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Literacy Research in Indian Languages ( LiRIL ). Shailaja Menon & D D Karopady July 5, 2012. Literacy: a key goal of education. Not just end in itself, but means to most other learning. Significant literacy research done on English Language in the West.

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Literacy Research in Indian Languages (LiRIL)

Shailaja Menon & D D Karopady

July 5, 2012

Literacy: a key goal of education.

Not just end in itself, but means to most other learning.

Significant literacy research done on English Language in the West.

LiRIL – Literacy Research in Indian Languages -- the first such research in India.



The Situation

Reading scores for Indian students close to the bottom of the pile (PISA 2010).

~ 65% Grade 5 students in rural India cannot read Grade 2 text (ASER 2010).



Large-scale efforts to boost literacy skills like Akshara, Room to Read, etc.

- not based on empirical data of how children

learn to read and write in Indian languages &


- based on understandings generated in

Western contexts and in the English language.


Why Study Indian Languages/Contexts?

  • ~ 90% of government schools offer regional

    language instruction (Grades 1-5)

    (7th All India School Education Survey).

  • Indian languages differ significantly from

    English and other alphabetic scripts.

  • Alphasyllabaries - Often transparent and

    rule - bound, but pose own challenges.

  • Our instructional contexts & curricula



Knowledge bases related to literacy in the west in english
Knowledge Bases Related to Literacy in the West (in English)

Acquisition of Reading and Writing

Stages, Phases, Error Patterns, Developmental Norms, Predictors, Components

Teacher Beliefs and Knowledge

What do teachers need to know, to teach literacy effectively?

How do their beliefs impact instruction?

Instructional Process

What kinds of instructional programs work best and why?


Foundation of Strong Literacy Programs

  • Typical and Atypical Development: What are the most important predictors of reading/writing success? Are there identifiable phases that children go through?

  • Developmentally Appropriate Curricula: Should bebased on what most children are typically able to do at different phases of the acquisition process.

  • Supportive Instruction: Which instructional models are more supportive than others? Why?

  • Remedial Instruction: What are typical challenges for students struggling with reading/writing in a given script?

  • Teacher Education Programs: What kinds of knowledge and beliefs are helpful for a supportive literacy teacher?


The Research

  • Meeting of field organizations in early literacy across India (New Delhi, April 2011): Strongly felt need to generate knowledge-bases in Indian languages.

  • Collaborative study initiated.

  • Longitudinal research over 5 years.

  • Three languages (Kannada, Marathi and Hindi).

  • Combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.



  • Study the acquisition of literacy in Kannada, Marathi and Hindi;

  • Understand the instructional contexts: curricular materials, teaching-learning practices, teacher knowledge and beliefs;

  • Identify the most significant predictors of literacy acquisition.


Core Assumptions

  • Literacy: set of cultural practices.

  • No universally definitive way of defining or teaching literacy.

  • “Normative”: about how things should be, not a simple description of what is.

  • Aim not to find the right method; but to map possible practicesrequired in today's economies and cultures.

  • Avoid traditional dichotomies in the field:

    - Sociocultural/multilingual approaches: ignore skill level;

    - Linguistic approaches: acultural, technical skills.

    (Luke & Freebody, 1999)


Theoretical Frame

Guided Participation



Institutional &

Shared Understandings



Reading/Writing Skills,

Strategies, Attitudes, Values

Participation Structures &




Paradigmatic & Narrative Curriculum

Rogoff, 1993



Bi-annual tracking of 300-350 students

Analysis of Curricular Materials

Intervention Vs.

Govt. School

Teacher Interviews

Classroom Observations

Target Children

Case-Study Children



2011-2012: Pilot Year1

- Assessment Battery (Kannada & Marathi, later Hindi)

- 7 aspects/sub-areas of literacy (bottom-up and

top-down skills)

- Piloting on 240 students (120 per site, Grades 1-5).

- Coding and analysis ongoing.

2012-2013: Pilot Year 2

- Developing qualitative frames of reference

- Revising/refining assessments

2013-2016: Main Study Phase I (Grades 1-3)

2016-2018: Main Study Phase II (Grades 4-5)


Literacy Assessments

Student Assessment Battery

- Concepts of print

- Akshara & maatra recognition

- Phonological awareness

- Word Decoding

- Passage Reading

- Comprehension

- Spelling development

- Free writing

In-Depth Comprehension Assessments: Target Children



  • First ever longitudinal study of its kind in India.

  • Will develop insight into relationships among:

    - literacy curriculum

    - instructional practices

    - student learning

  • Portraiture of marginalized students.

  • Development of extensive set of assessments in

    each language (and other usable products).

  • Potentially inform teacher education and curriculum development.