Queer as folk: my ALEA conference paper

Anyone who has attended the AATE/ALEA national conference in the last…well, many years, might have noticed this year that ALEA and AATE have gone separate conference ways – ALEA in July and AATE in December.

There are a range of practical reasons for this, but for me it highlights some common territory between English and Literacy teachers that has perhaps been assumed over the years.  After all, when we go to these conferences aren’t the Literacy teachers invariably Primary school teachers?  Are English teachers really Literacy teachers at all?  To what extent to we belong ‘at each others conferences’?

So I have put in a proposal to deliver a 30 minute paper on the topic: Queer as folk: The English and Literacy teacher divide

The title purposefully invokes queer discourse in questioning the way we use labels in constructing our identity.

I’m hoping to stir up some controversy with this one – hope it gets accepted!

ABSTRACT (text from image above): Are you ‘English’ or ‘Literacy’?  In years gone by at the combined AATE/ALEA conferences I have attended questions like this seemed to be in perpetual motion, hopping between conversations and publishers stalls, helping us to peg out our common ground and distinguish connections.  For some this is code for ‘are you a Primary school teacher or a High school teacher?’  For others, it’s code for ‘do you teach reading or books?’  If the answer was something about multiliteracies then you got a gold star…but why?

What does the question mean to you – are you ‘English’ or ‘Literacy’?  What are our expectations when coming to a conference for ‘Literacy Educators’?  As we find ourselves situated in the very multiliterate present, faced with a National Curriculum where Literacy has been conceptualised as a ‘strand’ within the English Curriculum, and with the annual AATE conference still six months away, what do you mean when you call yourself a ‘Literacy’ teacher?

In this presentation I will speak to what it means for me to be an ‘English’ teacher, and outline some of the challenges that secondary English teachers face in defining their literacy goals.  I will also reflect on the transition from practicing English teaching in New South Wales to teaching it to pre-service teachers in Queensland and revisit theoretical frameworks connected with literacy education to connect these with the experiences of teachers in the classroom.  Participants will have opportunities to engage in discussion about the relationship between subject associations and their members, as well as reflection on their own professional identity.


  1. #1 by bhewes on January 30, 2011 - 6:31 pm


    This post couldn’t come at a more apt time! Last Friday (Day 1 for teachers of 2011) we had a faculty discussion about ‘where’ we would place reading and grammar into our weekly teaching schedules for each class. Ultimately it was decided that one out of every four periods (we have 4×50 min periods per week) would be devoted to reading AND grammar (basically spelling, punctuation and grammar but calling it grammar to be simple, huh) – I guess this is what you’d call ‘literacy’.

    So why the push for this literal ‘divide’ in our teacher selves? I won’t lie – it’s due to NAPLAN and the Nat Curriculum focus for our subject.

    For my part I argued against the severing of our teaching time in such an explicit way. I have always done ‘spelling’ with my students at the beginning of a lesson purely as ‘bell work’ to settle students and establish routine – I write 5 words on the board for 3 lessons, kids copy down, use in a sentence (or define using dictionary if they are unfamiliar) and during this time I write up the learning activities/outcomes for the lesson. I’ve always had success with this model as my BD and LD kids find having a routine essential to success in the classroom.

    My prac student last year wasn’t comfortable with spelling and instead used 5 minutes quiet free reading. I have heard of other teachers using journalling or free-creative writing in a similar way.

    I’m in a conundrum like you point out. Am I an English teacher, or a Literacy teacher? Since writing about spelling rules for a book I realised that knowing these could help students who are weaker spellers feel more confident writing unfamiliar words. This is why we went for spelling over reading/writing etc. We do Premier’s reading Challenge and know how essential reading is in developing vocab, giving insight into lives of others, comprehension and critical thinking skills, creativity etc.

    I know I’d prefer it if grammar and reading were directly related to the current learning focus for our class – making it English literacy? lol! But hey, maybe that’s an ideal that is difficult to achieve?

    Sorry for epic comment … probably not even that relevant but thought I’d share what is happening in my faculty regarding the English/Literacy divide.


  2. #2 by bhewes on January 30, 2011 - 10:02 pm

    Another thing, lol. The BOS syllabus defines literacy as:
    ‘a synthesis of language, thinking and contextual practices through which meaning is shaped. ‘Effective literacy is intrinsically purposeful, flexible and dynamic’ and involves interactions in a range of modes and through a variety of mediums’

    I’d say that my preference for ’embedded literacy skills’ is more in-line with the above definition, especially the notion of literacy as being ‘purposeful’. No?

  3. #3 by kmcg2375 on February 1, 2011 - 8:14 pm

    I would agree with your school of thought Bianca – I have never felt comfortable scheduling language instruction as a separate activity for its own sake. And while I think that I am now coming to better appreciate the role of explicit instruction in pedagogy generally, the idea of losing one of those precious five periods to what are essentially NAPLAN drills is scary.

    When it comes to preparation for NAPLAN I’ve come to accept that, as with any systematic examination, we do have a role to play in familiarising the students with the layout and pace of the exam to come. This is an equity issue – students should not be at a disadvantage because they are not ‘exam literate’. Soooo…give em a practice run. Have fun setting multiple choice tests for each other, and then discuss deductive reasoning. If you’re going beyond that, you have to really start asking questions, imho.

    “Effective literacy is intrinsically purposeful”. What a creed. Syllabus FTW!

  4. #4 by Leith on February 4, 2011 - 3:38 pm

    I like it. It’s this whole problem that extends from technically never having a clear definition of what our subject is.

    Good choice. I didn’t realise they had opened up their calls. You put a paper in for the IFTE conference?

  5. #6 by Nikki Aharonian on February 19, 2011 - 12:37 am

    Hi Kelli,
    I’m happy to have found your blog and will certainly be following you in the future.
    I arrived at your blog post about the ALEA conference in a search on the conference in Google Blogs.
    I am smiling to myself as I thought I was the only one having difficulty defining English (or L1), language and literacy.
    I am an Australian living and working overseas in Israel. I am vice principal of a primary school and a teacher educator.
    In July I will be attending the conference and hope to present a paper on my work with teachers on writing pedagogy. The paper will deal with professional writing as a means of promoting teacher growth and improving writing in the classroom.
    While registering my proposal for the conference I found myself stuck at the point where I had to choose between… “language” and “literacy”. Any thoughts?
    Good luck at the conference,

    • #7 by kmcg2375 on February 19, 2011 - 10:08 am

      Oh wow Nikki – I am so glad you found me then! Having to choose just ONE of the categories “language”, “literacy” or “literature” to submit my conference paper in was something I too found difficult and even confronting. I would have expected professional associations to resist these distinctions, but instead they seem to be taking them as read due to Australia’s new incoming National Curriculum for English (where English is SPLIT into those three areas).

      I can’t remember which one I chose – probably literacy over language – but I’m expecting most people’s presentations to open with a disclaimer about how they believe that the areas overlap. I’m hoping the (perhaps intended?) effect is that these distinctions will be resoundingly problematised throughout the conference!

      I hope to see your paper and talk with you more about your own topic, which sounds very interesting. I am making a foray into a similar area at an IFTE conference this year, but I must confess my knowledge about professional writing at the moment is rather slim.
      Thank you for your comment, and for taking time to read my blog Nikki 🙂

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