Activity Eleven Thinking about reading

Think about what kinds of things you normally read (novels, reports, newspapers, magazines). First, choose a type of reading that is most familiar to you. Second, choose a book or article that you are having to read at the moment for your studies. You are going to think about the contrast between these two pieces of text.

Take a blank piece of A4 paper and divide it in half. On one side of the paper put the title of the familiar kind of reading, for example a novel; on the other side of the paper put the title of the academic text.

Now make a list of some of the ways in which you think the two texts appear to be different from one another.

Our list, below, came from comparing a book called Wild Swans by Jung Chang (1993), which is an account of her family's history in China, with a book about literacy used on a social anthropology course (Street 1995).

Wild Swans

Social Literacies

Chapter just starts

Use of headings

Generally shorter sentences

Long sentences, e.g. 42 words

Four or more paragraphs to a page

Paragraph may be more than two-thirds of a page

in length

I know most of these words

Use of specialist terminology

Easy to understand

Difficult to grasp the main point of what is being

said

Use of paragraphs and punctuation

Headings to mark new sections

(speech marks) to mark new section

No need for references and footnotes

Use of references and footnotes

Uniform typeface

Use of different typefaces (bold, italics, font size)

for different parts of the text

No obvious introduction and conclusion

Introduction at the beginning of each section

Vivid description

Analytical writing

Simple and obvious chain of events

Many different ideas packed into each section

Focus on people, places and events

Focus on concepts and ideas

Below are extracts from the two books to give you a flavour of the difference. The list above elaborates some other comparative features of the two texts which cannot be seen in these two short extracts.

We are interested in exploring the ways in which, both at home and at school, dominant conceptions of literacy are constructed and reproduced in such ways as to marginalize alternatives and, we would suggest, to control key aspects of language and thought. We hypothesize that the mechanism through which meanings and uses of 'literacy' take on this role is the 'pedagogization' of literacy. By this we mean that literacy has become associated with educational notions of Teaching and Learning and with what teachers and pupils do in schools, at the expense of the many other uses and meanings of literacy evident from the comparative ethnographic literature.

(Street 1995: 106)

My mother set off to see Comrade Wang one morning on a mild autumn day, the best time of the year in Jinzou. The summer heat had gone and the air had begun to grow cooler, but it was still warm enough to wear summer clothes. The wind and dust which plague the town for much of the year were deliciously absent.

She was wearing a traditional loose pale blue gown and a white silk scarf. Her hair had just been cut short in keeping with the revolutionary fashion. As she walked into the courtyard of the new provincial government headquarters she saw a man standing under a tree with his back to her, brushing his teeth at the edge of the flowerbed.

(Chang 1993: 154)

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