Chapter 2 Review of the Literature

The review of literature reveals the struggle with the changes in literacy and what serves as the best pedagogical models for incorporating literacy into a secondary public school classroom. The review of literature reveals the transformation as different student lifeworlds engage with education and the reexamining of these lifeworlds and communities where we teach, learn and use literacy. Lastly, the review of literature also reveals what happens when teachers change their pedagogy as a result of the new information technologies available.

2.1 Literacy to Literacies

The Literacy Professional Learning Team (Literacy PLT) at my school supports the traditional focus of reading and writing in their definition of literacy. I, like Bruce (2003), believe that we should use the term literacies instead of literacy so that the focus includes information, computer, visual media, web technologies and various other types of mediums similar to how Jewitt (2008), who looks at the expanded approach to new literacies including multiliteracies and multimodality in schooling and classroom practice. Literacy is increasingly pluralised and this marks a shift in focus, from the idea of literacy as an autonomous neutral set of skills or set of competencies that students acquire through schooling and can deploy universally, to a view of literacies as local and situated. The official institutional construction of literacy may or may not dovetail with emergent practices in homes and communities (Jewitt, 2008). Kress (2003) questions the future of literacy with the changes in the social, economic and technological world which in the end will shape the futures of literacy. Our school system must address the changes in literacy and I hope that my research will instigate a broader approach to literacy from my professional colleagues. Like Johnson & Kress (2003), in my own practice, through the action research cycle, I have put forward a range of arguments in the view to re-evaluate how literacy is conceptualised, taught and assessed. Kist (2000) believes if classrooms embraced a broadened definition of literacy then literacy educators would become leaders of overall school reform and redesign.

New Literacies of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have become a priority for the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of English Teachers (NCTE) according to McPherson, Hsu, Wang, & Tsuei (2006). They discuss the use of online tools as an important addition to new literacy instruction and these include blogs, online chat, videoconferencing, and podcasting. The use of these tools provides students with authentic experiences with a dynamic interface and involves effective applications for publishing, discussing, reflecting, and learning. In this research I incorporated online spaces such as blogs, nings and podcasts to allow students to “speak” to the world beyond my school, building a means to effectively interact in a range of digital environments to empower them to write and publish for a worldwide audience.

Society is becoming increasingly plural and diverse and schools need to re-evaluate how literacy is conceptualised, taught and assessed. This is even more pressing given the emerging nature and relevance of ICTs in students’ lifeworlds. There is a need for research in this discipline to inform online teaching and learning development (Macnish & Trinidad 2005). Serious questions have been raised about what literacy is, how it is best developed within and outside the curriculum and how it is assessed. Merchant (2009) argues that research and development into the classroom implementation of digital literacy is needed. Like Merchant (2009), I believe that it is time to turn the ideas of theorists and innovators into everyday educational practice. State governments in Australia have invested millions of dollars to prioritise the integration of technologies in schools (Schiller 2002) and opportunities now exist to redesign the literacy curriculum within an ICT framework. Moyle (2006) recognized that ICT is a fundamental part of a high quality 21st century education in Australia and indicated that educational leadership, at all levels, must help enable teachers to include ICT into their teaching and learning. A sound pedagogical framework for the use of digital resources is a necessary part in the overall process of ensuring their effective use (Arthur, Beecher & Downes 2001). This includes those resources available through the learning federation, . I believe that we need to gain an understanding of how we should achieve meaningful and relevant change as well as knowing what outcome is desired. If this is to occur, changes from the current approaches to literacy are needed, as exampled in this research. The Victorian Association for the Teaching of English websites (VATE 2008) states that:
“The development of multimedia literacies, interactive technological classrooms and a global culture have led to new ways of teaching and learning and many traditional methods are being adapted or changed. Definitions of literacy are continually being expanded and connected, and now include visual literacies, computer literacies, workplace literacies and school literacies”

2.2 Multiliteracies

Multiliteracies refers to the complex designs of everyday life that bring together the spoken and the written, the visual and the aural, the analogue and the digital (Luke & Elkins 2002). These literacies challenge the current organisation of traditional schooling which continues to focus on restrictive print and language based notions. Multiliteracies overcomes the limitations of traditional approaches by emphasizing how negotiating the multiple linguistic and cultural differences in our society is central to the pragmatics of the working, civic, and private lives of students (New_London_Group 1996). As discussed by Walsh (2009) The New London Group’s Multiliteracies approach to literacy education seeks to address the ways progressive reading and writing workshops produce uneven and sometimes unfair benefits for particular groups of students as well as to address the effects of technology for critical literacy instruction.

