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Incorporating Multiliteracies Pedagogy in the 21st Century Classroom

By Kerri Valesey

Educators, educational theorists, students and parents combined all face different problems when tackling the issues at hand with contemporary education. Jukes et al. identify the problem as the rapidly growing gap of understanding between the young people sitting in the classrooms and the adults who teach them this gap in understanding is causing a crisis of relevance in our schools (2010). Swenson et al argue that it is still uncertain the degree to which incorporation of technology aids in ELA instruction because existing research on the impact of newer technologies on students literacy tends to be anecdotal and descriptive rather than definitive and prescriptive (2005). However, technology embeds itself nearly every facet of our daily lives, and it is almost impossible to be consciously aware of the many ways it has permeated our everyday language (Drucker 2006). Globalization and expanding definitions of literacy change the materials that need to be taught in English classes in order to produce students who are equipped for success with 21st century skills. Traditional definitions of literacy fall short of defining the skills necessary for successful participants in the 21st century global society. Within English Language Arts, the central problem for educators how to manage the incorporation of new literacy standards: what are we teaching, and why? The concept of literacy, as well as considerations of how it was utilized within education is fraught with political implications; it is a socially and historically embedded discourse whose definition has created and reinforced relationships of knowledge, power and marginalization. Willis summarized the different ways that literacy has operated historically, as a skill, as school knowledge, and as social and cultural construct; essentially each rendition of literacy is situationally contextualized with privileged roles of access operating on social, cultural and economic levels (1997). In order to minimize the effects of literacy as tool for marginalization for current and future generations, new definitions of literacy must be clearly outlined and accessible to all students. Drucker cites that this is inherently problematic because there is not an equal distribution of resources in schools where poverty is an issue (2006). With these new definitions, literacy may serve to widen the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots.

Beyond this social concern, movement forward demands new definitions of literacy that incorporate the 21st century skills reliant upon technology proficiency. The ubiquitous nature of technology necessitates reform with education. Identifying the literacy practices of the digital generation is the first step towards creating a clearer framework to achieve educational reform that will enhance English Education, as well as bring both teachers and students up to speed on the expectations regarding performance within the classroom. The NCTE redefined its statement regarding literacy in 2008, and was updated most recently in 2013. The crux of this position statement essentially calls for a fluid understanding of literacy, as society and technology change, so does literacy in which 21st century demands on a persons literacy requires proficiency with technology, collaborative problem solving in a global community, ability to examine and evaluate massive amounts of data, and consistently refine their critical thinking skills. Jukes et al. cite constant digital bombardment, the emergence of the new digital landscape and the pervasive nature of digital experience as part of the reason for the gap in understanding between teachers and students; the digital generation learns differently than previous generations because their brains are physically and chemically different. In order to create an effective learning environment, the act of redefining literacy must take into account the idea that fundamental differences characterize this new generation of learners. Jewitt summarizes and outlines new definitions of literacy; illustrating their division according to three different perspectives (2008). New Literacy Studies builds on a range of other disciplines and focuses on the increasing interactions between local and global literacies. Multiliteracies focus on two aspects of the global influence on cultural and institutional order. It engages with the multiplicity of communications channels and media and with the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000). The transformative agenda of multiliteracies pedagogy is to situate both students and their teachers as active designers of their social futures within the global atmosphere; they must both be able to understand available designs (which are resources of meaning), to enact the process of designing,

in which existing modes of meaning are performed on, or with, in the semiotic process, and to conceptualize and deconstruct the redesigned (which are the resources created and reconditioned through the process of designing). Multimodality is inherently tied to multiliteracies, but can be boiled down to a theory of meaning making via a multiplicity of communicational and representational modes are combined and remixed to facilitate understanding. Multimodality relies heavily on semiotic implications beyond language itself, focusing on representation, interaction, and culture. What do these new definitions and concepts mean for ELA instruction? Movement towards multiliteracies pedagogy and away from traditional pedagogy subverts traditional classroom roles in which teachers inhibit the central role of expert. Instead, the teacher must aid students in navigation of information. Traditional classroom values that centered on gaining knowledge must be replaced by gaining the skills to critically evaluate information. Knowledge today is a free commodity and growing exponentially Because opportunities for learning are ubiquitous and accessible on every Internet-connected device, students who know more than others no longer have a competitive advantage (Wagner 2012). Students must be able to analyze texts, beyond those of the traditional classroom. Incorporation of multimodal texts in the 21st century ELA classroom grants students layers of critical analysis of the different semiotic approaches that authors assume in meaning making. Multimodality is central for 21st century classrooms because the digital generation is accustomed to learning multimodally. The digital generation has grown up with highly interactive, hyperlinked, multimedia, online digital experiences where they control the path through the information and the pace that they move (Jukes et. Al 2010). Learning environments must change to reflect this multimodality. Another change to expect in the 21st century classroom is in the role of the teacher. No longer the center stage expert imparting knowledge to students, but rather, a master learner modeling how learning works for students (Richardson 2010). Multiliteracies pedagogy deliberately aligns student and teacher incentive within the classroom by bringing to the

foreground social interaction and meaning making with the global framework. Much of the philosophy behind multiliteracies pedagogy comes from a framework of dialogic inquiry (Edmiston 1998), which calls forth Bakhtins view of ethics in which all of the voices surrounding a text come are identified. Ethics are intrinsically related to teaching because no matter what or how we are teaching, a moral dimension and an ethical subtext are always present in our work rather than avoid moral issuesethical dimensions should be faced and confronted in the classroom (Edmiston 1998). By reinforcing this ethical dimension, reimagining the classroom by way of multiliteracies pedagogy necessitates the consideration of discourses present within a text, as well as a sophisticated understanding of the effects and consequences of said discourses. Cope and Kalantziss multiliteracies pedagogy cites the need for students and teacher both become more involved in the designing of their own social futures. Because all of the possible relationships between text and readers are possible and dangerous none is universal (Shannon 2011). Multiliteracies and multimodality both operate to grant voices and acknowledge those voices that have been previously silenced. They both acknowledge the inability of a text to capture a universal understanding or outlook on society. In Reading Wide Awake, Shannon argues that reading is dangerous, because representations will always lead us away from the truth about social things [and] social things do not have stable or inherent meanings (2011). Because of its ethical stance and social action that it calls for, multiliteracies pedagogy is essential for 21st century classrooms.

Works Cited Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies. New York, NY: Routledge. Drucker, M. J. (2006). Commentary: Crossing the digital divide: How race, class, and culture matter. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 6(1). Available: Edmiston, B. (1998). Chapter 3: Ethical imagination: Choosing an ethical self in drama. In J. Wilhelm and B. Edmiston, Eds., Imagining to learn: Inquiry, ethics, and integration through drama (pp. 55-84). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Jewitt, C. (2008). Multimodality and literacy in school classrooms. REVIEW OF RESEARCH IN EDUCATION, 32(1), 247-267. NCTE. (2013, February). The ncte definition of 21st century literacies. Retrieved from Richardson, W. (2010, February 24). [Web log message]. Retrieved from Shannon, P. (2011). Reading wide awake: Politics, pedagogies & possibilities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Swenson, J., Rozema, R., Young, C. A., McGrail, E., & Whitin, P. (2005). Beliefs about technology and the preparation of English teachers: Beginning the conversation.Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 5(3/4). Available: Wagner, T. (2012, August 14). [Web log message]. Retrieved from Willis, A. I. (1997). Focus on research: Historical consideration. Language Arts, 74(5), 387 -397.