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




Laura Garcés Vanegas

Sandra Milena Henao Henao

Eduardo Sennen López Betancur



As teachers in public schools, we are now concerned about leading our students through literacy practices in order to help them to learn reading and writing the word and the world considering their essential experiences (Freire & Macedo, 1987), and thus they can understand what is around them getting meaning from what they do. With this paper we aim to describe how is the school nowadays in terms of learning and literacy, what are teachers and students feelings about their teaching, learning and literacy processes and how they  are unconsciously making meaning with their literacy practices in our public schools; then we want to consider how approaching the concepts of new literacies, critical literacies and digital literacies, and taking advantage of everything they offer, we can go further in these literacy practices involving not only the students, but other teachers in our institutions getting better and meaningful practices and learnings.




Every day in our classrooms, we observe teachers trying to give students contents and topics established in the school syllabus and the municipal curriculum based on standards, guidelines and requirements done by the Ministry of Education. We have realized how teachers suffer because their students do not learn what they teach, and even the worst they do not develop the necessary competences and skills it is supposed teachers must promote in them.  So, teachers blame students because of their lack of commitment, responsibility and good attitude and behavior to learn, meanwhile students blame teachers because their teaching practices lack of meaning and interest for them, without considering their needs, styles, contexts and likes. In general, many teachers complain that public schools have become for the government and parents, day care centers, and they babysitters, making the educational drill of teaching and learning, with the constraints and lack of conditions every day we see in news.




In terms of literacies in our schools, many teachers believe and realize, being unaware about what the term means, they are doing a good job in terms of teaching reading and writing their students. That is, education is measured according to literacy in its basic translation into Spanish as “alfabetización”, which is placed by countries and it is more concerned with economic productivity than the human agency.  Taking this into account, Unesco’s policies are functional because literacy is mandatory for countries development.



Furthermore, Mora (2009), argues making functional literacy limited the scope, and adds “functional literacy is not emancipatory, in any way; it places the acts of reading and writing at the service of the economic sector”. But literacies must not be seen since these poor scopes. Those which place it in the acquisition of skills, improving one’s chances to find a job (Papen, 2005, p. 10) to support the economy. Instead, it must be taught, as a social practice (Street, 1984). But, the conception of literacy as we known nowadays, has been influenced by social contexts and technology which have developed a theoretical framework around newly emerging technologies and new literacies must begin by exploring the important social forces at work today. Such an exploration provides the foundation for the New Literacies Perspective (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack. 2004)



The term of New Literacies Studies, represents the new nature of literacy focusing little in the acquisition of skills, and more in what it means to think of literacy as a social practice (Street, 1985). This fact comprehend the recognition of multiples literacies, addressing the distinction between “Autonomous” and “ideological” models of literacies (Street, 1985), and developing the distinction between literacy “events” and literacy “practices” (Street, 1988). The autonomous model deals with the social and cognitive practices guided to poor “illiterate” people to enhance their cognitive skills to improve their economical level. With this point of view, literacy varies depending on the contexts, cultures and conditions. Meanwhile, the ideological model of literacy presents a more culturally sensitive view of literacy practices considering the contexts, but always supported by socially constructed epistemological principles. And, it is about knowledge because the ways people make reading and writing processes are themselves established in conceptions of knowledge, identity and being. So, literacy practices are always embedded in social practices because they are always link to a particular social or educational context when the effects of the learning of those literacies will always depend on those particular contexts. Then, about literacy events derived from the sociolinguistic idea of speech events (Barton, 1994), and according to Anderson et. al. (1980), it is an occasion during which a person “attempts to comprehend graphic signs” (pp. 59-65). And, in corresponding to literacy practices, it is a means of focusing upon “social practices and conceptions of reading and writing”, although Street, (1988) elaborated later the term to take into account both “events” in Heath’s sense and of the social models of literacy that participants bring to bear upon those events and that give meaning to them.

Going further, literacies have transformed into “New literacies” which focuses on ways in which meaning-making practices are evolving under contemporary conditions that include, but are not limited to, technological changes associated with the rise and proliferation of digital electronics. New literacies researchers and scholars seek to explore and understand continuities and differences between the ways people in societies have increasingly produced, distributed, shared, and negotiated meanings since the last century. Furthermore, investigators in new literacies are trying to anticipate beyond the present and preview how to teach best to enhance learners’ capacities for effective meaning- making and communication in the future (Knobel & Lankshear 2014).

