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The Multiliteracies Classroom

The Multiliteracies Classroom

by Kathy A. Mills

Paperback(New Edition)

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The multiliteracies approach to literacy education has become established as an accessible and effective paradigm for classroom practice in the 21st century. The Multiliteracies Classroom enlivens this theory with its vivid description of events in a real classroom. Teachers will identify with the lively transcripts of classroom interactions, and be inspired to widen students’ access to new literacy practices in an increasingly digital and globalised world. The possibilities and constraints that can be encountered when implementing multiliteracies are explored in detail. Educators know from experience that students begin their classroom journey with entirely unequal opportunities for literacy success. The Multiliteracies Classroom does not ignore this reality, highlighting the influence of society’s patterns of power on literacy learning in the digital age. Its key themes provide a blueprint for the future of literacy research and practice.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847693181
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 12/01/2010
Series: New Perspectives on Language and Education , #21
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.85(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Kathy A. Mills is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Kathy's research interests include literacy, digital media, education research paradigms, critical sociology, ethnography, classroom observation, discourse analysis, and multimodal analysis. She is Associate Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher and her previous works include The Multiliteracies Classroom (Multilingual Matters, 2011).

Read an Excerpt


Multiliteracies Matters

Researcher: So tell me what your movie storyline is.

Jack1: 'Slip, Slop, Slap!'

Nick: Yeah.

Jack: A man like, gets like, burned.

Nick: Sunburnt.

Jack: And he's, like, just got pants on. [No shirt for sun protection] And he's, he's, like, angry. Then he goes into the water, 'cause he thinks it's gunna make it better. But it gets worse. Then he gets angry.

Matthew: Instead [interrupted].

Jack: And then a lifeboat comes up with some sunscreen.

Matthew: Instead of [interrupted].

Jack: And then they all do a dance.

Matthew: Instead of a lifeboat coming up with the sunscreen, why don't we have a big bottle of sunscreen pop up? [He gestures with hands to show figure popping onto the stage from below.]

Mark: We need some sunscreen on it.

Jack: Yeah! How about we make a big bottle of sunscreen and then it walks up to him!

Matthew: Yeah! And it says, 'I'm sunscreen', and pours sunscreen all over him.

These four boys (aged 11–12 years) were collaboratively planning the storyboard or sequence of frames for their animated, digital movie. The movie had an authentic purpose, designed to communicate an educational message to the local school community, and to children in the lower primary grades.

The scenes in the final movie included generic representations of natural recreational sites, such as beaches and coral reef. The Gold and Sunshine Coast, and the Great Barrier Reef, stretch for 2600 km along the Eastern coast of Queensland, the State where the boys live. These places of significance to the boys also play a key role in the tourist-driven economy of regional and metropolitan Queensland. In the vignette above, the boys made an intertextual reference to a famous Australian television health campaign for sun protection entitled 'Slip, Slop, Slap', which originally depicted an animated seagull with a lisp, who teaches viewers to 'Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat'.

Multiliteracies and Society

Interactions such as these demonstrate important shifts in literacy pedagogy and learning that are tied to broader shifts in the society in which these boys participate. The task of digital movie making required the boys to engage in authentic social practices of communication that are central to a globalised economy, using new technological tools of production, such as digital cameras, and movie editing and distribution software. Designing movies also requires proficiencies with dynamic combinations of modes, such as images, spatial arrangements, music, scripted voiceovers, gestures and animations, which include, but are not limited to, the encoded word (Mills, 2010b).

Historically, schools have emphasised teachers as experts, learners as novices and learning as the reproduction of disciplinary knowledge and decontextualised skills. What is observed here is a significant pedagogical shift, in which students are positioned to think and design collaboratively and creatively within a community of practice. The production of new media-based texts draws upon the collective, specialist and transdisciplinary expertise in open-ended engagements with new media design. This is the nature of new workplaces.

The pace of technological change in contemporary society means that digitally mediated textual practices are critical in a significant number of professions. Likewise, many workplaces emphasise change, flexibility, teamwork and networking rather than hierarchical command structures, deskilled work and mass production (Gee, 1994, 2000). Multi-skilled professionals, who have a broad portfolio of skills, and who engage in a dynamic repertoire of integrated practices, have replaced the division of labour into deskilled components (Cope & Kalantzis, 1999).

The theories presented in this book find their empirical basis in critical ethnographic research, conducted in intensive blocks of fieldwork over a three-year period. The narrative centres on the lives of an Australian teacher and her students in a suburban public school in a low-socioeconomic area. This historical account occurs at a time when these students will enter a globalised labour market. They will have to negotiate a broadening range of meaning-making systems, including online and other multimedia communication environments (New London Group, 2000).

