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

Empowering Teaching and Learning Through New Literacies.

Jackeline Martinez C.
Katia Chaljub Soleibe
Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana
Dr.Raúl Mora
ML2 Semester-II 2016

“Reading and writing have always been multimodal, since these literate practices involve the decoding and encoding of words, while similarly attending to the spatial layout of the text, images and other modes of representation (Mills, K. A. 2015). Multimodality and multiliteracy are every day more bear in mind into classroom practices and activities in order to go beyond the printed- text and the traditional conception of reading and writing. These two combined with critical literacy can reshape the school’s horizon in a more integral and meaningful for our students of the 21st century if teachers connect students’ real life and context with the content of English classes.

             Keywords: Literacies, multimodality, critical literacy, digital literacy.

        The teaching and learning processes are changing constantly, with every new digital element, with every new multiliteracy and multimodality. Teachers need to look at the new frameworks that are now used in the different context of our educational system or even better, creates their own according to social-cultural context, the students’ needs and interest as well as what is demanding and happening in the globalized world of this new century.
        Nowadays reading and writing are not enough for being literate; although of course, they are fundamental in the development of learning skills; to the extent that the world is evolving, also the literacies has changed. The three Globalizations mentioned by Kalantzis and Cope (2012) explains that we have changed the way in how we communicate with others and consequently we have evolved the way in how literacies are being thought and learned. Literacy from educational perspective has several angles:
” (1) ‘literacy’ displaced ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ in educational language; (2) literacy became a considerable industry; (3) literacy assumed a loftier status in the eyes of educationists; (4) ‘literacy’ came to apply to an ever-increasing variety of practices; and (5) literacy is now being defined with the word ‘new” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p.12)
          It has not changed only the language but there are different perspectives, for instance, industrialization, modern schooling, technologies, analog television, digital communication and multimodal communication among others. Due to this evolution, every year more and more literacies are appearing in the educational environment almost all around the world. Different definitions of literacy, what it means to be literate and how views of literacy are evolving, in a period of considerable social and economic change, are also reviewed. For instance, The National Council of Teachers of English has adopted a framework that outlines six skills essential for being literate in the twenty-first century:
Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology.

• Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.
(Hickey, P. J., 2016, p. 94)

New Literacies.
          According to with Kist, (2012) there are certain features which let us know we are dealing with literacies inside classrooms which go beyond the printed- text such as: “daily work in multiple forms of representation; teacher talk about various symbol systems; teacher think-aloud when working in these different forms; a mix of individual and collaborative activities; and a high level of engagement” (p.17). New forms for reading the word and the world (Freire, 1987. “The focus is on how literacy practices are evolving under changing conditions: social, technological, cultural, economic, etc. the ways people in societies like our own produce, distribute, share, and negotiate meanings (Knobel & Lankshear, 2015, p.11)
          In these new literacies, we need to comprehend that our students not only need to learn the literacies that they can teach them inside a classroom. But that it is also necessary to teach them the new literacies that are taking an advance in our communicative environment. “Literacy practices are embedded in and influence social situations and social events (e.g., face-to-face interactions) which are themselves embedded in broader cultural and social contexts including institutional contexts such as schooling” (Bloome, D. 2008, p. 252).
         During the last years, we have noticed how the new literacies are opening a different perspective to the learning and teaching processes in our schools. How the new technologies, the environment, the culture and the social media are giving to our students a new paradigm to approach the writing and reading and acquire knowledge. These elements are known as multiliteracies which are representing through multimodalities.

TED: How Schools make kids less intelligent.

