ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín


new literacy classroom tittle

In these last decades the concept of literacy has changed giving a turn about the way our pedagogical practices are developed that provides space for new forms of texts in specific social and cultural contexts, “literacy needed to be understood and studied in its full range of contexts-not just cognitive but social, cultural, historical, and institutional, as well. (Gee, 2010, p.10)”.  The new literate society needs more than just read and write printed text to face the challenges of new communication forms and technology advances. Teaching must keep up-dated and coherent with these historical changes that transform a traditional passive student to a new active agent of meaning creation and interchange in classrooms.

In this post it will be developed a possible view of how classrooms will be like enlighten by new literacy perspective, first in public high schools and secondly in university context.  When talking about public high school the first thing to change is the curriculum, the need to adapt teachers’ practices to more meaningful ones where students and teachers become participants of construction of meaning and culture become a  relevant fact so there is an opportunity to develop awareness of our own historical background.  Furthermore, the implementation of ICTs in the classroom is not only to provide access to the technology but also to have a good connection speed, to have institutional policies that help to have technology inside. At last, if we let students express to different text we will let they have their own voice and we will see how they perceive the world.

In the second part, we will encompass how could be a new literacy classroom at University, first from the incorporation of a new concept of literacy throughout the planning of pedagogical practices, moreover, to have a critical perspective about texts to uncover the hidden message besides the obvious so it is here where the question rediscovers its importance as a pedagogical strategy to analyze texts. Another important characteristic in this new literacy classroom will be the use of multimodal instructions to advantage students’ modes of expressions that at the same time will be the way for them to build meaning and express themselves.  Finally the necessity to assess in a different way is also discussed here, because it will be incoherent to have a different approach towards literacy and not changing the evaluation practices in our classrooms.

       Through a public school literacy curriculum: the first step; on the way

How is it expected to achieve new literacy practices nowadays in the public classroom successfully?  Much has been said about the concern of literacy practices, but it s time to rethink once again how education must endeavor to profoundly apply these literacy practices into the public or private classroom. It is to restate that students are dealing everyday with new technological devices, massive information, social networks, a great amount of texts, among others. But are we as teachers or as school staff taking advantage of those means which are representing the students today? The answer is not just as simple, but ironically it is there, in the context we teach. In this vein, a new literacy classroom begins to sound critical and representative. Luke (2003) assures that our students need a literacy education that provides critical engagements with globalized flows of information, image, text, and discourse (P. 20). Hence, the misconception public schools have gained renewing their curricula, must be orientated to a new vision of the world, and the context as well. In other words, the first thing public schools have to do is to reorganize the curriculum and to think broadly in the social changes for meaning construction/meaning making as the needs for society (Monte Mór, 2007).  Why the curriculum? And how does it help in a new literacy classroom? Nahachewsky (2013) points out ‘complications emerge from subject area curricula that struggle to adequately bridge conventional conceptions of text and literacy to new literacies’ (p. 89). Bearing this in mind and being specific around public schools, we need to bridge the curriculum and classrooms being new literacies practice the bridge. As thinking of a new vision of the world, the new curriculum as a guide for subject areas must underpin for an integration of (1) social changes-meaning making, (2) equity and inclusion, (3) ICTs/modes, (4) critical texts by reading/ writing. Thus, there will be a growing conception of what a curriculum really means acquiring multiplicity in literacy practices in public schools.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs talks about the shift there must be in schools curriculum. She talks about “NOT reforms” but “New forms for school”.

