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What Do We Know about Multiple Literacies?

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What current research tells us about teaching, learning and multiple literacies:
1) Supported engagement with multiple literacies increases student success and motivation.
  • Hinchman, K. A., & Sheridan-Thomas, H. K. (Eds.). (2008). Best practices in adolescent literacy instruction. New York: Guilford Press.
A compilation of work by leading literacy scholars, this book offers research-based recommendations related to best practices, such as motivating students through engagement with multiple literacies. Additionally, best practices must account for "the impact of texts of all kinds (visual, print, digital, sound, multimodal, performance) on young people's identity-making practices and, especially, on how text mediates young people's perceptions of themselves as literate beings" (p. 15).
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  • Rush L. S., Eakle, A. J., & Berger, A. (Eds.). (2007). Secondary school literacy: What research reveals for classroom practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Expanding on recommendations in Reading Next, this book offers an overview of research and related classroom practices, including ways of engaging with new literacies and promoting student literacy learning through participatory learning.

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  • National Council of Teachers of English. (2004). A call to action: What we know about adolescent literacy and ways to support teachers in meeting students’ needs. A position/action statement from NCTE’s Commission on Reading, May, 2004.

This position statement uses research to argue that reading materials should “tap students’ diverse interests and represent a range of difficulty.” Adolescents benefit from sustained engagement with a wide range of texts.

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2) Multiple literacy practices are embedded in social understandings, and students may need help seeing themselves as readers and writers.
  • Moje, E. B., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 107-154.

Social networks surround the ways adolescents read texts, and the embedded nature of these texts within networks enable adolescents to accrue social capital. Findings also suggest that mysteries remain about how to motivate students with active out-of-school literacies to engage with school literacy.

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  • Lenhart, A., Arafeh, S., Smith, A., Macgill, A. R. (2008). Writing, technology, and teens. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

    This study looks at what teens and parents report about technology and in-school and out-of-school writing. Findings suggest that teens don’t always perceive their out-of-school writing (or technology-mediated writing) as writing.

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  • Greenleaf, C., Schoenbach, R. Cziko, C., & Mueller, F. (2001). Apprenticing adolescent readers to academic literacy. Harvard Educational Review 71(1), 79-129.

    This article argues that struggling readers need instruction that links their personal experiences and their texts, making connections between their existing literacy resources and the ones necessary for various disciplines. 

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3) Student choice and active participation increases adolescent literacy motivation.
  • Cleary, L. M. (2008). The imperative of literacy motivation when Native children are being left behind. Journal of American Indian Education, 47(1), 96-117.

    This study provides an analysis of Alaskan Native, First Nations, and American Indian students’ motivation to obtain NCLB-based literacy practices.  Findings show that students require intrinsic motivation for literacy learning.

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  • Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

    Reading Next outlines fifteen key elements for supporting literacy learning, including providing access to diverse texts and motivating students through choice.

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  • Guthrie, J. T. (2001). Contexts for engagement and motivation in reading. Reading Online. International Reading Association.

    This article argues that adolescent motivation is encouraged by real world literacy connections, which can be encouraged by meaningful choice.  

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  • Oldfather, P. (1994). When students do not feel motivated for literacy learning: How a responsive classroom culture helps. College Park, MD: University of Maryland, National Reading Research Center.

    A responsive classroom culture is key to supporting literacy and encourages students to take ownership for their learning.  Teachers who understand and respond to students’ lack of motivation can help students take an active role in literacy learning and maintain their engagement.  

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Hinchman & Sheridan-Thomas (2008) Abstract:

Covering everything from day-to-day learning activities to schoolwide goals, this engaging book reviews key topics in literacy instruction for grades 5–12 and provides research-based recommendations for practice. Leading scholars present culturally responsive strategies for motivating adolescents; using multiple texts and digital media; integrating literacy instruction with science, social studies, and math; and teaching English language learners and struggling readers. Vivid case studies, thoughtful discussion questions and activities in each chapter, and detailed ideas for program and lesson planning make this an indispensable classroom resource and professional development tool. (Guilford Press)

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Rush, Eakle, Berger (2007) Abstract:

The fourth volume in a series begun over 50 years ago, this collection is an authoritative resource that draws on the knowledge and expertise of outstanding scholars and provides crucial information about research, theory, and practice related to secondary school literacy.

