groll, 2022, Week 2, Slides 4 and 5). Provoking Questions: Do you think that just knowing ABCs and reading printed English alphabets makes one literate? Are there other ways to be literate?

Scan the QR code to watch a lesson in phonics.


Emergent Literacy Theory There are many definitions of emergent literacy. According to Heilman et al. (2002), the emergent literacy theory is defined as “reading and writing behaviours of children that occur before and develop into conventional literacy (as cited in Zhang, 2017, p. 70). However, these behaviours and knowledge are not about ‘pre’ anything. ”It is not reasonable to point to a time in a child’s life when literacy begins. Rather, we see children in the process of becoming literate, as the term emergent indicates” (Teale & Sulzby, 1986, as cited in Yu & Pine, 2006, p. 2).


Shifting Perspectives of Literacy Practices Ministry of Education (2019): The BC Early Learning Framework is an open invitation for all of us educators, to offer meaningful, intentional, educational opportunities for all children, coming from all socio-economic, cultural, diverse and different families, where “learning is holistic” (p.25). Where children are offered multiple assemblages of materials, events, opportunities, freedoms to choose from to learn from, to teach to, to create and to show their literacy in a multiplicity of ways, not just words and numbers from books, exams, tests and assessments. Through ongoing living inquiry, project work and pedagogical documentation to make children’s voices and learning visible to be shared with families. “People thrive in responsive, reciprocal, respectful relationships with others, and with place and culture” (p.45). Flourishing respectful and collaborative relationship building derives from children, families, educators, and the community gathering together in a mutual space.

Top left: Nikki’s family Bottom left: Carol’s family Bottom right: Ai’s Family


Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework (2018): “Children hold a unique and sacred place… they are gifts from the Creator” every child and family is entitled to their languages and cultures passed down through the generation to ensure the survival of their ancestral knowledge and ways of knowing and being in this world (p.10).

The ECEBC Code of Ethics (2021): Principle 2 (p. 9) - “We provide high-quality early care and learning environments for all children by drawing on specialized knowledge, education, and diverse perspectives”. - Each child has unique interests and strengths and the capacity to contribute to their communities, classrooms and the world. Honour and respect the families and their cultures.

Olsson, Dahlberg and Throrell (2015): Make visible their research project on ‘The Magic of Language’ whose goal was “turn of the gaze” (p. 719) from Swedish pre-school practices – individual-psychological assessments, in favour of a gaze of looking at children through a pedagogical lens of aesthesis, “a collective assemblage of desire” (Olsson, 2009, as cited in Olsson et al, 2015, p. 720). The incredible literacies the children created became visible because educators took risks, educators believed, educators saw competencies, educators saw capabilities, and educators provoked the children’s 100 languages of expression.


Literacy as Social Practice Theory - Ai’s story Literacy as social practice broadens the traditional view of literacy. It includes oral, written and visual texts which are culturally, socially, historically and politically situated.

Myth 1: Literacy is a unitary object. Literacy as Social Practice (LSP): Literacy is not universal, or the same for everyone. Our knowledge, worldviews and meaning-making are products of social construction.

Myth 2: Literacy is neutral. LSP: Literacy is deeply affected by social institutions and power relationships. Some literacies, such as reading and writing are seen as dominant, visible and influential. Whose voice is privileged or silenced?

Myth 3: Literacy is independent from social/cultural/historical conditions. LSP: “literacy is a cultural practice, shaped by and shaping social factors such as culture, gender, politics, and economics (Purcell-Gates, 1995; Street, 1984, as cited in Moayeri and Smith, 2010, p. 408). Literacy is deeply embedded in our daily lives of a particular time and place. Literacy evolves with people and societies. What is literacy in the 21st century?

Myth 4: Literacy happens only at school. LSP: Children participate in literacy practices and events in their homes, communities and schools.

Myth 5: Only adults become “literacy sponsors” (Brandt, 2003, as cited in van Groll, 2022) who either support or withhold support for literacy learning. LSP: Children can be literacy sponsors, for example, immigrant children become a translator (between a newly acquired language and their home language) to be a bridge between teachers and their families/communities.