Multiliteracies and Multimodalities

          Teachers have noticed inside the classrooms that our students have multiple intelligence (Howard Gardner 1994); there are fundamentally different ways of knowing and learning the world. (Cope and Kalantzis 2009). You can learn or get information and construct knowledge by “using a range of design elements: linguistic (written), visual, spatial, audio, oral, tactile, and gestural”; (Hepple et al 2014).
         Students use different modes to construct meaning, for that reason text is constructed in many ways, as different as our students can learn all they want. According to Kress and Jewitt (2003), meaning within multimodal texts involves materiality, framing, design, and production. Materiality refers to the physical material used; framing is the way the visual elements within a text operate together, and design is how individuals use available resources to represent something.
        In the multiliteracy word, it is important to comprehend that “teachers do not need to be the only ones teaching in the classroom. They can create, with the help of students, parents, siblings, elders, clergy, and other community members, a multiliterate learning community” (Schwarzer, D., Haywood, A., & Lorenzen, C. 2003). The school needs to build together an environment where the kids and youths can learn their writing and teaching processes from different points of view since we are facing a globalized world. Current students are owners of information thanks to all the social media and digital devices. Now they can access to a different kind of text, new literacies, and know new cultures, as well as students, can expand their own culture.
        Both multiliteracies and multimodalities have gone beyond the boundaries of the writing –printing text. They have expanded the way students communicate and access information in this 21st century. The students need to have that opportunity where they can be in contact with all the things that surround them, just like, books, magazines, web pages, videos, advertisements, music, dance, among others, and in this way, they can construct their own perspective about the multiliteracy environment. “To forbid the development of multiliteracy is to ignore children’s home languages” (Schwarzer, D., Haywood, A., & Lorenzen, C. 2003).
       Teacher and students now are having the need to use this new term call multimodality. Thanks to multimodalities the learning and teaching practices are having another look in our schools. Thus, teachers should integrate different modes of learning into the classes as well as implement a variety of tools which allow our students go beyond the traditional written word. Modes which allow students express what they think, how they learn, and how they construct meaning. The mode in which they best expresses the world to themselves and themselves to the world. (Cope and Kalantzis. 2009)
       Some learners may be more comfortable in one mode than another. It perhaps they preferred a random mode of representation; Multimodal communication refers to the simultaneous use of more than one textual form to make meaning (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001); what comes to them easiest, what they are good at; so that students have boosted their role in the classroom and developed further writing and reading skills from textbook.        Nowadays learners take risks, collaborate, solve problems, advice, and mentor one another in partnerships (Healy, 2008). It is fascinating to observe students productions and varied forms they use to create different modes of texting. As many of Colombian schools do not have printing text for English classes the students are the creators of, posters, comics, murals, games, portfolios, English corners etc. Thus, teachers need to implement more than one strategy if we really want to see our students increase and share knowledge and their abilities.
Teaching and learning English under the lens of critical literacies.


          Go deeper of some multiliteracies and multimodalities description; there is another important issue to consider, moreover in the educational system, which is Critical Literacy. A topic that has begun to be significant for the education sector since 1987 when Paulo Freire and Macedo published their book Literacy: Reading the Word & the World. As a way of warning schools, teachers, principals, citizens and all who believed in the well know Mandela’s quote: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. It invites teachers to reflect on our teaching pedagogies and role and comprehend that critical literacy “consist not only of academic literacies associated with reading and writing texts for traditional purposes but also practices associated with reading and writing against traditional curricula in school and dominant popular culture, multimedia, and other texts students encounter outside of school”. (Borsheim-Black, Macaluso, and Petrone, 2014, p.123).
           Teachers cannot simply fill students with knowledge or information, or limit our teaching to read and write. Teachers should lead students beyond a content class, to a critical one. To arouse their critical thinking, take into account and give relevance to their point of view and opinions. According to Norris et al (2012) “critical literacy encourages readers to question, explore, or challenge the power relationships that exist between authors and readers. It examines issues of power and promotes reflection, transformative change, and action” (p. 59). See in a new light students, as active learners and proposers of new ideas; do not let them swallow  in one bit all the information was given but inquiring. “Questioning the books provided an entry to inquiring what being critically conscious meant” (Mora, 2014, p. 17). teachers should not limit text; magazines, advertisements, commercials, articles, memes etc, represents daily life, stereotypes, lifestyles.
          Although from the Colombian’s political position on education there is not any policy which entails to expound out critical thinking or critical literacies in schools and their curriculum ; regardless teachers can impregnate the classes little by little, the mind and the heart of students with criticism . It’s indifferent the students’ age and grade; students always have something to say, to discuss and contribute. “If we are going to have children read books and begin discussions on difficult issues of power, race, gender, and class, we want those young children to be empowered to help make a change”( Norris et al, 2012,p. 61)
        It is important to take into account what is going on around our students, their context, and socio-cultural environment. As Goodman and Cocca (2014) claim: “All learning, can best be understood within the particular cultural and social context in which it is practiced, rather than as an individual, decontextualised, psychological process” (p. 212).From the students´ reality, teachers can construct meaningful activities and encourage students question and challenge the word around; not only to understand and accept their world but to transform it. “Without understanding the meaning of their immediate social reality, it is most difficult to comprehend their relations with the wider society” (Freire, 1987, p. 106).

