A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
A Framework for New Literacy Education and Society in the 21st Century
María Catalina Gómez Jiménez
Melanie Mollan Moscoso
Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana
Dr. Raul Mora
Semester II, 2016
This paper proposes a framework for literacies in Colombia, which embraces all aspects of social life, that is, school, workplace, society and education. In the realm of Latin American society, the authors distinguish concepts such as alfabetismo/alfabetización, lectoescritura and literacidad. Next, they discuss what it means to be literate in the twenty first century, which has certain implications in the way citizenship is exercised as well as work is done. Thus, the authors state that in today’s globalized world it is crucial that people (teachers and students) are equipped with the necessary skills to participate successfully in our changing society. It then explains how globalization has affected schooling and provides classroom activities to embrace critical literacy, as well as the way it should be taught in class. Finally, it concludes with the teachers´ conditions for this 21st century in order to be effective and skilful educators.
Key words: alfabetismo, alfabetización, multiliteracies, critical literacy
A Framework for New Literacy Education and Society in the 21st Century
Because time is not static and as such, society, education, economy, and most important, culture and language are in constant change, literacy and the way human beings approach reading and writing across cultures continuously evolve. In a whole, literacy is multidisciplinary and for this reason, theorists from such a wide-range of fields, such as psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and history, have engaged in ongoing discussions and critical reflections for over 40 years in order to reach to a comprehensive definition and meaning of ‘literacy’, as well as how it influences different aspects of human life (society, education, and knowledge).
Nonetheless, the term ‘literacy’ has presented certain constraints when trying to approach its definitions in other languages such as Spanish (Cassany & Castellà, 2010), French, and Portuguese. In Spanish for example, ‘literacy’ is referred to alfabetismo/alfabetización, lectoescritura and literacidad. The problem here does not lie in its translation, but rather in its “epistemological and conceptual differences” (Mora, 2010) and the way society, research and education approach it in today’s Globalized world (Mora, 2016). About this, UNESCO (2006) states that “People’s notions of what it means to be literate or illiterate are influenced by academic research, institutional agendas, national context, cultural values and personal experiences” (p.147). This idea, and the way teachers promote literacy within learners in the classrooms is reflected in the following video:
Key Concepts in Literacy:
In order to reach to a thorough understanding of what ‘literacy’ means in Spanish –alfabetismo/alfabetización, lectoescritura and literacidad- (since it is our Latin American context the subject matter), it is important to describe what each of these terms refer to.
In a broad glance, the word ‘literacy’ in English is generally related to reading and writing. Based on Cambridge (2013), “It is the ability to read and write which makes a person ‘literate’, with varying degrees of fluency” (p.8). However, The National Literacy Trust (2012) in UK includes listening and speaking in its definition of ‘literacy’ when they suggest that the four skills (listening, reading and writing) are pivotal for people to fulfill their potential.
According to UNESCO, alfabetismo/alfabetización is not only defined as the ability to both read and write, but also a “basic human right which constitutes the basis for learning throughout life”. Likewise, this term is tightly related to the pedagogical activities with the purpose of teaching reading and writing to adults (Mora, 2010).
However, Paulo Freire, who is perhaps the most renowned adult literacy educator, acknowledged that linking reading and writing only to the workplace could lead to serious limitations, particularly, in the claim that it improves the faculty of reasoning and enables processes of agency resulting from there (Mora, 2010; Unesco, 2006).
Yet, the term lectoescritura, as addressed by Mora (2012) is expected to offer a broader view of reading and writing processes. However, its definition is still narrow because it limits the reading and writing only to the work done around the school, and it ignores the fact that literate processes comprise the social dimension and the realities that emerge out of school. Moreover, as lectoescritura only favors linear texts presented on paper and books, it has not recognized the advancing technologies and their mediations (Cope and Kalantzis, 2007). In light of all said, and on the basis of Freire’s Critical Literacy, The United Nations in the year 2002 (as cited in UNESCO, 2006) acknowledged the place of literacy at the heart of lifelong learning, affirming that:
Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they can face in life, and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first century (p.155).
Figure 1 Illustrates “The process of Lectoescritura”
If a literate person is that who can read and write with understanding, a simple statement on his or her everyday life (OECD, 2004), and consequently he or she will be empowered to actively participate in the society; then, its opposite, the illiterate person, is that who has been unable to do so. According to Fernández and Martínez (2010), illiteracy is the cause of the interaction of a number of factors. Among these are poverty, malnutrition, health problems, child labour, migration and lack of access to stable teaching and learning environments. These inequalities influence the social vulnerability of individuals, and vary significantly depending on gender, age, ethnicity and geographic location.
