Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Re-defining Literacy...some final thoughts

My definition of literacy hasn’t really changed all that much; however, my awareness of how it is expressed, how it is practiced, and how I'm “teaching” it has definitely changed, perhaps even heightened.  I’m finding that in my interactions with children I see literacy “in-the-making” beyond the fact that they are using crayons, pens, and paint on paper.  I now see that it’s in the play, interactions, and conversations they have with each other and with me.  This has definitely changed the way I approach literacy with the children.  However, I still think about the conventional practices in the schools and what happens after they’ve been with me.  I think about how much I’ve actually prepared them for that experience, if I have altogether.  I also think about whether I have done enough writing or reading with them or have exposed them enough to these literacy practices to prepare them for what is going happen in the classrooms, what will be expected from them.  Is the emergent way I’m looking at literacy enough to prepare them for that?  Even as I try to separate myself from that conventional way of thinking and practicing I just can’t help but think how backwards literacy practices are in the school system, how limited literacy practices are encouraged for children, and how profoundly influenced I still am of its very practices.

Children as Writers

I don’t have a very clear memory of when and how I began making scribbling marks or writing as a whole.  What I do know quite clearly is my affinity for the varying techniques used to write (i.e. calligraphy, learning and practicing about other fonts/styles, etc.).  I believe that for me growing up, writing wasn’t about expressing or communicating thoughts and feelings but it was aesthetically motivated – if I had to write, it had to look ‘pretty’, neat, and very legible.  I wasn’t focus too much on the content.  I believe this is influenced by interactions with my family.  My grandfather, who was an art teacher, had a 4-5 foot green chalk board in our dining room and every morning he would write out the date and the number of orders (they sold blocks of ice) they had for that day.  I loved his penmanship and there were times where I would closely observe him write with careful precision on the chalk board.  It was the same experience with my mom and how, when she wrote out letters or note cards, she would spend the time to make sure each letter was done right.  In my elementary school years, I think I flew below the radar when it came to assessing my writing and reading skills because my writing was legible enough.  I think that because of this, the content, spelling and grammar wasn’t overly focused on.  I remember getting a report card saying that I needed to work on my storytelling and a few grammar skills but my spelling and the legibility of my actual writing style was enough to grant me ‘satisfactory’ in my overall language arts skills.  From this I think about other possible experiences of the legibility or illegibility of one’s writing as influencing how that child is thought of as a whole.

I can recall a ‘forced’ reading/writing or literacy situation experienced by my childhood friend.  During “language arts” period we were often given notebooks in which half of each page had a space to draw images/pictures and the other half was lined to write out the story behind these drawings.  He always drew but the written part was always minimal and ‘messy’ (a term my grade 3 teacher actually used to describe my friend’s writing).  As a result, he would always be set aside by the teacher, and in turn, always asked him to “elaborate” the written part of his story and also work on improving his writing so that it could be easily read.  Not only did he feel embarrassed for being set aside, but he was also being forced to do something that he did not connect to.  Was he not a good storyteller because he couldn’t articulate with words written on a page?  Did the teacher see him as lacking (intellectually) because his writing was ‘messy’?  When we played outside of the school walls he had elaborate ideas and stories to attach to games which ranged from playing with toys and other materials or “driving” to varying places in his dad’s old truck.  Looking back on it now, he was more of a visual, verbal, physical learner and reading or writing just wasn’t his forte.

In reflecting on my experience and my observations of my friend’s experience, I relate this quite well with Barrat-Pugh’s (2007) assertion that “literacy practices are differently valued in different contexts…in educational contexts, certain forms of literacy become privileged” (p. 137).  In my situation and clearly in what I’ve seen in my friend’s situation, reading and writing was significantly valued more than other literacy practices.  Therefore, other practices were not as honoured and in turn held children back and limited their ability to express, explore and understand themselves in their world.