       “English language received the status of the global language, and therefore a medium through which globalization further advanced to all possible parts of the world and all possible aspects of living”. (Stojkovic & Živkovic 2012). Colombia and its Educational policies are not excluded from it. Since the 90s the MEN( Ministry of Education) opened the door for including English in the curricula of schools. With presumptuous intentions, MEN has tried to implement various bilingual programs where English is taught and learned with functional purposes (grammar and vocabulary), instead of empowered purposes. For instance, the most recent Colombia Bilingual, 2015-2018, “which will allow students to have better communication skills and to have access to better job and professional opportunities”.
        It is necessary to engage students in a meaningful learning, in an active agent of the curriculum. “The study of grammar forms and communicative functions has dominated language syllabi and restricted learners’ ability to become culturally competent.”(Olaya and Gómez, 2013, p.50). If teachers really want to empower English in students, more than develop grammatical skills, also we should promote and develop abilities to question, critique, argue and defend ideas; promote a conscious learning of what is present in our society and understand others’ cultures. Thereby Sercu states: “culture matters in language learning, and that using a foreign language always implies that one enters a cultural world that may be different from one’s own” (2010, p.68) and According to Byram (2003), language is learned in context. Do not limit teaching and learning English just content grammar rules and vocabulary, but “an event that in the It also means understanding the details of everyday life and the social grammar of the concrete through the larger totalities of history and social context” (Freire, 1987, p. 11)

English and Digital Literacies. 


       Our educational system is constantly changing thanks to the way in how technologies are emerging in our practices. Every single day digital elements are coming out not only to teach a second language but to get involve in our daily life. We need to get used to having the digital elements but principally we need to know how to approach them. Teachers need to change the perspective about the multimodality and multiliteracy in their activities and with having in mind the used of the digital era that is taking advance of our routines inside and outside of the classroom practices. “New literacies” typically refers to interactions with digitized textual material and other digital media (Lankshear, C., Knobel, M., & Curran, C., 2013, p. 1).
        Students from different ages are using different digital elements and we need to teach them how to use in advance for our English classes. But we also need to think about all the components that surround our students to guide the classes in a way where they can enjoy what they are learning. It is fundamental to be in the position of our students not as a group but as an individual. They learn from different perspectives, and this depends on of their abilities, their environment, their cultures and their context. Is a group of elements that will help teachers to have success in their classes, they will see how their students will enjoy their activities and how every single day they will learn in a comfortable way.
       “The literature represents school-based approaches that don’t explicitly consider students’ diverse English language abilities and their varying levels of language proficiency” (Hickey, P. J., 2016, p. 94). The new multiliteracy, multimodality, and the digital era are becoming important tools to support the teaching practices. And with these new tools to teach literacy teachers can provide to their classes an environment where the students can feel attracted to learn a new language, based in their context and in their abilities. Because is not only to teach a language as a course but as a way to connect our environment with others people and environments.
          We can find in our teaching practices many ways of literacies to teach to our students how to write, how to read, how to comprehend texts. But the entire world and the social media change constantly and as teachers, we need to have in mind the way in how we are transmitting information to our students related to their context. Our students need to have a new perspective about the literacies just like their social media is changing. “Literacy emerge quickly and decisively as a key focus of education policy, educational research and publishing, and of pedagogical effort within formal education” (Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. 2011, p.12)
       Besides, Mora (2016) adds: “The field of literacy worldwide keeps growing, in ways that sometimes the literature itself may not acknowledge”. We need to introduce in our classroom new activities and new strategies to teach the literacy from a new perspective where social media plays an important role.

“Official literacy practices are promoted by the school and include learning to read and write literacy practices and academic literacies. Unofficial literacy practices are not sanctioned by the school (but may be tolerated) and occur in the classroom sub-rosa (e.g., Maybin, forthcoming). These include literacy practices such as passing notes, no instructional game playing, and graffiti writing, among others. Here, we focus on official literacy practices”. (Bloome, 2008, p.251).

         Thanks to the schools and the social environment, but also thanks to the background of our students we can identify what are the new literacies that they are implement in their daily activities, inside and outside the classroom. It is necessary first to know what the new literacies that we can find around the world are and how the text is constructed (multimodalities) “Understanding and using new media and technologies competently is another conception of “new literacies.” (Bitz, 2013, p. 1). New modes of reading and writing; modes beyond the books, the board, and the chalk. Digital and technological modes which are connecting people around the world. ” The terms “new literacies” and “new media” to mean digitally based media that are screen-based, that is to say, forms of communication that are not generated or distributed on a page” (Kist 2012).
          These new literacies are the different medias that we can use to communicate, to express ourselves, but also are the medias that allow us to understand and comprehend the symbols, language, and sound that are involved in our communities. Between these new literacies, our students are starting to have that interaction with others around the world. But it is necessary that we learn to handle the new literacies to take all that we need from them.

