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

Multiliteracies and Multimodality: The “Multi-” part of literacy – VIRTUAL SESSION 2

So far, we have explored the implications of critical frameworks in literacy and we have discussed what it means to talk about the idea of “new” in literacy. This weekend, we’ll delve into another feature of literacy research that has rewritten the field in the last 20 years: The notion of “multi-“. We will read some key texts about multimodality, that Gunther Kress himself has written over the years (anybody who would like to go even further should then travel back to 1997 and read Before writing). We will also read some texts about multiliteracies. We will first take a look at the original manifesto from The New London Group in 1996 and later the revision to the ideas that Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis proposed in 2009. We will also read some introductory texts about the idea of “multi-” and what it means in literacy research.

I propose some initial questions to lead the first discussions:

1. When we are talking about “multi-“, are we talking about “multiple”? What does it mean to talk about, say, multiple literacies vs. multiliteracies? Is there such a thing as “multiple modalities”?

2. I have argued elsewhere (Mora, 2013) that today’s understanding of literacy has both a linguistic and a semiotic dimension. How would these dimensions come into play when we talk about multiliteracies and multimodality?

3. The initial manifesto by the New London Group (1996) talked about a pedagogy of multiliteracies. What is exactly their pedagogical proposal? Look at both the NLG piece and the Cope & Kalantzis (2009) update.

4. Why does it matter to talk about multimodality today? What does the concept bring to the table beyond the notion of using digital technologies/ICTs?

5. The idea of design is a big part of the conceptual underpinnings of both multimodality and multiliteracies. How do the authors understand design? Why would that matter in the field of second language studies?

Additional Resources:

Here’s an interview with Gunther Kress about multimodality:

You can also check out Professor Brian Street’s talk at the ML2 Open Lecture Series last year:

And you can also find more videos from Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope here.


9 comments on “Multiliteracies and Multimodality: The “Multi-” part of literacy – VIRTUAL SESSION 2

  1. Felipe Bedoya
    March 24, 2014

    To answer question 3, we can take a look at what the New London Group did back in 1994 when a group of intellectuals met to discuss about the changes the world was facing in terms of technology and communication. Their main concern was to agree on the changes that literacy education and learning should adopt considering the way the world was evolving (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). For ages, literacy pedagogy had been seen as the mere process of “teaching and learning to read and write in page-bound, official, standard forms of the national language” (New London Group, 1996). Nevertheless, for the New London Group it was time to go beyond and they introduced a new concept in the world of academia. This concept was labeled multiliteracies and it aimed to revolutionize the teaching practices in the classrooms in a way that learners benefit from them in order to be able to “participate fully in public, community and economic life” (New London Group, 1996). Pedagogy of multiliteracies is an approach that has in mind all the modes of meaning inside a community and is aware of the constant changes that these modes of meaning face as the members of each community work in order to achieve their cultural prospects (New London Group, 1996). This Pedagogy of multiliteracies sees members of a community as the designers of their own social, workplace, public and community future; and it proposes a classroom practice that embeds basically four components:
    1. Situated Practice, which is based on the world of learners.
    2. Overt Instruction, through which students shape for themselves an explicit metalanguage of Design.
    3. Critical Framing, which relates meanings to learner’s social contexts and purposes.
    4. Transformed Practice, in which students, as meaning-makers, become Designers of social futures (New London Group, 1996).

    • ML2
      April 1, 2014

      Dear Felipe Bedoya,
      I think you grasped the most important part of Manifesto, Pedagogy of multiliteracies. In this manifesto, the New London Group (1996) states multiliteracies as a continuum that flows and as you mentioned, it has four components: situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice. Something extremely important when talking about multiliteracies is the changes in technology that evidently, affect the learning and teaching processes. We have to take into consideration that the use of technology has certain issues like having participation, inclusion, selecting, categorizing and analyzing. TICs are great tools that have been trivialized as institutions and educators use them in a pointless way. In this sense, teachers use technology because it is mandatory or to have students do something fun; regardless the main purposes of ICTs in multiliteracies that is to make learners be agents of creating meaningful messages, meaningful texts.

