What Counts as Literacy Learning for Emergent Bilinguals in the 21st Century?

This month we published Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals edited by Sally Brown and Ling Hao. In this post the editors explain what a multimodal approach to literacy learning involves.

We are excited about our new publication, Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals: Beyond Print-Centric Practices. This edited volume features research intended to expand multimodal literacy teaching practices in ways that support emergent bilinguals in a variety of early childhood contexts including preschool environments, kindergartens, elementary classrooms, and out-of-school community locations. The chapters include perspectives from areas of the United States where students are relegated to English-only policies and practices, as well as studies from China, London, Brazil and Norway. Each chapter provides background information about the study and concludes with specific implications for teaching and learning practices which is sure to push you into new ways of thinking and alternative ways to support emergent bilinguals. This book provides culturally sustaining pedagogical possibilities for using multimodal approaches to teach literacy with young children learning multiple languages. You can expect to see emergent bilinguals framed from an assets-based perspective that celebrates their rich cultural and linguistic heritages. A translanguaging approach (García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017) guides the authors’ thinking about the complex ways in which young emergent bilinguals use languages in addition to other semiotic resources in order to speak, act, know, and do in manners unique to each learner.

Multimodality is at the heart of all of the chapters. A multimodal approach to literacy learning is based on:

  • Social semiotics where meaning-making is the result of social interactions (Kress, 2010);
  • Communication encompassing more than language or print (speech and written words); language is partial;
  • Utilization of multiple modes with a mode being a set of organized resources of various forms such as images, gestures, oral language, etc;
  • Active sign makers (emergent bilinguals) selecting modes and choosing available resources to create meaning based on their way of understanding the world;
    • For example, a child may use Legos (form) to enact a visual retelling of a story.
  • Construction of a coherent and cohesive ensemble or product drawing from multiple modes.

Using multimodality as a lens for teaching emergent bilinguals allows us to offer additional opportunities to make and share meaning. In many learning spaces, these opportunities are limited to oral and written language even though emergent bilinguals may utilize other semiotic resources in environments where English is the predominant or only language. Small changes in teaching practices can provide more equitable and accessible learning spaces. For example, a teacher may offer students an option to draw in response to a read aloud as opposed to answering questions on a worksheet. The drawing could be analyzed for meaning in terms of salience of features like the main characters as well the use of color to determine how the characters were feeling. We invite you to read this new publication in order to broaden your notions of what counts as literacy learning for emergent bilinguals in the 21st century.

Sally Brown and Ling Hao

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam.

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