The dominance of the screen as the currently most potent medium means that it is these practices and these conceptions which hold sway, and not only on the screen but also in all domains of communication (Kress, G. R. 2003). Teachers who adopt a multiliteracies perspective on technology integration explore with the students how information and communication technologies change people’s lives (Chandler-Olcott & Mahar 2003). Like Alexander (2008) I hoped to see, throughout my research, the subtle changes in students experiences of images, audience, copyright and their ownership of learning and technology while focusing on micro-content and social connections between people. The characteristics of digital content allow it to be copied, moved, altered, remixed and linked based on the needs, interest and abilities of users; quite against the grain of both traditional and recently expanded copyright. Hence, teaching in New Times requires that we read and remediate the social relations, the cultural knowledges and the relationships of power between adolescents and their social, biological and semiotic universes (Luke & Elkins 2000).

As youth continue to demonstrate their multiliteraies proficiency with new literacies emerging from ICTs, curriculum and instruction remains largely focused around monomodal, print-only literacy practices, often ignoring their multiple voices (Walsh, C. 2006). Throughout my research (AR) I incorporated many new literacies that have emerged from ICTs and my class experienced a range of environments that supported multiliteracies. Lankshear & Knobel (2006) argue that the best way for those involved in education to pursue respectful and potentially fruitful intersections across different literacies spaces is by actively pursuing personal experiences of the phenomena being reported in the research. Hence being an active online user of such things as blogs, wikis, twitter and nings helped me as a classroom teacher relate to and respect the views of my students as they engaged in purposeful discussions.

Multiliteracies have evolved into an international pedagogic agenda for the redesign of the educational and social landscape (Jewitt 2008). Multiliteracies were used in my research to break down the metaphorical classroom walls and to focus on my students’ experiences, interests and existing technological and discourse resources as the starting point, as encouraged by Jewitt.

2.3 Critical literacy

Curriculum changes in Australia require teachers to develop critically aware, socially just and democratically responsible students (Collins 2005). Among the approaches to the teaching of reading and writing, critical literacy offers connections to the larger world of ideas that are among the most impressive and challenging of any program that makes a claim on the school day (Willinsky 2007).
Riley’s (2006) study found that critical student learning takes place as a result of using an online discussion forum. He found that the significant increase in connectivity of mapping and the increase in propositional content indicated higher-order thinking.

Critical literacy is at the core of my research both in modeling as a teacher, being prepared to listen and hear other voices and opinions of both students and staff; also in teaching each student to understand his/her own self and to recognize connections between themselves and their social structures. If we genuinely believe in critical literacy we must be prepared to hear questions we might not like, questions that force us to think differently, to listen and hear other voices and opinions. Critical literacy transcends conventional notions of reading and writing to incorporate critical thinking, questioning and the transformation of self and/or one’s world (McDaniel 2006). At the core of critical literacy is a focus on power and who has it.

The purpose of critical literacy has always been to empower us to take a critical stance towards our sources of information (Lemke 2005). Critical literacy assists us in responding to the changes of today. Website authoring is an example of new literacy as websites are gradually replacing the printed newspapers and magazines and a host of other types of printed publications as well as being used for social interaction through social networks and gaming. To be critical is to open up alternatives, to provide the analytical basis for the creation of new kinds of meaning which can embody the hopes and dreams of people (Lemke 2005); by moving so much of my classroom interaction and publication online and by providing students with an environment that encouraged connectedness and response I was able to bring an underlying critical literacy approach into my classroom learning.

Similar to Albright, Purohit, & Walsh (2002) I hoped to develop a theoretical framework for connecting critical literacy to interdisciplinary teaching. Incorporating critical reading, writing and representational practices should be part of interdisciplinary instruction because different disciplines are expressed and perpetuated through very different kinds of texts and discourse. Students cannot act within the world without an awareness of the language they are using and the power relationships at play in various forms of texts and media. Like Albright, Purohit, & Walsh, I see that challenges exist in the ways that students can come to understand the functionality of texts, media and visual forms; by approaching cyberculture as a language with certain literate forms of its own, we look not only at questions of access and online responsibility but also at how schools can or should participate in their use.

Luke and Elkins (2002) acknowledge that our cultural, social, economic and political worlds are changing in fundamental, complex and unprecedented ways and argue for the need to re-envision a literacy education that would enable us and our students, schools and communities to navigate through these changes and re-examine the worlds and communities where we teach, learn and use literacy. Like Luke and Elkins, I believe, there is a need now as much as ever for critical literacy education that generates a vision of new worlds, that encourages our students to transform the intellectual disciplinary fields and everyday texts that they encounter and that engenders complex, critical and thoughtful analyses of the events, contexts, institutions and worlds in which we live.

2.4 Multimodal Perspectives on Literacy

We might expect that any education system in tune with its young people and their cultural experience would wish to develop the means to enable them to make productive use of their prior experiences and understanding. However, this does not seem often to be the case (Millard 2005) Millard discusses how children are becoming multimodality literate whilst their schools’ more explicit practices remain stubbornly print-bound. Jewitt describes multimodality as meaning that is being made through the situated configuration across image, action, gesture, gaze, body posture, sound, writing, music, speech and so forth – these are referred to as modes for meaning making. She also discusses how the ways in which something is represented shape both what is to be learned (i.e. the curriculum content) and how it is to be learned. Jewett’s (2008) studies have stressed the multimodal character of literacy in the contemporary era and the need to uncouple the traditional conjunction of language and learning. In education there is an obligation to accept the pressing relevance of the new possibilities for, and constraints on, representation and communication (Walsh, C. S. 2009).
These points were important for my research and hence I included a range of modes and media. Johnson & Kress (2003) argue that “new screens” such as those on mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and computer screens are becoming a way of life and these seem, in my opinion, to be the most commonplace methods for personal communication. As the screen is now the culturally dominant medium in many parts of the world, they argue that the successful learner in today’s economies and today’s societies needs to be an autonomous and self-directed designer of their own learning experiences.