Logue, Robie, Brown, and Waite (2009) suggests that “[i]f all children are to become successful readers and writers, teachers must approach the teaching of literacy skills by using the skills and dispositions that children bring to the learning experiences” (p. 221).  Perhaps, my friend would have enjoyed writing better if our teacher closely observed what his literacy strengths were and incorporated that with the process of learning to write with “elaborated content” and legibility.  Barrat-Pugh (2007) states that “learning and teaching writing is complex and multifaceted” but more often than not, especially when reading and writing is the dominant discourse of literacy practices, educators and even parents approach literacy learning as though it were “a linear process in which children progress through a series of stages” which can be implemented and therefore mastered with drilled repetition and memorization or letters/symbols and words/phrases.  It can and does work, as articulated by Wong (2008) in her study with preschool children learning how to read and write in Hong Kong.  However, I can’t stop thinking about the children who have significant difficulties with mastering reading or writing or those who require more time (beyond the prescribed school year).  Will they be left behind if their stories aren’t interesting or creative enough or because their spelling or writing styles aren’t just up to par?

I end this entry by highlighting another suggestion of how we can possibly engage in a balanced approach to teaching children literacy skills.  Wong (2008) suggests to “create learning environments that are realistic and relevant to learners, and support learning through multiple roles” (p. 116) and multiple modalities.  In my workplace and in my community in general, I see children coming from varying cultural and social backgrounds and I believe that Wong’s (2008) - and even Logue et al., (2009) – suggestion[s] is/[are] very crucial to consider and allows our practice to be more ethical as a result.

Barrat-Pugh, C.  (2007).  Multiple ways of making meaning: children as writers.  In L. Makin, C. Jones Diaz, & C. McLachlan (Eds.), Literacies in childhood: Changing views, challenging practice (2nd ed. pp. 133-152).  Marrickville, NSW: Maclennan & Petty – Elsevier. 

Logue, M., Robie, M., Brown, M., & Waite, K.  (2009).  Read my dance: promoting early writing through dance.  Childhood Education, 216-222.

Wong, M.  (2008).  How preschool children learn in Hong Kong and Canada: a cross-cultural study.  Early Years, 28(2), 115-133).

Saturday, March 19, 2011


When I think about multiliteracies as referring to the “multimodal ways of communicating through linguistic visual, auditory, gestural, and spatial forms” (Hill, 2007, p. 56) I think about how this can accommodate the different ways that children engage and express themselves and the meanings that they make about the world around them.  To understand literacy as something that is beyond the practice and skill of reading and writing is significant because children do have literacy practices that are not limited to these two traditional skills. “Children in early childhood have always used construction, drawing or illustrations, movement and sound to represent meaning.  The newer multimodal technologies add to children’s choice of medium to represent ideas and to comprehend the meanings in a range of texts” (p. 60).  In my work with younger children who are pre-readers and pre-writers, I have seen them express themselves within such an array of actions (dancing, gestures, oral storytelling, etc.) and creations (arts and scribbles, constructions, etc.) and to have to limit them to express themselves or make meaning of their surroundings with a small set or specific set of methods seems unethical and harmful for the possibilities of their potentialities.  Also, children are increasingly being exposed to digital literacies at home or even in the communities (in libraries, stores, even in centres and schools) that the literacy practices that they are learning from the exposure and engagement with varying digitized mediums cannot be ignored.

Reflecting on the modality of movement, I think about the children whom I’ve worked with who are more comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their space (and the people and things within it) in a more physical sense.  These children “use their bodies to make meanings that are sometimes difficult to represent accurately in written form” (Makin & Whiteman, 2007, p. 171) and even in verbal form and to restrict them to express themselves in these ways often becomes problematic for them.  In many situations, when these children are limited (or ‘encouraged’) to simply say what they are feeling or thinking but they don’t know how to verbally articulate it, they get confused and frustrated and as a result, ‘act out’.  Makin and Whiteman (2007) articulates that,

Throughout movement, it is possible to explore feelings, expression relationships and configurations that occur in everyday life in quite different ways than in using written words
[movement] extends the resources at their disposal to use oral and written language and to develop multimodal ways of communicating (p. 172).

