Inside Out Literacies: Learning About Literacy Learning with a Peer-Led Prison Reading Scheme

Alex Kendall, T. Hopkins

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Since 1997, adult literacy education has been of increasing interest to UK policy makers amidst perceptions/claims of a causal relationship between attainment in literacy and positive economic participation, social inclusion, and life chance transformation. With further regard to the associations documented between low literacy attainment and participation in criminal activity (Morrisroe, 2014; Canton et al 2011), it is no surprise that literacy education is currently high on the UK government?s agenda for prison reform (Coates 2016). However, research in the field of Literacy Studies suggests that many prisoners who identify as beginner readers, report feeling alienated by formal education which, it is argued, is too often ?done to them? (Wilson 2007:192) failing to take sufficient account of the social identities learners bring to their learning or how they want to use literacy to bring about change in their lives. This has resulted in deficit models of the prisoner as learner that impose ?spoiled educational identities? and fail to engage prisoners as active, agentic participants in their learning. In this paper, we draw on data produced in the qualitative phase of a year long study across the English prison estate of Shannon Trust?s prison based reading plan, to explore alternative approaches to prison literacy education that challenge the traditions of formal education and put learner identity and aspiration at the heart of the beginner reader learning process. The qualitative phase of the project involved twelve focus groups across eight prison settings and included 20 learner and 37 mentor participants engaged in the Shannon Trust peer-reading programme. We listen closely to the voices of learners and mentors describing their experiences of peer to peer learning and plug in Anita Wilson?s concepts of educentricity and third space literacies to read participants? experiences of formal and informal literacy education. We make use of this analysis to identify and describe a ?grounded pedagogy? approach that pays attention to learning as social practice and enables prisoners to re-imagine themselves both as learners and social actors and to begin to connect their learning to self-directed desistence identity building. We conclude with a consideration of the implications of this work for prison literacy teaching and the potential role of grounded pedagogy ideas in the development of more provocative approaches to prison teacher education.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)82-99
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Bias, Identity and Diversities in Education (IJBIDE)
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 6 Jan 2019


    Dive into the research topics of 'Inside Out Literacies: Learning About Literacy Learning with a Peer-Led Prison Reading Scheme'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this