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

Creating New Literacy Approaches in Our Classroom

Creating New Literacy Approaches in Our Classrooms


Claudia Cañas Mejía

Angela Patricia Ocampo C.



Literacy is a term largely discussed among scholars; and many definitions and points of view have appeared from these discussions. Literacy can be seen as the simply process of learning how to read and write but it can also be seen as the process of developing higher level thinking processes.  Literacy acquisition in children’s early years has been studied for a long time; there are many techniques and approaches suggested for teachers at these very first levels which are crucial for the development of the whole process.  The claim is to go beyond the basic definition and begin implementing different kinds of activities in the classroom that lead learners to acquire the ability to be reflexive in front of the different kinds of text.

Adam (1993) stated that the most fundamental and important issues in the field of reading education are these of how children learn to read and write and how best to help them.  Approaches such as phonics and whole language to develop language abilities have been deeply studied; they focused the classes in the decoding of signs to build meaning.  This is the first step to become literate and being able to communicate using the word.  But how can teachers help students become literate in reading the world?

There is a widely extended claim for going beyond the words, beyond letters and sounds, beyond spelling and grammar, beyond the understanding of words.  For Freire & Macedo (1987), reading the word is not preceded merely by reading the world, but by a certain form of writing it or rewriting it, that is, of transforming it by means of conscious, practical work. For them, this dynamic movement is central to the literacy process.  They say that reading always involves critical perception, interpretation, and rewriting of what is read.

Learners need to develop the ability to know the world around, not only their immediate surrounding but the reality of different communities.  Literacy should be a matter of understanding contexts; taking into account the underlying assumptions and threads that manage them.  Literacy should help learners interpret, take positions, make decisions and be critical towards the reality that is presented to them.  Literacy should have to do with learning how to understand the world, discovering and unveiling social inequalities and the secret intentions hidden between lines.

Schools are called to get updated in legal, academic and technological issues which allow them to be competitive in the field. The most important target in this wish of becoming better is the students’ formative process.  They are the receptors of the dynamics of the school and they are also the ones who will put into practice what they have learned along their school years in their daily lives. In this search for having improved processes; literacy is the most significant because it permeates not only their academic development but also the way they conceive life and society.

Street (2005) suggests that literacy is a social practice. English language elementary teachers have the task to guide students through this process in a way they can take advantage not only for the learning of the English language but also for the development of thinking processes that will let them have a social responsibility in all the fields of their lives.  Learning languages is not the translation of ideas from a language to another; it involves the recognition of different cultures and realities; in other words, moving from reading the words to reading the world (Freire & Macedo, 1987).

Along our teaching experience, the development of children’s literacy process has called our attention and we have realized that there are new meanings for the concept of literacy and many scholars are working together to raise awareness of the importance of a wider definition.  In this paper, we intend to present a new proposal to be carried out, in two private schools in the metropolitan area of Medellin, Colombia.  We pretend to create a classroom, where students develop higher levels of thinking, where they feel delighted with the well-written words, where they enjoy reading and writing but where they become aware of the reality that surrounds them emerging not only as witnesses but as actors eager to participate in the transformation of the world.

First, it is important to describe the context where the proposal will be carried out.  Next, it is necessary to define some basic concepts that will be the foundations to build up the proposal; beginning by literacy to establish the starting point to later advance into critical literacy, new literacies studies (NL), multiliteracy, and multimodality.   The final part is associated with the teacher’s profile; which is a key component in the development of this idea.


This proposal is going to be carried out in two private schools in the metropolitan area of Medellin (Colombia) where English is not students’ native language.  The schools are Colegio de la Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana  (UPB) and Colegio Canadiense.  Both schools have students from preschool to high school.  They are catholic and belong to CONACED (Confederación Nacional Católica de Educación) and have a special interest in developing English language skills in their students.

UPB School was founded in 1937; a year after the foundation of Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.  Students have five out of 30 classes of English in Elementary and five out of 25 in pre-school and four out of 35 in middle and high school. This program for the foreign language teaching began in the year 1999 with the objective of improving students’ English proficiency level.  The school follows Team Teaching as the main approach from first to eleventh grade with a main focus on communicative skills.  It consists of two teachers working with the same group, following the same plan to achieve the same expected results.  Teachers are only responsible for half of the group of students because the groups are split and work in two different classrooms.  Two years ago, pre-school shifted the methodology and only one teacher is in charge of the group.