Kress (2004) looks at reading images through multimodality, literacy, representation, design and media affordances, where his central issue is the linked shifts in representation and dissemination, the constellation of mode of writing and medium of page to image and screen. He draws attention to the shifts in authority and the changes in forms of reading which shifts the shapes of knowledge and the engagement with the social and natural world. This is what can be seen in the research performed by Walsh (2007) in two middle school classrooms in New York City’s Chinatown. The initial curriculum did not take into account the multimodality of students’ out-of-school digital literacy practices or their proficiency as designers and producers of online texts. He began to incorporate multiliteracy practices into his literacy instruction and, subsequently, students became multimodal designers and used their creativity resourcefully to exploit the semiotic potential of modes other than print. He was able to set assignments and projects that required students to integrate and orchestrate images, written text, sound, music, animation and video into their designs. He successfully incorporated school based literacy practices relevant to students’ lifeworlds. Walsh’s research has influenced the planning for my own study.

Merchant (2007) acknowledges the importance of the fact that one of the key characteristics of digital literacy is the way in which it readily combines with other modes of communication. This allows great flexibility for educators such as myself, as shown in the example with Walsh (2007), to create new possibilities of how we might operate in and construct our educational environment – this I have explored throughout this research. Owen et al (2006) argues that, in the educational arena, we are increasingly witnessing a change in the view of what education is for, with a growing emphasis on the need to support young people not only to acquire knowledge and information, but to develop the resources and skills necessary to engage with social and technological change and to continue learning throughout the rest of their lives.

A report from Future Lab (Naismith et al. 2006), on mobile technologies and learning, discusses how the capabilities of mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), games consoles and cameras will likely merge within the next five to ten years to provide a networked, multimedia device that is always with you. They believe integrated context-aware capabilities will transform everyday activities by providing the ability to capture details about the time, location, people around you and even the weather. They argue that the entire internet will become both personal and portable and, as we have started to see in the classroom, such technologies can have a great impact on learning. Like the report in Future Lab, I believe that learning will move more and more outside of the classroom and into the learner’s environments, both real and virtual. The ability for students to instantly publish their observations and reflections as digital media will empower them.

2.5 Creativity

Creativity is no longer regarded as a discrete skill required for art, drama or music but rather it is seen as central to students’ abilities to work imaginatively and with purpose (Facer & Williamson 2004). To judge the value of their own contributions and those of others and to fashion critical responses to problems across all subjects in the curriculum is a very valuable skill. Our students’ abilities to evaluate and justify their opinions, to gather knowledge from others, to share their expertise with others and to transform their existing understanding as learning in a constant process of personal and social development is important in creative learning.

The nature of the workplace is radically changing and will require young people to work in teams and to respond creatively to a rapidly changing world. These views are reflected in a number of recent policy documents and initiatives as discussed by Facer & Williamson (2004). They put forth the following recommendations to provide a stimulus for the development and use of digital technologies in supporting children’s creative collaboration:
  • Digital resources should allow children to externalise and share ideas.
  • Digital resources should allow children multiple means of exploring and realising complex ideas.
  • Digital resources should allow children to experiment and revise their work in a low-risk environment.
  • Digital resources should allow children to develop ideas and narratives in a non-linear fashion.
  • Digital technologies should allow a high degree of personalisation and choice over representations.
  • The classroom content is as important as the digital tool in supporting creative collaboration.

In my research I used and appreciate the many repertoires of technological practice that often go unnoticed in a student’s day to day life. Our youth possess the imagination and creativity to combine print, visual and digital modes in combinations that can be used in new educational, civic, media and workplace contexts (Walsh, C. S. 2007). Johnson & Kress (2003) believe that valuing students as designers of learning and incorporating such things as “new screens” should better prepare students for their future. Loveless (2007) in a Future Lab report on creativity discusses how the word ‘creativity’ is often used synonymously with terms such as ‘innovation’, or ‘good learning’, yet it contains more than these. Loveless argues that we need to be informed by creativity fostered and expressed in other cultures, both locally and internationally, and use other people’s understandings as ‘grit in the oyster’ to provoke the growth of our own. Like Loveless, I believe that our knowledge of creativity emerges as we think at the edges of our practice and figure out how to use tools and media in distinctive ways to express our imagination and capabilities – these I endeavored to bring to my research. I hoped to harness the creativity and imagination of youth as they integrated their literacy practices into my classroom.