Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Changing Dimensions of School Literacies

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Changing Dimensions of School Literacies

Article excerpt

Change, continuity and complementarity: Reconfiguring literacy repertoires

While many of the fundamentals of established, language-based literacy pedagogies will endure in the foreseeable future, they are by no means sufficient for the development of the kinds of literacy practices that already characterise the continuously evolving information age of the new millennium. We know that before many young children start school, they have already functionally and critically engaged with electronic and conventional format texts in ways that are not usually a part of classroom experience (Green & Bigum 1993, Mackey 1994, Smith et al. 1996). We also know that many children continue to be intensely involved in multimodal textual practices outside their school experience. For example, as Davidson reports, Max and James, when in fifth grade, were avid users of the animation program Microsoft 3D Movie Maker. As well as making their own thirty-minute movies, they downloaded from the Internet similar movies made by other children, sent both finished cartoons and `work-in-progress' internationally, swapped ideas and communicated by email about style and effect (Davidson 2000). Also while in fifth grade, Christian was described (Wilson 2000) as a studious reader of his prolific collection of N64 (Nintendo 64) magazines. The computer-based literacy practices these children are engaged in represent a significant change from literacy activities most adults experienced in their childhood. But there is a complementarity between new computer-based literacies and conventional book-based literacies as evidenced in Christian's reading and collecting his N64 magazines. This complementarity is also reflected in the phenomenon of burgeoning bookstore shelves of computer magazines (often with CD-ROM included), manuals, enhanced practice guides, etc., and serves to remind us that the advent of the digital datasphere does not necessarily mean the extinction of page-based literacies. As well as this change and complementarity, there is continuity among some contemporary and longstanding literacy practices of school age children. For example, Christian revealed that, as well as his Nintendo magazines, he was also reading a recent novel by well-known Australian children's author, Victor Kelleher. The continuing appeal of reading novels for children like Christian is more generally reflected in the phenomenal success of J.K. Rowling's `Harry Potter' books (Rowling 1997, Rowling 1998, Rowling 1999, Rowling 2000) in the age of screen-based texts.

Although there is no doubt that multimedia, electronic information sources are quickly taking up the communication of much information previously presented solely in traditional text formats, rather than being displaced by computer text, conventional literacies are maintaining a complementary role as well as being both co-opted and adapted in the evolution of our textual habitat (Goodwyn 1998, Lankshear, Snyder & Green 2000, Leu & Kinzer 2000, Rassool 1999). In the twenty-first century the notion of literacy needs to be reconceived as a plurality of literacies and being literate must be seen as anachronistic. As emerging technologies continue to impact on the social construction of these multiple literacies, becoming literate is the more apposite description. If schools are to foster the development of these changing multiple literacies, it is first necessary to understand the bases of their diversity. These include not only the affordances of computer technology but also the increasing prominence of images in both electronic and conventional formats. In addition, the distinctive literacy demands of different school curriculum areas are now well recognised, as is the distinction between literacy practices that are reproductive of existing knowledge and prevailing social orders and values, and critically reflective literacy practices that question and challenge the status quo. The first part of this paper outlines these parameters of diversity and their interactive effects, which will be characterised as producing multi-dimensional, multiple literacies or what many are calling multiliteracies. …

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