Multiliteracies pedagogy and the Kotoba Rollers framework

I’m a neophyte when it comes to this pedagogy, so please bear with my ignorance in this post. As a language teacher, and more importantly, researcher, I am a little embarrassed that it has taken me this long to really dig into the literature on this topic, and hope that this post can act as a springboard for others, too.

My colleagues Peter and Jonathan are more of the experts in this field and I have been putting it off mainly because I wanted to keep my focus on TBLT as I was developing Kotoba Rollers. TBLT is the teaching methodology that I am most familiar with (learning about it since my MA days) and it is well documented and referenced in the literature on games and language learning meaning that I have a large volume of work to call on. However, we recently got into a discussion regarding CLT and its shortcomings, to which they both pointed towards multiliteracies as an alternative. Being uninformed regarding the literature on multiliteracies, I had no real argument against it, and felt left of the conversation somewhat. This ignorance has lead me to pick up some books and research papers on the subject and dive in.

In this post, I will outline the extent of my knowledge regarding multiliteracies including the areas that have surprised me, delighted me and made me think. Then, I introduce a lesson I carried out with classes this week explaining how I made pedagogical considerations from a multiliteracies approach.

Initial findings and reactions

A multiliteracies approach primarily focuses on social learning, and thus shares a perspective with other socially-informed approaches to SLA. Knowledge is created through meaningful discourse with others. In López-Sánchez (2009) we find a focus on the use of authentic texts as a source of learning. Texts need not be literary pieces of work per say, but instead a poster, road sign, painting, Internet forum post, song, etc. This is due to the multimodal nature of the world that we now find ourselves in. Everything we are in contact with is designed (or at least contains) cultural, historical and social meaning. Unpacking these meanings and critically evaluating them is seen as a goal of a multiliteracies approach.

The motto put forward by López-Sánchez is “control tasks not texts” (p.32). I’m honestly not sure how to interpret this, though. In my mind: The tasks used to analyse and reflect on texts are fluid, somewhat undecided, and negotiable based on student and teacher needs; but the texts that make up the course need to be carefully chosen, and fixed before starting the course. This seems opposite to the motto, so maybe someone can shed some light on this for me.

Let’s compare the stance of “control tasks not texts” with a cognitive, TBLT approach to SLA. Doughty and Long (2003) proposed 10 Methodological Principles (commandments?) for TBLT. The first of these being: MP1 Use task, not text, as the unit of analysis. Regarding the rationale for this focus the authors write:

  • The focus in TBLT lessons is on task completion, not study of a decontextualized linguistic structure or list of vocabulary items — and not the same phenomena at the supra-sentential level, text. Spoken or written texts are static records of someone else’s(previous)task accomplishment, i.e., a by-product of tasks. Building lessons around texts(as in much content-based language teaching)means studying language as object, not learning language as a living entity through using it and experiencing its use during task completion. (p.42)

The notion here is that studying texts has no language learning value at all. Indeed, they continue the rationale by comparing learners role-playing a social telephone conversation to a “text-based program of some kind, listening to or reading a ‘dead’ script of someone else’s effort” (p.42). Their stance is thus extremely negative on the activity of spending any time evaluating genuine “texts.” Texts are relegated to only providing comprehensible input to be internalized and regurgitated during task performance. Or, as Byrnes et al. (2010) point out, as something to be decoded.

So we have two very different (in fact, opposing) considerations of the importance of text, reading, and writing. That has been the biggest eye-opener for me. In TBLT, (and CLT more broadly) spoken communication is generally considered to be the key to language acquisition, and text analysis is relegated to second place. This is especially true for “language” focused or beginner courses, which are seen as foundational courses which lead onto “content” or “literacy” focused courses for intermediate and advanced level learners. Bridging the gap between this dichotomy of courses is another goal of teaching from a multiliteracies perspective (Kumagai, López-Sánchez, & Wu, 2015), which is achieved by bringing a literacies focus into the beginner-level classroom.

Multiliteracies pedagogy

There are different interpretations of how to pedagogically sequence a curriculum from a multiliteracies approach, but there are a number of common themes, originating with the New London Group (NLG, 1996). I will outline what I have understood of these practices briefly here before writing about how I think I am already conducting some of them with the KR model, and then move onto how I explicitly designed a post-play activity to adhere more fully to the pedagogical considerations.

The major pedagogical concept is known as “Designing” which I will now provide an overview of.

Designing (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000)

Students have Available Designs, which they remix and alter as part of Designing, the results of which are considered the Redesigned. These Redesigned products then become integrated with the Available Designs that they can call upon in future Designing sessions.

