Multiliteracies: Reading Beyond the Words

Sep 19th, 2017 | Category: Columns, Literacy In the Classroom
By Dara Soljaga

Teachers play a vital role in the literacy development of students, especially in Lutheran schools. I believe it is important to consider all approaches to literacy instruction, including multiliteracies. I have been especially intrigued by the New London Group’s (1996) proposal to teach multimodal representations of meaning, another term for multiliteracies, including the linguistic (words), visual (images), audio (recordings), spatial (layout), and gestural (expressions). Through the lens of this theoretical framework, the Group asserted that students are empowered to validate their uniqueness in the world, as situated within the realities of increasing local diversity and global connectedness.

For nearly five years now, our Center for Literacy has offered the Jumping into Multiliteracies (JiM) Class, specifically designed for 8–10 year olds. Our students investigate thematic queries through traditional printed text, still images, infographics, design schematics, maps, interviews, recipes, and audio and visual recordings. They explore questions such as: What is a community? What does global citizenship mean? How can we become good stewards of our resources? Why are these ideas important? How can we contribute to the world community?

In JiM Class, our students have interviewed content experts, ordinary citizens and fellow classmates in order to gather data for their individual projects. They’ve visited science labs, cafeterias and recycling centers, experiencing first-hand the power of physics, food and conservation. A student studying energy efficiency recently reflected, “Before I just didn’t know. Now I am trying my best to get in the habit of using energy in the right way” (Student Journal, 2016). Their efforts, over the course of an eight-week cycle, culminate into the development of student-generated artifacts that are presented at a Community Night celebration.

I’ve witnessed that the strength of programs that focus on multiliteracies lies in students viewing themselves reflected in the tasks with which they engage. When they feel their work can be personally and socially transformative, they become invested in doing their best. Over time, through reading, writing, researching, listening, speaking and presenting, our students have developed the ability to articulate their interests, cite specific likes and dislikes, and to really make meaning—reading beyond just the words. LEJ

References

Student Journal. (2016). Personal communication.

The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-93.

Author Information

Dara Soljaga, is a professor of literacy, and Chair of the Department of Literacy and Early
Childhood in the College of Graduate Studies at Concordia University Chicago. She is also the
Director of the recently-established Center for Literacy at Concordia, a vehicle for childhood
and adult reading support and community-outreach services.

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