Due to the fact that different academic fields have adopted a standard view of literacy (school, work and development programs), this concept is generally considered as neutral and universal. According to Street (2013), such neutral consideration of literacy overlooks that literacy practices differ from one culture to another, “as do the effects of the different literacies in different conditions”. (p.4). In his statement about New Literacy Studies, Street makes a clear distinction between autonomous model and ideological model of literacy. The former is regarded as the imposition of ideas and views of one culture or group on another. In this case, let us exemplify the imposition, or rather enforcement of western approaches to literacy on developing nations. The latter, which is what society should aim at, instead of considering literacy as a mere technical or neutral skill, it is “culturally-sensitive” since it is embedded in social practices.
Central to the conception of literacy as not as a static and impersonal state, but rather one which is individuated and enacted as social practice, Baily (2004) suggests four key principles of literacy that are crucial for the development of human beings. They are described as follows:
What Does it Mean To Be Literate In the 21st Century?
With the advent of innovative and advanced technologies, as well as the cultural and linguistic diversity of our Globalized world, there is an urge to readdress and reshape the way society and education approach literacy, or in today’s world “multiliteracies” (New London Group, 1996; Cope and Kalantzis, 2000). This means that the word ‘literacy’ is no longer used to refer to the learning of standard use of language. On the contrary, in these changing times, this term has begun to be used in a much broader way to refer to other skills and competencies, for example ‘information literacy’, ‘visual literacy’ and ‘media literacy’ or ‘digital literacy”. Some researchers (Street, 2013; Lankshear and Knobel, 2014; Cope and Kalantzis, 2000) have offered a more useful concept which is that of multiple literacies – that is, ways of ‘reading the world’ in specific contexts: technological, health, information, media, visual and so on.
Based on Cope and Kalantzis (2000), literacy implies learning about the vast array of uses of the new technologies in different contexts. For instance, from the personal email addressed to a friend, as opposed to a formal one (e.g. applying for a job), to the diverse uses of English in different English speaking communities, by non-native speakers or distinct subcultural groups. Likewise, they assert that literacy skills comprise not only knowledge of grammatical structures but also “effective communication in diverse settings, and using tools of text design, which may include word processing, desktop publishing and image manipulation” (p.203).
As observed, 21st century literacies are complex, dynamic and flexible. What is more, they are inextricably related to particular social histories of people and the cultures they come from. Based on The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE, 2008), it is expected that active and effective agents in the 21st century society be able to:
A Critical Literacy Model for Today’s Society and the World of Work:
It is evident that today’s society and nations are pressured into responding to the demands of capitalism and Globalization. As a result, public institutions, economy, education and politics operate according to the market logic of capitalism. Now, more than ever, we are experiencing a global connectedness, as well as a cultural and linguistic diversity that is not only due to the constant migration of people, but also to the rich ethnic multiplicity that is rooted in our local context. Consequently, the celebration of differences, especially in our local context posit a new vision of how to approach literacy, since it is time to change the paradigm of autonomous model addressed by Street (2006), that is, we must contest the issue of language being neutral.
Starting from the school, children, and citizens in general, need to learn to recognize, analyze and contest different discourses of power, domination and discrimination, and most important, in our particular social context (Colombia), we must be able to interrogate the ideologies of corruption and oppression hidden in social and political discourses. This does not mean, however, that we can take justice into our own hands. On the contrary, it is important that we be prepared to negotiate meaning according to the social realities and that we actively participate in public spaces to reach to a collective goal. In this regard, The New London Group (1996), proposed a claim for “civic pluralism” in which people’s linguistic and cultural differences are recognized, because they are the basis for a peaceful and cohesive society.
