For the past few months, I have been inquiring about the effects of the integration of multiliteracies on learners who are considered struggling readers and/or writers. During the final phase of my inquiry, I decided to speak to the ICT teacher LeeUng at our school. Lee and I often collaborate in order to integrate technology into our units of inquiry. During this particular time of the year, all classes had been preparing for a school event called "project week" where parents and community members are invited into our school and learners share their learning in connection to one area of focus. Since our school is an International Baccalaureate school, our focus areas for this year were learner profiles and attitudes. Learner profiles and attitudes are essential components which make up the Primary Years Program within the International Baccalaureate, with a goal to foster lifelong learners with international-mindedness.
Listed below are the learner profiles and attitudes.
Learner profiles: risk-taker, inquirer, communicator, principled, caring, reflective, thinker, balanced, open-minded, knowledgeable
Attitudes: confidence, commitment, cooperation, curiosity, creativity, appreciation, empathy, respect, tolerance, integrity, independence, enthusiasm
For "project week", Lee and I discussed how to help the learners articulate the learner profiles and attitudes they were using during different activities in school. As Lawson, Layton, Goldbart, Lacey, and Miller explain (2012), a literate person “...makes intentional use of some enduring representation (an artifact) in order to purposively assign and convey meaning” (p. 106). In other words, the learners needed to represent their understanding of how they demonstrated aspects of the learner profiles or attitudes in various learning activities. What representation would help them convey their messages to the visitors on the day of the event? I knew that simply asking them to write down their ideas without artifacts would make it difficult for some children to reflect back on their own learning, which was an essential aspect of this project.
Since I already had an ongoing class blog which highlighted key learning activities since the beginning of the year, we decided that learners could reflect on their learning processes by looking through pictures of themselves in my blog posts. Lee and I worked together to create a class website using Weebly with a collaborative platform called Padlet embedded into the site.
Using this setup, learners selected pictures of themselves in the class blog, learned to copy and paste the “image link” onto the Padlet and comment on which learner profile/attitude the chosen picture represented. Throughout the process, many of the students discovered that they could also add videos which the PE teacher had previously posted onto the school website. Using this tool, students were able to reflect on their own learning process in a truly transdisciplinary manner and make connections between various subject areas.
After the project, I interviewed a few of the learners about how they found the process of commenting on pictures and videos in comparison to writing ideas down on paper. One learner responded that being able to see what other children were typing on the screen helped him to consider which pictures he would choose, and helped him develop his ideas on how and what to comment. He further explained that when he was confused about the meaning of a certain learner profile or attitude, he could look at what a classmate had written regarding the particular word, which at times helped him to infer meanings. This way, the platform served as a window into other children’s thinking processes, which helped learners develop their own ideas. During the lessons leading up to the event, I also noticed that many of the learners were pointing out their classmates’ comments on the screens and verbally giving and receiving feedback to their peers sitting close by. This idea of learning from social interactions is consistent with Vygotsky’s (1987) theory of social constructivism which explains that learning takes place when a child interacts with a more “knowledgeable other” within the zones of proximal development. In the digital age, such interactions can certainly take place in both online and offline learning environments.
Another learner explained that having the photographs and videos helped him determine what to write about, rather than being required to develop ideas out of the blue. In other words, looking at artifacts, in this case pictures or videos which represented his process of learning, helped him write comments in connection to his own personal experiences. As Wiseman, Makinen, and Kupiainen (2015) state, integrating multimodal tools such as photography helps learners make connections to personal experiences, which helps them process and express themselves effectively in various ways. Children, especially those who struggle with reading and/or writing, therefore tend to be more successful in expressing themselves in comparison to being restricted to monomodal communication.
Based on this experience, I would like to make two recommendations to other educators.
Firstly, I recommend not to be afraid to collaborate with other teachers or staff, especially when it comes to the integration of technology. Although multiliteracies does not always require the use of technology, digital tools can often open up possibilities for expression in various forms. With the rapid development of devices, programs and applications, it can be difficult for teachers to remain up to date with what is available. This is why I recommend collaborating whenever possible, to avoid the repeated use of the same programs, applications or devices when better, more appropriate tools may be available. Collaboration also makes it easier for educators to share new information gained from various professional development opportunities. What better way to implement new knowledge than to apply it through collaborative lessons?
Secondly, I recommend that educators widen their views of what it means to be truly literate. In the 21st century, the definition of literacy is no longer confined to traditional views of simply reading and writing words and sentences on paper. Literacy in this age involves a much wider scope that keeps developing as new technological tools are invented, allowing users to express themselves in new ways. As Lawson et al (2012) stated, literacy involves intentionally assigning and conveying meaning to representations. Although this new definition of literacy opens up possibilities for people to express themselves in a multitude of ways, it also makes teachers responsible to help children develop 21st century literacy skills which are essential to communicate both safely and effectively, especially when they are online. Finally, teachers must keep in mind that the focus of lessons should not be on how to use a specific technological tool, but to enhance learning for that child. Therefore, deliberate planning of lessons with clear learning goals are integral to ensure that the students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become active communicators of information in the 21st century.
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.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton (Eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology (pp. 39–285). New York: Plenum Press. (Original work published 1934.)
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.