Colegio Canadiense has a strong emphasis on entrepreneurial studies and it is in the process of becoming an International Canadian School from the district of Abbotsford. It was founded in the year 2004 with the objective of offering an integral, bilingual and open education for Colombian and foreign boys and girls.  The institutional project is based on five pillars:  pedagogical approach, internationalization, social responsibility, education in values, and entrepreneurial mentality. English is used as the language of instruction for some subjects based on a partial immersion principle.  It is not considered a bilingual school because half of the instruction is in Spanish.  Teaching for understanding is the approach assumed for all teachers, either in English or in Spanish classes.  There are over 30 students per classroom.  They are exposed to English Native Speakers who teach the Canadian subjects (Canadian Social Studies – Canadian Literacy); and to Colombian teachers who teach the other subjects either in English or Spanish.  Students receive 14 to15 hours of instruction in the foreign language (Social Studies, Science, Technology, and English; in addition to the Canadian subjects) per week out of the 29 hours of attendance in elementary school. Every classroom has CD-players, Video beam and access to Wi-Fi.  Students have an immersion of six month when they are in eighth grade.  Students are tested with Cambridge test and teachers with the Oxford Test.  Teaching for understanding is the methodology which involves the use of knowledge in creative and flexible ways.  The motto of the school is “We are forming the future entrepreneurs of Colombia”, so entrepreneurial values cross the curriculum in every subject.

Both schools have to follow the same regulations and policies of the Ministry of Education, additionally, Canadian school also have to fulfill the requirement of Canadian Ministry of education.  The idea of the proposal is to carry out the same strategies in both schools and observe how and to what extent these issues can have certain impact on the students’ performance during their literacy process.



Defining literacy

Although literacy is not a new concept; nowadays there is a new conception of it, which is broader and with a strong impact not only for school but for students’ lives.  This new context of literacy studies takes into account that learning is not always produced in a classroom.  Now, literacy is not restricted to the idea of learning how to read and write with conventional, traditional or more alternative methodologies.  Literacy has relevance in children’s daily lives.  Walsh (2010:215)  states that literacy is not a simple act of decoding, comprehending or reproducing printed word on the page; he says that there is an impact of social practices in the process.  Mora (2010:7) presents the critiques of scholars such as Freire (1970/1999), Luke (1988), Street (1984), McLaren (1994), Gutiérrez (2000), or Giroux (2006), who have focused on the presence of a pedagogy of literacy that limits the possibilities of individual expression and agency, reduces it to reading and writing within a classroom setting, and disregards power dynamics vis-à-vis access to resources and contents.  This new perspective opens a wide range of possibilities for teachers to develop literacy in the classrooms.


Freire & Macedo (1987) say that reading the world always preceeds reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world. This definition is kind of different from the traditional and helps see literacy within a wider point of view and not merely as an act of repetiting and decoding without regarding students’ backgrounds and bases before coming to the school. Instead, it is valuable to see literacy as learning how to think.

Critical Thinking

Beyond reading the words and the world.  Luke (2012: 5) talks about critical literacy which refers to the use of the technologies of print and other media of communication to analyze, critique, and transform the norms, rule systems, and practices governing the social fields of everyday life (Luke, 2004).   He also states that Critical literacy is an overtly political orientation to teaching and learning and to the cultural, ideological, and sociolinguistic content of the curriculum. It is focused on the uses of literacy for social justice in marginalized and disenfranchised communities. Critical literacy has an explicit aim of the critique and transformation of dominant ideologies, cultures and economies, and institutions and political systems. As a practical approach to curriculum, it melds social, political, and cultural debate and discussion with the analysis of how texts and discourses work, where, with what consequences, and in whose interests.  Critical literacy really lead us to a deep understanding of the text and the dynamics of the world.

Multiliteracy and Multimodality

It is significant to analyze the concept of text based on Hasset & Curwood (2010:270) who express that the text has expanded to include multiple modes of representation, with combined elements of print, visual images, and design. In the daily teaching practices, it is common to see how the students easily express their ideas not only in a written form but also in other formats which are part of the new vision of literacy and that in most of the cases are more appealing for the students. Emergent research on literacy highlights the imaginative, interpretive, non-linear, interactive, dynamic, visual, and mobile features of communication (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008).

