Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

An Education for Instability

July 16th, 2014 · 4 Comments

In his article “A Curriculum for the Future”, Gunther Kress writes that a radical shift in thinking and curriculum in ELA classrooms is due to occur in response to the different needs of the contemporary adult in 21st century society. He states that the world has changed so much that the 19th century model of education is just not applicable anymore. Kress calls for a shift in curriculum from an education for stability to one for instability:

“Associated with this are the new media of communication and, in particular, a shift (parallelling all those already discussed) from the era of mass communication to the era of individuated communication, a shift from unidirectional communication, from a powerful source at the centre to the mass, to multidirectional communication from many directions/locations, a shift from the ‘passive audience’ (however ideological that notion had always been) to the interactive audience. All these have direct and profound consequences on the plausible and the necessary forms of education for now and for the near future.” (138)

The notion of a multi-directional communication and a shift to an interactive audience is what stands out for me in Kress’ assertion. As such, I have designed an activity for use in an ELA classroom that allows students to be creators and participators in such a communication. Using a variety of online tools, students are able to work collaboratively to create a co-authored product. The product can be inspired by whatever you are currently studying in your class—it could have a thematic or topical connection to a literary text, or it could simply be a pre-writing exercise begun with a prompt. The only stipulation is that the activity be carried out in silence thus disturbing the notion of passivity and activity, telecommunication and proximity, and the product of the individual vs. that of the group. So far in this class we have explored the following topics:

• modes of representation in ELA classroom/21st century literacy
• visual literacy and rhetoric
• media literacy
• social media and the notion of participation
• new literary forms/e-literature
• computer mediated communication
• gaming

I also designed this activity to address pieces of all of the things we have discussed thus far in regards to these topics.

In a group setting, students will work in silence to participate in a back channel conversation while they co-author a textual document with a particular purpose. This purpose may be nebulous or fixed. The backchannel application I use is Today’s Meet and the document will be created in Google docs. Each student will be invited to share the document and simultaneous editing will be possible. Google docs also has a “chat” capability which may or may not be used. I will begin the class by explaining the task and the “rules” as well as work with the students to determine the loose direction of the task. Once we have a sort of trajectory, we will begin and allow the interaction to take us where we will. The backchannel and the doc will be projected on the screen for all to witness (though it occurs to me that maybe just the backchannel might be appropriate). After the time is up, we will take the product (the created text) and render it in a text visualization tool. A teacher could then take this one step further and have the students create a found poem from the word cloud that serves as their reflection on the task.

After I execute this today, I will post the products as an exemplar.

Works Cited:

Kress, G. (2000). A curriculum for the future. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(1), 133-145.

The Products:


Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 3.45.43 PM

The Today’s Meet chat transcript was lost to the ether but, interestingly, the group chose to communicate via in-doc Google chat instead.

Tags: computer-mediated communication · e-literature · Lesson Plans · multiliteracies · Presentation · Seminar Prompts · Social Media · Visual Literacy · Weblog Activities

4 responses so far ↓

  • elaineyhk // Jul 16th 2014 at 3:35 pm

    This was a really great activity, Gunita! I really enjoyed taking part in the story with everyone on our Google doc. It didn’t feel like I was co-authoring a story with everyone though. I felt like I was just being playful and hijacking other people’s texts. I think I might have behaved differently if I were actually in an online chat room where I didn’t know the other people.
    My question is: did the activity play out the way you thought it would?

  • gunitag // Jul 16th 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Honestly Elaine, I had no preconceived notions about how this would play out. But I am happy you had a good time. All feedback is welcome!!

  • kevinsolis // Jul 16th 2014 at 3:59 pm

    The activity in this presentation was really fun. There were no rules other than silence and writing about the prompt and that we all engaged in some way. This idea of co-authoring though troubles me a little bit. In this classroom (as I am pretty sure would be in any classroom should you choose to do this kind of activity), a couple people decided to trail off and do their own thing, hoping that it would be able to connect back to what was being written above. I would argue that because they did this, they were not really co-authoring, but establishing their individuality. I’ve never co-authored a paper before, however, I am pretty sure that when people collaborate on a paper, it goes beyond the one person takes the intro, one person takes the middle, one person takes the conclusion deal. Because of this, collaboration is lost but also retained in this activity. Instant gratification comes from us seeing our peers around us as we contribute to this googledoc and yet, we can still maintain anonymity (provided that no one goes through the edit history) in spite of our personalities showing through online.

