Being both a student and a teacher in today’s education system it has become clear that we can no longer think of literacy in its traditional sense. Traditionally, literacy has been defined as the ability to read and write; however, in today’s day and age, this definition of literacy no longer encompasses all of the parts that it needs to. Literacy has grown beyond just reading and writing and there are many new forms of literacy that have been made possible through developments in technology. With these new forms of literacy (computer literacy, media literacy etc.) comes the need to not only look at a new definition of literacy, but to also look at how we need to change the way in which we are teaching our students to become “literate” individuals. With the growing world of mass media and the many new developments teachers in general “have to rethink what we are teaching, and, in particular, what new learning needs literacy pedagogy might now address” (New London Group, 1996, p.61).
In the article A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures, written by the New London Group, a number of authors come together to look at the changing environment seen today by students and teachers and they state that a new approach to literacy pedagogy is required. They speak of the need for “multiliteracies” and look at the idea that both students and teachers “need a metalanguage- a language for talking about language, images, texts, and meaning-making interactions” (New London Group, 1996, p.77).
The multiliteracies spoken about by the New London Group take into account how technology and multimedia has changed the way that we communicate. These literacies focus not only on the comprehension of written text, but instead encompass a broader view of literacy that includes visual meanings (images, page layouts, screen formats); audio meanings (music, sound effects); gestural meanings (body language, sensuality); spatial meanings (the meanings of environmental spaces, architectural spaces); and multimodal meanings. While many educators already take these types of meaning into consideration in their teaching, some educators still believe that literacy is simply being able to read and write. When these other types of meaning are not taken into account the student is missing gaining a fuller understanding of the information that they are working with. In today’s day and age “reading the mass media for its linguistic meanings alone is not enough” (New London Group, 1996, p.80). Instead, to comprehend the full meaning of most multimedia, one must be able to gain “a “feel” for its unique gestural, audio, and visual meanings” (New London Group, 1996, p.80) . When learners take all of these meanings into consideration they are able to gain a deeper understanding.
Today, we do not just read a book to get information and we do not just write an essay to show our learning. There are instead a multitude of ways to gain information, which go far beyond the written pages of a book, and there are many creative ways to show our learning that allow students the flexibility that is required to take different learning styles into consideration. While “many graduates started their school career with the literacies of paper, pencil, and book technologies they will finish having encountered the literacies demanded by a wide variety of information and communication technologies (ICTs): Web logs (blogs), word processors, video editors, World Wide Web browsers, Web editors, e-mail, spreadsheets, presentation software, instant messaging, plug-ins for Web resources, listservs, bulletin boards, avatars, virtual worlds, and many others” (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004, p. 1571). Comprehending these types of technologies require a whole different set of literacies. New literacy pedagogy would need to take these types of technology into consideration. If new definitions of literacy will expect students to fully understand these technologies we need to change our view of literacy to “a flexible, sustainable mastery of a set of capabilities in the use and production of traditional texts and new communications technologies using spoken language, print and multimedia” (National Curriculum Board, 2009, p.6). If educators began to look at literacy as a set of capabilities, or skills, that students need in order to be flexible and to understand the ever changing world around them, our whole pedagogy in the area of literacy could change for the better. Students would have the skills to understand, and use, a variety of multimedia, which is exactly what they need in the world of 21st century learning.
With all of the information that is available via the internet, students must not only learn how to locate the information, but they must learn how to critically evaluate what information is of use to them and then be able to synthesize these mass amounts of information (Leu et al, 2004). We must also consider the fact that it is impossible to teach students how to use and comprehend every image, piece of text, or multimedia that they will come across in their lifetime. Instead, it will be much more beneficial to teach students a set of skills that will allow them to critically evaluate what they are looking at and then be able to use this information to create representations of their learning that demonstrate deep understandings.
Leu et al. (2004) state that “traditional definitions of literacy and literacy instruction will be insufficient if we seek to provide students with the futures they deserve” (p.1571) and I believe that they are exactly right in this statement. Literacy can no longer be assessed by looking strictly at the ability to read and write. With the internet becoming so prevalent and many other types of mass media becoming more and more popular we are moving into a world where literacy takes on a whole new meaning. As educators, we must be ready to deal with these changes and to consider what this means in our teaching of literacy.
Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2006). New Literacies: Changing Knowledge in the Classroom 2nd edition. England: McGraw Hill International.
Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J.L., & Cammack, D.W. (2004). Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies. Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading. International Reading Association. Retrieved Nov 11, 2012 from http://exordio.qfb.umich.mx/archivos%20pdf%20de%20trabajo%20umsnh/aphilosofia/2007/lectura2007%20documentos/Literacies%20Emerging%20From%20the.pdf
National Curriculum Board. (2009). Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English. Retrieved Nov 10, 2012 from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Australian_Curriculum_-_English.pdf
New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved, November 5, 2012, from http://www.pwrfaculty.net/summer-seminar/files/2011/12/new-london-multiliteracies.pdf