In 1994, the New London Group, composed of literacy scholars, met to discuss the changing landscape of literacy in a globalized world. What came out of that meeting was a call for action to theorize, incorporate, and further research technology integration, multimodality, and cultural and linguistic diversity in schools.
Not sure where our current understanding of multimodality came from? Want to know what laid the foundation for a broader definition of literacy in schools? Stay tuned to learn about the New London Group and their work on multimodality.
There’s this group of literacy scholars who met to discuss literacy demands of a new age in New London, NH in 1994. They’re called the New London Group (NLG). At this seminal meeting, the NLG, which included Courtney Cazden, Norman Fairclough, Mary Kalantzis, James Gee, Bill Cope, Carmen Luke, Allan Luke, Gunther Kress, Sarah Michaels, and Martin Nakata discussed “the pedagogical tension between immersion and explicit models of teaching; the challenge of cultural and linguistic diversity; the newly prominent modes of technologies of communication; and changing text usage in restructured workplaces” (Cazden et al., 1996, p. 62). In other words, they wanted to reconcile school practices with what would be expected of students outside of school. Those two did not match up (and they typically still don’t).
What the nLG Talked & Wrote About
Their conversation and their work aimed at dismantling what counted as literate and whose language practices were dominant. They (and others) argued that centering a print-based and linguistic definition of literacy would not meet the current demands of the workplace. This remains true.
According to Leu et al. (2004), literacy in today’s society is shaped by increasing demands for workers to be competent users of information. These workers must be capable of communicating using a wide range of modes with individuals across global cultures and languages.
an expanded definition of literacy
An expanded definition of literacy takes into account several modes of communication, which include: linguistic, visual, spatial, digital, gestural, and aural (Albers & Harste, 2007). It also recognizes that the new demands of the workplace are fluid and unstable, unlike those of the previously stable and relatively uniform industrial age of mass production (Kress, Jewitt, & Tsartsarelis, 2000). According to Kress et al. (2000), no longer are centralized leaders communicating unidirectional demands to workers. Instead, the once passive masses are now increasingly interactive agents of critical thinking and collaborative problem solving.
Out of the NLG meeting came a “new approach to literacy pedagogy that they call ‘multiliteracies’” (Cazden et al., 1996, p. 60). This included increased access to technology, multimodality, and an increase in cultural and linguistic diversity in schools.
So, although we could argue that all communication is multimodal (for example, that what we write includes visual design elements and what we speak includes attention to how it sounds), an increased attention to deliberately including multiple modes of communication in literacy classrooms was missing in 1994 and is still nascent in the dominant educational structure that exists in schools today. Stay tuned for more on multimodality!
Albers, P, & Harste, J. C. (2007). The arts, new literacies, and multimodality. English Education, 40(1), 6-19.
Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., Gee, J. et al. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1).
Kress, G., Jewitt, C., & Tsartsarelis, C. (2000). Knowledge, identity, pedagogy, pedagogic
discourse, and the representational environment of education in late modernity.
Linguistics and Education, 11(1), 7-30.
Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J., Castek, J. & Henry, L. A. (2019). New literacies: A dual-level theory of the changing nature of literacy, instruction, and assessment. In D. E. Alvermann, N. J. Unrau, M. Sailors, & R. B. Ruddell (Eds.) Theoretical models and processes of literacy (7th Ed.) (pp. 401-418). New York, NY: Routledge.
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.