Multiliteracies is a term coined in the mid-1990s by the New London Group  and is an approach to literacy theory and pedagogy. This approach highlights two key aspects of literacy: linguistic diversity, and multimodal forms of linguistic expression and representation. The term was coined in response to two significant changes in globalized environments: the proliferation of diverse modes of communication through new communications technologies such as the internet, multimedia, and digital media, and the existence of growing linguistic and cultural diversity due to increased transnational migration. Because the way people communicate is changing due to new technologies, and shifts in the usage of the English language within different cultures, a new "literacy" must also be used and developed.
There are two major topics that demonstrate the way multiliteracies can be used. The first is due to the world becoming smaller, communication between other cultures/languages is necessary to anyone. The usage of the English language is also being changed. While it seems that English is the common, global language, there are different dialects and subcultures that all speak different Englishes. The way English is spoken in Australia, South Africa, India or any other country is different from how it is spoken in the original English speaking countries in the UK.
The second way to incorporate the term multiliteracies is the way technology and multimedia is changing how we communicate. These days, text and speech are not the only and main ways to communicate. The definition of media is being extended to include text combined with sounds, and images which are being incorporated into movies, billboards, almost any site on the internet, and television. All these ways of communication require the ability to understand a multimedia world.
The formulation of “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” by the New London Group expanded the focus of literacy from reading and writing to an understanding of multiple discourses and forms of representation in public and professional domains. The new literacy pedagogy was developed to meet the learning needs of students to allow them to navigate within these altered technological, cultural, and linguistically diverse communities. The concept of multiliteracies has been applied within various contexts and includes oral vernacular genres, visual literacies, information literacy, emotional literacy, and scientific multiliteracies and numeracy.
Application of Multiliteracies to the Real World
Due to changes in the world, especially globalization and an increase in immigration, a debate has arisen about the way students are instructed and learning in school. English, and all subjects, should evolve to incorporate multimodal ways of communication. The New London Group (1996) proposes the teaching of all representations of meaning including, linguistic, visual, audio, spatial, and gestural, which are subsumed under the category of multimodal. A pedagogy of multiliteracies includes a balanced classroom design of Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing and Transformed Practice. Students need to draw on their own experiences and semiotic literacy practices to represent and communicate meaning.
The changes that transpire through the field of education affect learning processes, while the application of learning processes affects the use of multiliteracies (Selber, 2004). These include the functional, critical, and rhetorical skills that are applied in diverse fields and disciplines.
The New London Group
The New London Group is a group of ten academics who met at New London, New Hampshire, in the United States in September 1994, to develop a new literacy pedagogy that would serve concerns facing educators as the existing literacy pedagogy did not meet the learning needs of students. Their focus was on replacing the existing monolingual, monocultural, and standardized literacy pedagogy that prioritized reading and writing, with a pedagogy that used multiple modes of meaning making. They emphasised the use of multiple modes of communication, languages, and multiple Englishes to reflect the impact of new technologies and linguistic and cultural diversity, instead of developing competence in a single national language and standardized form of English. The ten academics brought to the discussion their expertise and personal experience from different national and professional contexts. Courtney Cazden from the United States has worked in the areas of classroom discourse and multilingual teaching and learning; Bill Cope from Australia, on literacy pedagogy and linguistic diversity, and new technologies of representation and communication; Mary Kalantzis from Australia, on experimental social education and citizenship education; Norman Fairclough from the United Kingdom, on critical discourse analysis, social practices and discourse, and the relationship between discursive change and social and cultural change; Gunther Kress from the United Kingdom, on social semiotics, visual literacy, discourse analysis, and multimodal literacy; James Gee from the United States, on psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and language and literacy; Allan Luke from Australia on critical literacy and applied linguistics; Carmen Luke from Australia, on feminism and critical pedagogy; Sarah Michaels from the United States, on classroom discourse; and Martin Nataka on indigenous education and higher education curriculum. The article “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” published in 1996, documents the New London Group’s “manifesto” of literacy pedagogy that is recommended for use in educational institutions, in the community, and within organizations.
A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies
The Multiliteracies pedagogical approach involves four key aspects: Situated Practice, Critical Framing, Overt Instruction, and Transformed Practice. Situated Practice involves learning that is grounded in students’ own life experiences. Critical Framing supports students in questioning common sense assumptions found within discourses. Overt Instruction is the direct teaching of “metalanguages” in order to help learners understand the components of expressive forms or grammars. Transformed Practice is where learners engage in situated practices based in new understandings of literacy practices.
