Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Harry Potter: the Bastion of 21st Century Narratives?

July 9th, 2014 · 2 Comments


My Grandpa used to own a carpet store in Winnipeg. He used to refer to himself as the “Carpet King of the North.” During his promotional days in the 80s, he would unroll a 112 foot red carpet from the sidewalk on Maclean Avenue and right into a giant, regal chair in his store. When I was a young fat, child, he  used to tell me that within all of us are two people. One is a devil figure who makes you selfish, angry and critical. The other is the one who wants to connect with people and make the world a better place. He would have called this “God’s” will. I will quickly speak with the voice of the Devil’s will and then I will speak with God’s Will and then go back to the Devil’s will again.

Devil’s will: Unsworth begins his article  with, ” …J.k. Rowling’s Harry Potter books confirms the enduring capacity of literary narratives to engage the enthusiasm of young people in the 21st Century.” (62) Why Harry Potter? Why do we need to sell narratives with Harry Potter? I would like to believe that I spent a good part of my life reading because narratives speak to us as people and we are hard wired through our DNA to learn through narratives. I read because I want to know more about the world and myself. Is Harry Potter the best confirmation of our interest in narratives this century? When we justify the importance of books through some potboiler fantasy, it retards our understanding of our relationship with narratives.

Everything we know is a narrative. The Big Bang theory, Evolution, Jesus, Mohammed, The Big Crunch, Terry Fox’s run across the country, Santa on Christmas eve, Joan of Arc, The Grand narrative, Odysseus, Bathsheba, Hitler’s Death, the construction of the Great Wall. These are all stories. And we are all stories. We all tell our stories to ourselves and others. We defend ourselves in court through stories, we pay 200 dollars an hour to tell our stories to our shrinks, we tell stories at our funerals, weddings and anniversaries. Stories make up who we are. Sales people and marketers pitch us with sad or happy stories; most video games contain a beginning and an end. We listen to the humble stories of our beloved politicians. We paint stories. We sing stories in our music. We tell our children bed time stories. What is Facebook if not a story? No Unsworth, what confirms the enduring capacity of literary narratives to engage the enthusiasm of young people isn’t Harry Potter. What confirms this capacity is pretty much every discipline, hobby, interaction and branch of knowledge we study today – not Harry Potter.

God’s Will: Unsworth does a great job in his analysis of how e-literature has the potential to enrich our experiences with stories. I like how he outlines the potential experiences of reading a book and its resources online. Because we read, listen to and tell stories in multiple different forms everyday, I found it very interesting to read Unsworth’s delineation of our experiences in stories.

Because I want to get some of these aspects into my long term memory, I want to record and comment on these experiences.

1.) Story/Genesis: 

We all wonder about the beginning of a story. Where did it come from. When did it start? After all, the story of Genesis is probably the best selling narrative in the world’s history. In an online platform, I think students could really access this quicker than the traditional “About the Author” at the end of a book. It’s quick access and immediate hook. The more we know and can relate to a story, the more engaged most of us will be.

2.) Invitation 

Access and sampling. Marketers have been using this to sell for years. Why else would Janga? be popular? How about Dominoes? Seriously. Somewhere, sometime people were deliberately invited to these games. These invitations created relationships with these games. Kids deserve stories for the sake of stories. We all need an invitation to a good thing. This medium is fast and easy.

3.) Appreciation/Celebration

This is so important. By celebrating stories, we celebrate ourselves. Online forums and communities will never replace the connections we need as human beings. But whatever. Celebration is usually a good thing.

4.) Interpretation and Response 

This is useful for students who are always online searching for information online. In my experience, students on the internet have multiple windows open at once. To have them interpreting and responding consciously to complex narratives will only help them to interpret and respond to spam and harmful information in a more skillful way. This is good.

5.) Adjunct Creation/Composition 

This is why I love the internet and dislike television. Taking an active role in the composition of our narratives is not only  empowering, but just plain interesting. The more we invite each other to create our own stories, the more we invite each other to connect to our strengths and preferences and work through and update our own stories.

In the end, this article got me thinking about my own stories and the stories of my students. And the more stories we know, the smarter we are considered to be.  Thank you for making me Smarter, Unsworth. I’ll take all the stories I can get.


-Brian Boyce

  Works Cited 

Unsworth, Len. (2008). Multiliteracies, E-literature and English Teaching, Language and Education, 22:1, 62-75.



Tags: e-literature

2 responses so far ↓

  • justinbolivar // Jul 13th 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Response to e-literature and Live Margin.

    “Electronic media [is] not simply changing the way we tell stories: they are changing the very nature of story, of what we understand (or do not understand) to be narratives” (63) by Len Unsworth. I am really intrigued the the idea of e-literature and encouraging students to interact with literature via technology. In my opinion, technology carries a stigma when it comes it learning and the English languages. The stigma’s I have been privy to are “iPads cannot do real work, they’re for playing games! How can you read on a computer, you’ll burn your eyes! You must be up to no good if you’re on the internet” and so on.

    However, when we see texts like Cruising or Girls Day out, we rethink the way that we look at electronic literature. When it came to the class blog activity, I think it is valuable to interrogate methods such as that in a collaborative setting, albeit with a few more parameters. I remember growing up in the early nineties and have two electronic books– an Arthur book, and a version of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” These cd-roms were very accessible for me as a youth to get into, and were fun because they invited the reader to read by creating an interactiveness with the text. Today, these texts exist on tablets, and from my understanding, are making their ways into elementary school classrooms.

    Now, what really gets me excited about e-literature is examining something like Live Margin. With live margin, I find that by interacting with a text in a public, responsive space influences the way that we engage in the text. If we were to approach a text like this in the classroom, we would probably have students read it, have them share with a partner or as a group, then have a discussion about it, and then leave it, give students and exit slip, or return to it later for assessment. What I see being incredibly beneficial is that sharing thoughts or having a dialogue in an online space opens up the chance for a legacy , or a way for texts to be talked about even after a discussion in the class. So often, even in our program, our discussions around what we are studying are confined to the classroom. By having something like this as a piece of educational technology, we are encouraging the use, and possible increase in intrinsic motivation towards our school subjects. 

    Reflecting back to when I was in high school, I had a difficult time getting through science text books. If I had something like live margin where I could as questions to my peers or teacher about a certain question, I would have done better in that particular area. 

    To end, a line that resonates with me out of this passage is ” the specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence.” By being able to marginate and discuss our margination with others, we are opening up and changing the way that we can approach a text. 


    Unsworth, L. (2008). Multiliteracies, e-literature and English teaching. Language and Education, 22.1, 62-75. (UBC electronic holdings.)

  • macraild // Jul 15th 2014 at 9:24 am

    This is just a a note to indicate that my post on the Ulmsworth article is a comment on Nabila’s post on the same.

    – Peter

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