My overall understanding of multiliteracies has gradually been developing since I first heard of the term at the start of my master’s of education program. As I learned more about this aspect of language, I started to understand how implementing new literacies enables learners to communicate through multiple modalities, leading to students expressing themselves in more dynamic ways compared to more traditional forms of literacies. Despite this realization, I feel that I have not yet been able to fully visualize how practices relating to new literacies could be implemented to benefit all learners in my class, especially those who are considered to have various learning disabilities. Thus, I have chosen to inquire into how the integration of multiliteracies into my teaching may influence the achievement of learners who have diverse needs. More specifically, I was interested in how a focus placed on new literacies would enable struggling readers and/or writers to communicate through multiple modes of expression.
Summaries of Articles
Lawson, H., Layton, L., Goldbart, J., Lacey, P. and Miller, C. (2012), Conceptualisations of literacy and literacy practices for children with severe learning difficulties. Literacy, 46(2), 101–108.
Literacy has traditionally been understood as being a linear process of acquiring the necessary set of skills required to read and write text effectively. ‘New Literacy Studies’ proponents believe that literacy is a social practice in which communication occurs through multiple modalities. Often, teachers with conventional views of literacy who have students with severe learning difficulties (SLD) either teach with conventional goals in mind, or preclude opportunities of teaching literacy and instead focus heavily on teaching direct communication skills (e.g. speaking, listening, responding).
When an individual is literate, he or she “…makes intentional use of some enduring representation (an artifact) in order to purposively assign and convey meaning” (p. 106). Since direct communication such as speech or signing is only one aspect of literacy, students with SLD should be given equal opportunities and support to develop their communication using artifacts, in forms which can be accessed from distant place and time.
Wiseman, A. M., Makinen, M., & Kupiainen, R. (2015). Literacy through photography: Multimodal and visual literacy in a third grade classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(201), 1-8.
The integration of visual images in literacy lessons helps struggling learners develop their literacy skills, partly because the tools provide opportunities for students to connect personal experiences to their learning. Moreover, utilizing multimodal tools such as photographs helps students process and express what they have learned, while conventional text-based approaches may lead struggling readers and writers towards frustration.
This primary research article explored the impact of integrating photography into writing lessons and its effects on how students create meaning. Interviews were given to two students: one described by the teacher as “academically gifted” and the other as struggling with reading and writing. Qualitative analysis took place using NVivo software in coding and categorizing. The student described as struggling with reading and writing explained that taking photographs as a part of her writing process helped her visualize images so that she could produce detailed pieces of writing. The student who was labeled as “academically gifted” explained that using photography enabled her to communicate and refine her ideas through collaborative work as she responded to her partner’s questions on how the photograph should be taken.
In short, both students with differing skills in terms of the traditional sense of “writing” were able to benefit from the integration of visual images. Thus, labels such as “struggling” and “gifted” may lose meaning when learners can choose from multiple modalities to learn from, since students who are expressive in one modality may struggle in another.
Dalton, B. (2014). E-text and e-books are changing the literacy landscape. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(3), 38-43.
According to the Universal Design for Learning framework, integrating digital literacies helps struggling readers and writers learn through multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression. E-text can enhance word recognition in the following ways: 1) providing instant audio to match the words (text-to-speech or TTS) 2) integrating animation to display words in decodable chunks 3) enabling readers to record and listen to their own reading.
E-books can be used to develop vocabulary, comprehension, and engagement
through functions including access to glossary, hyperlinks to related information, strategy prompts, and summaries. However, e-books with functions such as irrelevant sound effects, animation and games can distract readers from focusing on comprehending the text, and decrease parent-child discussions about the story. With a goal to personalize reading instruction by using e-books, students should be instructed on how to use various functions and tools through the gradual release of responsibility model.
Price-Dennis, D., Holmes, K. A., Smith, E. (2015). Exploring digital literacy practices in an inclusive classroom. The Reading Teacher, 69(2), 195–205.