They provide a possible way of seeing movement as a means for children to “communicate” and educators, adults altogether need to recognize the merits of physical actions in revealing what children are trying to express or how they are understanding themselves and their environment.  Young (n.d.) emphasizes this further and states that with movement such as dance, it is “to enter another world of language and literacy” (p. 15); a “non-language way of making meaning” (p. 5), all of which acknowledging movements as important modes of expression and exploration and fostering learning and enhancing literacy skills as a whole.

Overall, Hill (2007) also encourages us to take a balanced approach when we are teaching children literacy skills but also emphasizes the importance of learning and understanding the literacy strengths that each child has so that s/he is not left feeling frustrated because they cannot express her-/himself.

Hill, S.  (2007).  Multiliteracies: towards the future.  –
Makin L. & Whiteman, P. (2007).  Multiliteracies and the arts.  In L. Makin, C. Jones Diaz, & C. McLachlan (Eds.), Literacies in childhood: Changing views, challenging practice (2nd ed.).  Marrickville, NSW: Maclennan & Petty – Elsevier. 

Young, P.  (n.d.).  Dancing from the inside out: lessons in the body as text.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Critical Literacy

The new technologies that seem to symbolize and support globalization processes, give a previously unavailable power to individuals with access to them.  Through technologies such as the Internet, individuals (including children) can mediate or transform their own understandings without the support of traditional mediators like teachers, parents, or governments (Kennedy, 2006, p. 298). 

I chose to start with this statement for the fact that more and more children are able to easily access the “technologies” that Kennedy (2006) speaks of in this statement.  If it’s not the computer or the internet, it’s the television, radio, or simply in the very literature that is available to children.  What provoked me further is within the line, “individuals (including children) can mediate or transform their own understandings without the support of…teachers, parents, or governments”.  Initially, I questioned why would it be so bad to think in these terms?  Aren’t we supposed to see children as autonomous beings, capable of thinking, acting, and deciding for themselves without any influence from the adults who most often control and dictate how children should live in general?  However, I began thinking about the materials that are out there and how, in many cases, racist, sexist, elitist (to name a few) ideologies are implicitly and explicitly promoted in the digital materials available to children.  It speaks to the idea of just showing one dimension, one story usually that of a dominant group (Westernized, white, English speaking, middle class…?)  Do children have the ability to be critical about what they are seeing or hearing if they are always exposed to such one-sided “popular media” (Jones Diaz, Beecher & Arthur, 2007)?  If we respond with a ‘no’ to this question does it then justify the roles of the adults to come and help children learn how to be critical?

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say that children do need guidance in critical literacy practice.  I know how problematic taking this stance is altogether, but let’s focus on the fact that the practice of critical literacy is necessary for the very reason that a lot of the materials that are out there targeting children’s impressionable minds are propagating inequities, stereotypes, and discrimination of individuals or groups.  Jones Diaz, Beecher, and Arthur (2007) seems to provide an enhanced (perhaps, a counter-) argument from the statement I started with, which also justifies the necessity of children learning why and how to critically analyse what they are seeing, hearing, reading and so on.  They state,

[r]ather than leaving children and young people to mediate their own understandings of gender, ‘race’, ethnicity and social power through interactions with texts of popular culture, educator involvement can enable ideological and consumer issues associated with popular culture to be problematized.  Educators can support children to critically examine the ways that dominant discourses are perpetuated in texts of popular culture.  They can assist children to engage in resistant readings and to produce alternative texts (Jones Diaz, et al., 2007).

I believe that there is little control or authority placed on the teacher over children, rather, children are empowered to see the otherness or what’s possibly missing within the materials they are exposed to in the “popular media”.

It is important to note, which Jones Diaz et al. (2007) also emphasize, that we need to acknowledge why children are drawn to the materials they are exposed to and how they are interpreting it altogether. I think that with this practice, it highlights the importance of engaging in an ongoing conversation between children, teachers, parents, and other community members. It is also important to engage in such conversations with children regarding the need to be critical because of what they themselves can proliferate in their actions.