Available Designs → Designing → Redesigned (→ Available Designs)

  • Available Designs includes:
    • The grammar of the language
    • The genre
    • Students pre-existing knowledge of the language
  • Designing is the act of [insert words from below] Available Designs
    • Re-presenting
    • Re-contextualizing
    • Remixing
    • Playing with
    • Transforming
  • The Redesigned are the products of the Designing phase, which actually become new Available Designs.

In order to achieve this process, learners are involved in the following activities:

Experiencing, Conceptualizing, Analyzing and Applying. (Kalantzis & Cope, 2005)

These were originally known as Situated practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing, and Transformed Practice, and confused me for a while (Kalantzis & Cope, 2000).

  • Experiencing / Situated practice
    • Immersion in the FL, utilizing Available Designs
    • Experiencing the known and the unknown (new genres/cultures/texts)
    • For me, this reads as a “fluency-focused” activity.
    • Learners are told to practice using the language without too much reflection, but may be asked questions such as “what do you think will happen next?”
  • Conceptualizing / Overt instruction
    • Simply put — grammar-focus
    • Introduction to metalanguage
    • Make generalizations of the texts
  • Analyzing / Critical Framing
    • Stand back from the texts that they are studying and think more critically about them
    • Why did the author frame the text in a particular way?
    • What are the social / economical / cultural underpinnings of the text?
    • Are there any patterns in the text?
  • Applying / Transformed Practice
    • Can the learners create something similar?
    • Can the learners remix what they have learned into their own context?

The literature on teaching from a multiliteracies perspective generally posits that these four phases of the pedagogy are not to be done in any particular, rigid order, but weaved together (Luke, Cadzen, Lin & Freebody, 2004). I understand the reason for making this point explicit. It reminds me of how in some institutions (such as my own) language courses are divided into “skills” such that there may be a “reading” class and complementary “speaking” class. However, clearly, these activities, although separate in terms of skills, are not mutually exclusive and it is possible (and sometimes advisable) to dip in and out of each. Thus, sometimes learners may be Experiencing, then Conceptualizing and Analyzing during the same activity or class. However, it seems to me that there is a natural progression through these activities, where the boundaries may blur between them, but in general should follow the Experience → Conceptualize → Analyze → Apply order.

There is another approach which has been used by the Georgetown University German Department, which implements the following four pedagogical phases:

Negotiation, Deconstruction, Joint-Construction, Individual-Construction

However, I will not go into these, and any differences to those proposed by the New London Group above. For those interested, there is a detailed description in Kumagai, López-Sánchez and Wu (2015).

Putting this knowledge into practice

I have now briefly introduced what I have learned of a multiliteracies approach and the pedagogical considerations. Now I will talk about how I have tried to apply these ideas in my own class.

This week is a post-play ‘Analysis’ class (of the Kotoba Rollers framework). We had been playing Spyfall the week before, and there are a number of points below that are specific to the game, so if you do not know how to play this game, please check the link here. The main focus of the class was for students to watch a YouTube video and answer questions that I had written in order to guide their reflections. I feel like this class touches on Experiencing (the new), Conceptualizing, and Analysing parts of the above pedagogical considerations.

The YouTube video is the authentic text, and whereas up until now I would have treated the video just as a source of input, I wanted students to engage with it more. The questions I proposed are provided below including the rationale (from the multiliteracies perspective) and expected answers.

  • Who are the players? (age, jobs, relationship, social status, etc.)
    • To understand the background of the participants. Humanizing the language use, that it does not just exist on its own, but that it originates with a particular person of a particular social status, etc.
  • Where are they?
    • Again, to promote students to pay attention to the cultural and social context.
  • What are some interesting questions they used?
    • Simply as a way to pay attention to the style of questioning employed by the group.
    • In the classroom context here, questions have been very dry and straightforward. I wanted students to notice the creativity available to them when forming their own questions.
  • How did they accuse another player of being the spy?
    • Paying attention to the fact that it is OK to question other people during the game and verbalize (or at least make public) your suspicions.
    • Promoting students to pay attention to nonverbal communication like gestures or facial expressions.
  • How did they check (confirm) what a player said?
    • Simply as a way for students to consider what is natural when asking someone to repeat what they said. In my context, clarification requests are rarely initiated, but left as unknowns, or grunts at best.
  • What words or phrases appear frequently? Why? What do they mean?
    • To look for repetition and patterns in the discourse. Each group of players will have their own play style and vernacular. I wanted students to pick up on this.
    • People copy each other in their social group.
  • What is different between how you played and how the native speakers play?
    • Asking students to critically evaluate their play session against native speakers.