New literacies is a call for teachers to understand new communicational and representational demands, as well as new practices that are relevant to twenty-first-century life (Albers, 2006; Kress, 2003; Leu & Kinzer, 2003), being aware that literacy is communication and meaning-making in particular social contexts and that texts may use traditional formats (i.e., print-based) but also digital formats (e.g., the Internet) or a hybrid of the two (Bruce, 1997). Furthermore, teachers must understand that their literacy teaching is not seen in the normal “authorized knowledge” required by the government, but also in the ways as they and their students use their literacy expressions as a means for representing and communicating the knowledge is important for them (Bailey, 2009).




English teachers must construct lessons around semiotic analysis and constructivist learning in multimodal formats as an integral part of their instruction. Teachers also need new language and formats for enacting, talking, and thinking about new social practices that are embedded in literacy practices in multimodal text formats (i.e., those using traditional text, but also those integrating elements of sound, image, animation, color, design, etc.). Modes and media other than alphabetic language and print media (e.g., sound and images) can, through electronic means, now be easily created, “read,” displayed, and exchanged as readily as traditional written language (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001).




Now we can think of our schools as living literacy places where, new literacies is a belief that literate practices are deeply embedded in social practices, social contexts, and social identities. In relation to new literacies, social practices, social contexts, and social identities have changed and continue to do so in these “New Times” (Luke & Elkins, 1998), often converging with digital technologies—particularly those used by adolescents outside of school (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999; Chandler-Olcott & Mahar, 2003)—and with the economic and social changes referred to as “new capitalism” (Gee, 2004).



In addition, literacy has turned into multiliteracies. This theory addressed by The London Group, considers the multiple literacy methods – linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, spatial, and multimodal – to learn and communicate. In reading and writing practices, for example, we do not just read and write a letter, we understand how they are organized to communicate meaning. Talking about technological contexts, people are no longer readers and writers, they have become users and navigators, and the acts of reading and writing more than being comprehension and production of words, are a method of navigating through various modes of understanding. Thinking about it, we communicate in a multimodal way, and understanding the kind of communications we use, can be called, a multiliterate experience; so when we talk, they are involved  linguistic and auditory modes, when we move, this body language relates gestural, visual and spatial modes. Furthermore, what is new in multiliteracies is how technology, like the multimodality of the internet, can be a tool to bring these literacies and people together, and adapting them to the classroom, can provide teachers a new perspective through multiliterate learning.




New technologies offer a way to envision new literacy practices. Based on (Grabill and Hicks 2005) “teachers should commit to this digital rhetorical perspective on writing and reading or they will miss the opportunity to help their students engage effectively in the ICT [Information and Communication Technology] revolution taking place right now”. Teachers have to realize society is dynamic and students are going on the same way. To be ready to face new processes is the first step to star implementing ICTs during their practices because if we as teachers want better results, we have to start doing different things, taking into account logic, reflection, background, new tendencies and implementation.




Reflecting on our actions as teachers, it is an excellent starting point to find some answers about the problematic and situations lived in our schools. Reflection, engagement, reading, writing and research are key concepts and actions to promote a positive impact to start improving the quality of education. How far have we as teacher gone in our practices? Many teachers do exactly the same every year and, as a consequence, they find some similar results. Some of those teachers complain about their learners´ attitude, disposition and laziness to do instructors´ proposals, these teachers constantly mention that their students do not want to do anything, that nothing is interesting for learners or expending their time on constructed lesson plans is a wasted of time. But, what have these teachers changed in their practices? Have they found something new? Have they been addressing students´ interests? Have they been addressing some research? Have they been analyzing and studying their context deeper?

Teachers have to go beyond and invest some hours of their time on doing and analyzing what children and teenagers usually do. They should wonder, how can they start implementing literacy strategies from the beginning of the school process in children and teenagers in our schools.  And, for sure, some topics will emerge from teachers’ experience, thinking about a possible connection between their topic to teach and learners’ interests. Here is where literacy practices take an important role if they are taught, taking into account what is new in the context. For instance, finding literacy in music, videos and video games could be an excellent opportunity to start engaging students in their learning.

Most of the teenagers love music, especially urban genres. How can we start our classes from urban genres aspects or students´ interests? Analyzing the lyrics and the rhythm could be an opportunity to start or continue working literacies. Additionally, many of our students love composing and singing songs about Rap, Hip hop and Reggaeton and here is when the instructor can take advantage and use digital literacies to teach students about those situations, for sure, the teacher is not going to show them how to sing better, but he or she is going to teach them how to compose better.

