Wednesday, 10 April 2013 08:00

Why Multiliteracies?

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Why Multiliteracies?
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A few months ago I wrote an introductory article on Multiliteracies Theory. In this article I plan to expand on the topic and discuss how it’s related to 21st century learning and why it should be a focus in the classroom.

First, let’s take a moment to consider what has changed about our economy and educational systems that has brought multiliteracies to the forefront. Educational systems are meant to shape youth to be ready for the society they enter as a young adult; therefore, the system should reflect the needs of society.

Old Economy

The westernized economy of the past 100 years or so was the product of the industrial revolution: factories, production lines and hierarchies. Johnson and Kress (2003) point out “some people planned and designed things while others worked on atomized tasks” (p. 6). As such, schools reflected the same production line by focusing on digestible, memorizable knowledge from an authority figure, readying students for a production workforce (Kalantzis, Cope & Harvey, 2003).

New Economy

In today’s society much more is expected from the workforce. As discussed in my article 21st Century Competencies, Voogt and Pareja Roblin (2012) maintain people in today’s workforce need many skills, including but not limited to: problem solving, creativity and information and communication technology literacy. This is a vastly different picture compared to 100 years ago. As such, an educational system that focuses on memorization and knowledge-based competencies has problems because it assumes:

  • This foundation is enough (it’s not)
  • Knowledge always has a clear right and wrong answer (it rarely does), and
  • Knowledge is accepting authority passively (this is the opposite of a critical thinker and problem solver) (Kalantzis, Cope and Harvey, 2003).

Sir Ken Robinson speaks to this in more detail and with more historical reference in his TED Talk Changing Education Paradigms (theRSAorg, 2010).

So the question is, how does bringing multiliteracies to the forefront in education help 21st century learners in the new economy? Before getting started, I will remind you of the definition of multiliteracies:

A multiliterate classroom encourages the engagement with multiple literacy methods – linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, spatial, and multimodal – to learn and communicate. These literacy methods are framed in four ways: situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing and transformed practice (see table below for definition) in order to encourage deep learning.

Now, let’s review what a multiliterate classroom affords students and connect it to the 21st Century competencies expected of learners.

Multiliteracies Framework*

Multiliteracies Example

The 21st Century Competencies**

Situated Practice: Learning is situated in authentic situations with practical applications.

Explanation:
Practice with real-life situations and challenges prepares students to face the workforce (e.g. working effectively as a team on a project or to find a solution).

Math/Science/English
In partners or groups, design a flowerbed for a community garden that uses different triangles to plot different groupings of Alberta native plants. Research plants, living and spacing requirements. Along with visual design describing angles, write a short report explaining design choices and present to the community board responsible for the garden.

Uses all literacy methods

 

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Information and Communication Technology Literacy
  • Problem solving
  • Quality work and production
  • Social/cultural skills and citizenship

Overt Instruction: Instruction is scaffolded and encourages critical understanding, rather than just providing answers

Explanation:
Rarely are answers just given. Most careers require employees to research and find solutions to problems from various sources, and sometimes a creative solution is required.

English
Provide students with a list of common Shakespearean words. Use the Internet to look up definitions and usage in context (1500-1600s). Then listen to a poem that uses the words. Next, read and highlight words and make notes about meaning in context. Pair with a partner to discuss. meaning. Share findings with the class. Read the poem as a class and begin to discuss the whole picture/message as it relates to the words learned. Students practice word usage by writing their own poems using the newly learned words and creating a visual poster to support it.

Uses linguistic, visual, audio, spatial and multimodal

 

  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Information and Communication Technology Literacy
  • Quality work and production

 

Critical Framing: Learners are provided with both familiar and unfamiliar contexts to test the level of their understanding.

Explanation:
We are continually faced with unfamiliar challenges, in both work and personal lives. Practice with unfamiliar contexts will aid students in problem-solving abilities.

History
Students are previously provided overt instruction on WWII. Watch a film on a fictional dystopian society (E.g. The Hunger Games). Have students connect themes of the film to ideologies of the different governing parties during WWII. Then research current events on conflicts that have similar themes.

Uses linguistic, visual, and multimodal

 

  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Information and Communication Technology Literacy
  • Social/cultural skills and citizenship

 

Transformed Practice: Learners engage in reflection and connect learning to personal goals

Explanation:
Reflection leads to meta-cognition and potentially growth. In many roles it is required to learn and grow. If learners are taught how to do this it will transition more naturally into their role in the economy.

Any of the above examples could include transformed practice by having students reflect on the concepts and their own learning process throughout the project.

Can use all multiliterate methods

 

  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving

*adapted from The New London Group (2000)
**adapted from Voogt and Paraje Roblin (2012)


The above table lists just a handful of benefits of a multiliterate classroom. There are many more skills learners can achieve to guide them in the global economy. In fact it is worth noting Information and Communication Technology Literacy may be under-represented, in that technology problem solving skills are essential for most globalized careers.

Knowing to incorporate multiliteracies is just the beginning. In my next article I will discuss specific multiliterate strategies, and more importantly how to assess them. For now I encourage you to use the comments below to expand on how multiliteracies strategies prepare 21st century learners. You may even consider discussing the multiliterate strategies you are already using in your classroom.

References:

Johnson, D., Kress, G. (2003). Globalisation, literacy and society: Redesigning pedagogy and assessment. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice. 10(1), 5-14.

Kalantziz, M., Cope, B., Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the new basics. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice. 10(1), 15-26.

theRSAorg. (2010. October 14). RSA animate: Changing education paradigms. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

The New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In B. Cope and M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Litearcy Learning and the Design of Social Futures (pp. 9-39). Youth Yarra, Australia: MacMillan.

Voogt, J., Pareja Roblin, N. (2012). A comparative analysis of international frameworks for 21st century competencies: Implications for national curriculum policies. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(3), 299-321.

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Christie Robertson

I remember what it was like being a new instructor: too many questions and too many resources to sift through. My goal as a writer for Learning Connections is to help instructors with common teaching issues, whether they are f-2-f, blended or online. I want answers to those frequently asked question to be easy to find!