How To Teach Multiliteracies?

by Shampa Biswas
Washington State University



Teaching multiliteracies has been crucial for preparing students to cope with the realities of the technological world. However, teacher education programs are not prepared yet to bridge the gap between traditional literacy and multiliteracies. This concept paper explores how teaching multiliteracies could shape future learning practices in schools. The integration of multiliteracies to classroom pedagogy would help raise standards and reduce literacy gaps in the classroom.


Teaching multiliteracies

New London Group (1996) coined the term “Multiliteracies.” Multiple literacies imply multimodal ways of communication, which include communications between other languages, using language within different cultures, and an ability to understand technology and multimedia. Symbols, audios, videos, billboards, or emails/listserv, for example, are integrated to the social and education media. Applying multiliteracies to teaching offers a new classroom pedagogy that extends and helps manage classrooms.

One challenge for educators is to help students create a sustainable literacy development throughout schooling, so that students can develop strong literacy skills (Ajayi, 2011; Borsheim, et al. 2008; Cummins, et al. 2007). Multiple literacies (i.e., literacies and new literacies; see Table 1) require that students integrate technology-enhanced educational tools into their work. Ajayi (2011) proposes that teacher education must prepare teachers to teach multiliteracies in their schools where there is a critical gap between multiliteracies and classroom pedagogy (Mills, 2009; Hesterman, 2013; Pennington, 2013). Given globalization and technological change, teaching multiliteracies is indispensable to literacy teaching and learning in the 21st century. This paper explores how teachers can teach multiliteracies in schools.


Integrating multiliteracies in teaching

Newman (2002) suggests that teachers integrate four components of multiliteracies in teaching: (1) situated practice, (2) overt instruction, (3) critical framing, and (4) transformed action. Situated practice leads students towards meaningful learning by integrating primary knowledge. Overt instruction guides students to the systematic practices of learning processes with tools and techniques. Critical framing teaches students how to question diverse perceptions for better learning experiences. Transformed action teaches students to apply the lessons they learn to solve real-life problems. Teaching multiliteracies can inform, engage, and encourage students to embrace the multiplicity of the learning practices (New London Group, 1996). Teaching multiliteracies can also help teachers blend and apply the following four instructional processes of multiliteracies in classroom for ensuring successful teaching and advancing students’ learning processes.


Situated practice ensures meaningful learning practices within a community of learners

Teachers can motivate learners to discuss and share thoughts about classroom tasks within a small group of students in the classroom, and to connect with primary language, culture, and experiences in real life. Situated practice suggests using students’ life experiences to create meaningful classroom activities within a community of learners (New London Group, 1996; Jacob, 2012; Newman, 2002; Mills, 2009). For instance, online writing space helps both students and teachers promote online and offline collaboration. Wiki is a powerful example of how a collaborative platform and webpage can distribute information, save time, and manage teaching.

 Teachers can incorporate Word Processors, Facebook, Twitters, Mobile Device, Wikis, Blogs, and Remixing (e.g., making machinima videos, making movie trailers, Fanfiction short movies, making music videos, creating fan art, political remix etc.) in classrooms (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; Pennington, 2014). Their informal and formal learning practices with classmates, friends, and families allow them to practice and understand the value of classroom activities within a community of learners. Teachers can potentially help students understand and learn multiple perspectives of their classmates and teachers.


Overt instruction introduces different modes of meaning to learners

Teachers can provide systematic instructions about classroom tasks towards the explicit explanation of different modes of meaning by engaging them in overt instruction. Overt instruction helps learners focus on important features and gain experiences that allow them to understand systematic, analytic, and cognizant explanations of different modes of meaning (New London Group, 1996; Jacob, 2012; Newman, 2002; Mills, 2009; William, 2009). Interventions between teachers and students potentially create different meanings in the learning process (Ajayi, 2011). Teachers must utilize students’ prior technological skills in classroom activities.