Students with diverse learning needs often are not able to fully participate in digital literacy projects due to pull-out lessons on isolated skills. As an alternative to pull-out models for students with learning disabilities, inclusive push-in models help learners develop literacy skills when used in integration with appropriate technological tools to help students learn through multiple modalities.
The following elements help to scaffold learning in order to develop 21st century literacy skills: working as a learning community, integrating digital literacy to make the curriculum accessible, and connecting learning outcomes to real-life issues. Moreover, inquiry-based collaborative environments where learner choice is valued helps students connect the curriculum to their personal life experiences, and share their newly constructed knowledge through multiple modes of expression.
The first emerging theme is about how all learners should have equal access to learning experiences where multimodal texts are used to enhance communication. Many students labeled as “struggling” have often shown improvement in their literacy skills when they have the choices in the modalities they use to access the content as well as how to represent their knowledge or understanding. Thus, regardless of skills, all students should be given the choice to express themselves through a variety of modes. Research shows that the integration of new literacies can benefit both struggling and gifted learners; therefore, struggling learners should not be missing out on multiliterate learning opportunities due to pull-out lessons which tend to be focused on isolated skills on conventional forms of literacy.
The second theme explores the necessity for each student to learn as a valued member of a community of learners. Connecting to the philosophy of social constructivism, students benefit from interacting with each other throughout the learning process. This does not necessarily mean that students are always working in large groups. In contrast, students should have the choices to work alone, in pairs or in larger groups, based on their strengths, needs, preferences, and goals. Regardless of the choices in groupings, students should be given the opportunities to engage in whole-group discussions to share and compare ideas as well as give and receive feedback. For example, learners could be referred to as “experts” to help their peers by using their knowledge and skills (Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith, 2015, p. 200). In terms of literacy, learning as a community can increase student motivation towards learning as they are able to recommend books to each other both online and offline. In the online environment, online spaces such as class wikis can be used in order to share information (Dalton, 2014, p. 42).
First of all, I realized that there are many learning outcomes within our school curriculum (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program Scope and Sequence) which connects well to lessons which help students develop their new literacy skills. This clear curricular link will help me justify and explain the purpose of my lessons to administrators and parents who are more familiar with traditional forms of literacy instruction. Specifically, our language arts curriculum states the following:
· realize that visual information reflects and contributes to the understanding of context
· select and use suitable shapes, colours, symbols and layout for presentations; practise and develop writing/calligraphy styles
• realize that text and illustrations in reference materials work together to convey information, and can explain how this enhances understanding
· realize that effects have been selected and arranged to achieve a certain impact, for example, the way in which colour, lighting, music and movement work together in a performance
After taking a close look at the strands, I realize now that I had not been placing enough emphasis on communicating through the use of various semiotic resources. My focus had been placed primarily on more conventional forms of literacy, perhaps as a result of my own experience as a student. Specifically, when I was attending elementary, middle, and high school, it was extremely rare to have the choice to decide on the mode of communication.
Secondly, I’m starting to ponder what “reading” entails, and what it really means to be a struggling reader. My current understanding is shifting from an idea of a traditional understanding of “reading” to a more multimodal definition. This shift in understanding will obviously have an impact on how I plan and deliver my literacy lessons.
My past language arts blocks were focused more on conventional forms of literacy, such as developing phonetic awareness, accuracy, fluency, comprehension, and so on. There was very little emphasis on other modes of expression, such as the effects of layout, sound, visuals, and so on. I am starting to realize that my developing understanding of multiliteracies will start to impact the way I plan for my language arts blocks. I can foresee some challenges though, as I am unsure how I can add components of multiliteracies in the already inflexible timetable. I am planning to speak to a colleague who’s role is a technology specialist at our school, and works in collaboration with classroom teachers to integrate digital tools into lessons. I am curious to hear her thoughts on how the integration of various technological tools will enhance learning experiences for diverse learners.