You are on page 1of 3


Literacy has been described as the foundation for lifelong learning and an area of personal, social and economic importance (The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture [UNESCO], 1945; Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2014). For students to be successful learners they need to develop the literacy skills required to gain and convey information and make sense of their world (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA], 2008). To appreciate why literacy is fundamental to all areas of learning this synthesis will provide an overview of the current literature. It will outline the benefits of a a multiliteracies approach to literacy learning and highlight the importance of these understandings and approaches to future literacy educators.

The articles reviewed for this assignment reflect a growing trend towards multiliteracies pedagogy in the middle year’s classroom (Butcher, 2000; Anstey & Bull, 2006; Cope & Kalantzis, 2009; Godinho & Molyneux, 2010). This new approach to literacy challenges traditional views of literacy learning and reflects the need for literacy practices to change to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology, the impacts of globalisation and the varied social and cultural backgrounds of students in today’s classrooms (O’Rourke, 2005). This concept of taking a broader view to literacy learning is well supported and there is a plethora of research to suggest that this can enhance literacy outcomes for students in the middle years of schooling (New London Group, 1996; Anstey & Bull, 2006; Cope & Kalantzis, 2009).

The concept of a Multiliteracies framework was first developed by The New London Group (1996). They argue that students in the middle years of schooling are becoming increasingly disengaged with traditional approaches to literacy learning and suggest that a multiliteracies approach is required to reengage students (Smith & Woodward, 2007). They believe that this will enable students to think critically about texts and learn to make meaning of the multitude of information in which they encounter in their daily lives (The New London Group, 1996; Mallette, Henk, Waggoner & DeLaney, 2005; Godinho & Molyneux, 2010). The arguments put forward to support the multiliteracies approach suggest that educators should link student’s prior knowledge and personal experiences with literacy learning as a way of motivating

students and improving their literacy learning outcomes (Cairo, 2003; Schubert, 2009; Sharp, 2012). While a number of articles acknowledge that this can be difficult, they do provide a range of practical strategies that have been designed specifically for middle school classrooms and can assist educators with integrating a multiliteracies approach into their classroom (Cairo, 2003; Schubert, 2009; Sharp, 2012). In their articles, both Ryan and Henderson advocate that educators should begin by planning real world, authentic tasks which will help students see the benefits and relevance of literacy learning (Henderson, 2004; Ryan, 2008).

According to Piaget, students in the middle years of school are at the formal operations stage of cognitive developmental where they are beginning to develop more abstract thought processes and are capable of thinking about issues that are not specifically related to them (Department of Education, Training and Employment [DETE], 2004; Sigelman & Rider, 2009). At this stage, students understand the elements of design that make up texts and are beginning to engage with a broader range of texts (Ryan, 2008; Schubert, 2009). In their article Godinho and Molyneux (2010) point out that the multiliteracies approach has important implications for middle year’s literacy learning. They suggest the use of interactive multimodal texts such as computer and video games can improve engagement with ideas and provide educators with the flexibility to present information through multiple modes, including; visual, auditory, spatial, gestural and linguistic (New London Group, 1996; Willis, 2009; Godinho & Molyneux, 2010). They also advocate for the use of information and communication technologies (ICT’s) to enhance literacy learning. Using ICT’s to enhance literacy learning is well supported in the literature and can facilitate the making of connections across all learning areas (Sutherland, et. al., 2004; Sternberg, Kaplan, & Borck, 2007; Asselin & Moayeri, 2011).

Another important argument highlighted in the research is that educators need to recognise the influence that a student’s social and cultural background can have on their literacy learning. These influences are seen as particularly important as they shape the way that student’s acquire and develop literacy skills (Mills, 2009). Sandretto & Tilson (2013) suggest that modern classrooms are becoming increasing diverse and pedagogical practices need to reflect the cultural experiences and backgrounds of the students in order to have positive literacy outcomes. While the research outlines numerous practices that can increase cultural and linguistic diversity the

multiliteracies pedagogy is well regarded as an approach that caters for difference (Healy, 2008). Henderson (2004) argues that as educators it is necessary to consider multiple lenses and question assumptions about children and families. He believes a multiliteracies approach incorporates critical framing which can show students how literate practices are framed by social and cultural contexts and can create a learning environment where all students feel as though they can participate (Lindsey, Robins & Terrell, 2003; Henderson, 2004).

Much of the research reviewed shows that the pedagogical approaches utilised in the classroom are closely related to student literacy outcomes. Schubert (2009) suggests that teaching of comprehension in the middle years of schooling is a critical component of any wellbalanced literacy program and suggests that for students to gain reading comprehension they need explicit instruction. This requires thoughtful planning as well as the use of instructional strategies such as effective questioning to help students activate prior knowledge and form broad understandings of literacy (Coiro, 2003; Sharp, 2012). These strategies can help to connect pedagogy to the student’s lives which promotes engagement and will ultimately improve literacy outcomes (Anstey & Bull, 2006; Williams, 2008).

While many of the arguments presented in this synthesis support a multiliteracies approach it is clear that the scholars reviewed see multiliteracies as extending rather than replacing understandings of literacy previously associated with print. This has important implications for future educators as literacy pedagogy must now reflect the increase of emergent text forms to ensure the literacy learning in the middle years continues to be engaging and student centred.