Leading scholars, along with newer researchers in literacy education, address topics such as the impact of state and federal mandates on literacy instruction in secondary classrooms, English language learners, and online reading comprehension. Chapter authors include Richard L. Allington, Donna E. Alvermann, Kathleen A. Hinchman, Robert T. Jiménez, Kevin M. Leander, Alfred W. Tatum, and Robert J. Tierney, among others.

Each chapter contains rich discussions of current research as well as practical classroom applications. As one reviewer noted, “Each and every chapter is well-documented and presents clearly established implications for teaching tied to the latest research findings. One of the major strengths of this edited volume lies in the way it points to a remarkable consistency across research findings representing a broad spectrum of disciplinary arenas.

This volume is a welcome addition for any teacher, administrator, or district looking to implement sound research-based classroom practice and professional development. Endorsed by the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy (NCRLL).

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NCTE (2004) Abstract:

In effective schools, classroom conversations about how, why, and what we read are important parts of the literacy curriculum (Applebee, 1996: Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko & Hurwitz, 1999). In fact, discussion-based approaches to academic literacy content are strongly linked to student achievement (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, and Gamoran, 2003). However, high stakes testing, such as high school exit exams, is not only narrowing the content of the literacy curriculum, but also constraining instructional approaches to reading (Amrein & Berliner, 2002; Madaus, 1998) Limited, “one right answer” or “main idea” models of reading run counter to recent research findings, which call for a richer, more engaged approach to literacy instruction (Campbell, Donahue, Reese & Phillips, 1996; Taylor et al., 1999).

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Moje et al (2008) Abstract:

In this article, Elizabeth Birr Moje, Melanie Overby, Nicole Tysvaer, and Karen Morris challenge some of the prevailing myths about adolescents and their choices related to reading. The reading practices of youth from one urban community are examined using mixed methods in an effort to define what, how often, and why adolescents choose to read. By focusing on what features of texts youth find motivating, the authors find that reading and writing frequently occur in a range of literacy contexts outside school. However, only reading novels on a regular basis outside of school is shown to have a positive relationship to academic achievement as measured by school grades. This article describes how adolescents read texts that are embedded in social networks, allowing them to build social capital. Conclusions are framed in terms of the mysteries that remain—namely, how to build on what motivates adolescents’ literacy practices in order to both promote the building of their social selves and improve their academic outcomes.

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Lenhart et al (2008 - Pew Internet Study) Abstract:

Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their emails, instant and text messages as writing. This disconnect matters because teens believe good writing is an essential skill for success and that more writing instruction at school would help them.

Summary of Findings:

1.  Even though teens are heavily embedded in a tech-rich world, they do not believe that communication over the internet or text messaging is writing.

2.  The impact of technology on writing is hardly a frivolous issue because most believe that good writing is important to teens’ future success.

3.  Teens are motivated to write by relevant topics, high expectations, an interested audience and opportunities to write creatively.

4.  Writing for school is a nearly every-day activity for teens, but most assignments are short.

5.  Teens believe that the writing instruction they receive in school could be improved.  Non-school writing, while less common than school writing, is still widespread among teens.

6.  Multi-channel teens and gadget owners do not write any more – or less – than their counterparts, but bloggers are more prolific.

7.  Teens more often write by hand for both out-of-school writing and school work.

8.  As tech-savvy as they are, teens do not believe that writing with computers makes a big difference in the quality of their writing.

9.  Parents are generally more positive than their teen children about the effect of computers and text-based communication tools on their child’s writing.

