A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
Even though, scholars have been discussing Literacy education around the world for more than 40 years (Mora, 2011), in Colombia the fact of reflecting on new ways of understanding the processes of reading and writing has become a new paradigm that needs attention and study (Mora, 2012, in press). Therefore, writing about literacy in today’s times, means to get involved in a multiple notions, concepts and discussions in relation to politics, social and economic issues. It has not been easy to grasp the big dimension that Literacy comprises nowadays, and how educators can contribute from an educational perspective to reduce inequality and marginalization in our society. However, this text exposes the notion of Literacy Awareness, that may allow teachers to create new ways and transform literacy education in the key for social inclusion. Literacy Awareness is the moment from which we start seeing literacy differently, changes that have happened around technology and communication media, taking into account different learning styles, social and cultural conditions and all those things seen from the very big picture. Literacy Awareness is, in few words, to understand the implications that our ways, choices and points of view have in the development of our students’ lives and ways of being in the world. A second notion is Literacy creation that involves an attitude towards the design of integrative ways to face Literacy education.
Main Concepts about Literacy Education
Several concepts are involved in the act of reflexivity (Mora) on Literacy. They help teachers to clarify, discuss, reflect and become aware on Literacy Education. From the traditional ones to new perspectives on the issue or just their confrontation, teachers need to know the current discussion around them. Some of the most important ones are: being literate/illiterate, Functional Literacy/Literacy as a social practice; other ones can be Critical Literacy, New Literacy Studies, Multiliteracies, Multimodality, also, the concepts of Design and Agency. They have changed with the time and transformed educators to support the new paradigm of Literacy in today’s educational scenarios. Here in this text we will discuss some of the most important concepts that will help teachers understand Literacy practices nowadays and the development of the Literacy Awareness.
Functional literacy vs Literacy as a social practice
One of the mayor changes of Literacy conception is that Functional literacy:
“deals with mastery of the written medium (the traditional view) and the second one views literacy as a social practice. The latter refers to the fact of uncovering Discourses in the written texts. This has to do with the necessity of considering what happens in the mind of the reader and the social context of the reception of the text. Discourses, from this perspective, are more than the language production; they are ways of being in the world, or forms of life that integrate acts, words, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities” (Kramsch, 1998 as cited by Alvarez Valencia, 2009).
In this sense, functional literacy is promoted by most of language policies makers in most of the different countries of the world. There are several reasons, concerning politics and economical fields, why it is most important to policy makers to have people reading and writing in a functional way instead of having people questioning or participating in social debates. In the same way “under this perspective, being functionally literate increases the possibilities to cope with present vocational and economical demands of a capitalist world” (Alvarez Valencia, 2009).
In our Latin American countries things are not different, a recent study showed that
“Latin American policy discourses under the influence of human capital theory have framed literacy as a key cause of underdevelopment, suggesting that providing adolescents and adults with access to literacy will enhance their economic and political incorporation into existing, and unproblematized, economic and political systems” (Bartlett, 2011).
As we can see, the problem is not to provide access to literacy in our called underdeveloped countries but how we provide it, what kind of literacy do we need/want for our students? Or Are we going to continue reproducing the same behavior that favors only the system?
Other important concept to develop Literacy awareness is Critical Literacy. “Allan Luke (1997), as cited by Alvarez Valencia, “who has delved into this critical perspective, declares that: Critical approaches to literacy are characterised by a commitment to reshape literacy education in the interests of marginalised groups of learners, who on the basis of gender, cultural and socioeconomic background, have been excluded from access to the discourses and texts of dominant economies and cultures”(Alvarez Valencia, 2009). If we see literacy process as an element for action and transformation or our conditions, we will be accomplishing the aim of education.
Similarly, Burnett states that “from this perspective, (of) language, seen as central to the social construction of knowledge and consequently to how power circulates, is a prime site for the enactment of dominant discourses (Freire, 1985 as cited by Burnett, 2011). In other words, to understand critical literacy we should situate and wear the lenses of social justice, inclusion, equity and Literacy education, understood as a social practice.
New communicational media, Technology and Future perspectives on Literacy Education
As language teachers, we should be updated on tendencies, approaches, methods or simply strategies that help us to improve our teaching practices and make them become meaningful for learners who are, at the same time, expected to develop their potential and personality in order to accomplish a role in our society. In this sense, this new paradigm of literacy education to approach language teaching should be considered for teachers not only as a tool to be taught but also as a transversal attitude that allow us to establish relationships among people, school, education, society and culture. There is a change that should start from teachers this is teachers’ awareness on Literacy Education, taking into account new communication technologies and at the same time, new literacies, different modes and design in the content for education.