      Comment by Adriana Teresa Rozo Carvajal

  2. Pedagogy of multiliteracies article-long manifesto

    Regarding the article by the New London Group in 1996, it is quite remarkable that this group has strived hard to work in favor of language and literacy around the world. For instance, they have put together a lot of times met annually at the International Conference on Learning: in Townsville, Australia, 1995; Alice Springs, Australia, 1997; Penang, Malaysia, 1999; Melbourne, Australia, 2000; Spetses, Greece, 2001; Beijing, China, 2002; London, UK, 2003; Havana, Cuba, 2004; Granada, Spain, 2005; Montego Bay, Jamaica, 2006; and Johannesburg, South Africa, 2007; cited by Cope and Kalantzis ( 2009). This is great for language teachers as this conferences foster knowledge. The New London Group in 1996 focuses their work on metalanguage which the group describes as “a language for talking about the language, images, texts, and meaning-making interactions”. In this way, metalanguage has its foundations in terms of meaning. For the time being, I had not distinguished the features of metalanguage but the New London Group identified a metalanguage design of six modes of meaning that support multiliteracies. The modes include linguistics meanings, “visual meanings (images, page layouts, screen formats); audio meanings (music, sound effect); gestural meanings (body language sensuality), spatial meanings (the meanings of environmental spaces, architectural spaces); and multimodal meanings”. According to the Group, all of these modes of meanings converge in the multimodal design.

    I think this multimodal meaning is paramount to try to understand what new literacies are because nowadays we have a lot to read. Imagine that we are at the cinema; we find billboards that do not have only the linguistic meaning, they have images, perhaps music, the spatial representation and so forth, which nourishes language, which nourishes meaning.

  3. Luisa Zapata
    March 25, 2014

    In my opinion, the pedagogical proposal of New London Group about multiliteracies is more than a set of steps to follow or apply in our classrooms, it is, a theoretical foundation to support the idea of educating people for life, on the one hand, and an invitation to develop the notion of connectedness of what we teach in our schools and universities with the new challenges that new technologies are bringing to our realm of second language learning and teaching. As they state “new communications media are reshaping the way we use language” (New London Group, 2000), and in that way, we should make meaning of the world in a different way and from different “modes”. In this sense, “multiliteracy is an attempt to comprehend and target the multiple texts forms that have resulted from new technology and new media forms”(NLG, 2000). Therefore, this is an invitation not to continue to reproduce the “Available designs” but to keep in “designing” our teaching practices to obtain new products, “the redesigned” ones. All of these with the purpose of educating people to negotiate meanings and understand the world in their “working, public and private lives”

    Luisa Zapata

    • Tatiana Hoyos
      March 25, 2014

      Thanks to the growing globalization trend that the community of the world has been experiencing for the last decades, and the permanent booming of information that it has generated as a consequence, the way people interact, work , live and learn has changed. Teaching and learning processes have changed as well. The way people read and understand and reproduce their idea of the world has meaningfully been modified. This modification does not involve a single source of meaning or way to communicate, it now involves multi-modes .
      An example of this can be seen, as Kress mentioned in this interview about multimodality, by simply comparing newspapers from some years ago to the ones we have now. To begin, yesterday’s newspapers were mainly a group of headings and paragraphs organized in coherent and cohesive ways. They were mainly paper printed. There were some categories within the text that of course carried more relevance than others. With the pass of the time images were incorporated, and in the same way, they also took part of the meaning of the text. In today´s news, we can see that apart from segments of text news are accompanied with different kind of linguistic units such as images, colors, sound, links, videos that intend to communicate something together .They are place there with specific intentions and that are part of the complete unit that for the example is the news. Kress, (2000) explains: ‘it is now impossible to make sense of texts, even of their linguistics parts alone, without having a clear idea of what these other features may be contributing to the meaning of a text. In fact, it is now no longer possible to understand language and its uses, without understanding the effect of all modes of communication that are copresent in any text.’
      The role of literacy teachers should respond to the necessities of his multimodal world. It is necessary to go beyond the simple act of preparing lessons to facilitate students understanding and apprehension of concepts, it means getting involved in this multimodal world analyze and comprehend all hidden messages and intentions coming from single modes an texts units , decode them and re-build new conception of realities together with our students.

      Tatiana Hoyos

      • ML2
        April 1, 2014

        Dear Tatiana,
        You have very good insights. I could not agree more with Kress, (2000) ‘it is now impossible to make sense of texts, even of their linguistics parts alone, without having a clear idea of what these other features may be contributing to the meaning of a text. In fact, it is now no longer possible to understand language and its uses, without understanding the effect of all modes of communication that are copresent in any text.” As we might understand that literacy includes (apart from reading and writing) interpretation and creation of texts, it is crucial to use the basic components of multidimensional discourse: design, intention, and meaning as well as the modes (visual, written, gestural, spatial, audio, and tactile). These components of modes are not combined are integrated through a design that conveys a meaning, a messages. In terms of technology, it just works as a means to create oral and written texts.

