Unpacking Multiliteracies

Still working on my holiday reading of Anstey and Bull’s Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies.

Multiliteracies means being cognitively and socially literate with paper, live and electronic texts. It also means being strategic, that is, being able to recognise what is required in a given context, examine what is already known, and then, if necessary, modify that knowledge to develop a strategy that suits the context and situation. (Anstey and Bull, 2006, p.23)

So we need to understand/be understood:

  • when writing/reading;
  • in speeches, interviews or performances
  • using computer/phone.

We need to understand/project the right level of formality/respect for a given situation

  • when writing/reading;
  • in speeches, interviews or performances
  • using computer/phone

This is terribly important in today’s world where you are dealing with such a diverse population. Heck, even excluding diversity, things can go terribly wrong – think how the crew at Chaser’s War on Everything got it so wrong with their skit on terminally-ill children. Somehow the people doing the strategic thinking did not accurately predict the level of disapproval that would be provoked.

Anstey and Bull (p.23) point out that every form of text is created with a purpose (no text is neutral). In order to be fully literate we need to be aware of that fact and to understand how text is constructed to influence.

So what are the implications for teaching our students? Well first they need to understand about text, all kinds of them. Astley and Bull have compiled common understandings about text from the body of literature about multiliteracies. They are:

  • text may be paper, live or electronic
  • may be made up of one or more than one sets of signs and symbols (eg. words + emoticons)
  • are consciously constructed
  • are actively constructed
  • may have several possible meanings
  • may be built from other texts (or refer to them to have meaning)
  • may be multimodal, interactive, linear or non-linear

The authors recommend that any mulitliteracy programs planned need to use these understandings as outcomes for student understanding (Anstey and Bull, 2006, p. 24-25).

This got me thinking about how I was taught to ‘read’ various forms of text in my daily life. I wasn’t taught any multiliteracies in school. I had no education in this … or had I?

As children we were read to … a lot and we had wonderful records of stories told by masters like Danny Kaye. Stories told well involved ‘voices’ -tones of voice, colour within those voices to denote children or evil villains or wise old folk. There were levels of sound and patterns of speech repeated in many of the stories. And we heard the stories over and over until we’d learned them off by heart.

We learned to understand/read the language of music when we listened to wonderful recordings like Peter and the Wolf, the Nutcracker Suite and The Carnival of the Animals. Each instrument had a unique voice, each piece told a story.

We watched puppet shows and saw mime artists on TV like the wonderful Marcel Marceau who spoke to us through gesture. The stories were simple, the language was crystal clear.

We were taken to art galleries and our parents talked about the paintings. We watched cartoons like Bugs Bunny with dialogue that held several possible meanings (and British adult comedy full double entendre if we weren’t caught!).

We played with code rings and rebus messages, we learned about using tracking symbols in Scouts/Guides in case we got lost when hiking.

Perhaps like any things multiliteracies were around in our day, we just didn’t have the name for it.


Photo from flickr by phoenixdiaz through the cc licence

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