Situated Practice, originally formulated by the New London Group (1996) as one of the related components of Multiliteracies Pedagogy, is constituted by immersion in meaningful practices within a community of learners who are culturally and linguistically diversified. It involves situating meaning making in real-world contexts and taking account of the affective and sociocultural needs of learners. This aspect of the curriculum needs to draw on the lifeworld experiences of students, as well as their out-of-school communities and discourses, as an integral part of the learning experience. In order to apply Situated Practice to curriculum realities, Cope & Kalantzis (2009) reframed it as “experiencing” (p. 184). They believe human cognition is situated and contextual, and meanings are grounded in the real world of patterns of experience, action and subjective interest. Experiencing takes two forms.
• Experiencing the known–learners bring their own, invariably diverse knowledge, experiences, interests and life-texts to the learning context. Activities of experiencing the known involve showing or talking about something familiar-listen, view, watch and visit, reflecting on learners'own experiences, interests and perspectives (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015).
• Experiencing the new–learners are immersed in new situations or information, observing or taking part in something that is new or unfamiliar, but within the zone of intelligibility and close to their own life-worlds. For example, teachers introduce something new but which makes sense by immersion in experiments, field trips and investigations in projects (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015).
Situated Practice/experiencing connects with a tradition called‘authentic pedagogy’. Authentic pedagogy was first formulated as a direct counterpoint to didactic pedagogy in the twentieth century, initially through the work of John Dewey in the United States and Maria Montessori in Italy. It focuses on the learners'own meanings, the texts that are relevant to them in their everyday lives. When it comes to reading and writing, authentic literacy pedagogy promotes a process of natural language growth that begins when a child learns to speak, with a focus on internalized understanding rather than the formalities of rules. It is learner-centered and aims to provide space for self-expression.
However, the New London Group (1996) points out limitations to Situated Practice. First, while situated learning can lead to mastery in practice, learners immersed in rich and complex practices can vary significantly from each other and Situated Practice does not necessarily lead to conscious control and awareness of what one knows and does. Second, Situated Practice does not necessarily create learners who can critique what they are learning in terms of historical, cultural, political, ideological, or value-centered relations. Third, there is the question of putting knowledge into action. Learners might be incapable of reflexively enacting their knowledge in practice. Therefore, they clarify that Situated Practice must be supplemented by other components and powerful learning arises from weaving between Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing and Transformed Practice in a purposeful way.
Critical Framing in multiliteracies requires an investigation of the socio-cultural contexts and purposes of learning and designs of meaning. Cope and Kalantzis (2001) discuss this in the context of our increasingly diverse and globally interconnected lives where the forces of migration, multiculturalism, and global economic integration intensify the processes of change. The act of meaning-making is also diversifying as digital interfaces level the playing field.
Mills (2009) discusses how multiliteracies can help us go beyond heritage print texts that reproduce and sustain dominant cultural values by creating affordances for thinking about textual practices that construct and produce culture. Another dimension of this critical framing may be extended to the diverse types and purposes of literacy in contemporary society. The traditional curricula operates on various rules of inclusion and exclusion in the hierarchical ordering of textual practices, often dismissing text types such as picture books or popular fiction. Similarly, items like blogs, emails, websites, visual literacies, and oral discourses may often be overlooked as “inferior literacies”. In excluding them from mainstream literacy practices, we become prone to disenfranchise groups and may lose out on opportunities to sensitize learners to consider underlying issues of power, privilege, and prejudice, both in terms of identifying these in societal practices, as well as in questioning dominant discourses that normalize these. Mills also states how some scholars such as Unsworth (2006a, 2006b) and Mackey (1998) suggest an increased blurring of 'popular culture' and 'quality literature' facilitated by classical literature made available in electronic formats and supported by online communities and forums.
In addition to acknowledging increased socio-cultural contextualization and diversification of text-types, multiliteracies pedagogies also enable us to critically frame and reconceptualize traditional notions of writing, calling into question issues of authority, authorship, power, and knowledge. Domingo, Jewitt, & Kress (2014) address these concepts through a study of template designs on websites and blogs that empowers the readers through non-linear readings paths, with the modular layout allowing them to choose their own reading paths. They also discuss the varying affordances of different modes and how writing become just one part of the multimodal ensemble.