In order to achieve “civic pluralism”, it is crucial that educators use the classroom as a powerful resource to set the foundations of citizenship and tolerance. In this way, children, as future agents of society should be taught to reflect critically on complex systems and then contest discourses of dominance and power. This is not a work to be done by reading just text on paper about conflicts of power and interest. This can only be done by facing them authentically and directly, and the result, will be the creation of a new history, vigorous, and an equitable public space. This idea is mirrored when The New London Group (1996), asserts that:
Instead of core culture and national standards, the realm of the civic is a space for the negotiation of a different sort of social order: Where differences are actively recognized, where these differences are negotiated in such a way that they complement each other, and where people have the chance to expand their cultural and linguistic repertoires so that they can access a broader range of cultural and institutional resources. (p.69)
Yet, the proliferation of new technologies and communication channels of this century lead to the transformation of social practices in which individuals interact, participate and raise their voice. Cope and Kalantzis (2009) argue that now, people are not content with just being consumers of information, or rather spectators. Instead, they are creators and generators of new narratives that let their identities be told. Thus, these new environments, mediated by technology, and that are multimodal in nature, “empower individuals to take action for the community by acting as digital citizens” (As Guzzetti & Foley, 2014 cite Jacobson, 2012, p.469). The following videos are examples of this active participation in our country; firstly, Daniel Samper, a renowned journalist and writer, comically and ironically interrogates the messages of political domination, discrimination and other issues related to our idiosyncrasy throughout his weekly You Tube videos.
Secondly, Guillermo Arturo Prieta La Rotta (better known as Pirry) is a recognized and very famous journalist, writer and tv presenter who investigated relevant topics concerning Colombian citizens:
For last but not least, Jaime Garzón, was a colombian journalist, comedian, lawyer and peace activist who was recognized for his political satire in which he openly criticized the Colombian government, politicians and the way in which the country was handle:
Transforming Working Lives:
It is undeniable the fact that literacy demands are increasing with the emergence of new technologies and new ways of organizing work and as such, states are pushed to get involved in processes of significant change in order to stay tuned with the world of competitiveness. So, emerging from the autonomous model proposed by Street (2006), there is the concept of ‘functional literacy’. According to UNESCO (2006), in the last century, this term was first used to refer to the impact of literacy on the socio-economic development. Assumptions of functional literacy often conceived that literacy could be taught as a neutral and universal set of skills and that there was only one literacy, which everyone should learn in the same way.
Nonetheless, this idea changed as scholars stated that literacy practices differ from one context to another and from one culture to another. In other words, the former view of literacy would be too instrumental and utilitarian in the benefit of economic growth in detriment of workers. At this point, it is worth suggesting that instead of continuing perpetrating the discourse of domination and power exercised on workers, there is an urge to link education to marketplace, looking for a moral and civil rationale for schooling that will in turn transform the world of work for the better. What is more, it is crucial to stop considering reading and writing activities as decontextualized or neutral skills. Alternatively, “ways of reading and writing can be seen as companions to ways of talking, acting, interacting, valuing, and being in the world, including ways of constructing an identity as a worker.” (Hull, 2000, p.650).
In a general view, the ultimate goal in the workplace is to empower workers through critical literacy to become experts in the use of literacy to exercise critical judgment and to resist and influence authority. It all concerns to the social identity. Similarly, the ideal is that workers actively participate in the work of teams as well as they get engaged in shaping teamwork toward the collective good.
Central to the transformation of working spaces is the paramount role that school teachers, university professors and most important, workplace educators make in order to contribute to what Castleton (2002) labeled, a “strategic intervention.”(p.564). For this project, it is necessary that a new curriculum for literacy at work be implemented so that social practices, relationships of work and workplaces can be redefined. Such new curriculum would emphasize less on what we, as individuals, have been impelled to think by society, in terms of traditional education, and more on articulating the value of critical literacy in the lives of workers to whom it is addressed.
The following video taken from a movie called They live (1998), reveals this reality of how individuals have been impelled to think and how the glasses (critical literacy) allows people to recognize and see how society works:
Finally, it is worth to consider that our task as teachers is to engage in a pedagogy that empowers students, as well as workers to take on critical and rich communicative tasks in their workplaces, so that they link these tasks with the roles and identities emerging in these spaces. The following video, illustrates and expands teacher’s task in a specific workplace:
However, we teachers, must remain vigilant that this curriculum of workplace literacy does not fall in the perpetuation of power and knowledge.
As follows, Figure 2 is shown as example of Critical Literacy training in the workplace
Figure 3, is a product of the popular culture as an urge for workers to engage in critical literacy practices.
Multiliteracies and Critical Literacy in Today’s Schooling
According to an article by Maureen O´Rourke (2005): Multiliteracies for the 21st century, there is a proliferation of technology which change the way people communicate, that is to say that people’s capacity to transcend borders and create more complex readings and process of information are rising in a broad sense. This is why, we as school teachers propose multiliteracies and critical literacy as a response to today’s´ education.