Passing family recipes and traditions to the next generation Dumpling making

“Mom called my sister and me to gather at the dinner table. Looking at the stainless bowl filled with filling, the aroma of sesame oil and green chives tickled my nose. We knew we were going to make a batch of dumplings. Joining the familiar tempo of making dumplings - scooping, placing filing on the dumpling wrap, sharing stories, dabbing water to the wrap, pausing, folding the wrap rhythmically - so many stories were born and shared as countless dumplings passed between us. The family ritual of making dumplings became a safe place to share everyday happiness and sorrows for my sister and I. In-between the act of making, family recipes, traditional knowledge and cultural identity were being passed on from mom to daughters” (A. Paul, personal communication, March 15, 2022).

Scan the QR code to watch the dumpling making event


Multimodal Literacy Theory – Nikki’s story "By extending the boundaries of enquiry beyond language, multimodal studies constitute a growing body of rich research into how young children learn to mediate meaning through multiple modes (including language) and in diverse media, giving new insights into how literacy practices are changing in an increasingly digitized communicative landscape" (Flewitt, 2013, p. 298) Multimodality gives flexibility to children who express learning through an array of ways. It acknowledges that children come from different backgrounds and make meaning to the literate world through different modes such as “linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial” (Flewitt, 2012, p. 299). The art of promoting multimodality in curriculum can improve children’s literacy by exploring their yet-to-discover interests and new founded love of learning. It is important in ECE practices that we incorporate multimodality in practices so that children can develop an understanding of materials through the different modes that support their learning. Through multimodal learning, we can collaborate with children to enrich their confidence through learning styles and unravel the complexities of the modes that are best for their learning. “Listening to the hundred, the thousand languages, symbols, and codes we use to express ourselves and communicate, and with which life expresses itself and communicates to those who know how to listen” (Rinaldi, 2001, as cited in Province of B.C., 2019, p. 48).

Scan the QR code to read the 100 languages poem 10

“Growing up with English and Cantonese as my main languages spoken, I had a hard time discovering ways to become literate because I came from a binary learning environment of reading and writing which was not amusing to learn. It was not until I got older when I began to discover different literacy modes that felt comfortable to me and that I thoroughly enjoyed learning from. Through the dominant literacy discourse of reading and writing, I found alternative ways to love learning. I started to challenge emergent literacy and incorporate other learning styles through daily family conversations with my parents and learning about my Chinese culture during story time with my grandparents. I also began listening to cultural music, looking at social media, and indulging in various foods. However, I have always been a visual learner growing up, with drawing and a multitude of different artistic literacies in order for me to grow and learn. With my different experiences, I bring forward my histories, culture, and identity to present the different literacies that shape how I became literate today.” (N. Lam, personal communication, March 17, 2022)


Artifactual Literacy Theory – Carol’s story As much as we focus on texts to gather knowledge and literacy, we can also focus on objects in our everyday life. Social anthropologists trace the relationships people have with the world through the objects they surround themselves with at home These objects can be biographical, evoke emotions, and speak of relationships. They encourage us to tell stories, histories, memories and experiences that are meaningful. It is important to signal the thing-ness of people’s lives. Through anthropology, we can explore the everyday language and literacy practices to understand the representational landscape that cultural artifacts and languages of children can bring into our classrooms as ECCEs through ethnography (Pahl and Rowsell, 2011). Artifactual literacy theory gives a voice to the otherwise silenced, discarded, overlooked literacies, cultures, values, knowledges, ways of being, practices, identities of children and their families, their homelands, their languages, their inheritances, their ancestors, their memories, their intergeneration artifacts. Cultural Artifacts connect the generations - linking our pasts with our presents with our futures. It is a way to keep our ancestors voices alive in our present to be handed down to the future.


