Writing practices in contemporary society have changed dramatically over the past 20 years. For many, writing is a dynamic multimodal process (Edwards-Groves, 2011) which provides a broad scope of possibilities for new social, new literacy and new pedagogical practices. These practices have enabled students in their everyday life and in their classrooms to become multimodal designers of text, as writing now requires multimodality, creativity, technological and technical complexity. In fact, 'we can no longer call it exclusively "writing" as this is too simple for what text has become' (Healy, 2008, p. 26) since technologies have generated capacities for producing different kinds of texts and literacy practices, both of which challenge traditional pedagogical practices and understandings of meaning making and communication.
More broadly, digital technologies are fundamentally shifting learning. Students are learning new literacies, new socialities and new technological competencies. In their technoliterate world, and in classroom learning situations, today's students thrive on the interconnected utility of technology, creativity, social interaction and connections with community (Nichols, 2007) as they are actively engaged in what has been described as a participatory culture (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison & Weigel, 2006). And so for teachers, developing explicit understandings of these shifts in learning and literacy practices is a critical dimension to changing pedagogical practices. In one sense it is not the new kinds of texts or the technologies that need to be addressed per se, but rather how new literacy practices are understood, planned for and taken up in real classrooms (Walsh, 2010b).
What is at stake is the necessity for addressing the perennial question of how systems and schools engage teachers in different conversations about learning, literacy and pedagogy. Over the past two decades, there have been various attempts at re-describing and reconceptualising changing literacy practices (Andrews, 2000; Edwards-Groves, 2011; Green, 2000; Kress, 1995; Sharples & Bruce, 1996; Walsh, 2010b). However, how teachers actually understand changing literacies, and adjust their practices to account for the challenges and the opportunities that technology presents for pedagogy, remains an ongoing issue. What now is called for is specificity in the descriptions of both the changed nature of the reading and writing processes occurring with digital technologies, and the appropriateness of the pedagogical practices which account for changing literacies (Walsh, 2010b).
In one way, teachers need to understand what specifically is happening and can happen--in multimodal literate practices, what digital technologies do for students and how they can use it in their lives (and in the classroom) to be literate in how the digital world communicates ideas. To address these concerns, this paper offers a description of how changing learning practices in a multimodal, digital world influences classroom writing practices and pedagogies. It describes how professional dialogues assist teachers shift pedagogical practices in light of contemporary literacy practices. In the study presented in this paper, teachers engaged in both focused collaborative and analytic dialogues with colleagues and practising new practices in their own classroom context. The dialogues were centred on making the pedagogical shifts required for understanding, planning for and using contemporary digital literacies in their teaching.
Changing practices: The multimodal writing process
Writing is both a technical and creative endeavour which has moved beyond the linguistic and linearity proposed by early theorists (e.g. Calkins, 1986). It now encompasses a multidimensionality which harnesses design and multimodality and has the potential to liberate the creative energy of today's students (Florida, 2005). …