The activity was therefore designed as a way to get students critically evaluating what they see and hear. Additionally, as I read in the literature, for situated practice activities, it can be useful to pause and ask students what they think will happen next. In this instance then, I asked students how they would respond to certain questions, and what they thought the players responses would be. For overt instruction, I asked students to translate certain expressions that appeared in the gameplay such as “That’s something the spy would say,” a phrase that was not something they had seen before, and thus a real challenge to translate. Google Translate did not help much there..! Finally, as critical reflection I asked them to compare their performance to that of natives.

Feedback and discussion

Having asked students what they thought of the activity responses were mixed.

The good

Some said that it helped them to understand how to play by seeing native speakers, because natives used different expressions than they would in Japanese. In other words, and my own interpretation of this is: Instead of thinking of how they would play in Japanese and then translating that into English, by seeing how it is naturally played in English, their schema for playing changed to reflect authentic English language use.

A simple example of this is the use of the Japanese word 怪しい (ayashii). This word means “suspicious” in English, and it is used on its own in Japanese to indicate… suspicion…! But we don’t just say “suspicious” in English. If someone pointed at another player and said “suspicious,” we would understand what they meant, but we have other ways of accusing someone of being suspicious. From watching the YouTube videos, we saw that players would generally make comments on others questions or answers as a way to show their suspicions, such as saying, “That was a weird question.” Alternatively, they would just straight out accuse someone of being the spy, “James is the spy..!”

Exposing students to natural, authentic English seemed to promote the noticing of these differences (for some students at least).

There were also a number of students that were extremely engaged in this activity. They were actively listening to the audio, trying their best to parse the difficult and fast speech of the natives. Additionally, they would answer my questions regarding what they thought was going to happen or how they would answer certain questions.

The bad

One problem was that students couldn’t do this activity on their own. The most obvious reason for this was that the native speaker discourse was too advanced. Specifically:

  • High level of English
  • Talking very fast
  • Cultural points not clear
  • Overlap between players talking (arguing)

This meant that I had to do the class as a teacher-fronted activity. Gameplay videos were shown on the projector and I was in control of stopping and rewinding the video. This resulted in numerous problems. Students input was limited to what I focused on which lead to a lack of agency and engagement. I have to admit, it was a rare class where I had students nodding off at their desks… I have two opinions on this. 1) It was essentially my fault for not engaging those students, or 2) students lack of engagement with this university level activity is a real disappointment. I’m not sure exactly which side of the coin I want to go for here. Maybe a bit of both…

So in sum, there is a gap between their ability and the materials provided. Questions arising from this are:

  • How can I bridge this gap?
  • Is it even bridgeable?
  • What other options do I have?

Possible solution – Support material creation

Looking at the GUGD course materials, it appears that they select authentic texts, and create a large volume of support materials to help students understand the contents of texts. For the activity described above, I feel like the following may be useful support materials:

  • Transcripts of a particular YouTube gameplay video (instead of choosing randomly at the start of the class)
  • Get students into smaller groups to work on the questions together. (With the transcripts available, this should be more manageable)
  • A question and answer sheet asking them to engage with the discourse more intimately. A possible example of this could be the following table:
Player Accused who? How?
David Brandon Made eye contact with another player and pointed his finger at Brandon

 

John David Said “David is the spy!”

 

     

 

Final words

I feel that this brief foray into the world of multiliteracies has been very insightful regarding the role of teachers and authentic texts in the classroom. The shortcomings of just assigning learners to engage with an authentic text with little support materials shines out as the biggest thing I learned here, and reconfirms my thoughts regarding how critical pedagogy is.

Thanks for reading.

References

  • Byrnes, H., Maxim, H. H., & Norris, J. M. (2010). Realizing advanced foreign language writing development in collegiate education: Curricular design, pedagogy, assessment. The Modern Language Journal, i-235.
  • Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. Psychology Press.
  • Doughty, C. J., & Long, M. H. (2003). Optimal psycholinguistic environments for distance foreign language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 7, 50-80.
  • Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2005). Learning by design. Common Ground.
  • Kumagai, Y., López-Sánchez, A., & Wu, S. (Eds.). (2015). Multiliteracies in world language education. Routledge.
  • López-Sánchez, A. (2009) Re-Writing the Goals of Foreign Language Teaching: The Achievement of Multiple Literacies and Symbolic Competence. International Journal of Learning 16(10) 29-38.
  • Luke, A., Cazden, C. B., Lin, A., & Freebody, P. (2003). The Singapore Classroom Coding Scheme: technical report. National Institute of Education, Center for Research on Pedagogy and Practice, Singapore.
  • The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard educational review, 66(1), 60-93.
  • Willis Allen, H., & Paesani, K. (2010). Exploring the Feasibility of a Pedagogy of Multiliteracies in Introductory Foreign Language Courses. L2 Journal, 2, 119–142. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.01.002

Featured image from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3hz195_FQU

Author: James York

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