Multiple Literacies Theory

This semester students in READ 6308 explored various theories about learning and learning to read. As part of one assignment, they created a post for our blog.

By V. Saladini

The Multiple Literacies Theory (MLT) was first defined in 1996 by the New London Group  which was comprised of ten academics from Great Britain, Australia, and the United States.  According to this group the term “Multiliteracies” immediately shifts us from the dominant written print text to acknowledge the many varied ways that literacy is practiced in the new millennium. (Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, Cope & Kalantzis 1996).

ML imply the execution of multilayered and multimodal forms of literacy, which by nature breach the school walls and is intrinsically link to the community, its culture, and the society at large.  It aims at the implementation of a democratic, pluralistic society in which students are considered valuable contributors to the teaching experience.  Through the implementation of MLT students become producers of knowledge and meaning and not just mere recipients.  According to  Cervetti, Damico, and Pearson “multiple literacies are conceived of as plural, as social practices, as situated in specific social institutions and ideologically charged, and as inextricably linked to social, cultural, and historical factors”.

ML involve the use of new technologies, such as tablets, computers, cell phones, video and picture  cameras, GPS devices, scanners, just to mention some; as well as the implementation of more traditional forms of literacy like pictures, reenactments, writing, drawings, debates, and field trips among others.  The important principle behind the use of these and other types of literacy is that they are used to allow the students to create new knowledge based on current and relevant issues.  As schools strive to provide students with more access to technology it is important for the teacher to remember that learning the technology is not what builds up literacy, instead it is the use of the multimodal literacies tools that will allow students to build knowledge.  Using technology to learn old things in old ways and recreate traditional pedagogies is definitely not MLT being implemented.

With that said, we as teachers feel overwhelmed and even inadequate to attempt to understand and implement the diversity of literacies our students bring to our classrooms.  In our era of standardized assessments many of us retreat to teach that what is testable and measurable by traditional means.  MLT strives for an implementation of literacy that links the school literacy to the real world so that since a very early age students come to understand that literacy is not something that is restricted to one particular place, time, and style.  On the contrary, students learn that they can apply literacy to just about every area of their lives inside and outside of school.

A classroom conducive to the implementation of MLT would not only be equipped with several pieces of diverse technology equipment, but should also allow the time and appropriate guidance for students to work in collaborate teams that address issues relevant to their communities and current social environments.  The goal is that students build an understanding of how the use of multiple literacies can affect their lives beyond school and guide their career choices.

In closing, I believe MLT has several good principles and applications that could really benefit our students in our highly technological era.   I see several of its main ideas implemented in classrooms across America.  However, a full implementation of this theory as its proponents originally envisioned is not feasible under our current standardized assessment practices and the digital divide that clearly marks who has or hasn’t have access to technology and the technological gap that exists between teachers and students.


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