At no point in our history has text, the basic units of literacy undergone so much transition. The fundamental elements of what constitutes “text” is modified as our world moves quickly from print to pixel. With this transition, much of the challenge exists not only with the rapidity with which this transition occurs, but with the changes leapfrogging entire generations of educators.
This challenge also includes a certain amount of “wiggle-room” or ambiguity in our understandings or framing of what constitutes text. A broadened view of text is needed to consider the various forms and modes of text in our world. These might include text in a printed book, a street sign, a video game, a YouTube video, an animated GIF, audio podcast, etc. We can no longer look at only one form of text as “correct”, and all other forms of reading and writing as not involving true literacy practices. This post will detail some of the theory and perspectives in this area and help guide your further research.
Ambiguity of text structure
Even as it can be argued that traditional literacy is changing, the fundamental structure of text is changing as well. Children are inundated by digital, media technologies and the new literacies that accompany them (Sanders & Albers, 2010). These digital texts and tools influence and change the activities that children engage in and ultimately affect their perspectives toward socialization and literacy (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003). Of the utmost concern to educators and parents is how to support younger students as they appropriate these other modalities, including technological modalities (Lankshear, Gee, Knobel, & Searle, 2002), into their repertoire as learners (Merchant, 2003).
As students attempt to execute these traditional reading pathways with postmodern, multimodal texts, other forms of information frequently interrupt them. Kress (2003) sees this challenge as a difference between what the text is showing and what it is telling. This poses challenges for educators who want to teach students how to verbally sequence information, or assess progress in reading or comprehension.
Blurring the lines
Text is something not permeable when found in books, magazines, and newspapers. The fundamental building block of text is now viewed as not only a unit of communication but also a discursive element that may take on various forms and modes. Text can be a television show, a music ringtone, an advertisement, a street sign, and similarly diverse manifestations. As educators work to redefine literacy, there is a need to understand and respect the plethora of screen-based texts students encounter outside of school (i.e., video games, movies, 3D movies, immersive websites, chat rooms, images, YouTube movies). In addition to these screen-based texts, there are digital and print texts that seek to blur the lines between screen-based and print-based texts.
Educators must identify instructional opportunities to accommodate these shifts in literacy and text, and help prepare students to interrogate these texts in their own literate practices (Morrell, 2002). There is an opportunity to use multimodal content and media with young learners to help them understand connections and critique other forms of text as they read and synthesize across multiple modes of communication. In this process, educators and students may engage in critical literacy (Morrell, 2008), and critical media literacy (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999). Educators and students can collaboratively read the word and read the world (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn, 2010) together as they inspect the texts that are utilized in different spaces.
Encoding & decoding multimodal texts
A fascinating element of these varied modes of text includes the children that now grow up having access to, and the opportunity to manipulate the ways in which they read, comprehend, and possibly write or remix text (Bearne, 2003). The challenge for educators is that all instruction focusing on print-based literacy-based practices needs to not only recognize, but also carefully embed, multiliteracies into the curriculum in a way which focuses on analytic and critical thinking about message and medium by constructing and redesigning knowledge structures and semiotic resources. This embedding is achieved by actively encoding and decoding meaning through the use of ever-shifting multimodal, convergent media production tools and resources. Remixing, or mashups allow for a rearrangement, or reconstruction of online content that is already available online and constructed by others. This allows individuals to provide social commentary or critique what is considered “truth” online.
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What to read
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