Making up the new literacy classroom

Galvin (2005) in her information literacy study suggests that classroom situation forces the student to focus on the research process. However, the reality is that classroom instruction may not be possible or may not be sufficient (p. 356). As aforementioned, the reshaping of the curriculum may be the basis to incorporate new meaningful practices in the public school classroom. Now that, it is to reflect as Galvin proposes if the classroom instruction could be sufficient to widely spread literacy practices in students due to the globalized world they are exposed to. That is, it is not the teaching inside the classroom per se, but how students and teachers become entire participants in it. That is why, the first item established in the new vision of the curriculum in terms of literacy copes with social changes for meaning making. Social changes deeply affect students nowadays especially if most of the students come from communities with high level of vulnerability which implies a valuable reason to compromise teachers to activate participation dealing with their own experiences. Luke (2003) restates that ‘we can show students how to use literacy to go inward and outward to engage in comparisons and understandings of the possible world discourses and ideologies’ (p. 20). From this perspective, the construction of meaning making creates a more meaningful atmosphere since it comprehends a system for social communication. Equally, and as a part of social changes, there is an issue which is socially bound to the first ‘equity and inclusion’. Now more attention is given to highlight the multicultural features our country enacts. This is because it is outstanding that our students value our cultures and make awareness of our real historical backgrounds. Within the school curriculum and subject areas plans there must be a specification points based on literatures and a step by step guide to carry out these topics successfully and not to hurt some students’ susceptibilities since in our classrooms are integrated by some ethnic minority groups. Accordingly, before bringing experiences of these kinds to the classroom, it is a requisite to take a glance to the new curriculum and then to start working. Delpit (1995) argues that in a classroom that embraces multiple forms of representation, students’ individual choices of symbol systems would be discriminated against or controlled. Celebrating language diversity, in all forms, would become a part of the curriculum. (As cited in Kist, 2000, p.716). Then, the new literacy classroom propitiates as a new tenet within the curriculum the multiple forms of representation our culture has to render.

A student's production at Don Matias  school.

A student’s production at Don Matias school.

Throughout decades thee has been a worry to enhance to changing pedagogical practices in the classroom. The most recent is about ICTs to engage students during their whole learning. Even, the national and local governments trying to acquaint institutions with high tech era have begun endowing public institutions (included mine) with tablets as pilot experience in Spanish and Math classes. But what do ICTs enact in the classrooms of today? Contemporary society and education systems expect that classroom practices align with current and up-to-date technological practices in order for education to prepare young people ‘to participate fully in public community creative and economic life.’ (New London Group, 2000, p.9) (As cited in Edward-Groves, 2012). Undoubtedly, technology use in the classroom turns the key tool to work with at the institutional scope, however, there is something ‘challenging’ for us as teachers; our students are more acquainted with it than we are, they have a step further concerning technology than we do. Then, how can we take advantage of this experience and not to allow that our students take technological devices just for gaming in our classes? As noted before, the tablets hand in by the government is a sign to go in depth in digital literacies but in my school, for instance, the only use I have seen from it is the students playing and downloading games for gaming. Nothing academic has been produced with these technological devices. One of the reasons teachers and students argue for not to maximize the tool is the low speed or lack of connectivity in the school. Thus, to give digital more power, we frame it as a literacy issue in hopes that educational policies will include the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in and out of school (Leu, O’ Byrne, Zawilinski; McVerry, & Everett-Cacopardo, 2009) (As cited in Bussert-Webb & Diaz, 2012, p.1). As regards, determining institutional policies which conveys to organizing the basis how to take the digital into the classroom pedagogically speaking. That is to say, to prepare the school curriculum with subject areas plans together and integrate those educational softwares into the institution web page, besides the use of social networks such as Edmodo and Facebook allow students and teachers to harness ICTs inside and outside of the classrooms. Mills (2010) refers to ‘information in social contexts, both inside and outside of schools is increasingly digitalized. The emerge of hybrid digital forms, such as wikis, blogs, databases, and online news, call for new understandings of genre and textual features (p. 247). Added to this, teachers’ blogs, and wikis on the same institution web page create a digital institutional community where all the community members share information and have free access to give opinions, suggestions, and upload advances, students’ projects, tasks and so forth.