Both teachers and students can explore possible pedagogies for classroom activities (Alexander, 2008). For instance, teachers can suggest that students use ‘graphical concept map features’ for creating an interactive concept-map of their classroom learnings. Afterward, teachers can guide students to clarify what, why, and how these techniques improve their learning processes in technology-integrated environment.


Critical framing encourages learners to create own meanings

Teaching critical framing guides students to derive their own meanings from classroom activities, which encourages them to think, understand, observe, interpret, negotiate, and apply their ideas (Evans, 2005) in problem-solving. Learners can improve their interpretation skills about specific design under the diverse social and cultural context with thoughtful understanding (New London Group, 1996; Jacob, 2012; Newman, 2002; Mills, 2009). This practice helps students learn logical interpretation and meaningful expressions of different learning concepts. Egbert (2007) suggested that analyzing capacity of students can be built by simply asking “Why?”

Teachers can teach students in ways that help them realize, comprehend, and respect diverse knowledge perspectives (i.e., different, dynamic, and conflicting ideas). Different prospects of critical framing are crucial for 21st century students to include their pleasure and experience from family, friends, popular culture, social media, and language in the process of making text. Teachers can encourage students to notice and analyze practices of communicating meaningful ideas in schools and communities.


Transformed practice engages learners to apply learned lessons in real problem solving

Teachers can help students engage in reciprocal conversations that transfer ideas from one cultural situation to another. Transformed practice suggests how meaningful learning activities can design social futures (New London Group, 1996; Jacob, 2012; Newman, 2002; Kalantzis & Cope, 2008; Mills, 2009). Transformed practice might encourage students to connect their learning experiences with their daily classroom tasks. Technology-aided educational tools can be used to transform information into knowledge and fulfil diverse language learners’ styles and needs (Egbert, 2004). For instance, combining text with graphics, arts, music, and other visual elements in classroom activities can encourage students to comprehend the learning process (Ajayi, 2011).



The integration of teaching multiliteracies has a potential to adopt new ideas and overcome the limitations of traditional learning approaches in the 21st century literacies. Teaching multiliteracies opens new pedagogical practices that create opportunities for future literacy teaching and learning. Multiliteracies can also help teachers provide equal access to learning for all students. Moreover, students learn to collaborate by sharing their thoughts with others in online spaces where they can engage in different form or modes (texts, video, image, rhymes, and poetry) of learning processes. Consequently, we can expect students to become more confident and knowledgeable in their learning context through participatory and collaborative practices.


Table 1: Elements of Multiliteracies (literacy and new literacies)


Social recognized ways

Attitude and awareness (e.g., attention, participation, collaboration, critical assumption, network awareness).

Meaningful content

Generating, exchanging, and negotiating specific kind of meaning.

Encoded texts

Texts are captured, and transferable.

Participation in discourses

New literacies, Academic literacy, Bengali literacy, Home literacy, Facebook literacy, Digital literacy, Moving image literacy, Media literacy.

New Literacies


New “technical stuff”

Writing source code, Operating digital operators for different applications (e.g., text, image, sound, animation, and communication function), Creating diverse range of meaningful artifacts, Remixing, Machinima animations, Music remix practices, Anime music video (ANM) remixes.

New “ethos stuff”

Mindset 1 (bookspace, textual order), Mindset 2 (digital media space), Web 1.0 (Britannica online, publishing), Web 2.0. (Flickr, Wikipedia, Wikis, Google, Facebook).

New literacies on the ground

Video gaming, Collaborative writing (Wikis, Blogging, Fanfic writing, Manga producing), and Memeing.

Learning and Education

Educational engagement (i.e., using Schoology/ Engrade as teacher and student communication tools), Theory of new literacies, New possibilities of information and communication.






















About the author

Shampa Biswas is an Ph.D. Student in Language, Literacy, and Technology (LLT) in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Washington State University, Pullman and a graduate writing consultant in the Graduate and Professional Writing Center (GPWC), the Writing Program in the same university. Her research interests are graduate writing support, writing tutoring, writing instruction,sustainable literacy development, multiple-criteria decision making and teacher education.



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