Jones Diaz, C., Beecher, B. & Arthur, L.  (2007).  Children’s worlds: globalization and critical literacy.  In L. Makin, C. Jones Diaz, & C. McLachlan (Eds.), Literacies in childhood: Changing views, challenging practice (2nd ed. pp. 71-86).  Marrickville, NSW: Maclennan & Petty – Elsevier. 

Kennedy, A.  (2006).  Globalisation, global English: ‘futures trading’ in early childhood education.  Early Years, 26(3), 295-306.  doi: 10.1080/09575140600898472

Saturday, March 5, 2011

First Nations Literacy Practice: Oral Storytelling Tradition

Responding to this week’s readings gives me the same feelings of uncertainty and lack of confidence in my thoughts which I had with the discussion around cultural authenticity.  I feel this way because I haven’t read too much First Nations’ literature and while I have taken courses in First Nations/Aboriginal studies in the past, I feel anxious about discussing the process and subject matters related to First Nation’s stories. Why could this be?  Is it due to the fact that I’ve had limited exposure to it or because First Nation literacy practices and literature is not fully introduced and discussed in the curriculum of all of my educational experiences? 

With First Nations stories, I feel that it is meant to be listened to and not be analysed or critiqued.  I say this not with the idea that critical analysis should not be done at all on the stories told.  However, given that First Nations people have long been silenced and continue to struggle to have their voices and stories heard and told, simply analyzing their varied and complex stories is propagating colonizing tactics of control and suppression.  Thompson (2007) highlights the value of “open dialogue” and quotes an elder who emphasize the “value of listening” and the “trust” that is needed “to listen well” (Yellow Hawk, as cited in Thompson, 2007).  From this I see the process of an ongoing conversation between the storyteller and her/his audience and the importance of listening (from all angles) as a significant piece in the process of storytelling as a whole.  First Nations people value the knowledge that elders profess in their stories and also what “younger people, even children” (Thompson, 2007) have to offer in the stories they listen to.  Oral storytelling traditions bear significant knowledge, “a distinctive intellectual tradition” (Moayeri & Smith, 2010, p. 414), that challenges beliefs of the inaccuracies and illegitimacies within oral stories, “oral histories” (Thompson, 2007).  “Scientific Knowledge” is but a single story and just as we’ve been encouraged to see that there are multiple stories it is important to acknowledge that “traditional knowledge” will have its merits (Moayeri & Smith, 2010, p. 415).

In reflecting on First Nations’ oral storytelling traditions, I am reminded by my own experience with oral storytelling and the value that I have for it.  I think about other cultures that strongly value this literacy practice in varying and complex ways and relate it to Thompson’s (2007) words:

The oral tradition represents ‘the other side of the miracle of language’…’the telling of stories, the recitation of epic poems, the singing of songs, the making of prayers, the chanting of magic and mystery, the exertion of human voice upon the unknown – in short, the spoken word’…[the oral tradition is] a literature ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ (Thompson, 2007).

I am particularly drawn to the idea that oral storytelling traditions express stories and “literature [that are] ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’”.  I believe that it is very fitting to the nature of its practice.

Conversely, I also think about how this very practice is not always honoured and therefore, practiced to its full capacity in our Westernized education system,

different literacies are privileged in different institutions, which are controlled by a dominant power in each institution….literacy is most often taught in schools as decontextualized, technical skills…this disconnect between school literacy and home/community literacies is holding back literacy development for children, particularly those whose home literacies are undervalued and ignored by the schools (Moayeri & Smith, 2010, p. 409).

Literacy is still very heavily defined and practiced by the process of reading and writing and this significantly challenges, perhaps to the extreme of eradication of First Nations’ literacy practices of oral storytelling.  What can become of these people and other people who value this way of telling stories or passing on their traditions, beliefs, and so on?  We’ve seen children struggle or be left on the margins feeling confused or defeated when their learning styles and literacy practices are ignored.  How can we be ethical and honour their literacy particularities so that they are thriving instead of failing? 