Based on Unsworth (2006) “Some of the affordances of computer-based and networked technologies for information and communication are exclusive to this digital data sphere. These challenges include hypertext and hypermedia links, windows or frames, ‘chat rooms’ of various kinds, email and certain ‘search’ capabilities. Such features have generated new kinds of literacy practices. Nowadays, there are even more possibilities to include when dealing with digital literacies. Excellent examples of this application are blogs such as created by Raúl Mora,  who is the coordinator of The Master program in learning and teaching second languages at “Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana” in Medellín Colombia. This blog contains relevant contributions about literacy from his students and secondly youtube- channels about Global conversations in literacy research offer a variety of conferences about literacy and those ideas can be adapted to work digital literacies with whatever topic.

Digital literacies provide opportunities for the inquiries that will develop in students´ skills, but it will happen if we use technology in ways that are truly digital. We should not simply have students find an image or to insert into a slide presentation; learners should start respecting others work and cite sources of the image, adapt the original image, and create their own ones, and the same could happen with music, videos and video games.

Based on Ammicucci (2014) the field of digital literacies research is alive with ideas for using digital literacy practices in the writing classroom. Writing projects can be developed as an alternative way to include the integrations of ICTs. Using “cool” Technology as a possibility to motivate students towards their writing process. Teachers who take advantage of this situation can experience multi modal composition digital compositions from their students, such as posting and writing on facebook, webpages, wikis, blogs or creating videos about literacy practices. Ammicucci (2014) states that bringing digital use into the classroom provides students with opportunities to write in and reflect critically upon the social, communicative contexts in which they participate. And, Canagarajah (2002) states that being critical writers are able to perceive their process as an activity occurring within a social context.

As more digital tools are developed, we see educators use these technologies in conference presentations and classroom lessons. For example, we regularly see teachers surveying students to find out about their needs and interests, automatically creating interactive graphs from their responses; but sadly, some of those teachers do not move forward and present the same lesson or repeat an old presentation.  This principle of multimodality needs to be understood for educators to apply and assess new modes of learning as a part of everyday classroom practice. Educators who teach their hearts out and do it with intelligence, energy, commitment and showing the world to their students while regarding the implementation of information and communication technologies and taking into account learners´ interests, these educators are nor showing the world, they are bringing the world to the classroom, they are making their practices experimental, memorable and unforgettable.


New literacies researchers (Gee, 2003; Hull & Schultz, 2001 ; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011) have found that studying individuals’ literacy practices outside school can provide valuable insight into their overall literacy development. Taking advantage of activities, social network, hobbies, sports or actions that learners usually do out of school context is a way to give a value to learners’ nonacademic literacies, since students’ digital literacy activities outside school may hold rich potential and pedagogical value for fostering their development of school- related literacies.




Digital literacy activities provide a way to connect schools with the outside world. Hull & Schultz (2002) state that researchers have looked for out school settings to foster notions of learning and development. Some questions have been posted: What understandings of mature versions of social practices can be found in out of school settings that we can connect to child or adult learning? How might we document the intersection of literacy with social identity or study the connection of ways of reading and writing to ways of talking, acting, interacting, valuing, and being in the world? They have accomplished more theoretical advances on the way they conceive literacy and the way children, youth, and adults, who are engaged in literate activities outside of school, have several goals in mind, including a strong desire to acquire knowledge about their activities while schooling.





The concept of Critical Literacy refers to the ability to read texts in an interactive and reflective way, so that students can interpret the world in terms of power, equity and justice.  Critical Literacy makes reference to going beyond texts, not only understanding what we are reading, but finding out what the message is, recognizing the author’s intention, asking questions about it, and looking at different points of view, in order to become citizens who think critically and experience the world through diverse glances.

Luke (2004) states that Critical Literacy involves questioning, seeing behind and beyond texts, trying to figure out how these texts establish and use power over people, on whose behalf and in whose interests the texts were written.  According to this, Freire & Macedo (1987) claim that decodifying or reading the situations pictured, takes students to achieve a critical perception of the meaning of culture by leading them to understand how human practices transforms the world.  Taking these definitions into account, it can be said that teaching Critical Literacy should be a “must” at school; it is important to teach students to read every message found, through a critical point of view, to become critically aware, and that they can be able to critique what could be useful for their lives, regarding their social and cultural contexts.