''My grandmother’s motar and pestle - When I immigrated to Canada I brought with me a gift given to me by my grandmother, Lousia Miranda - a marble motar and pestle. I have fond memories of my grandmother who took care of me and my siblings as my parents were both working professionals. I remember going to the market with Nana, coming back and watching her cook and prepare meals for us. I remember her pounding garlic and ginger in the motar, the aroma and smells of her kitchen, the stove always had some tea brewing or curry bubbling or rice boiling. But the aroma of raw, crushed, chopped or pounded garlic before putting it into the container to cook still lingers with me. This is a cultural artifact that I utilize in my daily cooking of meals for my family and children. I do not recall my grandmother reading much, nor that there were many printed materials in her home, but she taught me everything about my culture through the food, through the cultural values, ways of being with, caring and nurturing for children. I dedicate this poem to my grandmother and my mother who taught me cultural and food literacies through food preparations” (C. Misquitta, personal communication, March 13, 2022).

An Ode to Garlic by Carol Ann Misquitta I search, I seek, I am drawn To my grandmother’s motar and pestle A marble gathering cup, gifted with love Holds an aroma, a taste, a touch, a sight of childhood Am I drawn to it because of memories? Am I drawn to it because of histories? Am I drawn to it because of inheritances? A connection between my grandmothers, my mother, my aunties, my neighbours - my garlic teachers.

Scan the QR code to listen to the poem 13

Critical Literacy Theory Critical literacy engages readers to carefully analyze the construction of texts, examine who is privileged or marginalized, and reflect upon the readers’ positionality and own biases. Critical literacy aims to bring our awareness to social justice issues, discrimination, and hierarchal power relations in early childhood classrooms.

Invitation: Pick a children's picture book and engage with it as a child and answer the following questions presented by Vasquez (2014). Does the book perpetuate or push back against a dominant normative perspective? • What is this text trying to do to me? • Whose voices are dominant? • Whose reality is presented? • Whose reality is ignored?


The book “Rain!”, written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christian Robinson is a story which follows a grumpy old man and young child through their rainy morning. To the man, the rain negatively affects his mood and everything becomes an annoyance to him. On the other hand, the child finds joy in the rain by jumping in the puddles or pretending to be a frog. When they encounter each other at the café, the brief moments of exchange shift the grumpy old man’s mood. After that encounter, the old man is no longer grumpy and he becomes more playful to enjoy himself in the rain. The text is minimal and there is no narrator in this book. Because of the space of silence and powerful illustration, this book has room for educators and children to imagine and wonder what other stories are possible. All the characters are able-bodied, similar in size, and wearing nice clean clothes. I get the impression that the author tries to tell us to find joy in small moments. But what is “normal”, or an “ordinary” day? Whose perspective was it written from? Who is the targeted audience that the author has in mind? To think critically about why I was attracted to this particular book is that I can see myself and my daughter in the book. The position from which I am reading this book is working-class, minority and living in a multicultural city. In other words, the book represents my reality, thus I am comfortable presenting this book to children in my care. But what about children who come from different socio-economic, geological backgrounds or family structures? Does this city and the people who live in this book make space for people who are different from them?


Place Literacy We acknowledge with deep respect that we meet on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish), ̱ xʷməθkʷəyə̓ m (Musqueam), Shishá7lh (Sechelt), Stó:lō, and kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Coquitlam First Nation) peoples. We think with ways of how place literacies can provoke us to encounter the water, the land, the river, the mountains, the stories, the histories, the memories through a holistic approach to curriculum. We seek to think outside-the-box by unsettling colonial, untraditional, ongoing settler ways of acquiring and passing on knowledge. We believe that education can be designed to support students in their quest to know the people, land, the place, and the knowledges that were silenced and marginalized with the aim to eradicate. When curriculum/projects about place are offered to children, they will develop a sense of belonging to the place, to the land, the histories, the people to make space for Indigenous ways of being and learning and living on these lands. In the Ministry of Education (2019) British Columbia Early Learning Framework “All world relations: the understanding that humans, creatures, plants, trees and non-living entities, forces, and landforms are all interconnected. Western ways of thinking create separation between all these and place humans as exceptional” (p.15). In these unprecedented times of global warming and climate change, we educators seek to cultivate and curate opportunities for children to kindle relationships with placebased pedagogies.