Thompson invites us to think about how “the oral tradition could be fundamentally superior to written literature or that texts that privilege the Indigenous voice might speak more powerfully to Native students than literary masterpieces” (Thompson, 2007).  Moayeri and Smith (2006) encourages us to “familiariz[e] ourselves and valu[e] the diverse and multiple literacies that students of different cultures bring with them [which] enhances the learning potential of those students and that of the entire class” (p. 415).  They further provoke us to act on “diffusing the dominant power by creating opportunities for learning about multiple cultures by deconstructing existing [Westernized, white, middle-to-upper class, predominantly male perspectives] text, using materials, or by viewing curriculum through a broader lens” (p. 415).  These are just some possible yet very important suggestions to consider.

I end this entry by repeating the questions raised by an anonymous contributor in A broken flute (Seale & Slapin, 2006) because it speaks to the ethical practice which is necessary to consider especially when working with children:

Will you help my child learn to read, or will you teach him that he has a reading problem?  Will you help him develop problem-solving skills or will you teach him that school is where you try to guess what answer the teacher wants?  Will he learn that his sense of his own value and dignity is valid, or will he learn that he must forever be apologetic and try harder because he isn’t white?  Can you help him acquire the intellectual skills he needs without at the same time imposing your values on top of those he already has? (Seale & Slapin, 2006, p. 9)

Moayeri, M. & Smith, J.  (2010).  The unfinished stories of two First Nations mothers.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 408-417.  doi:10.1598/JAAL.53.5.6

Seale, D. & Slapin, B. (Eds.).  (2006).  A broken flute.  Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press & Oyate.

Thomson, M.  (2007).  Honouring the word.  Tribal College Journal, 19(2).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Literacy and Cultural Authenticity

-The following entry is written as a response to the week's provocations/questions provided by K. Kenny-

(K. Kenny)
My first question that I would like to put to you is how do we know when a book is culturally authentic? Susan Guevara (2003) argues that an authentic work is one that feels "alive" and it is something that cultural authenticity is related to the way the reader interacts with the books. She states, "What is cultural authenticity? I believe if we look to what rings true for each of us as individuals; if we look to what we see ring true for our students and colleagues, this is a good guideline" (Guevara, p.59). It is that feeling of trueness for the reader that is important. Seeing an affirmation of ones lived experience is a way to judge cultural authenticity.

Check out this blog by someone serving on the Children’s Literature Assembly for the National Council of Teachers of English Committee for Notables Books in English Language Arts.

What happens when you believe that a work is culturally authentic? If you are coming from an outside culture, and have no firsthand knowledge of a culture are you able to feel that "trueness?" What if that story contains stereotypes that you are unaware of?

Is "cultural authenticity" defined subjectively? I asked this question because while the idea of culture can be defined in a collective sense, the experiences within can be personal and be very subjective.  When Guevara (2003) states that authenticity of literature and arts lies in its ability to provoke the feeling of "aliveness", "emotional intuitive connection" and an "affirmation of...existence" (p. 57-58), I feel that these are or can be very subjectively defined.  When I read Rohinton Mistry's (1995) A Fine Balance, I can confidently say that I felt these features but I cannot confidently admit that from here I now know enough about the Indian culture.  If I had read more of his work or other stories of the same genre would it change this?  Will it equip me with more information about the culture to warrant that I can say that it is authentic enough?  

