New Literacies Scholar: Dr. Victoria Purcell-Gates


Dr. Victoria Purcell-Gates is a professor of Language and Literacy at British Columbia in Vancouver.  She has published several books and scholarly articles about literacy, including Other People’s Words: The Cycle of Low Literacy (1997), Print Literacy Development: Uniting Cognitive and Social Practice Theories (2006), and Cultural Practices of Literacy: Case Studies of Language, Literacy, Social Practice, and Power (2007).

Her work fits in well with this week’s topic of literacy as social practice.  In my M.A. program in ESL and Cross Cultural Studies, we read some research by Dr. Purcell-Gates, and it really helped me to question and examine the literacy practices that formal schooling tends to value, and to recognize signs that schools are privileging written literacies over oral, which may not match up with students’ family and cultural experiences. According to Dr. Purcell-Gates, if curricula do not relate to students’ lives outside of school, “their education slides right off of them… The more relevant you make literacy instruction to their lives, the more development you see” (Hulbert, 2008).

In order to avoid education “sliding off” students, Dr. Purcell-Gates advocates for “designing early literacy instruction that builds on young children’s linguistic, cognitive, cultural, and social models for reading and writing that they acquired within their home communities,” according to the research interests reported on her faculty website.

In other words, contextual and sociocultural elements are important in teaching literacy, and in order to do this, schools should create “programs that validate the real lives of the participants and build bridges between those lives and literacy work within family literacy programming” (Purcell-Gates, 2012).  This resonates with me because much of my work as an ELL teacher and as a teacher in general at an urban high school is around validating the real lives of my students and building bridges between their lived experiences and the literacy work we do in my class.

The quote from Hammerberg’s “Comprehension instruction for sociocultural diverse classrooms: A review of what we know” (2004) that I cited in my Flipgrid video connects to Dr. Purcell-Gates’ work: “More than using comprehension strategies in and of themselves… and more than using comprehension strategies to regurgitate an author’s meaning, we need to include discussions about the multiple answers, perspectives, and interpretations possible” (655).  Dr. Purcell-Gates’ research opens those doors to the multiple answers, perspectives, and interpretations possible by helping teachers to see that incorporating the sociocultural backgrounds of students into literacy lessons is not just “a nice thing to do,” but a necessary one.

The thing that stands out to me about her work is best captured by this video of How Teachers Can Learn from Communities and Parents:

Her main idea presented there is about teachers going out into the community of their students not to tell parents what to do, but to learn from parents about the literacy practices that are valued by their families and their communities, and that’s an idea I believe deeply in.

While Dr. Purcell-Gates’ work was largely around white, Appalachian students at the beginning of her career as a researcher, she has also published several scholarly articles about Latino school culture and attitudes as well, and that work is more applicable to the environment in which I teach.  However, I did take a course in my undergraduate work on Appalachian culture and history, so that was yet another reason for Dr. Purcell-Gates to stand out to me as a researcher of interest.

You can also listen to her podcast on Voice of Literacy:


Hammerberg, D. (2004). Comprehension instruction for sociocultural diverse classrooms: A review of what we know. The Reading Teacher, 57(7), 648-656.

Hulbert, T. (2008).  Childhood literacy expert to speak at UTSA.  Retrieved from

Purcell-Gates, V.  Measuring Situated Literacy Activity. (2012).   Journal of Literacy Research, 44, 396-425.  Abstract retrieved from

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