Addressing Multiple Literacies with Technology

By Nancy Taylor, Scholastic Reading Specialist

Look down a high school corridor and what do you see students carrying? In addition to their backpacks and books, students look like walking Radio Shack commercials with their cell phones, calculators, CD players, iPods, and handheld organizers. These electronic tools are all artifacts of our changing literacy.

The definition of literacy has expanded exponentially beyond the 1957 UNESCO definition when mathematics was added to reading and writing. Adolescents today navigate through multiple formats of literacy — films, web sites, television, CD-ROMs, books, magazines, music, videos, and newspapers. Not only do educators recognize Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences; we also address the realm of multiple literacies with today's adolescents.

According to the 1998 report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), approximately 40% of U.S. adolescents cannot comprehend specific factual information. By necessity, secondary teachers have become literacy instructors in their content area readings. Secondary educators have also come to recognize that one traditional textbook for each subject does not address students' needs.

Adolescents deserve access to a wide variety of reading material that they are able to and want to read (Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association, 1999). In the past, supplemental reading collections were created primarily for elementary students. Targeted collections of thematic nonfiction and fiction titles for classroom libraries now add high-interest titles to secondary-level content classes. Some collections are specifically designed to meet the reading skills of the lower-level readers. Only by reaching readers at their skill and interest levels can we increase literacy growth.

But what about the electronic sources of information students have access to beyond the printed page? Technology presents information in ways that a linear text format cannot. It allows students to tap into their multiple modes of learning. Like the supplemental texts, technology brings access to multiple sources of information. But technology does not create literacy by itself. Literacy expectations are that students will evaluate, analyze, and synthesize as they navigate the electronic highway. This expanded notion of text requires the teaching of specialized literacy practices. The skill of connecting one source of information to another is paramount.

We are now on the cusp of seeing academic programs that successfully integrate multiple literacy formats for secondary students. Company-created programs, like the READ 180 reading intervention program, combine technology and books to meet the needs of specific populations. Some schools have created content courses that include both print and screen learning. Whether in a purchased curriculum program or created by the school or district, this merging of literacies is a delicate balance. We will not prepare students for the complexities of our society just by just adding technology in our classrooms. It is the inclusion of literacy instruction that enables students to make literacy growth.


Nancy Taylor was a classroom teacher for more than 20 years. She has served as literacy specialist with the Salem-Keizer School District in Oregon, as well as a college instructor in reading and literacy methods at several Oregon universities.




Scholastic Administrator Partners
COSN Technology Leadership Network ASB AASA AASPA SETDA