The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Teachers Unite

As I read and re-read the “Digital Literacy” article by Dobson and Willinsky and “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” by The New London Group, I couldn’t help thinking that something was missing.  Both articles put forth new ideas and provided the reader with valuable and thought provoking information and yet were incomplete.  What is missing is a page in the articles which explicitly states how to “creat[e] access to the evolving language of work, power, and community, and [foster] the critical engagement necessary for them to design their social futures and achieve success through fulfilling employment.” (The New London Group, p.1)  The multiliteracies approach strives to fulfill the above goal, which is a noble one, but the article left me wanting practical strategies which I could use in my Grade 5 classroom, consisting of students ranging in reading and comprehension levels from none at all (ESL students as well as native speakers) to Grade 7.

The authors of the “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” article assert that “literacy pedagogy now must account for the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies.” (p. 2) I absolutely agree because if we don’t, then the students will not be able to fully participate in and take advantage of the new media.  I also strongly believe that we must not give ourselves wholly to the new.  We must also make room for three R’s – Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  For the students to be able to fully participate in their community they must be well grounded in the basics of reading and writing.  I am not sure if we can skip the basics but I am sure we can teach concurrently with teaching them to navigate the superhighway of the new technologies.  The authors agreed that the “disparities in educational outcomes did not seem to be improving.” (p.3)  They went on to state they agreed that “what students needed to learn was changing, and that the main element of this change was that there was not a singular, canonical English that could or should be taught anymore.” (p.3)  The article was written in 1996 but I am glad we still teach the standard English language, including Canadian spelling.  “[Cultural] differences and rapidly shifting communications media” (p.3) notwithstanding, we must have a clear picture of what it is we want our students to achieve and how we are going to do it.  Having a single standard of English language will not hamper students’ progress.  If anything, it will help level the playing field as long as we teach it to all students and expose them to the cultural differences and the rapidly shifting communications media.

The idea of multiliteracies is a sound one but we must not stray too far from reality with its bright, vibrant and multi leveled students who come from an incredible array of backgrounds.  We must remember that many teachers who are currently working in the classrooms come from pre technology based education and will need instruction and support to themselves become comfortable with the new technology.  Not all teachers are yet comfortable in giving up the reins of power and the repositories of knowledge and allowing their classrooms to become collaborative environments not just among students but with the teacher as well.  The change to a classroom where the teacher is the facilitator in students’ acquisition of knowledge is here but it is far from being the norm yet.

The authors assert that “as educators, we have a greater responsibility to consider the implication of what we do in relation to a productive working life.” (p.6)  As educators, we must be cautious not to focus all our efforts on teaching solely to the “working life” of students and the demands of the marketplace.  It is one thing to teach our students to be adaptable, innovative, creative, critical thinkers but we must be careful which one we promote:  “as opening new educational and social possibilities or as new systems of mind control or exploitation.” (p.7)  The authors, when stating that “it may well be that market-directed  theories and practices, even though they sound humane, will never authentically include a vision of meaningful success for all students” (p.7) need to take a stronger stance and state that it will never include all students, and it should not include all students.

If “our job is not to produce docile, compliant workers” (p.7) then we need to allow students to question, teach them how and then allow them to question the teachers and the information presented to them and the way it is being presented.  We cannot ask students to “develop capacity to speak up, to negotiate, and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives” (p.7) without allowing them to do the same in the classroom.  We must go even further and demonstrate it by questioning ourselves.  We cannot produce students who are critical thinkers by ourselves being “docile, compliant workers.”

I feel that these articles highlight the disparity between the academically centered educators, and those of us in the trenches.   While their ideas are good, they lack grounding in the real world issue of a modern classroom.  If we are to achieve a true multiliteracies approach, there must be a melding of the classroom teacher and the academic educator.

Dobson and Willinsky’s (2009) chapter “Digital Literacy.”   Retrieved November 15, 2009, from

The New London Group.  (1996) “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies:Designing Social Futures.”  Harvard Educational Review 66(1), pp. 60-92.

December 7, 2009   1 Comment


I have thoroughly enjoy ETEC 540 I wish I had more time to mull over some of the ideas- but taking 3 courses don’t allow for that pleasure.

For my connections I decided to look at different postings, commentaries, projects and papers on images and how these are changing the way we think. .

In the discussion forum people have lamented the decline in the prominence of text and the rise of the image. Comments like “ images tend not to promote higher level cognitive functioning”, or communication is suffering as a result of the rise in images reflect many people’s fears of the rise of the image. Bolter says that images lack “narrative power”. .

Personally I think we should celebrate the rise of the image and what an exciting dimension it will bring to our understanding of the world. .

Tracy Gidinski in her final project “The Holocaust and Points of View” begins with an image taken during the holocaust because it “allows for students to connect with the past with people who where roughly their own age.” The students could have read text written by students the same age- for example The Diary of Anne Frank, but I doubt it would provide the same impact this photo has. She goes on to say that it will also allow for students to see different points of view. This is interesting because often text does not allow for various points of view- only the one the author presents. Kress (2005) says that images are far less open to interpretation. Rich Biel says, “I would argue that images can be manipulated to highlight different aspects of the images and downplay others and thus lead viewers to interpret the images in a particular way. This requires viewers to interpret- a higher level thinking skill.!.

In a post supporting the image Maureen Coyne quotes Driscoll,” Graphic representations have been particularly effective in facilitating encoding and memory storage of information” (Driscoll, 2000, p.106). .

In addition, graphics help learners acquire “structural knowledge, which represents relationships between concepts in a content domain” (Driscoll, 2000, p.106). As a result, I think a decline in textual modes of representation is not such a bad thing considering graphics help learners learn easier..

Sarah Wood in her research project Photography :History and Cultural Impact says “Photography (image) is a more powerful medium than written or oral discourse to communicate messages of social importance. The visual stimulus forces people to look and decide for themselves what the truth is. I think this makes a very important point-even if text allows for more thoughtful consideration-it does little good if it doesn’t attract peoples attention. .

In the book On Photography Susan Sontag (2001)makes a valid point about the rise of the image or more what she perceives as the decline in print literacy. She says at one time reading and writing were activities for the elite. In order to democratize the world, the goal for universal literacy has been pursued. She feels that the only ones who consider traditional literacy to be superior are academics and so once again they will become a medium only for the elite. While I think there is truth in this, I believe that while traditional literacy is democratizing, I think visual literacy is even more so. Sarah Wood says “ Photography reduces language barriers and no longer requires the audience to be literate to decipher the message.” .

While I agree that the image is becoming more powerful that text I don’t think we need to worry. Just as we teach people to read and think critically about what they read, we need to teach people how to read images. I appreciate Caroline Faber’s post ,”While I do appreciate that there are times when the exclusive use of either photos or text is appropriate, it seems more that the coupling of the two results in the greatest degree of understanding.”.

Through the weeks we have explored the changes in communication from orality to hypertext. There is no doubt that each one has changed our culture significantly and so to will the next ones. And we will always have those who react to the change with criticism (which is not a bad thing). Change is what humans do best. We will perhaps stumble and make errors but ultimately we will adjust to the changes until the next one comes along.

December 7, 2009   No Comments