ICTs, the classroom and the teaching practice

ICTs, the classroom and the teaching practice

What happens with one mode (ICTs) can be reflected in the production of other modes. As taking basic tenets in ICTs use in the institutional scope and classroom practices specifically, multimodality may come out as resourcefulness of creativity and designing of texts in terms of reading and writing. Through this perception, the significance to make students produce different kinds of critical texts taking into account their cultural background avoids to drop in the same institutional pedagogical approach, instead it places foreground a pedagogy of communication among educational community members. Edwards-Groves (2012) argues that technologies have generated capacities for producing different kinds of texts and literacy practices, both of which challenge traditional pedagogical practices and understandings of meaning making and communication. (P. 99). Besides, the production of modes by students with technology access connects the classroom with social reality and engages students to a better understanding of classroom practices and rethinks through problems and projects (Kist, 2000). This way, multimodality encompasses the changing view of traditional texts and employs critical texts based on visual, spatial, gestural and aural linked update technology. Teachers need to understand what specifically is happening- and can happen- in multimodal literate practices, what digital technologies do for students and how they can use it in their lives (and in the classroom) to be literate in how the digital world communicate ideas (Edwards-Groves, 2012, p. 100).


One last word towards a new literacy classroom and curriculum

We assure that a new literacy classroom and school curriculum is not complete if students’ participation is limited or their voices are not heard in the classroom. Kist (2000) proposes that our classroom would be much different with literacy educators teach for new literacy. It entails to start listening to what our students have to tell us concerning how they are perceiving the world; the most they are heard, the most engaged they are in the classroom. As citizens we are molding, there must have been a redesign of what we want our students to achieve, what kind of leaders we want them to become. Students may be practitioners of a culture of participation if we as the shapers enable them to be participative. Students more than anybody else are currently active on ongoing social changes and experiences. Then, students may have gotten used to sometimes being in a state of flow, and teachers will have no choice but to follow. (p. 716)

           How could  the new literacy classroom be at University?


Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Bucaramanga

Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Bucaramanga

Now that we know a little bit more about how to incorporate the new literacy perspective with children, think of higher education where there is still a huge number of students that are eager to learn not only contents but also new forms of expression to face new world demands, “as more sophisticated technologies emerge, more complex literacies do, too.” (Karchmer-Klein, Harlow, 2012).As Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, and Cammack (2004) stated, “As the medium of the message changes, comprehension processes, decoding processes, and what ‘counts’ as literacy activities must change to reflect readers’ and authors’ present-day strategies for comprehension and response” (p. 1572).

How daily ESL classroom practices can change from a traditional conception of literacy at University level to incorporate a new one where literacy practices “involve things that cannot be seen, such as values, beliefs, and attitudes that contextualize individual literacy events. These values, beliefs, and attitudes…shape their day-to-day literacy practices” (Eun Kim and Deschambault:  2012). In this part it will be posed a possible vision of how a new literacy perspective could be added in an English class at university level.

To start with, the first change must be the professor’s definition of literacy which it is now defined as “the process of interpreting and creating text using multiple means and media, including technology, multiple languages, and diverse aesthetic forms of expression, in addition to the written and the spoken word.” (Mora Vèlez, 2010, p.1; Mora , 2012).  This new conception of literacy requires that all the planning experiences a transformation that shows this new shift of perspective. There must be evidence that professors are giving the space in their practices to approach different texts from a different point of view and at the same time generate critical discussions among the texts presented in the classes. Resources used in class not only for instruction but also for students production and the constant use of questions regarding different texts are part of this new planning that guarantees that  teachers practices will be  enlightened for this new literacy view. One of the characteristics teachers must have is to be critically literate themselves that means to become acquainted of his/her own beliefs and preconceptions and that using digital technologies is just a part of what new literacies mean. New literacies teachers rethink our assumptions about what literacy is and then determine how we incorporate those conceptions into our instruction.

Secondly, it is crucial that critical literacy pervades the pedagogical practice because “Critically literate readers employ a sociocultural lens that allows them to evaluate information through analysis of culture, class, gender, and issues of power, intention, and authenticity (Freire, 1970; Gutierrez &Rogoff, 2003; McLaughlin &DeVoogd, 2004) and it is for that reason, as Luke and Freebody (1999) states, that teachers must help students comprehend in ways that support critically analyzing the author’s message and thinking beyond the text to understand why the author wrote about a particular topic or from a particular perspective or included some information and excluded other (McLaughlin &DeVoogd, 2004).