New Literacy Studies

Now, that it is clearly seen that there is a new vision of literacy; it is relevant to introduce Compton & Lilly’s (2009: 88) definition about New Literacy Studies (NLS) which refers to how literacy practices are linked to people’s lives, identities, and social affiliations.  NLS give a great opportunity to teachers and students to have a fair environment in the classes; where students can express what they like or think about a given topic using different ways of representation.  Stainer (1997) calls this “cognitive pluralism” where there is a diversity of representational codes or languages of the mind. The NLS have shown that literacy is a really social practice that could be developed in the school; according to Kist (2000, 716) classrooms would become interdisciplinary in nature as students examine symbols and what they tell about various content information (Lankshear et al., 1997; Lusted, 1991).

Pedagogy of multiliteracies

The New London Group (1996, 24) proposed five modes of meaning in their pedagogy of multiliteracies:

(a) linguistic (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, reading, etc.);

(b) audio (i.e. sound, music, sound effects, etc.);

(c) spatial (i.e. architectural design, shapes within a building, etc.);

(d) gestural (i.e. body language, posture, feelings, etc.);

(e) visual (i.e. colors, pictures, perspective, etc

All these different modes can be conjugated to the development of a single idea or topic from different perspectives, where every student can find their way of expression and state their voice.

Cope and Kalantzis (2000) also explained the theory the New London Group developed.  They present the six design elements in the meaning-making process (linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial meanings, and multimodal patterns of meaning which relate the first five modes of meaning to each other) and they also suggest four components of pedagogy (Situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing and transformed practice).  After some classroom implementation of Multiliteracies,  Cope and Kalantzis (2009) present a reshaped proposal where they expanded and redefined the modes for the meaning-making process -Written language, Oral language, Visual representation, Audio representation, Tactile representation, Gestural representation, Spatial representation-; and the components of the pedagogy -experiencing the known and the new, conceptualizing by naming and by theory, analyzing functionally and critically; and applying appropriately and creatively.  This new proposal intends to change the way students perceive learning and to allow the development of students’ higher thinking level by providing different alternatives of engagement, different divergent orientations and different modalities in meaning-making.

Literacy comprises a great variety of practices.  In first place, we have the most basic elements of literacy acquisition, then the recognition of different kinds of text in the literacy development and finally the ideas of transformation of the world through a more critical perspective of literacy.  Now, that we have clear concepts about literacy; we can introduce our proposal.

The New Teacher’s Profiles

Several scholars (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, 2007; Kist, 2000; Luke, 2004; Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; Street, 1984, 1995) have argued literacy and literacy teaching need to adapt and change in order to respond to what will be expected in the near future. (Mora, 2010:6); in other words, a new generation of teaching engaged with a shift in perspective is required.

Mora (2010: 8) explains that Literacy research has also questioned how literacy is practiced in the classroom and how different those literacy practices (and even the students themselves) look outside of the classrooms (e.g. Hull & Katz, 2006; Wason-Ellam et al., 2004; Weinstein, 2002).  At the same time, schools are also asking that teachers adopt and incorporate new media and new technologies into the classrooms. However, this incorporation process is sometimes devoid of the necessary reflection to see how to maximize the resources (Mora, 2010).  Teachers are eager to use the new technologies in the classroom, what they need is an orientation about how these ICT can be used to have better pedagogical practices and not only a change of format.

Hasset & Curwood (2010:270) state that teachers must do more than simply use current theories of reading to engage with new forms of texts-they must understand how multimodal texts engender new roles for the reader, as well as new roles for the teacher.  The teacher needs to guide students in the interpretation of this new media what implies he should know how to handle it.

Kist (2000: 712) declares that literacy teacher […] would become a coach of human expression.  The literacy educator would become a kind of teacher of teachers and a metaguide of thinking and communication –both of the giving and of the receiving.  This statement will guide our proposal because we want engage teachers with this challenge.

O’Rourke (2005:4) explains that a multiliteracies approach encourages a broader perspective of the student as a learner and values diverse ways of knowing, thinking, doing and being. We think that this change in perspective make whole class different because students have the opportunity to get involved and engaged in their own learning process.

