Monday, September 9, 2013

Literacy in the 21st Century--A Focus on Multi-Literacies in the Classroom

  As the evolution of technology continues to advance toward the most convenient methods of understanding and communication, it is inevitable that young people today are caught between their ability to maintain proficiency in literacy and the constant access to technological advancements that require the use and understanding of various forms of literacy.  As a result, teachers have been required to implement literacy into every content area.  However, many teachers are reluctant to implement literacy strategies because of the requirement that all students must grasp necessary content-specific concepts.  Therefore, outside of the English classroom, it seems that literacy is being set aside so that the emphasis is placed solely on content-specific information. 
          The need for literacy instruction is at an all time high.  It is a struggle for students to apply basic literacy skills in order to work with advanced comprehension tasks.  As students develop, they grow in their abilities to decode, recognize, and produce meaning for words and content.  Unfortunately, those basic skills are taught only at the elementary levels.  When students begin middle school and high school, there is no instruction in content area.  In each content area, students are required to actively engage with the content in different ways, such as:  concrete, generalizations, applications, and the like.  Therefore, the provision of content specific literacy skills, paired with relevant instructional strategies through the use of multiliteracies, will allow students to gain in knowledge, understanding, and productivity when they engage with content specific knowledge.
           Today, literacy reflects the current change in communication within society.  Literacy is no longer defined as simply reading, writing, and speaking.  Instead, it has taken a new form as it includes the abilities to comprehend meaning through various aesthetic representations as well.  The definition of literacy is changing as students are exposed to a variety of literacies each day.  Students are now required to comprehend not only what they read, but also what they see and hear.  Knowledge is now being presented in visual and audio forms on television, the Internet, and the radio.
            Multiliteracies is an approach to teaching in which instruction includes a variety of literacy forms in order to actively engage students in learning..  The incorporation of multiliteracies is focused on content, which is presented through multiple modes.  According to Mills (2009), “Multimodality expresses the complexity and interrelationship of more than one mode of meaning, combining linguistic, visual, auditory, gestural and spatial modes” (p. 106).  The use of multimodal learning allows students to make various connections with content because they can perceive the information in a variety of ways.
The 21st Century learner is one who is bombarded with visual stimulation, technological advancements, and ever-demanding social connections. Therefore, teachers must consider the ways in which learners are different today than generations before as literacy begins to take a shift away from traditional learning.  Multiliteracies should not be seen as a separate entity from traditional literacy instruction.  Rather, multiliteracies can be used to teach challenging literacy concepts through a variety of modes.  Students today engage in multimodal experiences; therefore, the use of multiliteracies can provide more opportunities for students to make meaning from content in which high level thinking skills are required.
The 21st Century learner is inundated with technologically advanced ideas and methods of interpretation and application.  Therefore, traditional literacy instruction cannot be implemented fully in classrooms today.  In order to advance literacy instruction to meet the needs of the 21st Century learner, both disciplinary literacy instruction and the use of multiliteracies must be implemented so that students are enabled to meet the demands of being active members in their education and the world around them.

Mills, K. A. (2009). Multiliteracies: Interrogating competing discourses. Language and Education, 23(2), 103-116. Retrieved from ERIC database. 

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