Waters, Glenys. Local Literacies. Theory and Practice.
Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1998, 425 pp.
Reviewed by Sabine Koppe, Sanyo Gakuen University, Okayama
This book is based on Glenys Waters' many years of experience
as a literacy teacher and her solid theoretical knowledge. It is
both valuable for people working in the practical field as well
for theoretical thinking about how indigenous literacy should
be handled. The book is structured into 14 chapters starting with
a general outlook on different teaching approaches in general
and ending with a critical perspective on literacy.
Within these chapters there are numerous examples and
suggestions for the literacy worker that are very well illustrated
and explained. The author gives an outlook on problems and possible
solutions especially in the context of literacy work in Papua
New Guinea. However, the problems she mentions are faced by
literacy workers in other cultural contexts, too, and therefore
her book is a great support for people involved in this
demanding task. She discusses both reading in the vernacular
language as well as reading in the second language. The ideas for
making materials and graded readers (primers) are very
interesting and stimulating. Her discussion of the learning
context (chapter 2) explains the connection between
teacher, learner, task and context (p. 19-32). Her thoughts on
the whole language approach (chapter 8, pp. 155-207) are useful
and based on the current theoretical discussion.
Similar approaches are also useful for the teaching of English
as a second language. Her examples of how inner motivation
determines the success of the learner are interesting and support
other authors' experiences.
Thanks to Waters' rich practical experience, this book is very
interesting to read and although the author claims,
"This is not a book that you have to read from cover to cover."
I recommend doing so. Examples and illustrations make it easy
for the reader to follow the thoughts of the author.
However, a number of repetitions and some redundancies
reduce the pleasure of reading the book. The author repeats
several times that she did not think of herself as being able
to write a book (preface, p.15). This seems irrelevant to the
material she discusses. Also, the examples of different learning
experiences have been taken out of a very special context,
so using them for drawing general conclusions might
be difficult (chapter 1, p.14, 15, 29).
There are some flaws like a missing reference (p.117 "Armbuster
1984:203" does not appear in the reference) and redundant
explanation (p. 7 "decontextualized" does not have to be explained
in an adacemic book); however, if we are speaking of the
banking concept of teaching, reference to Paulo Freire should
not be missing (p.25) I do not quite agree with Waters' strategy
of pointing out differences in learning styles between westerners
and Aborigines. For one thing, the term "westerners" is too
vague (there are a lot of differences in learning style between
Europeans and Americans for example) and besides I do think
that children in a so-called "western society" also learn by
imitating without verbal interaction. So the informal learning
styles mentioned on p. 5 can be observed in many other cultures,
too, especially among young learners.
In the preface, Waters mentions that she has not written this
book "with any intended bias towards one gender or the other"
and explains why she had to use male personal pronouns more
often. However, this explanation is not sufficient.
She does not make clear, why she refers to "the child - he",
"the student - he" in many of her examples. Using plural forms
would make it easy enough to avoid a gender biased style.
Although it is certainly true that basic principles for teaching
literacy apply both for migrant classes as well as for indigenous
literacies, there are also many differences. By putting both
problems together, Waters confuses the reader from
time to time because it becomes hard to distinguish, when she
refers to migrant literacies or to indigenous literacies.
The separation of the discussion of both problems into
different clear cut chapters would be helpful for better
Foley, W.A. 1997. Anthropological linguistics -
Malden, Oxford. Blackwell Publishers
Daniels, P./ 1996. The world's writing systems. New York,
Bright, W. Oxford.
Oxford University Press
Hornberger, N. 1997. Indigenous literacies. Berlin, Amsterdam,
Mouton de Gruyter
Sabine Koppe, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of
Communication, Faculty of Intercultural Studies,
Sanyo Gakuen University, Okayama, Japan,
research interests: minority languages in the
Peruvian Amazon area