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
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.