It is essential for students to become critical thinkers, to empower them with the necessary skills to “read the world”, to embrace different viewpoints that can help them to perceive and take actions against different situations.  When teachers facilitate the development of these specific abilities in students, they are encouraging them to question and interpret all messages they receive through a critical lens, considering the functions that language have in the construction of knowledge and in the transformation of the society.  Shor argues that when we are critically literate, “we examine our own development, to reveal the subjective positions from which we make sense of the world and act in it” (1999, p. 2).  How can students use the words to transform their own world? How can teachers guide students to acquire a critical view to the world? This is what teachers must take into account in every learning process, because knowledge cannot act isolated, it should have implicit the social and cultural function that can be carried out in their own real contexts.

Nowadays, public schools’ curricula are designed based on approaches that take students to discover knowledge from an inductive perspective, the development of transferable or social skills, project based, problem solving, among others; these approaches are leading students to an implementation of knowledge into social and cultural contexts, but there is a lack of awareness on how and why they do it.  They learn to read and write, but there is a gap between comprehension and reflection of what they read and produce; the reaction to texts is mechanical because they learn it for a specific purpose, but they do not go beyond them, they do not analyze and reflect about the message, and they are isolated from their contexts.  With the implementation of a critical literacy approach in our schools, students would have a critical vision of their world, and they would be able to recognize their own environment to make transformations from school.  A critical literacy pedagogy opens the curriculum to all, it asks students to question and reflect about what is happening in their world; “it makes significant diverse children’s cultural and social questions about everyday life” (Vasquez, 2004, p. 15).  Critical literacy “connects the political and the personal, the public and the private, the global and the local, the economic and the pedagogical, for rethinking our lives and for promoting justice in place of inequity” (Shor, 1999, p. Intro).

Furthermore, Knobel & Lankshear (2002) suggest that when students become critically literate, they can consider ongoing development, what part they play in the world, and how they make sense of their experiences.  Each subject in the school curriculum must offer  lessons in which students explore needs and interests, dialogues in which they have opportunity to reflect, analyze and express what they think and feel about issues of power, justice, community, human rights, among others;  that curriculum must connect their lives with the outside world, the world beyond the walls of school.  It is necessary a restructuration of  knowledge teaching in which students feel they can challenge societal rules, in order to encourage and transform social action.  Behrman (2006) states that some specific kinds of lessons examine power relations that are found in language and literature, and these practices show students that language is never neutral.  His research revealed that the most used practices that support critical literacy include: reading supplementary texts, reading multiple texts, reading from a resistant perspective, producing counter-texts, having students conduct research about topics of personal interest, and challenging students to take social action (2006, p. 494).  McLauglin & DeVoogd’s (2004) propose critical literacy lesson framework consisting of four parts: engaging student’s thinking, guiding student’s thinking, extending student’s thinking, and reflection.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2009) proposes some tips to create classrooms environments that promote critical literacy, and they can be implemented in our contexts in order to have more integral practices.  (For a more complete list, see Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009.)

Honor the cultural capital and multiliteracies of all students

  • Acquire an understanding of students’ interests, backgrounds and values.
  • Begin with and build on the unique identities and diverse community perspectives represented within the classroom and the school.
  • Consider students’ ideas, questions, interests and experiences in shaping learning opportunities.
  • Ensure entry points for all students when designing tasks and learning experiences that provide opportunities to think critically.

Build a safe, inclusive classroom environment that promotes risk taking and inquiry

  • Model and explicitly teach norms for respectful classroom interactions.
  • Use learning strategies that encourage active, meaningful participation of all students.
  • Provide time and opportunity for students to refine and clarify their thinking about critical issues by encouraging accountable talk through the use of graphic organizers, illustrations and dramatizations.
  • Acknowledge that some issues can be sensitive for some students.

Incorporate thought-provoking multimedia and multimodal texts that:

  • Engage students in considering alternative and diverse perspectives – perspectives they may be unaware of, those they might not agree with, those that differ between texts, or points of view that vary from the one presented by a particular author.
  • Take into account popular culture (commercials, TV shows, songs, music videos etc.)
  • Serve as a springboard for students to reflect on those texts that support and/or challenge their own opinions and solutions and address real-world current issues
  • Connect with topics and issues that may stem from other areas of the curriculum

Luke & Freebody  (1999) cited in Capacities Building Series, Secretariat Special Edition Nº9 (2009),  propose  the “Four Resources Model”  to emphasize the importance of the critical literacy concepts; critical literacy strategies need to be taught explicitly, but they should not be taught sequentially or in isolation from one another.  The four resources model proposed are:

  1. Code breaking:  Identifying letters in the alphabet and sounds in words, spelling and grammar conventions such as sentence structure and text organization, and using graphics and other visuals resources to break the “code” of text.  Code breaking is equivalent to basic or functional literacy.
  2. Making meaning:  Encouraging students be encouraged to be a “text participant”, to use their own prior knowledge and experience when reading to interpret what the author is saying and to anticipate where he or she might be going next. They need to learn how to “deconstruct” text, to understand an author’s purpose and intention, to make interpretations in light of their own knowledge and point of view, and to examine and then find the most effective ways to convey their thinking.
  3. Using text:  Introducing students to different text forms and how these have different uses which shape the language, structure and organization chosen by the author.  It is important here that students recognize the social and cultural functions the text has, and how it can modify or challenge inside and outside school environment.
  4. Analyzing text:  Critical literacy teaches that a text is not neutral, that students need to ask about what the text is trying to convince me and why, and analyze what can be useful from it. Students need to be encouraged to evaluate what is said and how it is said in order to uncover and challenge assumptions and ideas about the world, to assume an own position or perspective that help in decision taking when implementing a social action.[1]

In conclusion, multiliteracy practices are presented in our lives at any time, everywhere, no matter if they are new, digital or critical. These are natural and normal expressions of nature and human beings, with the modes and tools they are on hand; they are implicit and explicit in all our performances and belong to our social nature. As teachers, we are those called to foster in our students´ literacy practices promoting them not only in the classroom, but outside it. Nowadays, we can use technology, but we can also take advantage of the multimodal diversity and communicative richness both teachers and students have in the best way, considering their cultural knowledge, their contexts, and promoting their awareness as well. So, going beyond literacies in public schools, it is just a starting.

[1] Adapted from Capacities Building Series (2009) Secretariat Special Edition Nº9.  Retrieved from:



Amicucci, A. N. (2014). “How They Really Talk.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 57(6), 483–491.

Bailey, N. M. (2009). ” It Makes It More Real”: Teaching New Literacies in a Secondary English Classroom. English Education, 41(3), 207-234.

Behrman, E. (2006). “Teaching about language, power, and text: A review of classroom practices that support critical literacy,” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 49:6, pp. 490–98.

Canagarajah , S. ( 2002 ). Critical academic writing and multilingual students. Ann Arbor, MI : University of Michigan .

Critical Literacy (2009). Adapted from Capacities Building Series, Secretariat Special Edition Nº9.  Retrieved from:

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. Publishers.

Gee , J.P. ( 2003 ). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy . New York, NY : Palgrave Macmillan .

Hull , G. , & Schultz , K. ( 2001 ). Literacy and learning out of school: A review of theory and research . Review of Educational Research , 71 ( 4 ), 575 – 611. doi: 10.3102/00346543071004575

Hull, G., & Schultz, K. (2002). Connecting Schools with Out-of-School Worlds Out-of-chool Worlds.

Knobel, M., and Lankshear, C. (2002). “Critical cyberliteracies: What young people can teach us about reading and writing in the world.” Keynote address delivered to the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research.

Lankshear , C. , & Knobel , M. ( 2011 ). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning ( 3rd ed. ). New York, NY : McGraw-Hill .

Luke, A.(2004). Foreward in McLaughlin, M. and Devoogd, G. (2004). Critical Literacy: Enhancing students’ comprehension of text. New York, Scholastic.

Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1999). Further notes on the four resources model. Reading Online. Retrieved from

McLaughlin, M., Devoogd, G. (2004). Critical literacy: Enhancing students’ comprehension of text. New York, Scholastic.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2009). Connecting practice and research: Critical literacy guide. Retrieved from: CoreResources/Critical_Literacy_Guide.pdf.

Shor, I. (1999). What is critical literacy? In I. Shor & C. Pari (Eds.), Critical literacy in action (pp. 1–30). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Street, B. (2003). What’s “new” in New Literacy Studies? Critical approaches to literacy in theory and practice. Current issues in comparative education5(2), 77-91.

The New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In B. Cope and M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 9-39). Youth Yarra, Australia: MacMillan. Retrieved from: May 2, 2016.

Unsworth, L. (2001) Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum: Changing dimensions of text and image in classroom practice. Buckingham: Open University Press

Unsworth, L. (2006). Changing Dimensions of School Literacies. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 25(1), 62–77.

Vasquez, V.M. (2004).Negotiating critical literacies with young children. Mahwah. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.




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This entry was posted on May 6, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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