10.  Teens enjoy non-school writing, and to a lesser extent, the writing they do for school.

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Greenleaf et al (2001) Abstract:

Throughout the United States, concern is growing among educators about the numbers of students in secondary schools who do not read well. In response, committed and well-meaning educators are increasingly advocating remedial reading courses for struggling adolescent readers. In this article, Cynthia Greenleaf, Ruth Schoenbach, Christine Cziko, and Faye Mueller offer an alternative vision to remedial reading instruction. The authors describe an instructional framework - Reading Apprenticeship - that is based on a socially and cognitively complex conception of literacy, and examine an Academic Literacy course based on this framework. Through case studies of student reading and analyses of student survey and test score data, they demonstrate that academically underperforming students became more strategic, confident, and knowledgeable readers in the Academic Literacy course. Students in Academic Literacy gained on average what is normally two years of reading growth within one academic year on a standardized test of reading comprehension. Student reflections, interviews, and pre-post surveys from Academic Literacy revealed students' new conceptions of reading for understanding, their growing interest in reading books and favorite authors, their increasing repertoires of strategies for approaching academic reading, and their emerging confidence in themselves as readers and thinkers. They argue for investing resources and effort into demystifying academic reading for their students through ongoing, collaborative inquiry into reading and texts, while providing students with protected time for reading and access to a variety of attractive texts linked to their curriculum. This approach can move students beyond the "literacy ceiling" to increased understanding, motivation, opportunity, and agency as readers and learners. These findings challenge the current policy push for remedial reading programs for poor readers, and invite further research into what factors create successful reading instruction programs for secondary school students. (pp. 79-129)

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Cleary (2008) Abstract:

This in-depth interview study of the schooling experiences of 120 First Nations, American Indian, and Alaska Native students contributes to understandings of their literacy motivation, highlighting tensions between their insights on literacy learning and literacy practices implicated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. Finds that students need intrinsic motivation for learning literacy consistent with their own curiosities, need for self-expression and identity construction, participation in authentic literacy events, display of competence, and links to lived-world issues. However, given NCLB mandates, teachers often ignore these students’ need for intrinsic motivation, leading to students’ sense of alienation from the school world. Yet as these Native students report, intrinsic motivation (1) opens up space for them to learn in ways that are congruent with their own of being, (2) provides real audiences and purposes to express those ways of being, (3) shows paths for identity construction through literacy, and (4) constructs two-way bridges to the mainstream world.

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Biancarosa & Snow (2004) Abstract:

Reading Next is a cutting-edge report that combines the best research currently available with well-crafted strategies for turning that research into practice. Informed by five of the nation's leading researchers, Reading Next charts an immediate route to improving adolescent literacy. The authors outline 15 key elements of an effective literacy intervention, and call on public and private stakeholders to invest in the literacy of middle and high school students today, while simultaneously building the knowledge base. (

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Guthrie (2001) Abstract:

Engaged reading is a merger of motivation and thoughtfulness. Engaged readers seek to understand; they enjoy learning and they believe in their reading abilities. They are mastery oriented, intrinsically motivated, and have self-efficacy. Classroom contexts can promote engaged reading. Teachers create contexts for engagement when they provide prominent knowledge goals, real-world connections to reading, meaningful choices about what, when, and how to read, and interesting texts that are familiar, vivid, important, and relevant. Teachers can further engagement by teaching reading strategies. A coherent classroom fuses these qualities.” This article draws on work published in the chapter Wigfield and Guthrie coauthored for the Handbook of Reading Research: Volume III and in an article on the development of concept-oriented reading instruction for Educational Psychology Review.

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Oldfather (1994) Abstract:

Teachers' responsiveness to and empathic understanding of students' perceptions when they are not motivated are critical in a) promoting students' ownership of the literacy learning agenda; b) in helping students with their motivational difficulties; and c) in establishing classrooms that focus on the enhancement of caring. This report of an interpretive study, conducted in a 5th/6th-grade whole language classroom, provides insights about students' thoughts, feelings, and actions when not motivated for literacy tasks, and examines students' subjective experiences in three different motivational situations. The study offers clues about the affective and cognitive processes that enable some students to become engaged in literacy activities and prevent others from beginning them. It argues that a responsive classroom culture that honors students' voices may enhance students' ownership of literacy learning and alleviate feelings of anger, anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness.

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