Classrooms are spaces where authors and text books must be question and analyze through valid arguments thus, questioning plays an important role in the development of critical thinking no matter the English level students have. We assume the role of interrogator by demonstrating to students “how to both navigate and interrogate the impact media and technology have on their lives” (Coffey, 2009). We have to teach them how to interrogate texts, show them that there is more than just the writer’s vision of the world. In this new literacy classroom teachers and students will interact in a dynamic way and the question will empower the pedagogical practice to be a more democratic one where students can ask and at the same time tolerate the difference between people’s point of views.

Here, it is important to highlight that professors are no longer the owner of the truth and University teachers must be aware that students will feel to ask to confront what they know and search online to what teachers are teaching them.  We are co-learners because we have to accept that now students might be versed in some topics we are not.  We must promote this kind of students that will lead to independent thinkers that bravely face the challenges of neoliberal society. “What isn’t being discussed is the pressing need within pedagogical sites for creating a media literate citizenry that can disrupt, contest, and transform media apparatuses so that they no longer possess the power to infantilize the population and continue to create passive and paranoid social subjects” (McLaren & Hammer, 1995, p. 196). As Materman (1995) argues it is only a matter of time before institutions understand that they must teach students to analyze media texts and visual images critically.

Third, university students must be also exposed to multimodal texts because now it is well known that literacy practices are immerse  into different modes used for expression.   The New London Group used the term multiliteracies to reflect “the multiplicity of communications channels and media” and “the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity” (Cope and Kalantzis 5). New literacies support students’ engagement with them, different modes are required to make meaning and that allows students to view content from varied perspectives even at higher education level where the written texts are the core of the instruction. This new literacy class will become familiar with a variety of multimodal texts; the pedagogical practices will include not only images but audio, graphics, charts, video. We become resource managers (Larson & Marsh, 2005) through example we show students how to manage print and electronic resources needed to navigate new texts and by doing so, we attach classroom contexts with literacy learning through different kinds of texts.

Finally, teachers at university can generate classroom tasks where students can design and redesign multimodal text by combining modes but also we have them reflect on why they choose a mode over others  and share the multimodal  text through an exercises of a presentation. New literacy requires that students transform and redesign text information (Luke &Freebody, 1999) about an issue and then to produce a countertext that shows an alternative perspective besides the one proposed by the author.   According to Larson & Marsh (2005) teachers transform themselves into design consultants and to do so they need to understand students’ views not only about literacy but also  the world and at the same time students are developing new literacies, they are building their own knowledge about the content.

Example of student's production using multimodes using glogster site

Example of UPB student’s production using multimodes made from

Furthermore, using multimodal texts in the classroom heightens student motivation (Lewis &Fabos, 2005; Mahar, 2001). Providing students with texts that they encounter in their everyday worlds (Guthrie, Wigfield, &Perencevich, 2004) and involving them in collaborative experiences in which they create new knowledge also heightens engagement, which can lead to improved reading achievement (Guthrie &Wigfield, 2000).  So, engaging students will be an easy task if we take into account what students are interested in, and the topics they are involved in everyday live.

Another important issue to take into account, when describing a classroom for new literacies, is the role of assessment. To describe so, it will be taking into account Burke and F.Hammet (2009) contributions where it is highlight the importance of incorporating out-of-school literacies into the classroom. New communication practices, youth culture, digital engagements, and semiotic diversification are demanding new ways to approach assessing in the classroom because school-based literacy competencies that mainly asses decoding and encoding reading and writing print-based texts from the standpoint of the writer.

There is a need to provide assessment from a different perspective that gives answer to the new forms of literacy; we must join out-of-school literacies and in-of-school content through the use of new literacy teaching strategies.  What teachers have to take into account is that which literacy strategy students are engaged with will be the best to assess a specific content area and in this specific case, for English as a second language. As an example, students can create a comic strip made through a free website to re-tell a local news report they previously have read in the target language from a news website that provides news in English language. We have to create the rubrics before assessing students and we have to present it before the process starts.  Another sample can be the use of an interactive website as to create an interactive poster about their lives, through the use of audio, video, written text, images, symbols students can built an interactive poster to talk about their lives and later on will be share with the other students.