O’Rourke (2005:4) says that the following teaching approaches are very effective both in engaging the students and generating work of high intellectual and technical quality:

  • emphasizing the importance of tapping into students’ lives and experiences
  • finding out their existing knowledge and interests
  • considering the social, cultural and emotional dimensions of a person’s experience
  • designing authentic learning experiences that relate to real life
  • immersing students in an authentic task
  • providing them with expert instruction in specialized skills
  • opportunities to reflect upon and critique their work and process along the way
  • creating a safe space for students to use their new knowledge to experiment with and test out their ideas.


Our proposal does not begin with our students; we want to have a wider target public, so we decided to work with teachers.  We pretend teachers go beyond the basic practices of language acquisition and move to a more critic perspective and the recognition of the pedagogy of multiliteracies as a way to help students know the world and transform it.

The first step of the proposal is to reflect with them about the definitions of literacy in our contexts; the objective is to have a base to continue presenting the other concepts we want to develop in the whole process.  This exercise is an opportunity to create reflexivity in the team of teachers because this will help us to have better teaching practices.  We will have a brainstorming about the important elements included in the literacy acquisition.  Then teachers will watch a video on literacy development.

After that, we will discuss about the most important elements we can take from the video and the estrategies that will be helpful for our students’ processes.

After doing this preliminary account of ideas about literacy; it is important to share with the teachers what Freire & Macedo (1987) say about literacy:  reading the world always preceeds reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world.  We have to take into account our students’ previous experiences and concepts, because when they come to school they already have a background, something to say that is worth to be listened to.  Reading is always critical and reflexive and it always involves critical perception, interpretation, and rewriting of what is read. (Freire & Macedo, 1987: 24).  We can introduce students’ voices in our classes and when we do this, students get used to respect other opinions and stand for their own voices.

Now, we introduce teachers into the concept of critical literacy which includes culture, social and political views in the comprehension of the text.  Here, it is important to reflect on the secret messages and intention of different texts and on how students can participate in the transformation of the world.  Teachers will observe three videos; the first one is an overview about critical literacy, the second one is on how elementary teachers can develop critical literacy and the last one is actually divided in two fragments, they are examples of second graders working with critical literacy along with some scholars’ explanations.



Teachers will be provided with the website to go deeper in the topic: (

The invitation here for teachers is to assign homework where students need to read and exchange opinions with their parents on several issues and then have a socialization in the group about the different points of view.  Teachers also need to connect their contents in different subjects with different kinds of texts; rich in cultural, social and political issues. Moreover, every student has a voice about these issues and proposals for the social transformation.

Now, that it is clearly seen that there is a new vision of literacy; it is relevant to introduce Compton-Lilly’s (2009: 88) definition about New Literacy Studies (NLS) which refers to how literacy practices are linked to people’s lives, identities, and social affiliations. This can be a support to invite teachers to see literacy with new eyes and in this way go beyond the traditional vision; which allows us to have more elements inside and outside the school to develop the literacy process and also NLS take students’ voices into the development of what could be a motivating issue for them.

According to Kist (2000, 716) classrooms would become interdisciplinary in nature as students examine symbols and what they tell about various content information (Lankshear et al., 1997; Lusted, 1991) and this helps us emphasize with the teachers that literacy is not just a matter of the language class (Spanish or English); on the contrary, all subjects should help students to develop the literacy in their own content areas.

From now on, teachers should have clear the concept of literacy and also start thinking about those new literacies that are present around the classroom; which allow us to bring a new definition of literate.  Knobel & Lankshear (2006:17) states that being literate in any of the myriad forms literacies take presupposes complex amalgams of propositional, procedural and ‘performative’ forms of knowledge. That gives us the idea that at this time literate is not just related to be able to handle the language system that is what in the schools, most of the times, we are teaching; phonetics, grammar, vocabulary, among other structural topics.

Teacher will watch these videos about multimodalities and multiliteracies.  The first one has examples of different kinds of text and the second one is the one produced for the literacy class that includes examples from classes in our schools.