The existing and emerging social practices in which these students must engage include reading books, resisting advertisements, using machines (scanners, printers, voicemail), interpreting public transport information, writing memos, following directories and maps and conducting internet transactions. Similarly, SMS messaging, word processing, emailing, internet relay chatting, internet navigation, critiquing websites, digital photography, slide-show presentations, computer programming and website design represent some of the diverse forms of literacy.

Using spreadsheets and databases, drama and vocal performance, film and media, image design, body language interpretation and oral debating are just a few among a plethora of communication practices used for a multiplicity of purposes in society today. The teacher in this study utilised new approaches to pedagogy to account for the increase of emergent text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies (Kalantzis et al, 2002).

Australian Snapshot

The recent history of public schooling in Australia has seen a falling proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP) spent on the public education system since the 1970s, with the growth of private schooling sector. In 2000, Australia (76%) and Japan (75%) ranked only behind the United States (68%) in terms of the large public share of educational expenditure (Gittins & Tiffen, 2004: 120). Government subsidising of private schooling has had the unintended effect of improving the quality of private schools, rather than their affordability, resulting in increased numbers of students from low-socioeconomic and migrant backgrounds in government schools (Ryan & Watson, 2005).

Most of the children in this study were local residents, many of whom lived in government housing. This housing typically consists of small three-bedroom cottages, each on their own suburban block, and often located along the busy main roads. It is typically allocated to refugees, migrants and the unemployed.

This form of housing is in line with Australia's unusual propensity to suburbanisation, in contrast with the high-density urban residential environments seen in major cities elsewhere. Owning property on free-hold land became accessible to many during the suburban boom of the 1870s and 1880s, when high wages and steady employment provided opportunities for the working class &ndsh; now known in the rhetoric as 'working or ordinary Australians' (Rolfe, 1998).

Home ownership, complete with a backyard and Hills Hoist (rotating umbrella-shaped washing line) in sprawling suburbia, is the 'Australian dream' (Burnley et al., 1997). Yet at the same time, life in the suburbs is geographically and socially stratified.

With the rising demand for land close to the central business districts, and gradual 'suburban' renewal, those living in the outer suburbs are typically less affluent than inner and middle suburban dwellers. The school in this study was situated in a low-socioeconomic suburb. Of the occupied residential dwellings being rented, 29.8% were rented from a State housing authority, contrasting the figure of 14.9% Australia wide (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006).

Public Schooling and Diversity

For example, Zak would meet me at the school gate with his wide grin revealing his decayed teeth from years of neglect. He knew me from the community centre I used to run voluntarily after school in a local hall. During the time I ran the centre, his father died in a drunken brawl. Zak and his older sister Michelle lived on the main road in a housing commission area near the school. They would often wander the streets dirty and hungry, or on payday, eating lollies and potato crisps. Zak and Michelle were frequently unable to go home after the community program because their drunken mother would swear and shout abusively at them (and me) when they neared the house.

The primary school they attended had been operating for over a century, reflected in the architecture of the buildings. The typical 'Queenslander' style wooden structures of the early 1900s were built on stilts, containing a row of classrooms on the top floor with doors on the length of the building and windows along the other. Unlike most government buildings in Queensland, public school classrooms are rarely air-conditioned, making them unbearably hot in summer, noisy during storms and cold during the brief winter.

On the front of the buildings, the classrooms are adjoined by a long veranda or covered external walkway to block the rain but not the breeze, which runs the full length of each building leading to a staircase at either side. The primitive ground floor is an 'undercover' area used for eating morning tea and lunch, and playing handball, hopscotch or skipping, without complete walls, with a cement floor in which wooden benches are bolted to the floor and water troughs are set on the periphery called 'bubblers' to hydrate students.

Like many Queensland schools, the 'tuck shop' was situated underneath one end of these buildings with a typical tin roller-door above the front counter to serve students. The tuck shop is where simple fast food such as sandwiches, meat pies and drinks are prepared, purchased and sold by parent volunteers, and made available for student purchase for those who can afford to do so.

The school, like most public schools in the country, did not provide free lunches to even the poorest students. Many of the students in the school came to school without having eaten a healthy breakfast. For example, an Indigenous Australian student was observed stealing a portion of unwrapped, unrefrigerated cheese &ndsh; supplied by peers for filming a claymation movie &ndsh; and pocketing it in his tracksuit. The misshapen, sticky lump constituted his lunch.

The school community was composed of diverse cultures and schooling experiences. Twenty-five ethnic groups were represented in the school's clientele, from 24 suburbs. Some 8% of the school's students were Indigenous Australians, a historically disadvantaged group, socially and economically, which is significantly higher than the 2.2% of Indigenous persons represented in the Australian population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003).

During the year of the pilot study, the school population of students for whom English was a second language (ESL) was 7%. Immigration is a major contributor to the Australian population growth, making up 22% of the total population (4.1 million residents) in the 2001 census (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003). One of the explicit visions of the school, according to a statement in the unpublished School Community Profile, was to 'achieve the best possible educational outcomes for all our students ... through equity of educational opportunity'.