Mamquam River, Squamish, BC

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh úxwumixw

K'emk'emeláý (Vancouver, BC)

kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Coquitam, BC)

Reclaiming Indigenous place names is the first step for us to think about place literacy. We acknowledge that place names have a significance which is a “source of cultural knowledge and spiritual significance” (Downey et al., p. 42). We live, work and play surrounded by the settler-colonial names which intentionally and systematically erase Indigenous peoples, language, knowledge, and culture. We unsettle our own practices by paying homage to the original names of the paces we inhabit. 17

Lingering Thoughts Thinking with scholars, philosophers, and pedagogists, we journey through the complexities that each literacy theory has to offer. We embrace the BC ELF (2019), which is an open invitation for all educators to offer meaningful, intentional, and democratic educational opportunities for all children coming from all socioeconomic, cultural, and diverse families. We believe in education systems where “learning is holistic” (p. 25). Where children are offered multiple assemblages of materials, events, opportunities, freedoms to choose from, to learn from, to teach to, to create, and to show their literacies in a multiplicity of ways, not just words and numbers, and only from books, exams, tests and assessments. We work with the ECEBC Code of Ethics (2021) that invites early childhood educators to create rich “learning environments for all children by drawing on specialized knowledge, education, and diverse perspectives” (p. 9). We gather with one another to join collectively in a space of openness and diverse ways of co-discovering multiple ways of being attuned to knowledge. We help one another discover new ways of communicating through relationships and community engagements. As we conclude this literacy documentation, our work with children through literacy practices does not end, but is only the beginning of a collaborative journey of learning. A journey of learning that is a kaleidoscope of 100 ways that does not have to be black and white.


References Ashman, L. (2013). Rain. Clarion Books. Bhoopali & Rao, B.S. (2021). Healing Ragas. Composition in Rag. [Video] YouTube. Campbell, S., Torr, J. & Cologon, K. (2014). Pre-packaging preschool literacy: what drives early childhood teachers to use commercially produced phonics programs in prior to school settings. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 15(1) 40-53. Downey, A., Bell, R., Copage, K., & Whitty, P. (2019). Place-based readings toward disrupting colonized literacies: A métissage. In education, 25(2), 39-58. Early Childhood Educators of British Columbia (2021). Code of ethics: Early childhood educators of British Columbia (7th ed.). Author. Flewitt, R. (2013). Multimodal perspectives on early childhood literacies. The SAGE Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy, 295–310. Government of Canada. (2018). Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework. Makin, L., Diaz, C. J., & McLachlan, C. (2007). Literacy as social practice. In Literacies in childhood: Changing Views, challenging practice. essay, Elsevier Australia. Ministry of Education (2019). British Columbia Early Learning Framework. Moayeri, M., & Smith, J. (2010). The Unfinished Stories of Two First Nations Mothers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 408–417. Olsson, L. M., Dahlberg, G., & Theorell, E. (2016). Displacing identity- placing aesthetics: early childhood literacy in a globalized world. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37(5), 717-738. Pahl, K. & Rowsell, J. (2011). Artifactual critical literacy: A new perspective for literacy education. Berkeley Review of Education. 2(2) 129-151. van Groll, N. (2022). Global Literacy in ECCE. [PowerPoint slides]. Elearn. Vasquez, V.M. (2014). Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children: 10th Anniversary Edition (2nd ed.). Routledge. Yu, Z., & Pine, N. (2006). Strategies for Enhancing Emergent Literacy in Chinese Preschools. National Reading Conference, Los Angeles, California, USA. Zhang, Q. (2017). Emergent literacy as sociocultural practice: How well do New Zealand parents fit with Te Wha¯ riki? Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. 17(1) 69–91.



Nikki Lam is a second-generation immigrant from Hong Kong. She is a third-year student studying Early Childhood Education at Capilano University since 2019. Her passion for the early childhood field began in high school when she volunteered to educate other children and fell in love with the process.

Carol Ann Misquitta is a first-generation immigrant from India. As an early childhood educator since 2006 and a third year ECCE degree student at Capilano University, my passion is to continue to advocate for the rights of Canadian children to receive intentional, meaningful, ethical education.

Ai Paul is a first-generation immigrant from Japan. She has been practicing as an Early Childhood Educator since 2019, and is a fourthyear student in the ECCE degree program at Capilano University. Illustrator for cover: Maya Paul (12 years old)

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