After all the concepts worked before, it is necessary to keep in mind the pedagogy of multiliteracies; which proposes some modes of meaning or communication that are present in the daily life of our students, and the invitation in this proposal is to bring those modes into the class; regardless the subject and not only to be part of our explanations but also as references for our students to relate their academic life to their daily life.  Students can also create their own texts, in different modalities and they can be also assessed as part of the process; in that way, they can express what they want or they understand.  Cope and Kalantzis (2009) proposed to work with different modes for the meaning-making process -Written language, Oral language, Visual representation, Audio representation, Tactile representation, Gestural representation, Spatial representation-; and they also present some components for the pedagogy -experiencing the known and the new, conceptualizing by naming and by theory, analyzing functionally and critically; and applying appropriately and creatively.

After all this work, there will be a discussion about the new literacy teacher’s profile and the new literacy students’ profile to define the characteristics of them and strategies that we are going to implement in our classroom.

Finally teacher should take one topic from their subjects and create a unit where they include all the aspects of literacy; then, they will have the opportunity to work together, if they want to work the same topic from different subjects.


Literacy acquisition, critical literacy, multimodality and the pedagogy of multiliteracies help students to develop understanding of the world from different perspectives, inviting them to construct a new order in the world.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to promote critical thinking and understanding, to include students’ personal literacies and voices, and to foster the use of different ways of representation not only in the presentation of the topics but also in the students’ activities.  We have a new vision of the concept of literacy and we hope that everyday more teachers join the claim of many scholars to go beyond the words.

Words: 4109



Cañas, C. & Ocampo, A. Multiliteracies around the school.  Retrieved from

Compton-Lilly, C. F. (2009). What can New Literacy Studies offer to the teaching of struggling readers? The Reading Teacher, 63(1), 88-90. doi:10.1598/RT.63.1.10

Critical Literacy in Elementary. Retrieved from:

Dexter, K. How do we teach critical literacy?.Retrieved from

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. London, UK: Routledge.

Hassett, D. & Curwood, J. S. (2010). Theories and practices of multimodal education: The

instructional dynamics of picture books and primary classrooms. The Reading   Teacher, 63(4), 270-282. doi:10.1598/RT.63.4.2

High Yield Strategies. Retrieved from

Kist, W. (2000). Beginning to create the new literacy classroom: What does the new literacy look like? Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43(8), 710-718.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2006). New literacies: Everyday practices and social   meaning (2nd Ed.). Berkshire, UK: Open University Press. 

Luke, A. (2012). Critical literacy: Foundational notes. Theory into Practice, 51, 4-11.


Luke, A. (2004). The trouble with English. Research in the Teaching of English, 39(1), 85-95.

Mora Vélez, R. A. (2010). An analysis of the literacy beliefs and practices of faculty and graduates from a preservice English teacher education program. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from

Morrow, L. Literacy Development. Retrieved from

Multimodal literacies. Retrieved from:

O’Rourke, M. (2005). Multiliteracies for 21st Century Schools. Snapshot. 2 (5).

Street, B. V. (2005). Recent applications of the New Literacy Studies in educational contexts. Research in the Teaching of English, 39(4), 417-423.

Walsh, M. (2010). Multimodal Literacy: What does it mean for classroom practice?        Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 33(3), 211-239

What are literacies? Retrieved from

Cope, B. and Kalantzis, M. (eds) (2000)  Multiliteracies:  Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures.  London:  Routledge.  Retrieved from:

Cope, Bill and Kalantzis, Mary. ‘Multiliteracies: New Literacies, New Learning’. Pedagogies: An International Journal, Vol.4, 2009, pp.164-195.  Retrieved from:


One comment on “Creating New Literacy Approaches in Our Classroom

  1. Claudia and Angela your paper is wonderful and I loved your proposal because you decided to go beyond, and what really made the difference is that you thought not only in students, but teachers who are the ones in charge of helping students in knowing the world and transforming it, as you mentioned.Another thing that I think is very relevant, is the issue of inviting us ( Teachers) to use the five modes and incorporate them in the classroom( Pedagogy of Multiliteracy).
    Furthermore, as teachers we have seen the evolution of the world and the new technologies, which makes us reflect and work with them and whether a teacher uses and applies those realities or not, we know that that transformation has to start with our mentality towards and in the way we use the modes and in our classrooms.

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