It is a challenge for me to claim a written or an art piece to be culturally authentic and I question the existence of review panels (one that is referenced in your provocation and by Alison from NV library).  As I've asked previously, does the question of cultural authenticity a safety/protective/or corrective measure which makes sure that cultural ideas/traditions/beliefs are expressed/portrayed in a politically correct way so not to "offend" those in the culture or others in general?  A line in your provocation also speaks to this questioning, "no matter how imaginative and how well written a story is, it should be rejected if it seriously violates the integrity of a culture”. I wonder if this is more directed to an "outsider" writing about a particular culture or of an "insider" who is expressing their own experience of their culture.  I see the merits of the statement presented but would it be fair to silence ones thoughts and experiences, especially if it is that of an "insider", because it challenges the culture's integrity?  Or is the focus or the analysis of cultural authenticity simply a way for observers or readers (insiders or outsiders of a culture) to critically think about what they are reading or seeing so that they don't become victims of the dangers of a "single story" (Adichie, 2009)?  Short and Fox (2003) seems to affirm this when they say that, “the discussions [of cultural authenticity] invite the field into new conversations and questions about cultural authenticity instead of continuing to repeat old conversations” (p. 22).  Is the idea then to create and encourage critical thinkers and readers so that they are open “to other points of view” and promote “democracy” and “social justice” (Short and Fox, 2003, p. 23)?

(K. Kenny)

Many of you have watched the video, The Danger of a Single Story but please take another look, and think in terms of cultural authenticity. She tells of the fact that a professor tells her that her novel is not 'authentically African' because the characters do not behave in a way that he is used to. He had a stereotyped view of Africa and her story did not fit that view. His was a single story.

At the library it was talked about when we see stereotyped images in books, such as a Mexican person wearing a poncho, and why was it not okay to have books with these images in it if that culture really does wear that cultural dress. I keep coming back to this idea of a single story. In our libraries we have so few books with Spanish, French, Italian, Mexican, Inuit, etc, etc people depicted. In the ones that we do see often the people are depicted a certain way. Thus we gain a single story of an entire culture.


In your first question/provocation, I ended my response by asking whether questioning “cultural authenticity” is something that will perhaps, diminish or prevent the “danger(s) of a single story” (Adichie, 2009) – I think it is more relevant to ask that question in this discussion.  Upon watching the clip and reviewing the readings, particularly Aronson’s (2003) A mess of stories, I think about some possible ideas he presents to answer my question:

if we take away the false certitudes of ethnic essentialism, if we are honest, rigorous, and thorough enough to look deeply at peoples myths and ways of life around the world, we will find….We have a mess of stories and then we write our own
we must be rigorous, attuned to the complexity of cultures, willing to recognize the limitations of our own points of view (p. 82)

Within the complexities are the stories that Adichie (2009) challenges us to tell and listen to:

people…are eager to tell…many stories.  Stories matter.  Many stories matter.  Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign.  But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.  Stories can break the dignity of a people.  But stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Does the question then change to not necessarily defining what is culturally authentic within one or each story but how (true) authenticity lies in the relationships/connections we have with the “many stories” or "mess of stories" (Aronson, 2003) that people of the world have as a whole?

Some other questions to consider:

~do we only question cultural authenticity in literacy (or even in art) or are we more provoked to respond and critically analyse cultural authenticity when it portrays an idea or image that might pigeonhole or stereotype a group of individual?
~is the attempt for literacy material to be culturally authentic the same as to be politically correct so that it avoids potentially “offending” someone or some groups?
~is the definition of culture authenticity a subjective one?
~who defines cultural authenticity - person/people from the particular culture portrayed in the literature?
~in order to prove the author or artist's claim for authenticity does s/he have to be subjected to questions on the validity of their cultural background?

Adichie, C.  (2009, October).  The danger of a single story [Video file].  Retrived from

Fox, D., & Short, K.  (Eds.).  (2003).  Stories matter: the complexity of cultural authenticity in children’s literature.  Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Mistry, R.  (1995).  A fine balance.  Toronto, ON: McLelland & Stewart Ltd.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Literacy as Multimodal Meaning Making

(Written with M. Lawson)

