The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Learning Multiliteracies

There are approximately 5000 – 10,000 different languages in the world (Wikipedia, 2009). According to statistics from 2001 Census of Canada, the population of visible minorities living in Canada is approximately 29,639,030 out of Canada’s total population of 3,983,845 of that 1,029,395 are Chinese, 917,075 are South Africans and 198,880 are Southeast Asians(Statistics Canada, 2001). Although many are aware that Canada is a multilingual and multicultural nation, most are ignorant about the results such differences can have on society. Today’s classrooms especially in metropolitan cities consist of students of various backgrounds; however, the current traditional approaches to teaching and learning cater mostly to students’ whose mother tongue is English. The melting pot is boiling over. The current literacy education structure needs to be re-designed and re-organized in order to better prepare students for the multiliteral and diverse environments.

In the article “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” the New London Group views that considering the multiliteracies of diverse students with various cultural backgrounds is important to teaching and learning multiliteracies for they believe “effective citizenship and productive work now require that we interact effectively using multiple languages, multiple Englishes, and communication patterns that more frequently cross cultural, community, and national boundaries” (The New London Group, 1996). Queensland’s Department of Education and Training is also advocating multiliteracies and communication media through diversity. They believe “the ability to operate in the middle world between cultures can be generated in very young learners of another language. While the experience of the so-called third place may occur through the learning of one language, it is a skill that can be transferred to dealings with other cultures in other contexts. Knowledge of the intent and tone of the language allows a true understanding of the messages in intercultural communication” (Queensland, 2004). To make intercultural communication possible the traditional four wall classroom needs to be reorganized and thought of as a borderless learning and teaching community where students can venture off to classrooms of different cultures and experiment with multiliteracies. This can be made possible with the use of various communication technologies and the analysis of various cultural texts. This valuable experience will help to equip isolated students with skills to attack real world challenges.

New London Group argues that the current literacy education system is inadequate and cannot effectively prepare students for full participation in their working, community and personal lives. We exist in an information age where information is vital to success and even survival. Even though information is more accessible than before, information is hiding behind different faces or representations. The New London Group urges that schools’ literacy curriculum be mindful to include multiliteracies closely associated with communication technology of the 21st century. According to Queensland’s Department of Education and training“multiliteracies and communications media refers to technologies of communication that use various codes for the exchange of messages, texts and information. Historically, communications media have included spoken language, writing, print and some visual media like photograph and film. Since World War II, the various electronic media such as television and other digital information technologies have provided much more complex audiovisual layers to these” (Queensland, 2004). Communication technologies alter the way people interact with information and culture. Keeping up with new communication technologies used in our information age is vital because they “change the way we use old media, enhancing and augmenting them” (Queensland, 2004) To become multiliterate “What is also required is the mastery of traditional skills and techniques, genres and texts, and their applications through new media and new technologies” (Queensland, 2004).

Multiliteracy is more than knowing how communication technologies affect information, it also includes how various texts are used together to construct meaning. Text today is blend of traditional print, visual arts and audio text. These texts do not exist in solitude. Their relationship on a page creates the overall meaning that the creator is attempting to establish. For instance, the graphs and charts that accompany a newspaper article are vital to the readers’ general understanding of the subject. The inability to read or interpret charts is the same as the inability to understand the visual images used along with written text. Decoding information from various representations to which it can be understood and analyzed requires one to have prior experience with such texts. Therefore, teaching information literacy is important in schools for such skills and capabilities will enable students to “locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information” (Dobson & Willinksky, 2009). To do this, The New London Group emphasizes on the concept of design “as curriculum is a design for social futures, we need to introduce the notion of pedagogy as Design” as design is “the idea of Design is one that recognizes the different Available Designs of meaning, located as they are in different cultural context” because it is “through their co-engagement in Designing, people transform their relations with each other, and so transform themselves” (The New London Group, 1996). The result of the meaningful transformatin is the creation of new meanings and identities where individuals are “creator of their social futures” ( The New London Group, 1996).

The job of today’s educators is challenging because they are having to constantly learn new practices and revise learned approaches to effectively prepare young learners for the rapidly changing world. However, once learners have master the fundamentals of multiliteracies they will be able to explore and learn independently.

Dobson T, Willinsky J. Digital Literacy. In: Olson D, Torrance N, editors. Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2009. Retrieved the November 24, 2009 from:

Multiliteracies and Communications Media. Queensland Government: Department of Education and Training. Retrieved on November 25, 2009 from

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved, November 25, 2009, from

Wikipedia. Retrieved on November 25, 2009. Retrieved from
Statistics Canada. Retrieved on November 24, 2009. Retrieved from

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.30.09 at 7:20 pm }

You make some very relevant points.

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