1: The what and why of literacies in the 21st Century
I must admit, throughout my twelve years of schooling, literacy was the definition for reading and writing. You could say that I recognized the beginning of “written language”, also known as the second globalisation, as the dawn of civilization (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, p. 29). This was a time when reading and writing had become an instrument of maintaining supremacy, and a technology to create standardised ways of thinking to communicate with strangers (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). I have blindly disregarded the first languages that existed approximately 100,000 years ago where a variety of multimodal ways were used to communicate meaning as a form of literacy (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). These literacies involved storytelling, art, gestures and singing through the use of one or more visual, linguistic, audio, gestural, spatial and tactile modes to make meaning (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). So the question is, where are we now?
What is literacy and what does it mean to be literate in the 21st century??
Kalantzis & Cope (2012) argues that we are now sixty years into the third globalisation and have made a return to multimodality. Due to the fact that we live in a time where access to new media and technology is easy and readily available, literacy is more than just the written word. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (2008),
“the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies… and need to develop proficiency with the tools of technology, build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and
cross-culturally, design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
purposes, to create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts and attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environment”.
If, for a moment, we stop and consider how students of the past completed and submitted their assignments - in the library with big textbooks, handwritten, drafted and finalized on paper and hand-given to their lecturer, what a 180 degree turn it has been as I am currently typing my assignment on the computer while accessing online databases and communicating with friends with an online submission just a mouse click away! Thus, it is safe to say that in the 21st century, a lack of technology skills is seen as a disadvantage.
In the lecture, my mind was also opened to the idea of multiliteracies, a term coined by the New London Group (1996), which refers to two major aspects of meaning-making.
1. Social diversity
Written modes of meaning are now harmonised, or even replaced, by the use of recordings, semiotics (the use of emoticons), digital photographs, text messages and much more! This is because literacy is now interconnected with our social practices as we use different language styles for different social or cultural contexts. An example of this could be when texting a friend, we might use abbreviations such as “cheers xoxo”, however, when addressing the Queen of England, “Thank you Your Highest Majesty” would be more appropriate. In the tutorial, we also discussed another multi-aspect of social diversity that was identified in the classroom. As students are expected to listen and look directly at the teacher when he or she is speaking, in different cultures, it may be seen as disrespectful for a student to look directly at a teacher and are taught to have their ears faced towards the teacher to (literally) show they are listening. Hence, as teachers, we should all be aware of the standards of different language styles.
From the New Oxford Dictionary…
It is the modes of meaning making even the first languages used!
Below are some things I have captured to show the different modes and literacies I engage with in my personal space. These things illustrate and represent what sort of person I am, my personality and what I resort to in my quiet time. With the vast amount of modes around me, it has made way for us to engage in synaesthesia (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). This is the shifting between modes of literacy that intertwine with each other to create, represent and communicate meaning (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012).
It is important to understand that in the 21st century, if being literate meant “reading and writing”, a large number of the world’s population would be excluded! In my own reflection time, it dawned on me that no one could be considered “illiterate” as everyone has the capacity to communicate to each other through one mode or another. It is indeed, a deficit view! Thus, it is essential to have a multimodal approach to teaching in the classroom as it can not only give us a deeper understanding of the world but also be actively involved in our society (Phillips, 2013, Kalantzis & Cope, 2012).
A 21st Century Family
Thus, what a 21st century Classroom should look like
…And a 21stCentury Teacher possess
As our lecturer showed a demonstration of synaesthesia through Inanimate Alice http://www.inanimatealice.com, I would like to introduce you to James Wannerton, a man who put his synaesthetic senses to work and gave London’s underground stations a “taste”.
3. ME, MYself and I
This week, Aboriginal literacies and their traditional ways of learning were made known to us. It is sad to think that those who do not conform to the Western World languages become inferior and are seen to be “illiterate” (Martin, 2008). However, as pre-service teachers, one thing to take away from this week’s lecture and tutorial is to acknowledge the things that can affect a child’s literacy learning and that everyone’s approach to learning is different. I believe this is important in the 21st century as it can provide a classroom that welcomes all sorts of literacy learners and their life worlds.
As shown in the figure above, it’s statement cannot be any bolder. “Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common”. Although there may be a group of students that are similar, every child’s interests, abilities, age, race, language, cultural capital and virtual schoolbag is what sets them apart. Kalantzis & Cope (2012) discuss these differences in three major categories.
Material differences refer to a student’s socio-economic status and their access to resources that can impact their literacy learning. Studies show that education legitimizes inequality through socio-economic status as poorer people have “restricted opportunities to benefit from educational services” (Fitzergerald, 1978, p. 5). They may not be exposed to textbooks or storybooks, not able to attend a school excursion to the Botanic Gardens, or other forms of literacy such as computers and Internet at home. Corporeal differences relate to one’s physical appearances such as age, race, sex and sexuality and physical and mental abilities and how this impacts their life world experiences and ultimately their learning in the classroom. And lastly, symbolic differences refer to those that are affected by language and culture. This brings in Thomson’s (2002) notion of cultural capital and virtual schoolbag, the idea that each child’s “bag” consists of different skills and life world experiences.
Taking you back to me, myself and I, below are some things that represent my narrative (different life experiences), affinity (values and interests), persona (identity) and orientation (thinking and communication style) and influence my learning inside and outside of the classroom (Phillips, 2013; Henderson & Woods, 2012).
Upon reflection of my schooling history, fortunately, it was evident my school provided equal access to resources such as textbook loans from the library and afternoon tutoring sessions to provide social justice within the school to accelerate student learning. In the future, to ensure my students are not educationally disadvantaged, online book websites such as http://freekidsbooks.org/ can be introduced to parents and children to read at home. This website covers books for grade 1-10 and are extremely fun and interactive. My situation of having immigrant parents meant that they could not help me with my schoolwork and my virtual schoolbag did not consist of skills that were of value at a western school. Fortunately, my school gave me some help to build upon my understanding. Examples included given the opportunity to play the Australian anthem on piano at assembly to learn the value of Australian history, as well as being able to share my own culture on Multicultural Day. With the social and cultural support of my teachers, I was able to develop positive connections between home, school and the community, all of which have contributed to my education at school.
Therefore, it is important to create a flexible, multimodal and synaesthetic learning environment to produce opportunity, equity and participation for all students in the class (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012; Phillips, 2013). As teachers, we should regard every learner as a designer of unique meanings, based on their experiences and interests and support alternative navigation paths for students (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). Literacy pedagogies also need to be completely conscious of the language diversity of learners (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012). In doing this, teachers are forming real partnerships as students “different subjectivities – interests, intentions, commitments and purposes” are recruited, rather than ignored (The New London Group, 1996, p. 72).