“Communicative competence requires mastering new literacies: acquiring grammars of visual and multimodal design for reading and writing hybrid text types comprising linguistic and nonlinguistic signs, managing tools for consuming and producing multimodal texts, and mastering changing discourses within work environments and key social institutions”.
(Lankshear, C., Knobel, M., & Curran, C., 2013, p. 2).

       Today our students have many opportunities to interact with the digital literacies that are emerging. Not only because they can use in their schools but it because the technological media are everywhere. We need to give to our student spaces where they can have that connection with the new literacies and where they can develop the ability to interact with each element that will support their experience with the new technologies. “New Literacy scholars recognize the significance of children’s interactions with technological texts and view these interactions as meaningful and purposeful”. (Compton‐Lilly, C. F. 2009)
       Although students are immersed in that digital world, teachers should lead them towards new activities which empower students to take hold of new literacies in productive and creative ways. Jewitt (2015) also demonstrated how the use of new technologies in the classroom can reshape teachers’ pedagogies for learning. Therefore “it is possible for educators to help children assemble dynamic and complex literate repertoires whilst ensuring respect for their existing social and cultural practices” (Comber, 2013, p. 361)
English and literacies in the 21st century.


          From our experiences as teachers, we could note that our practices of teaching and learning a second language need to change every minute. “In many classrooms, there are a lot of technology than some time ago; provision of smartboards, desktops, laptops, and portable devices, as well as a greater variety of software and hardware on, offer.” (Burnett, C., & Merchant, G., 2015. p. 271).
       The context and the technologies that are emerging in our daily life are demonstrating that the use of new technologies help our students to connect with people around the world, others cultures but also other languages. “Educators should facilitate the process of establishing the online conversations within oneself, among learners, with other teachers, and possibly the world” (Arena, C., 2008. p. 1).
       “Any attempt to reexamine literacy education for the 21st century needs to meet the specific challenges of curricular integration and the moving target of new technologies head-on” (Burnett, C., & Merchant, G., 2015. p. 272). It is correct that we need to follow the curriculum create for the policies in each country where we teach. But it is also correct that we also need to follow our students and what are the things that they like, not only to learn but also to communicate, to write and to talk with others. And with these two perspectives, we can have the second language classes for this century. “Promoting 21st-century literacies does not involve replacing one set of learning goals with another. It does, however, necessitate recognition that resources for communication are richer, more diverse, and more flexible than before” (Burnett, C., & Merchant, G., 2015. p. 272).
           Today students of 21st century are good at digital literacies; although it does not mean that they are good in critical literacies; this century is giving us the opportunity to create a new space of literacies where our students are interested in, both students and teachers spend a lot of time in the web receiving and sending a lot of information, taking collective conversations and in this current atmosphere, a space where our students have that desired to learn. When teachers touch the students’ reality they feel motivated and familiarized. Technologies are a great element to have that learning and teaching process of a second language acquisition.
Putting actions together.


 With all before exposed , we realize that there are many issues and ideas relating to literacies inside the classrooms, below are mentioned some aspects to take into account in teaching and learning a second language.

  • Our students are different. They learn in a variety of modes, thus teacher should implement different activities and tasks, using different modes (multimodalities) in order to help students to improve their skills. teachers cannot standardize students, everyone is different, our classrooms are made of large different learning styles.
  • English classes cannot be only focused on grammar patterns and vocabulary list. Teachers should develop critical thinking through critical literacies practices. Light in students an inquiring mind. Teachers, more than giving answers to students,  should question them lead them to more “why” inquiries.
  • Students’ context and their reality are crucial for creating meaningful classes. For understanding their context and transforming their realities.Besides, recognize our culture and respect others
  • Integrate digital literacies (technologies) in this 21st century. These are what students are used to. Teachers should be informed about the new trends in the social media and guide students to use them properly.
  • Enhance collaborative work “where peer students will support each other in the learning (and construction) of each other’s tolerance” (Gomez, 2009 ). Understanding and appreciating cultural differences ultimately promotes clearer communication, breaks down barriers, and strengthens relationships.
  • Problem-solving activities. “Students are able to empathise with other cultural identities, trying to imagine themselves in the position of other people and so to share their beliefs and values, reshape their opinions, and integrate new cultural perspectives” (Liljana Skopinskaja, 2009, 141)