Multimodality speaks to the varying ways of representing, communicating and interpreting messages transmitted between people’s interactions with one another, with symbols, with objects and other materials that provoke meaning (Kress, 2003).  Given that people come from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, this has a significant influence in how a person or groups of people represent and communicate how they make meaning of their world (Kress, 2003, Martello, 2007; Seigel, 2006).  Kress (2003) asserts that representation and communication of ideas are no longer limited to what is written and read or spoken and heard.  It is no longer limited to lingual practices that only address two of our senses, sight and hearing; rather, it can be expressed in multimodal ways that trigger other parts of our senses and enrich our overall interpretation of things and situations (Kress, 2003).  Literacy is a way to represent and communicate an array of meanings and ideas that people have but it can also be described as being multimodal in its own right.  Children naturally experience literacy in a multimodal way therefore, within the context of educating and working with children, multimodal literacy is important to acknowledge, analyse, and put into practice.

Kress (as cited in Martello, 2007) defines multimodal literacy as a variety of ways in which children explore and practice literacy.  The multimodal practice involved in literacy learning is also significantly influenced by children’s diverse social and cultural traditions and practices.  As a result, children’s literacy practices can range from being linguistic, visual, oral and auditory, gestural and physical (actions or touch, ex. braille), or a combination of some or all (Martello, 2007, Seigel, 2006).  In the classrooms/centres, educators can support children’s literacy development by learning about the child and their literacy experiences at home and even within the community.  As educators familiarize themselves with the children’s families and cultural backgrounds and practices, they can incorporate such practices in the classroom/centres in a more natural and ethical way.  However, children are still taught with the expectation of mastering literacy by imposing letter sounding and writing drills or rote memorizations, following what Seigel (2006) describes as a “narrow and regressive vision of literacy learning in school[s]” (p. 65), which sets children to fail academically and be labeled “at risk” or worse, “illiterate”.  These are the children who may not connect and are unable to thrive in these conventional literacy practices because of its limiting ways and because it ignores other possible ways that they do use to learn and engage with literacy.  Failure to recognize children’s multimodal literacy learning and ignoring literacy experiences at home is a disservice to children and their overall development.    

Educators can “have a positive impact on the emerging literacies of every child by achieving continuity between home and educational literacy practices” (Martello, 2007, p. 89).  Multimodal literacy practices has a potential to meet every child’s needs, especially as they approach and learn to read, write, and generally express themselves through varying modes and mediums.  If a child has difficulties expressing her/himself through spoken language, perhaps the visual or gestural mode will allow him to do so.  “Embracing and capitalizing on a wide range of home and community literacy practices extends the learning possibilities for all children” (Martello, 2007, p. 101).  The important task is to closely observe, be well informed of, and foster and support the child’s “literacy strengths” (Evans, 2001) so that s/he has a positive and meaningful experience with literacy learning.  It is equally important that educators critically reflect on their own history with literacy practices to be able to recognize the uniqueness of literacy learning and therefore, enhance the way they engage in literacy practices with children. 

Through our inquiry we reflected on our experiences in engaging with multimodal literacy and in supporting its varying ways with children.  We questioned how our own social and cultural backgrounds influenced how we approached and encountered literacy as young children and whether we were encouraged to freely experience literacy in all of the ways we wanted to.  We wondered how such experiences could have influenced how we approach literacy teaching and learning with the children we work with now.  Finally, we questioned how we would promote multimodal literacy practices and also asked ourselves whether we use it more naturally or as a response to children who are not responding to particular literacy activity.  Our experiences have been of both but we believe that this was a part of the process of being attuned to children’s multiple ways of learning and making meaning of their world.  We surmised that we ourselves represented, communicated and interpreted in such a myriad of ways that it is wrong to restrict oneself, and therefore to restrict others – children – to make meaning within limiting or simplified terms.

Some questions to consider:

~What is (or has been) your experience with multimodal literacy?
~How do or did your social (familial and community connections) and cultural backgrounds influence how you experience(d) multimodal literacy?
~How often do you actually engage in multimodal literacy?
~Do you use it naturally (2nd nature to vary the ways to introduce literacy experience to children) or do we use it as a response to children who are not as responsive to particular literacy activity?
~How would you try to overcome parents or other colleagues' resistance to multimodal literacy practices?

