Real literacies, multiliteracies and deaf literacies with speaker: Professor Uta Papen (MOSAIC Seminar)

Wednesday 17 February 2021 (16:00-17:00)

Hua Zhu

Uta Papen

MOSAIC Group for Research on Multilingualism seminar series 2020-21

Real literacies, multiliteracies and deaf literacies: creative adaptations and challenges of an international education project 

Speaker: Professor Uta Papen, Lancaster University

The “Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies” project (2017-2020) offers an innovative way to teach English to deaf young adults in India, Ghana and Uganda. In this talk, I illustrate the project’s use of the ‘Real Literacies” approach (Street, 2012) and how we adapted it to suit the students’ multilingual and multimodal language practices. ‘Real literacies’ refers to the uses of authentic texts, from the students’ everyday lives, in lessons. In our classes - offered in various locations in the three participating countries - students brought to the lessons ‘real’ texts such as forms, or labels on food items. The peer tutors, deaf themselves, used these texts to develop sign-based discussions and role plays, vocabulary work and grammar exercises. Using real literacies, we sought to embed pedagogy in students’ own experiences and interests and to encourage creativity in contexts with limited teaching resources.

Drawing primarily on my recent fieldwork in one of our project schools in India, in this talk I discuss the specific challenges we faced in using the ‘real literacies’ approach. Firstly, the real literacies idea as originally developed by Street did not match well the many digital and multimodal practices the students engaged in. For example, WhatsApp became central to the students’, the teachers’ and our project team’s work in a way that we had not anticipated. Secondly, the chosen real texts could be difficult and the teachers struggled with the complex concepts some of these texts (e.g. bank forms) contained. The students frequently asked for grammar lessons. The difference between what we, academics from the global North had developed and what happened in practice was in part the result of contextual factors. How the students ‘took up’ (Bartlett 2008) the opportunity the project offers needs to be understood in the context of the students’ own conceptions of literacy and their aspirations for learning. The wider issue this raises, beyond our aspirations to develop good pedagogies for English literacy learning, concerns the dynamics of international collaborative projects where different positions and partners’ agencies meet, requiring dialogue and creative adaptations.

The deadline for a BSL interpreter request was the 3rd February. Due to no requests an interpreter will not be present.


Uta Papen is Professor of Literacy Studies in the Department of Linguistics at Lancaster University. In her research, she examines critically policies and practices of teaching children and adults to read and write. Current projects include work on English literacy for deaf children and young adults and examining the interface between research and policy in the context of England’s much debated synthetic phonics policy.

All welcome at this free seminar. Those who register will be sent details of the link to zoom in advance of the event.

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