Multiliteracies transcend conventional print literacies and the centrality of cultures that have historically extolled it, offering much scope for arts-based approaches in decolonizing initiatives (Flicker et. al., 2014) or reflexive visual methodologies in situated contexts (Mitchell, DeLange, Moletsane, Stuart, & Buthelezi, 2005). However, in so far as access to digital tools and infrastructures is concerned, we still need to take into account issues of agency, capital, socioeconomic status, and digital epistemologies (Prinsloo & Rowsell, 2012).
Original View In the original formulation of the New London Group, Overt Instruction was one of the major dimensions of literacy pedagogy that was identified. The original view of overt instruction includes the teachers and other experts' supporting students through scaffolding and focusing the students on the important features of their experiences and activities within the community of learners (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 33). Cope and Kalantiz argue teachers and other experts allow the learner to gain explicit information at times by building on and using what the learner already knows and has achieved. Overt Instruction is not, as it is often misrepresented, direct transmission, drills, and rote learning. It includes the kinds of collaborative efforts between teacher and student in which the student can do a task that is much more complex than the task s/he can do it individually. According to Cope and Kalantzis, "Overt Instruction introduces an often overlooked element-the connection of the element of the importance of contextualization of learning experiences to conscious understanding of elements of language meaning and design" (p. 116) Use of metalanguages, Cope and Kalantzis argue, is one of the key features of Overt Instruction. Metalanguages refer to "languages of reflective generalization that describe the form, content, and function of the discourses of practice" (p. 34).
Updated View After applying Overt Instruction orientation to curriculum practices for around a decade, this dimension of literacy pedagogy was reframed and translated in the Learning by Design project into the ‘Knowledge Process’ of conceptualizing (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, 2015). Conceptualizing involves "the development of abstract, generalizing concepts and theoretical synthesis of these concepts" (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015, p. 19). Using these Knowledge Processes, learners can categorize terms, and collect these into the mental models. Conceptualizing, according to Cope and Kalantzis (p. 19) occurs in two ways: Conceptualizing by Naming-categorization is a Knowledge Process by means of which the learner learns to use abstract, generalizing terms. A concept not only names the particular; it also abstracts something general from that particular. Activity type: define terms, make a glossary, label a diagram, sort or categorize like or unlike things Conceptualizing with theory-schematization is a Knowledge Process by means of which learners make generalizations and put the key terms together into interpretative framework. They build mental models, abstract frameworks and transferable disciplinary schemas (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 185). Activity type: draw a diagram, make a concept map, or write a summary, theory or formula which puts the concepts together
Transformed Practice, originally framed by the New London Group (1996) as part of the four components of Multiliteracies pedagogy, is embedded in authentic learning, where activities are re-created according to the lifeworld of learners. Transformed Practice is transfer in meaning-making practice, which involves applied learning, real-world meanings, communication in practice, and applying understanding gained from Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, and Critical Framing to a new context. Once learners are aware of how context affects their learning, the “theory becomes reflective practice” (The New London Group, 1996, p. 87). In other words, learners can reflect on what they have learned while they engage in reflective practice based on their personal goals and values in new contexts. For instance, learners design a personalized research project on a specific topic.
Transformed Practice subsequently underwent reformation and was renamed “Applying” as part of “Knowledge Processes” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 184), formerly known as Multiliteracy pedagogy. Applying is considered as the typical focus of the tradition of applied or competency-based learning (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015). While learners actively learn by applying experiential, conceptual or critical knowledge in the real world, learners act on the basis of knowing something of the world, and learning something new from the experience of acting. That is, applying occurs more or less unconsciously or incidentally everyday in the lifeworld, since learners are usually doing things and learning by doing them. Applying can occur in two ways:
- Applying appropriately concerns how knowledge is perceived in a typical or predictable way in a particular situation. For instance, meanings are expressed in a way that corresponds to the conventions of a semiotic or meaning-making setting (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015). Applying appropriately also involves the application of knowledge and understanding of the complexity of real-world situations. Learners then examine if they are valid. Examples of activities include writing, drawing, solving a problem, or behaving in the usual and expected manner in a real-world situation/simulation (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015).
- Applying creatively involves the way learners transform knowledge they have learned from a familiar context and use it in a different context, unfamiliar to learners. As applying creatively is related to being active in the innovative and creative world, learners’ interests, experiences, and aspirations can be promoted. Examples of activities are taking an intellectual risk, applying knowledge to a different setting, suggesting a new problem, and translating knowledge into a different mix of modes of meaning (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015).
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