In our new communicational world as mentioned by Kress Gunther there have been Changes in the domain of meaning, in representation and in semiotic production, in dissemination and distribution of messages and meanings. These changes have caused a shift, among others, from the dominance of the mode of writing, to the mode of image”. Another author stated “that new communications technology has transformed the lives of many (but not all), and that new skills and understandings are necessary for full participation in the digital world. It argues that, because of what it calls ‘the participation gap’, these skills should be incorporated in the school curriculum” (Burnett, 2011). However, to talk about those changes we cannot before mention the implication these modes have had in the way we conceive Literacy education. This new look at this topic has been name for some academics as New Literacies.
Jennifer Rowsell and Maureen Walsh, for instance, consider a fundamental part of ‘new’ literacies in literacy education not only that literacies are multiple, but also that they demand different modes. “Modes that are regularized sets of resources for meaning making. A visual, a sound, a word, a movement, animation, spatial dimensions are resources brought together or in isolation to achieve an effect in texts” (Rowsell,2008). These texts understood in a wide conception, as the entire world.
All these modes are selected carefully and intentionally as a part of a design. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis made a reference to the concept of Design. “Design in the sense of construction, is something you do in the process of representing meaning… to oneself in making process such as reading, listening or viewing or to the world in communicative processes such as writing, speaking or making pictures” (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009).
It is how as part of the “Design”, as it is understood by The New London Group and also by Cope and Kalantzis, since advertisements to posters, along with images, name of places, slogans etc… all the cultures, communities, organizations, companies, associations or any other form of grouping make sense of its philosophy and tells the others how they conceive their principles, aims and values in a multimodal way.
Finally, it is important to mention the pedagogical proposal of New London Group about multiliteracies. It 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, 1996), 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, 1996). 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”
The way some scholars have addressed the process of Literacy has been changing since last decades; most of them see it as a “social practice” involving relations of power and justice. Others, as a pedagogy (Gregg 2012 and NLG, 1996) that can be taught and practiced in the classroom. However to talk about literacy education is most of all to talk about making a change in the way we make sense and represent, at the same time, our world. This vision of critical literacy as a social practice has made scholars as well to think “who is advantaged by the way things are and who is disadvantaged” (Comber, 2001), or “who profits?” (Street, 2007). Therefore, new literacy studies is a call to read “the word and the world” (Freire, 1987), also to analyze how the system works and why it does it in that way, that is to say, to develop Literacy Awareness.
Finally, there is an invitation for Literacy creation, it involves language teachers to integrate the world of our students, their contexts, and take them to the classroom. In that way, students can make sense of what are they learning for, and what can they do to change their reality and living conditions. Similarly, there is an invitation to consider students’ values, knowledge and practices that can connect the school with the real world and vice versa.
• Álvarez Valencia, J. A. (2009). Are we really literate? ASOCOPI Newsletter, April, 13-15.
• Bartlett, L., López, D., Mein, E., & Valdiviezo, L. A. (2011). Adolescent literacies in Latin America and the Carribbean. Review of Research in Education, 35, 174-207. doi: 10.3102/0091732X10383210
• Burnett, C. & Merchant, G. (2011). Is there a space for critical literacy in the context of social media? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(1), 41-57.
• Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (2009). “Multiliteracies”: New literacies, new learning. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 4(3), 164-195. doi:10.1080/15544800903076044
• Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. London, UK: Routledge.
• Gregg, S. C.; Hoyte, K. W., & Flint, A. S. (2012). “I could just go free in my mind”: Combining critical literacy, reader response, and writer’s workshop in the elementary classroom. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 40(4), 19-25.
• Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London, UK: Routledge.
• Mora, R. A. (2012). Literacidad y el aprendizaje de lenguas: nuevas formas de entender los mundos y las palabras de nuestros estudiantes. Revista Internacional Magisterio, 58, 52- 56
• New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 60-92.
• Rowsell, J. & Walsh, M. (2008). Rethinking literacy education in new times: Multimodality, multiliteracies, and new literacies. Brock Education, 21(1), 53-62.
• Street, B. V. & Lefstein, A. (2007). Literacy: An advanced resource book. London, UK: Routledge.