Tag Archives: multiliteracies

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

My video game shrine

Arriving in Washington DC


I (Cathy) am delighted to be arriving in Washington D.C. today to attend the American Educational Research Association Conference.  I will be presenting a paper entitled, Examining the Influences: Literacy Teacher Educators who us a Multiliteracies Approach. This study is a subset of a larger study on which I have been a researcher.  I examined 7 participants who demonstrated a proclivity toward multilitercies.  As I used a grounded theory approach (which does not begin the research with a hypothesis) I was  both intrigued and surprised by the findings.   Hope you can join me on Monday, April 11, 11:45am to 1:15pm, at the Marriott Marquis, Level Three, Mount Vernon Square.


According to Dewey (1974) “[e]ducation, experience, and life are inextricably intertwined”.  This study examined how early life experiences and other influences affected the practices of 7 literacy teacher educators (LTEs) who currently enact a multiliteracies approach.  Early childhood experiences, mentors along their journey, personal and professional turning points, and developing notions of literacy were explored.  Three findings (a) an innate love of language/literature, (b) inspiring mentorship, and (c) a unique set of dispositional qualities were significant contributing factors to these literacy teacher educators adopting a multiliteracies approach. The participants for this study were a subset from a large-scale study entitled, Literacy Teacher Educators: Their Backgrounds, Visions, and Practices which examines the lives of teacher educators from four countries:  Canada, the USA, England and Australia.   

Hope you can join me!




Growing through Research

drama children

Embedded within my passion for literacy is my love for developmental drama.  I do love theatre as well (I as a professional actress for a couple of years), but developmental drama is fundamentally different than theatre.  Theatre is about performance.  Developmental drama is about developing human potential, and that is my heart song.

I was recently asked to present a Literacy Workshop for the Royal Conservstory’s new Smart Start Programme .  This Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme uses a multiple arts approach to develop four specific cognitive skills: attention, memory, perception, cognitive flexibility.  It was my role to model and lead a group of ECE leaders through creative drama experiences so they could experience first-hand how developmental drama can and does develop cognitive skills. We explored many drama strategies in the workshop: storytelling; role play; group drama; teacher-in-role; voice over narration; hot seat; tableaux, and; story drama.  My favourite of the eight listed is story drama which uses the events and characters in a story to stimulate the drama experiences, plus, I got to use my storytelling skills.   We became the characters; good and bad.  We learned about a culture from the other side of the world.  We asked questions.  We problem solved.  We also had fun.  The participants left with many practical ideas and felt they were inspired to explore this world with the children they are responsible for.  But, in all honesty, I think I was the one who left with the most insight.

I used to present this kind of workshop regularly, but have not done one in a few years. Due to my dissertation work in multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), I discovered I was seeing the experiences through new eyes.  I was identifying modes instead of arts disciplines and using critical discernment instead of point of view.  The experience was a literacy event that we constructed within a social paradigm and the participants contributed their own knowledge and expertise in an environment that supported situated practice.  It wasn’t just a new set of vocabulary; it was a much more informed and theoretical perspective of the work.  Vygotsky, Luke, Peabody, Vasquez, Kress, Cope and Kalantzis occupied every corner of the room.  I was well supported.  I recognized a noticeable difference between my role as  intuitive drama leader and informed theoretical guide.  It was progress and it felt good.



Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of             Social Futures. New York: Routlage

Practicing Situated Practice through Storytelling

As mentioned before, I (Cathy) am a committed supporter of  implementing a pedagogoy of mulitliteracies (New London Group, 1996) in the classroom.  There are many components to multiliteracies, but for this post I will highlight my use of  only one  component- situated practice.    The situated practice component suggests that pedagogy must consider “the affective and sociocultural needs and identities of all learners” (NLG, 1996, p. 85).  By the inclusion of  students’ “lifeworlds” or home-life and culture, a classroom environment is created where students feel secure and will take risks (NLG, 1996, p. 65).

In a recent storytelling workshop I delivered to ECE students (in a higher education setting), I was intrigued at how the significant situated practice became.   Prior to the class,  I asked the professor what cultures were represented, so I could reflect at least some of these cultures through my story selection.  The list was long, so I had to be selective.  I decided to tell a story from Jamaica, the US and one from India.  These represented not only a range of the participants’ cultures, but also a broad range of storytelling styles, which I thought might be useful for the students to see.   During the workshop I explained to the students that eventually being inclusive of all of the cultures and backgrounds represented in their classrooms  through the stories we tell (and books we read) was essential.  It was our responsibility to get to know our students and know what was important to them.  They agreed that this was important.  But I had a lot to learn about how important,  even when working with adults.

I knew how much the  participants  enjoyed and learned from the experience, as they were highly engaged during the workshop, but i was also treated to written feedback  as the  professor asked the students to post their critiques online.  The following comments caught my interest:

“The workshop really resonated with me… I learned about stance, gestures and facial expressions”

“I was amazed to see how storytelling could grab our attention”

“I am excited to step out of my comfort zone a little bit and try out these strategies with children”

My favourite was:

“I really enjoyed the ending of the workshop using the Urdu [story] “Ek thi Raja, ek thi Rani, doono margy khatm kahanni'” as Urdu is my mother tongue and I was able to understand this very famous [story].”