An impetus for this monograph is that the early 21st century is characterised by significant cultural and linguistic diversity in schools and society, creating the need for inclusive pedagogies. English has different national forms, dialects and registers, including subcultural groups with every conceivable interest, style and sense of affiliation. Consequently, literacy teaching that focuses on a single national 'standard' and simplistically 'correct usage' is redundant, while the negotiation of difference is essential. Assimilating immigrants and indigenous peoples to the standardised 'proper' language of the coloniser &ndsh; a goal that was promulgated in former times &ndsh; now seems glaringly inadequate (Cope & Kalantzis, 1999).

The clientele of Australian schools is drawn from an increasingly diverse mélange of ethnic, community and social class cultures, with a wide range of texts, interests and group identities. English is becoming a world language, yet it is breaking into multiple and increasingly differentiated 'Englishes', marked by accent, dialect or subcultural differences tied to membership in communities such as professional, recreational, sporting or peer groups (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000b). Those who are most successful in life are those who are competent to negotiate real differences, code switching between multiple semiotic systems and hybrid, cross-cultural discourses for varied communication purposes (New London Group, 2000).

Not only this, but the emerging communications technologies generate new forms of digital text that increasingly multimodal &ndsh; combining linguistic, visual, auditory, gestural or spatial modes. Yet in this school, only 77% of the students had access to a computer at home, according to a school-based survey. This figure only represents the physical presence of computers in homes, and does not illuminate the differences in the quality and kinds of access afforded to various students in their homes. The students reported to me that their home computers often needed repair or replacement, and parents alone accessed others. Among the students who owned computers, most did not have home internet access. Beyond their homes, multimedia technologies, screen-based interfaces and electronic networks proliferate (Mills, 2008a; New London Group, 2000).

Multiliteracies Teacher

A colleague put me in contact with a group of teachers who had received professional development in multiliteracies through a scholarship project coordinated by original members of the New London Group &ndsh; Kalantzis and Cope (2005: 179). Three teachers and 120 students across several school districts voluntarily consented to be involved in an initial pilot study that involved ethnographic observation of media-based lessons applying new pedagogies in routine school settings. After working with these teachers, I decided to focus the research on one school site, having amassed more video data than could be usefully analysed within a reasonable time by one researcher.

I collected the richest forms of data about multiliteracies from Jennifer, who demonstrated exemplary knowledge and expertise in teaching innovative literacy practices with new digital media. She had taught students, from early childhood to upper primary, how to design e-books, hyperlinked web pages, digital animations and movies. Jennifer had gained many years of international experience teaching literacy in culturally and linguistically diverse teaching contexts, including remote regions of outback Australia to inner city schools in the United Kingdom. She believed that teaching multiliteracies was an issue of priority in the new communications environment, and often talked about the daily challenges of negotiating cultural and linguistic diversity among the students and parents. She was a catalyst for demonstrating to other teaching staff how to engage students in creative and critical uses of the new media.

Jennifer talked about the challenges of negotiating cultural and linguistic diversity among the students and their parents. For example, she used a Sudanese translator to communicate with the parents of the refugee students. She was clearly a teacher with exceptional skills in teaching new digital media to students of all ages, and I was impressed by her creative teaching ideas. Her enthusiasm and energy for innovation and curriculum change were inspirational.

Multiliteracies Class

I initially spent 160 hours of continuous journal writing, and audio and video recording, building my knowledge of how the teaching of multiliteracies was integrated across the curriculum and routine practices of schooling in a normative context. This time was invaluable for building rapport with Jennifer, who became comfortable with my continual presence in the room, and the data collection procedures. The subsequent year to the pilot study, I began the research proper with her upper primary class, which was streamed by the school according to the results of a standardised literacy test (Queensland Studies Authority, 2007b). The class consisted of the 23 lowest-ability students in the total year group &ndsh; eight girls and 15 boys.

The class comprised students from mixed socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, including Anglo-Australian, Tongan, Thai, Aboriginal, Maori, Sudanese and Torres Strait Islander students. No longer is the Australian classroom comprised mostly of Anglo-Saxon, monolingual users of English who are being prepared for a predominantly monocultural workplace. Rather, in schools, society and globally, effective communication requires negotiating multiple Englishes and communication patterns that cross subcultural and national boundaries (Lo Bianco, 2000).


Excerpted from "The Multiliteracies Classroom"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Kathy A. Mills.
Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Multiliteracies Matters

Chapter Two: Situated and Explicit Pedagogy

Chapter Three: Critical and Creative Pedagogy

Chapter Four: Multimodality, Media and Access

Chapter Five: New Social Spaces

Chapter Six: Discourses and Diversity

Chapter Seven: Power and Access

Chapter Eight: New Times

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