        “Schools bring people together—children, parents, caregivers, volunteers, community members, teachers, and administrators—as more or less willing participants in an education process” (Comber , 2013, p. 361) We need to teach to our students how to use different elements relative to their environment. Modes of expressions that can help them to communicate their emotions, feelings, expression, thought and words not only in a literacy way but in a multimodal. These modes are relative to their aural, spatial, visual, textual, and gestural expressions. And thanks to these they can construct their learning processes but also they can approach their knowledge. As teachers, we need to instill in our students the use of these modes of communication. Expanding literacy in the classroom could include promoting multimodal anchoring techniques alongside traditional literacy activities (Sewell & Denton, 2011) because the digital area and multiliteracies elements are starting to be relative not only to the technological devices but with our life.
        Being truthfully we need to permeate with critical multiliteracies the curriculum design, it cannot be an isolated implementation made by one or two teachers, but an established norm by educational policies. And envisage the school as a critical learning and teaching community. We are not only educating people, we are constructing a country. Our teaching and students’ learning should be under the gaze of a purpose.


ferencesArena, C. (2008). Blogging in the language classroom: It doesn’t simply happen. TSEL-EJ. Teaching English as a second or Foreign Language, 1, 4.

Bloome, D. (2008). Literacies in the Classroom. Encyclopedia Of Language And Education2(2), 251-262.

Borsheim-Black, C., Macaluso, M. and Petrone, R. (2014). Critical Literature Pedagogy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(2), pp.123-133.

Byram, M. & Grundy, P. (2003). Context and culture in language teaching and learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Burnett, C., & Merchant, G. (2015). The Challenge of 21st‐Century Literacies.Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy59(3), 271-274.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2009). What Can New Literacy Studies Offer to the Teaching of Struggling Readers?. The Reading Teacher63(1), 88-90.

Cope, Bill, and Kalantzis, Mary(2009)’“Multiliteracies”: New Literacies, New Learning‘,Pedagogies: An International Journal,4:3,164 — 195

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

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Goodman, S. & Cocca, C. (2014). “Spaces of action: Teaching critical literacy for community empowerment in the age of neoliberalism. English Teaching: Practice And Critique13(3).

Gómez Parra, M. (2009). ICT for Language Learning. Retrieved 22 September 2016, from

Hickey, P. J. (2016). Lingua Anglia: Bridging Language and Learners. English Journal, 105(5), 85.

Jewitt, C. (2005). Technology, literacy, learning . London:  RoutledgeFalmer.

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2012). Literacies. Port Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press

Katherine Norris, Lisa Lucas, & Catherine Prudhoe (2012). Examining Critical Literacy: Preparing Preservice Teachers to Use Critical Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom. Multicultural Education pp. 59-62.

Kist, W. (2012). Middle Schools and New Literacies: Looking Back and Moving Forward. Voices From The Middle19 Number(4).

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2011). New literacies. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Lankshear, C., Knobel, M., & Curran, C. (2013). Conceptualizing and Researching “New Literacies”. The Encyclopedia Of Applied Linguistics.

Liljana Skopinskaja, L. (2009). Assessing intercultural communicative competence: test construction issues. Synergies Pays Riverains De La Baltique6, 135-144.

Mills, Kathy A. (2015) Why students’ multimodal language of emotions matters. In Department of Education and Training ARC Research Symposium, 25 November 2015, George Street, Brisbane, Qld.

Mora, R. (2016). Translating Literacy as Global Policy and Advocacy. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy59(6), 647-651.

Olaya, A. & Gómez Rodríguez, L. (2013). Exploring EFL Pre-Service Teachers’ Experience with Cultural Content and Intercultural Communicative Competence at Three Colombian Universities. PROFILE, 15, 49-67. ISSN 1657-0790 (printed) 2256-5760 (online). Bogotá, Colombia. Pages, 49-67

Sewell and Denton, 2011  Multimodal literacies in the secondary English classroom English Journal., 100 (5) (2011), pp. 61–65

Stojkovic, N., & Živkovic, S. (2012). Advocating the need for incorporating critical pedagogy and critical literacy in teaching English for Specific Purposes.Sino-US English Teaching, 9(6), 1213-1219.


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This entry was posted on September 29, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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