I did indeed end the workshop with a very short story in Urdu.  In case you do not understand Urdu, in this story there is a  king and a queen, they  die, so the story is over.   That’s it.  It is a traditional ending to a storytelling set.  I usually ask a participant to translate the story for the rest of the group.  Even though my Urdu is not the best, I can always tell who understood the story, because they are the only ones laughing.  Children  are usually delighted that I took the time and effort to be able to tell , regardless of how short,  a story from their culture.  But this small gesture never became more evident  to me than at the conclusion of this workshop.   I was approached by a woman wearing  a khimar (a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist, but leaves the face clear).  The woman introduced herself and told me that she was most impressed that I told a story in Urdu.  She said she felt it made her Urdu speaking colleagues very happy.  She then asked me to do something I was not expecting.  “Would you”, she asked timidly, “consider sometimes ending your storytelling in Arabic?”  I smiled and immediately answered “of course, if you will teach me!”   She was delighted and proceed to teach me  the following traditional ending:

Touta touta.  Kelset el haa do tah.

This is now part of my repertoire.  I was never more convinced of how significant it is to honor the cultures of our students.   Young or older, it is their identity and they need us, their teachers, to validate this.  I will endeavor to enlarge my commitment to situated practice by sometimes speaking in Arabic for my students and hope my  students, whether ECE students, student teachers, or teacher educators will consider doing the same.

Blending old and new world literacies: Storytelling and Technology

I (Cathy) was recently asked to give a storytelling workshop for a third year Early Childhood Education Class. The professor felt the experience might broaden her students’ concept of literacy.   As a practitioner of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) I felt compelled to blend “old world literacy” which in this case would be storytelling (it is the oldest form of entertainment for our species), and new world literacy, which in this case was an online interactive learning system called Today’s Class.  (I have mentioned Today’s Class in an earlier post.  Today you get to hear how I put it into practice).

Initially, the students (a broad range of ethnicities, ages, and English language proficiencies) shared they had never previously experienced storytelling.  They had been read to and assumed this was the same thing.  Most admitted they had never heard of Todays’ Class either, but were game to give it try.  I warmed them up by delivering an old folktale (old world style, just me, them and their imaginations) which blew them away.  “I could see the story!”, and “I was captivated” were some of the responses.  The class was then arranged into small groups of three, each group having a lap top with access to the internet.  Each group was “invited” into the Today’s Class site and asked to give their group a “nick name”.  On the large screen at the front of the room, I posted questions about the storytelling experience for them to consider.  After some deliberation, the groups posted their responses, using only their nick names for identification.  I was intrigued by their reactions as the team responses popped up on the screen.  They were highly engaged.   I could have heard a pin drop they were so intent on reading the other groups’ answers.  When I used to do this kind of activity, the groups used chart paper and markers to record their answers and these were posted around the room.  I usually read out the answers because the printing was often not legible across the room.  Also, I often filtered what I read aloud, instantly deciding what the key points were and only sharing those.   However, with the big screen, it became each students’ responsibility to do the reading and the  filtering. The accountability and engagement levels were higher.

As we moved through the workshop, experiencing different forms of storytelling, the groups returned to conferencing at their computers, analyzing the responses and discussing the salient points.  Both my students and myself were delighted with the results.  Storytelling and technology were a perfect fit.  The students left with a much deeper understanding of an ancient literacy form, many vowing to use it in their child care centers, but also left with a much broader view of the usefulness of modern literacies.   Old and new world do blend.   I couldn’t help but wonder how Aesop might have felt about Today’s Meet.    I think he would have liked it.

New London Group. (1996) A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.  Harvard   Educational Review,1, 60-89.



Congratulations Tiffany Harris

Tiffany Harris and Clare Kosnik

Congratulations to Tiffany Harris (member of our research team) who successfully defended her PhD thesis yesterday. The thesis, Multiliteracies Theory into Practice: An Inquiry into Junior-level Literacy Classrooms, was a study of classroom teachers (grades 4 – 6) which examined their understanding and use of a multiliteracies approach in their teaching. The thesis is outstanding because Tiffany closely studied her participants’ views of literacy, their practices, and the challenges they face. The analysis is outstanding because Tiffany is both a very accomplished classroom teachers and an excellent researcher. She brought to bear on her work her understanding of the work of teachers and her extensive knowledge of multiliteracies theory. As a result, her work will definitely contribute to our understanding of how literacy is evolving and how teachers are adjusting their teaching. It is rare to have a study that moves so effectively between theory and practice. Her thesis will soon be available through the Proquest Dissertation Database. Congratulations Dr. Harris. Attached is a picture of Tiffany and me (Clare) after her thesis defense.