  • jacklc // Jul 20th 2014 at 11:08 pm

    First off, thank you Gunita for the interesting presentation. This activity was definitely original and creative, and I found it interesting looking at what had been created.

    In response to Kevin and speaking from the person who “branched off” and wrote on my own, when I thought back on the assignment (and on the term as a whole), I actually realized that this assignment gave a glimpse and a snapshot into more than just a philosophy of collaboration, as, reflecting on the freedom given in the activity (there were no restrictions on what we could do in the document and our only restrictions were outside of the screen), it allowed me to see and come to a better understanding and conception of how I see writing/art-creation.

    Reflecting on this assignment the few days afterwards, I came across some interesting conclusions. The first of which is the fact that I hate collaborating/working with others and the fact that I am absolutely horrible to work with in group assignments, as I either take over the whole assignment or end up disengaged, doing only what is required of me instead of taking the extra step.

    And this DOES touch on some of what Kevin is saying in regards to collaborative writing, in the sense that I dislike the inconsistency which comes with collaborative writing. Going to his example of collaborative writing as each person writing a part of a paper (introduction, paragraph 1, paragraph 2, conclusion, etc.), when required to do such an assignment, I find myself volunteering to be the “proofreader” who compiles everything at the end to ensure that the whole work is consistent as an overall piece of work. For me, the aspect of losing “full control” when working with others is very unsettling, and I take things personally when I see what I created changed.

    Collaboration also brings about the question of ownership, another topic of interest in this activity of collaboration. It is interesting to think who owns this collective text that we’ve created. Is it Gunita, who stated this activity and owns the google doc we typed on, or is it we the authors of it? It was very interesting that Gunita treated the document as like a blackboard, when she “erased” everything on it and had us all write within one page instead of one document. Would anyone have the nerve to go into a random teacher’s classroom to erase their board and just start writing their own material on it? I wonder if anyone in the class felt “hey, what’s Gunita doing erasing all our work?”

    Reflecting on my work as a musician, I see that my dislike for collaboration extends towards music as well. I occasionally write music in my spare time, and have some of my work uploaded onto YouTube many years ago. Much to my surprise, someone liked my work enough that they wanted to play it themselves (a lot of popular soundtracks are replayed and remixed on YouTube for different instruments, with different arrangements, etc.). But also much to my horror, I fet they butchered my work. The mood and atmosphere I had intended was gone, the intricate nuances within the work was lost, and the tempo picked up exponentially that the work had a completely different interpretation than what I had initially intended. I was mortified, and talked with some of my friends about it, who contacted the girl who did this, who apologized to me and took it down (I told them I was honored and flattered they wanted to play my piece, but told them to stick to direct transcriptions of my work next time).
    Thinking back on the incident, it spoke lengths to what I believed about art/creation: what I create is MINE and I don’t want ANYONE touching it, regardless of if it makes it better or worse.

    Thinking about it further, I look at another identity of mine: I’ve been Editor-in-Chief for two websites and proofread people’s work (business documents, cover letters, etc.) for a living. I have absolutely no problem “collaborating” with them and working to make their work better (and it’s not even about the money. I’d look over people’s work for free sometimes). However, I would absolutely not let anyone else touch my work the way I work with other people’s work. It is really interesting how my conceptions of ownership greatly affects what I am okay with and not okay with, as there is a double standard (or even hypocrisy) in what I find permissible and acceptable.

    Overall, I found this activity as an interesting social experiment, as its low-stakes (or no-stakes) nature allowed for people’s true natures to come through. Additionally, in such a fluid, inconsequential environment, we can see and think about what other people and our own concepts of ownership and collaboration in regards to art is, allowing us to come to a better understanding of the topic, of ourselves and of each other.

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