How can I support my child across all key areas of literacy?

Literacy in our current and future societies is about so much more than the written word, and the Australian curriculum reflects this. Parents can support their children in all requirements of developing literacy from Kindy right through to Year 12, by increasing their own awareness of the English curriculum’s scope, and reflecting on how they can engage with non-written forms of text alongside their children, in order to be part of their literacy growth.

In this article we outline some key elements of literacy beyond the written word, as well as some practical and fun ways parents can be part of the journey to support their child at any age.

The importance of textual analysis across media

While many parents may think that the study of novels are the most important component of high school English, much emphasis is now placed on ensuring students understand a wide range of media, including film, magazine images, advertising, photography, graphics and digital media. This is so that students can make meaning from a variety of sources of information and expression, and understand the ways in which a range of texts both represent and influence our societies.

The English subject is not solely about the mechanics of language and the ability to produce a good piece of writing. The concepts taught and ideas discussed are just as (if not more) important, and this is reflected in the Year 12 ATAR Curriculum which states:

“The English ATAR course focuses on developing students’ analytical, creative, and critical thinking and communication skills in all language modes. It encourages students to critically engage with texts from their contemporary world, with texts from the past and with texts from Australian and other cultures. Such engagement helps students develop a sense of themselves, their world and their place in it.” – p. 1, Rationale


To this end, some of the key areas highlighted in the ATAR English Curriculum include the development of Personal and Social Capability and Ethical Understanding, abilities reflected in the needs of the current and future workforce. The English subject emphasises teamwork, communication and the “capacity to empathise with and appreciate the perspectives of others” (p. 5). This is done through class discussion, group projects and oral presentations as well as the inclusion of texts that represent a range of different cultural viewpoints (e.g. Indigenous cultures and histories, migrant experiences and perspectives and global issues like environmental sustainability).


The trend towards sci-fi and consideration of dystopian futures


It’s useful to be aware that a particular form of science fiction called dystopian texts have become prominent within the English curriculum, with older students studying texts like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Matrix and Children of Men (to name a few!). This subgenre focuses on extrapolating and examining current social and political issues from within a dire, fictional ‘near-future’ setting… encouraging us to think about potential implications for real world problems.


This is paralleled in contemporary documentaries such as David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet, released by Netflix in 2020, which highlights predictions of the future of planet Earth. This provides an accessible opportunity for the family to engage in ideas about the future as it is formed in the present.


Texts like these critically engage students with ethical dilemmas, “considering reasons for actions and implications of decisions.” (p. 6) and encouraging students to “explore and question values, attitudes, perspectives and assumptions in texts, examining how they are presented, their impact on audiences and how they are reflected in their own responses. Through the study of the English ATAR course, students come to appreciate and develop greater empathy for the rights and opinions of others.” – (p. 6).

Enhancing literacy development at home with visual texts


As literacy development is complex, any opportunity to increase awareness of written and visual texts, engage with ideas through discussion with others, and to think critically about the texts they consume all around them will greatly support a student’s learning.


Not all parents feel equipped to dive into lengthy written texts and essay writing or poetry skills (of course, we do have some fantastic English tutors who can help students to structure their thoughts into effective written pieces!) – but visual texts are those we all consume every day, and we can all comment on what we observe, think and wonder about the main themes, social concerns and characters’ responses we see in film, television, advertising, online clips and photographs, to name a few.


Here are some suggestions for enhancing literacy at home through the use of visual texts:

  1. Take a family journey through an old favourite in film


Perhaps with the start of the colder weather, it’s a great time for interested students to sit down with their family and watch the Star Wars saga! As the films spam many decades now, there is an interesting discussion to be had regarding how the 1970s trilogy differs from those that came later – do they represent characters, themes, societies differently? Do they use different filmic techniques and SWAT (Symbolic, Written, Audio, Technical) codes?


If Star Wars is not for you, there are countless examples of stories that have been remade over time and demonstrate changing societal values and norms, offering great opportunities for critical discussion. For young students, Roald Dahl’s The Witches and Thomas Meehan’s Annie are examples of books then made into more than one iteration in film, demonstrating marked differences in their execution.


  1. Go on a creative photography adventure


Put your phone to good use, and take it out on a family activity or walk to explore a theme through photographs. This is a great one for younger children but can be adapted to engage the whole family.


You could start with a brainstorm to find a question or idea you would like to explore visually – e.g. ‘Family time in the kitchen’ or ‘How does walking a dog change how people engage with each other in the park?’


Encourage your child to stand back and observe the action, and then make choices about what they will photograph, as well as how they might structure the image to make meaning. For example, standing back allows you to record a whole scene, but moving in close allows you to focus on the detail, emotion or energy of what is happening.


Encourage a process of editing images to find 5 that, shown together, tell a story or suggest an idea. Talk about this idea in terms of why these images were selected to depict the theme. You can ask your child questions to help along their critical thinking, for example:


  • What is shown in the frame versus what is left out? How does this alter the meaning?
  • How might the choice of person taking the photograph change the image? How does the viewer affect the meaning made?
  1. Increase awareness of hidden messages in advertising


An important way to help your child develop their EQ and sense of social responsibility is to practice reading critically when it comes to the advertising we consume every day. Pause during tv advertisements or flick through a magazine together to discuss what assumptions are made about gender, race, family roles, abilities of different kinds of people, and other ways we form identities, make judgements and relate in society.


  1. Make the most of your child’s interests and level of engagement


Learning happens best when it is fun and pitched at a level that slightly challenges the student, while still providing opportunities for success.


By watching films and tv shows together as a family and then engaging in a discussion about the main themes and ideas presented, children learn about humanity, society and our world and have the opportunity to practise developing their critical thinking skills. However – it doesn’t have to be an overly challenging or ‘serious’ film like Citizen Kane; students can learn a lot from the material that interests them!


No matter what you are watching, you can ask questions to encourage critical thinking, language, social awareness and empathy, such as:


  • Why do you think this character is reacting in this way?
  • What would happen if, instead….
  • How would the story change if … was the narrator/main character?
  • How might this character have thought/acted differently in (another era)?


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