        Comment By Adriana Teresa Rozo Carvajal

  4. ML2
    March 26, 2014

    Three last decades mean a change in literacies, teachers used to implement defferent teaching and assesment practices. Old generations of teachers had to adapt their teaching practices to new literacies , at least they wanted to be anachronic, but it is not easy to move from one change to another as fast as the world does.
    New generations of teachers seem to have incorporated skills to learn and teach multiliteracies as a tool to improve their practices.
    New London group describes dramatically changing social and technological context of comunications and learning , develops a language witth which to talk about representation and communication in educational context, and adresses the question of what constitutes apropriate literacy pedagogy for our times.

    Luz Elena Salazar

  5. ML2
    March 27, 2014

    First, in literacies when we are talking about “multi” we are not talking about “multiple”. Different features related to them:
    • Multiple literacies are related to the cultural differences in our society as the centre of pragmatics of the working, civic and private students´ live.(The New London Group) There, culturally and linguistically varied according to the globalized society, are bringing a variety of text forms which are associated to the significant in the overall communication environment (The New London Group, 1996). Therefore, according to each person or group of people, teachers should take into account differences which let them improve the literacy practice according to people´s needs and context.
    • On the other hand, multiliteracies are related to those “communication channels and media, and the increasing saliency of cultural and linguist diversity.”(The New London Group, 1996) It is about the multiplicity forms to create meanings beyond the traditional literacies, due to multiliteracies highlights the visual, the audio, the spatial, the behavioural as a potential texts to communicate (The New London Group. 1996). The language as an important feature of the culture, and its multiples differences is creating new communications needs and forms which stresses “a pedagogy (…) focuses on modes of representation much broader the language alone.”(The New London Group, 1996)

    Second, the initial manifesto by the New London Group (1996) talked about a pedagogy of multiliteracies. In their pedagogical proposal they argue how teachers have to “rethink what we are teaching, and, in particular, what new learning needs literacy pedagogy now to address.”(The New London Group, 1996) Life is in continuous change, as a result of a globalized world in which each community has different needs and particular transformations, generating multiple communication media forms. Therefore, pedagogy is important to be aware about the power of word on the world, where is necessary to potentiate the adaptation into a world which is moved by a vertiginous rhythm, this process is possible “through thinking and speaking for oneself, critic and empowered innovation and creativity, technical and systemic thinking and learning how to learn.” School are now the scenario to present and conjugate micro-worlds, being aware of cultural differences, leaning not only to live with others, but also understanding the multiplicity about each one, multiple because I am not the same. I am, according to the context, according to others who affect me all the time. “One and the same person can be different kinds of people all different times and places.”(The New London Group, 1996)

    “One of the fundamental goals of a pedagogy of multiliteracies is to create the conditions for learning that support the growth of this kind of person: a person comfortable with themselves as well as being flexible enough to collaborate and negotiate with others who are different from themselves in order to forge common interest.” (Cope & Kalantizis, 2009).

    Gloria Gutiérrez Arismendy.

  6. Giselle Isaza Velásquez
    March 27, 2014

    The idea of design is a big part of the conceptual underpinnings of both multimodality and multiliteracies. How do the authors understand design? Why would that matter in the field of second language studies?

    In my opinion, after having read and watched the authors (Kalantzis and Cope, 2008. Kress, 2010) the concept of design is very important to many fields, or at least it should be. These authors talk about design as the way we reorganize and administer the different modes at our disposal in order to convey meaning. In this line of thought, there is no academic discipline that can afford not to use some style of design, from engineers to doctors, every discipline that wishes to communicate any message applies some form of it. Furthermore, as Kress (2003) states, design comes from the desire to make meaning and to do so the author of the message faces certain choices in order to make communication more effective, so it is the design he chooses which shapes his resources so that they convey the meaning he wants. The design transforms his resources. When facing the need to express and shape the message in the most effective way, the author is confronted by many questions that point to which modes to use, how to apply them and in what order (if not simultaneously); and all of those questions call for choices and it is the making of these choices that will determine the effectiveness of the message.

    In the field of SL studies the concept of design also has great importance. I believe that teaching is essentially to convey messages full of meaning, so the role of the teacher is really that of a multimodal designer (or at least it should be, in an ideal setting) because the teacher is faced with very difficult choices that must lead him to captivate his students’ attention and help him to convey his message in the most clear and pedagogical way possible. The teacher designs each class so that the student can express himself, incorporate language concepts and apply them while working with his peers; the way to achieve all these steps is through the conscious planning and design of each class.

    For additonal reading:

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