The purpose of this paper is firstly to describe the literate practices within vocational education in Swedish upper secondary school, and secondly to discuss vocational literacy in terms of cultural historical activity theory (Leontiev 1986). The paper is based on a reanalysis of two previous studies (Lindberg 2003), where the assignments the students worked with were focused. Assignments in vocational subjects as well as so called infused tasks in academic subjects are included. In this paper, the issue is to illuminate the literacy required of the students in their working with assignments within these two kinds of subjects. Special attention is paid to the literate aspects of the assignments – what texts the students were given to read or write for the work with the tasks and how the texts were used in classrooms, workshops or kitchens. In both studies, classroom observations related to instructions for the assignments, and students’ work with the assignments, were combined with sequential interviews with the teachers. In a first step, New Literacy Studies (Barton &Hamilton 2005; Hull 1997; Street 2003) inspired the analysis. In a second step, the literacy practices identified where related to Cultural historical activity theory has been used for interpreting the results.
In a broad sense, a variety of texts were used in the two studies. Most texts in the vocational subjects were vocational texts – texts produced for working life. These texts were used differently early in the programme and at the end of the programme. Early in the programme they were part of the content – the students were instructed how to use them. Later on they became used in similar ways as within the vocation – i.e. as tools. School texts (e.g. text books) were in minority. When they were used, it was for the purpose of introducing new subjects or new content within a subject. Many of the texts used for the work with infused tasks in academic subjects were also used for work within the vocation. These texts were, however, not the same as those used in vocational subjects. Instead they were either imposed by others (e.g. national or local authorities) or informative texts about a company or a vocational area. In all, students within vocational education in Sweden read a lot during their education. The tasks they are given to work with in vocational subjects require ‘reading for learning’ as well as ‘reading for doing’ (Sticht et al 1977) – often these two ways of reading a text are used for the same texts but at various stages in the programme. In academic subjects, the texts were read for informing the students’ writing. is mostly different from practices described within school. Occasionally, writing also occurred. Here school texts dominated and vocational texts were few. The tasks indicate that changes in working life have had consequences for the content of work. This, in turn is reflected in the tasks within vocational education, within vocational subjects as well as within academic subjects. Further, the infused tasks within this study are proposed as possible boundary objects between the two cultures. As a whole, the result problematises the mainstream division in practical versus theoretical knowledge and vocational key competencies versus general key competencies on the other hand within VET-research.
Vocational Education & Training: Emerging Issues? Voices from Research 2nd International Conference & Research Workshop, Stockholm, May.