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Teaching New Literacies

If you type the word literacies into your word processor, the software will probably mark it as incorrect in spelling or grammar; however, literacies is becoming a more common term as educators better understand how literacy goes beyond written text to include other ways to look at language. For example, in 2004 UNESCO stated that:

People acquire and apply literacy for different purposes in different situations, all of which are shaped by culture, history, language, religion and socio-economic conditions. The plural notion of literacy latches upon these different purposes and situations. Rather than seeing literacy as only a generic set of technical skills, it looks at the social dimensions of acquiring and applying literacy. It emphasizes that literacy is not uniform, but is instead culturally and linguistically and even temporally diverse. It is shaped by social as well as educational institutions: the family, community, workplace, religious establishments and the state. Constraints on its acquisition and application lie not simply in the individual, but also in relations and patterns of communication structured by society. (p. 13).

Richardson (2014) adds that new literacies include using any number of computer technologies to “to evaluate and synthesize information from a number of sources in order to try to solve those problems; to communicate with others about problems and potential solutions; and to monitor the solutions we’ve found and stay up-to-date with new issues as they arise” (n.p.). Miners and Pascopella (2007) note that media literacy (e.g., being able to evaluate online information) and technology literacy (e.g., knowing which technology to use and how it will affect the outcomes), and the skills involved in these literacies, are crucial for both teachers and students to understand..

Although linguistic (generally text) aspects of language are still the most common (and arguably the most important), other literacies addressed in CALL classrooms include historical, information, media, political, scientific,  mathematical, visual, and multicultural literacies. Using the Web and other electronic tools successfully for language learning requires teachers and learners to be aware of and have some skills in all of these literacies. New literacies involve messages in modes such as graphics, audio, video, and other modes. To keep the visual aspects of web pages and other electronic texts in perspective, learners must understand how “writing in multimedia co-opts the visual as part of the text” (Murray,  2000, p. 52).

In this chapter’s opening scenario, both Dari and Stephen were having trouble decoding the visual elements on their computer screen. They did not know how to “read” visual texts like these and were overwhelmed by the effort. CALL instructors can teach their learners skills in visual and other literacies to help them use electronic technologies for language and other kinds of learning. There are all kinds of paper and digital resources for Ms. Johnston to find information and teaching tips, such as Lankshear and Knobel (2006), Moss and Lapp (2009), Reading Rockets (http://www.readingrockets.org), the website of the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut (https://newliteracies.uconn.edu/for-teachers/), and the Center for Media Literacy’s “Teaching Media Literacy in the ESL Classroom” page (http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/teaching-media-literacy-esl-classroom).


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Teaching New Literacies by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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