Student's production using comic strips made from

UPB student’s production after reading a news report from a website using comic strips made from

Overall, there are a lot of possibilities to adapt not only the university classroom practices but also the assessment process of a second language learning process from a perspective of new literacies; the first step is to accept that the practices must change inside the classroom and after adapt them and teachers accept their new roles, they have to provide new ways of assessment that assure the coherence between them.

In brief, preparing the road from school to a university level does not have to be the end. In contrast, the preparation from a literacy perspective must be the ongoing process for the students to their whole life. Critical educators believe that the purpose of schooling is not just to prepare students for the workplace, but to prepare them for life.

(Gouthro & Holloway, 2013, p. 50). It is a role of we as teachers to start being critical for what we are concerned we want our students to achieve during their schooling step and higher education. A critical literacy educator is aware of his/her students need as and how they can face, understand and criticize the complexities in information and all the digitalized matters are coming everyday. Thereby, it has been talked of reorganizing schools curricula from early years of education to the last grade (either the public or private sector). It draws that a curriculum must be a guide, a presentation for critical educators to enhance classroom practices to coming to a new literacy classroom. The new literacy curriculum’s underpinnings must point out to see the social changes, not just from the problematic view, but for the construction of meaning, how students conceive the world today and think critically about possible solutions. Besides, the new curriculum is also inclusive and must foster ‘equity and inclusion’, to incorporate those ethnic minority groups conceptions and value their input to society. Due to the changing in education, too; within the curriculum and more practical, it is of preference to include the use of ICTs, critical texts and take into account students’ voices. It gives a ‘light’ to a new literacy classroom; from here, a new ‘ideology’ for education becomes a meaningful for students, educators and the whole classroom atmosphere; modes appears, reading and writing start being critical and technology attractive. Technology represents for the field of writing education changing pedagogies and changing learning practices which transform the face of classroom planning and curriculum. (Edwards-Groves, 2012, p. 110). It does not mean ICTs the core, but it is what we are witnessing in our classrooms, and what the Ministry of Education and Ministry of TICs are trying to strengthen in Colombian classrooms.

As long as we prepare our students in schools, we also aim at fostering literacy practices at university classrooms. The university level requires students to demonstrate  critical thinking. The continuous demands triggered but the same level of demand at the university appears to be for new literacies practices to break up with the traditional conceptions in classrooms. More in depth, here it is mandatory that teachers and students be co-learners, one learning from the other and vice versa, and generate critical discussions which conveys to go beyond a preservice professional thinking. It relapses one more time on the idea more than academically speaking, to try to go back to values, attitudes, beliefs inside the context itself, and the analysis and appreciation of culture. It is a matter of rethinking, to transform, and redesign, be dynamic, face literacy events and provide assessment for these new literacy events. Policies stipulating major shifts in literacy education and ‘assessment’ will affect teacher education, professional development, and classroom teaching, moving education forward into the 21st century. (O’ Brien & Scharber, 2008, p. 67) (As cited in Bussert-Webb & Diaz, 2012).

We want to close with a quote from Bloome, (2008) that for us surrounds what has been stated in this paper:

“Classrooms can be heuristically described as ‘cultural’ communities. Within each classroom, teachers and students continuously negotiate a set of shared expectations and standards for the organization of event, how people will relate to each other, how meaning and significance are assigned to actions and materials, and how spoken and written language is to be used within and across classroom events, etc. (P.  252).

words : 4156


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2 comments on “GIVING A TRY TO THE NEW LITERACY CLASSROOM by Beatriz Garcès and Mònica Pabòn

  1. ML2
    October 22, 2013

    The first thing I agree with is that teaching needs to be updated everyday to face not only new challenges and technological advances but also the new characteristics our students bring to the classroom.As you mentioned we need to develop critical thinking in our university students to have them become more engaged professionals who can lead companies making good and conscious desicions for themselves and others

    • ML2
      October 22, 2013

      María Marín.

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