Multiliteracies first appeared in 1996 as a helpful option to education changes and people’s capacity to communicate through new media; it embraces: aural, spatial, linguistic, visual and gestural modes. (O´Rourke, 2005, p.1) Therefore, it is a combination of all these modes in a specific context and place. Taking into account that current schools are working through the challenge of identifying new literacies, it is important to highlight the benefits of implementing multiliteracies in today’s schools:
Acknowledge and embrace the diverse forms of literacy practice (…) from an emphasis on ´reading the world” to reading multi-modal texts; includes the assumptions that in the process of becoming literate, students are making sense of the world and themselves in the world. (Ibid, p. 1)
From our teaching experience, we aim at providing some multiliteracies classroom activities, in order to expand this concept and allow other teachers put into practice with their students:
The following link is an example of a video creation made by a fourth grade student from the school where Melanie works. The activity consisted in preparing an international dish and presenting the ingredients and the procedure, this student decided to create a video to present his dish:
Although students are quickly tackling up the multimedia and electronic information, Unsworth (2001) mentions the necessities students should have in order to become effective participants in emerging multiliteracies, first: understand how language resources like image and digital rhetorics can be deployed independently and second: how they can interact with different kinds of meaning. Nonetheless, not only students but even textbooks also need a significant shift. In the case of school textbooks there has been a significant shift to the prominence of images (Ibid, p. 9). “In contemporary texts, the majority of the space is given to images and they have a significant role together with language in communicating the essential information about the topic” (Kress, 2000).
Apart from multiliteracies, another fundamental key in today’s schooling is critical literacy,
The term “critical” has a distinctive etymology in Western philosophy and science. It is derived from the Greek adjective kriticos, the ability to argue and judge. Paulo Freire´s (1970) revolutionary educational philosophy defined critical literacy as the capacity to analyze critique and transform social, cultural and political texts and contexts. (Luke, 2012, p. 219)
Nevertheless, The International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English standards for the English Language Arts (1996) prioritize in “the need for students to achieve literacy in both print and nonprint texts” (Kist, 2000, p. 711) The key point is the inclusion and not the exclusion in the input and output, a critical literacy classroom will allow “all voices to be heard, no matter the medium being used” (Ibid, p.712). In addition, the author also says that the literacy classroom will have explicit discussions of symbol usage, ongoing metadialogues, individual and collaborative activities as well as active and engaged students.
Luke (2004) asserts that critical literacy “involves second guessing, reading against the grain, asking hard and harder questions, seeing underneath, behind, and beyond texts, trying to see and ´call´ how these texts establish and use power over us”. Comber & Simpson (2001, p.301) continue asserting that when teachers and students are engaged, they “ask complicated questions about language and power, about people and lifestyle, about morality and ethics, and about who is advantaged by the way things are and who is disadvantaged”.
For last, the questions that all teachers must do to themselves are: why teach critical literacy? And how should it be taught? Gains (2009) gives us a hint of why and how to teach critical literacy. First of all, critical literacy will deepen the understanding of ideas and information in all curricular areas; never mind if the teacher is teaching language, science, economics or history, critical literacy enhances and deepens comprehension. Secondly, a false paradigm educators have is that critical literacy should be taught to adults, but the truth is that it can be taught even to primary students using all manner of texts.
Here are some ways in which critical literacy can be taught in class:
(Ibid, p. 2)
In this order of ideas, we wanted to investigate the conception teachers and students have towards literacy and critical literacy, here are the results:
Teachers’ responsibility in the 21st Century
A fundamental issue that rises in order to develop multiliteracies and critical thinking is preparing teachers for this changing society, critical educators as Gouthro & Holloway (2003, p.50) believe that “the purpose of schooling is not just to prepare students for the workplace, but to prepare them for life” further on, they assert that teachers´ skills and experience should be broaden and should enhance a critical approach to citizenship. Moreover, other authors like Guide (2009) reminds us that teachers need a conscious awareness of their own understanding of language if they are willing to help students how to question and understand how language works.