~some examples of multimodal literacy practices...

Evans, K.  (2001).  Holding on to many threads: Emergent literacy in a classroom of Iu Mien children.  In E. Jones, K. Evans & K. S. Rencken (Eds.), The lively kindergarten: Emergent curriculum in action (pp. 59-74).  Washington, DC: NAEYC. 

Kress, G.  (2003).  Multimodality.  In B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 182-202).  New York, NY: Routledge

Martello, J.  (2007).  Many roads through many modes: becoming literate in childhood.  In L. Makin, C. Jones Diaz, & C. McLachlan (Eds.), Literacies in childhood: Changing views, challenging practice (2nd ed. pp. 89-103). Marrickville, NSW: Maclennan & Petty – Elsevier.

Seigel, M.  (2006).  Rereading the signs: Multimodal transformations in the field of literacy education.  Language Arts, 84(1), 65-77.

Oral Storytelling

I can relate really well with the oral aspect of literacy and only because everyone talked in my family and therefore they had stories to tell!  I have lots of memories of being told "family anecdotes, tall tales, and embellished legacies" (Cline & Necochea, 2003, p. 126) during long car rides, during camping trips, during meals with families, or sneakily eavesdropping as my mom and her sisters gossiped about other family members or simply reminisced about their own childhood!

Reflecting on these memories, I believe that stories and the act of storytelling allowed my family and I to spend time together (Sabnani, 2009).  My sisters and I always gathered around grandparents, aunts and uncles and older cousins who were willing to share stories of their past.  We were never discouraged to listen even when subject matters were serious or had negative outcomes and any questions we had were always answered - the stories were very much interactive too!  I especially liked hearing stories which were accompanied by crisp and faded black and white or sepia coloured pictures and most especially if the people within those pictures were still alive or are the storytellers behind the captures! Sabnani states that “pictures also stimulate imagination and the art of reading between the lines…They aid memory…encourage curiosity and creativity, particularize situations, provide temporal links, and extended text” (Sabnani, n.d.).  As great as the stories were told, having pictures to accompany them enriched and created more nuances to the stories itself.  It was also interesting to hear different versions of stories which I now see as allowing me to understand “the possibility of multiple perspectives” (Sabnani, n.d.) and perhaps, also taught me to think critically about stories and situations I was immersed into. 

I heard many stories but I never attributed the act of storytelling to my interest in reading or writing in later years.  I wonder if my parents (and other adults in my childhood) knew that what they were doing in telling us stories was actually setting a good foundation for our future in literacy?

In my experience, I don't remember being too affected by the discrepancies between my home literacy practice and school literacy practices.  However, I also believed that reading and writing was something just done in school.  At such a young age, I believed I conformed to this idea and when I had some challenges writing stories during “creative writing” periods I never thought that it was because perhaps, I excelled better in oral literacy practices, or other modes of literacy.  I didn't struggle with the conventional ways of literacy; however, I always felt that I was never good enough as a writer or I wasn't creative enough because I couldn't write the way my teachers taught and 'encouraged' me.  This leads me to think about how (cognitively, emotionally, spiritually) limiting conventional literacy practices can be for children who practice literacy beyond reading and writing.  Children are restricted in their ability to express their thoughts and ideas and they can be profoundly silenced when the literacy practice(s) that they connect with are not honoured in their classrooms.  As an Early Childhood Educator I find that I can easily experience literacy with children in varying ways - oral practices is almost always included.  Is it the same when children enter elementary school or is it harder to uphold the other ways of engaging in literacy (or children's varying home literacy practices) because of the curricular mandates of teaching children to read or write a specific way?

Cline, Z. & Necochea, J.  (2003).  My mother never read to me.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(2), 122-126.

Sabnani, N.  (2009, July).  The Kaavad storytelling tradition of Rajasthan.  Design thoughts, p. 28.

Sabnani, N.  (n.d.).  Designing for children: with focus on 'play and learn'.  'Homing' in with stories.