Recently the concept of mulitiliteracies has regularly appeared in my reading and professional discussions and every time it does, I am challenged in a new way (Multiliteracies: “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”). I have particularly connected with the work of Dr Jim Cummins who describes a multiliteracies pedagogy in strong terms emphasising that it is a mandate that speaks to the very identity of our students. Cummins goes on to argue that
recognising, valuing and investing in student identity is a necessary prerequisite for engaging students in learning. Language learning that does not build on the “cultural capital” of our students or connect to individual student identity is destined for a stagnant, linear and “authoritarian kind of pedagogy” (The New London Group). Another key component to a multiliteracies pedagogy described by Cummins is interdependence across languages where strong understandings in one language can transfer to another language. This is a capabilities based pedagogy that sees strengths in any language as a valuable basis for intellectual and creative linguistic development in other languages.
“Tuning in” to our students
At a recent workshop with Kath Murdoch, she spoke of “tuning in” as a process of the teacher “tuning in” to the student. When beginning an inquiry, what do those early discussions with our students reveal about our students? What are they telling us about their culture? When speaking of “culture”, I am referring to the multiple elements of a student’s context which includes pop-culture, gaming cultures, classroom cultures, social connections and that of “third culture kids“. The most important assumption I need to
challenge is that just because I may not understand a cultural reference that a student brings to the library does not mean that it is irrelevant. On the contrary, I should be “tuning in” to difference, to draw on that cultural capital revealed by the students to inform how the library can be more relevant to them. This requires me to pay attention & actively notice when the students are bringing something into the library context. When students enter the library, my assumption must begin with a respect for the linguistic, creative and intellectual talents of each student. If English is an additional language for them, they don’t lack English, rather, I lack the Korean, German, Dutch, Minecraft, Pokemon, K-Pop, Loom Bands or Japanese linguistic capabilities to converse easily with them. In a multilingual environment, with a multiliteracies approach I inquire into the cultural capital of each student and collaboratively, we build relationship.
Collaborating with students
From this basis of respect and capability, we can develop a challenging, fun and satisfying learning environment. Whether it be finding a book for recreational reading or digging deeply into a high level research database, we work collaboratively as colleagues. The conversation seeks to minimise power imbalances and affirm the
student as the expert in their own inquiry. My task is to inquire into their cultural perspective to see it through their eyes. Based on that understanding, I can challenge their thinking, offer new information and engage in a linguistically rich discussion in a zone of most relevance and connection for the student. This is a valuable & satisfying interaction for both of us. In empathising with their perspective I invariably learn something new and gain a deeper insight that expands my own world view.
Examples of multiliteracy & multilingualism in the library usually emerge when I am less directly involved but working hard to curate a balanced & safe environment rich in text and technology. Access to the tools of student inquiry is student initiated & rarely (or minimally) mediated by library staff. Here are few more examples captured at break/lunch time in the library. The big lesson for me here is to get out of the way of student learning & simply let it happen and provide support through a literature rich, safe, comfortable & inviting environment