The following video “Our class is an orchestra” recalls the attitude a teacher should have towards education:
Bearing this in mind, teachers need to update their teaching and learning style, “the teacher at times will be a facilitator and guide or a co-researcher, but at other times will be an authoritative (but not authoritarian) leader and direct instructor” (Unsworth, 2001, p.20). Here are some conditions teachers can create for fostering critical literacy and discussions in class:
Figure 4. Technocrat Teacher
One thing is certain: today´s teachers and students are different from twenty years ago. (Dalin, 1996). Today teachers are not bosses dictating what others should think and do, today teachers are not technocrats, teacher’s´ job is to help students “develop the capacity to speak up, to negotiate, and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 13) As well as, help to “develop ways in which the student can demonstrate how they can design and carry out, in a reflective manner, new practices embedded in their own goals and values” (Ibid, p.53)
Ultimately, 21st century teachers must have plenty of skills: collaborate and communicate with other teachers and experts, work in teams, share their knowledge, create engaging classes, be innovate, etc. (Trilling & Fadel, 2009) In other words, “teachers are the front line in this change and they must have the knowledge, skills, and support to be effective 21st century teachers” (Ibid, p.136)
Cambridge (2013). What is literacy? An investigation into definitions of English as a subject and the relationship between English, literacy and ‘being literate’. Cambridge Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/images/130433-what-is-literacy-an-investigation-into-definitions-of-english-as-a-subject-and-the-relationship-between-english-literacy-and-being-literate-.pdf
Cassany, D. & Castellà, J. M. (2010). Aproximación a la literacidad crítica. Perspectiva, 28(2), 353-374. Retrieved from https://periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/perspectiva/article/…2010v28n2p353/18441
Castleton, G. (2002). Workplace literacy as a contested site of educational activity. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(7), 556-566.
Comber, B.,& Simpson, A. (Eds.). (2001). Negotiating critical literacies in classrooms. Routledge
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. Psychology Press.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2007). New media, new learning. The International Journal of Learning, (14) 1, pp.75-79. Retrieved from http://newlearningonline.com/_uploads/L07_8792_NewMediaNewLearning_final.pdf
Dalin, P. (1996). Towards schooling for 21st century. A&C Black.
Gains, L.(2009). Connecting Practice and Research: Critical Literacy Guide.
Gouthro, P., & Holloway, S. (2013). Preparing teachers to become lifelong learners: Exploring the use of fiction to develop multiliteracies and critical thinking. Language and Literacy, 15(3), 50.
Grainger, T. (2004). The RoutledgeFalmer reader in language and literacy. Psychology Press.
Grenfell, M., Bloome, D., Hardy, C., Pahl, K., Rowsell, J., & Street, B. V. (2013). Language, ethnography, and education: Bridging new literacy studies and bourdieu. New Literacy Studies. Routledge
Guzzetti & Foley (2014). Literacy Agents Online. E-Discussion Forums For Advancing Adults’ Literacy Practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 57 (6), 461-471
Hull, G. (2000) Critical Literacy at Work. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, (43) 7, 648-652.
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2008). Language education and multiliteracies. Encyclopedia of language and education, 195-211. Springer US. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-0-387-30424-3_15#page-1
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.
Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2014). Studying new literacies. Journal of adolescent & adult literacy, 58(2), 97-101.
Kress, G. (2000). Multimodality: Challenges to thinking about language.Tesol Quarterly, 34(2), 337-340.
Luke, A. (2004). Critical Literacy enhancing students´comprehension of text. New York, Scholastic.
Luke, A. (2012). Critical literacy: Foundational notes. Theory into practice,51(1), 4-11.
Martinez, R., & Fernandez, P. (2010). The social and economic impact of illiteracy: Analytical model and pilot study. 9(25). Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0019/001905/190571E.pdf
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.
Mora, R. A. (2016). Translating Literacy as Global Policy and Advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(6), 647-651.
National Council of Teachers of English (2003) The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies. Illinois, USA. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition
O´Rourke, M. (2005). Multiliteracies for 21st Century Schools. Australian National Schools Network, Faculty of Education, University of Technology, Sydney.
Street, B. V. (2006). Autonomous and ideological models of literacy: Approaches from New Literacy Studies. Media Anthropology Network, 17, 1-15.
The National Literacy Trust (2012) The State of the Nation – a picture of literacy in the UK today, London: National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED541407.pdf
The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard educational review, 66(1), 60-93.
Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st century skills: Learning for life in our times. John Wiley & Sons.
UNESCO, Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2006). Understandings of Literacy, Chapter 6. Retrieved from: http://www.unesco.org/education/GMR2006/full/chapt6_eng.pdf
Unsworth, L. (2001). Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum.Buckingham-Philadelphia: Open University Press. Retrieved September, 26, 2005.