New Literacy Studies

Completed by: Amanda, Emily, Andrew, Courtney, Samantha, Andrea, Attila, Melissa

Theory Overview:

What is New Literacy?

- New Literacy is a line of research that has been developing the last 20 years. The idea is that literacy is not going to revolve around the ability to read or write but around how reading and writing affect us in our everyday lives.
- According to James Gee: “New Literacy Studies are based on the view that reading and writing only make sense when studied in the context of social and cultural practices of which they are part of.”
- Brian Street uses autonomous and ideological definitions to explain literacy.
  • Autonomous – unified set of neutral skills that can be applied equally across contexts
  • Ideological – social practice grounded in social, historical, cultural, and political contexts of use.
- Street uses the two definitions as a continuum, working together to create the final definition. Literacy then becomes, “more than acquiring content but in addition locates reading and writing in the social and linguistic practices that give them meaning.”
- New literacy leans to more of an ideological definition because it is forcing students to think more critically about literacy and not only focus on the reading and writing aspect. Literacy is not a neutral skill, but several that can be used cross-contextually.
- Implementing new literacy into the classroom involves teachers acknowledging how their own literacy practices relate to both the school community and the communities of their students (i.e. a student’s home life).

New Literacy in Practice

- By recognizing the social circumstances of each student, teachers are able to design lessons and structure their classroom in a manner that allows all involved to experience literary events. Teachers must create literacy events that include experiences with student communities and exterior communities.
- Students are then able to connect literary exercises into broader social/cultural practices. Further, students also begin to better understand the cultural communities of their peers, as they explore literacy together. The supportive environment forged by this experience will enhance the literacy skills and work of the students.
- New literacy requires no social regulation on the selection of texts in order for all participants to have access to literacy events despite class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.

New Literacy Activity Parameters

- We have shown that in a classroom based on NLS principles, students do not understand literacy learning to be restricted to any one place or time but rather, that it occurs in everyday activities in multiple contexts and at different times (Making Literacy Real, 38).
- Being literate involves being communicatively competent across multiple discourse communities. Literacy practices and events are embedded in Discourses and are integrated into people’s everyday lived practices on multiple levels (Making Literacy Real, 23).
- Literacy practices are purposeful and embedded in broader social goals and cultural practices (Making Literacy Real, 23).
- Literacy practices change, and new ones are frequently acquired through processes of informal learning and sense-making (Making Literacy Real, 23).

Activity #1 – The Town Crier

  • In Medieval England, Town Criers were the chief means of news communication with the people of the town since many could not read or write.
  • Town criers carry a hand bell to attract people's attention, as they shout the words "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" before making their announcements. The word "Oyez" means "hear ye" and derives from the Anglo-Norman word for listen.

Activity Overview:
  • Grade 10/11/12 multi-strand academic English Unit.
  • Novel study ( i.e. Animal Farm)
  • Focus on research and oral presentation skills.
  • Students research topics of social, political or cultural relevance to their novel, such as Propaganda, Bolsheviks, the Gulag, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, etc.
  • Presentations 3 minutes in length, memorized and take place in a public setting, beginning with the classroom or other venues
  • Public settings can include the community at large, the street, the park, the metro, etc.
  • Information dispelled in the style of Town Crier and presentations would be spontaneous, like a literacy performance art event.
  • The Town Crier format is also applicable to other subjects (Social Studies, History)

Activity #2 – Motion Portraits

- Overview:
  • Grade 10/11/12 multi-strand academic English Unit.
  • This activity was inspired by the class reading “Picturing a Writing Process”
  • Students asked to take pictures in response to the questions:
    1. What are the purposes of school?
    2. What helps you succeed in school?
    3. What gets in the way of your school successes?

- Students discussed and wrote about the pictures as to how they related to the questions. The process resulted in catalogues and exhibitions that presented the photos with the corresponding interpretive text.
- English Writing, Oral Communication and Media Text strands.
- Student given a digital camera; they have to describe, express or represent themselves with photographs.
- Photos could only be of objects, landscapes, still-lifes, things.
- Maximum 30 photos to be edited down to 10.
- Students are to write a 1/2 page analysis/rationale as to how each photo represents them.
- Photo sets would also be circulated anonymously to other students in the class who would then write their impressions/analysis of the person based on the photos.
- Objectives of this unit are to advance aesthetic language and to contrast the personal and public interpretations of the self.
- The product of the process would be an exhibition of the photos with the corresponding texts. An alternative could be an interactive exhibition where the public contributes their interpretations.

Activity #3 – Life Soundtrack

“Music has become an integral part of human existence. It motivates us, calms us, inspires us, at times irritates us, and basically becomes the backdrop against which we live our lives.”
“Songs can bring vivid memories of persons, places, and events from our own past and serve to document our thoughts, feelings, and emotions at a given time or place.”

Part 1 – Brainstorm

Brainstorm important events in your life; try to include a variety of events (soundtracks contain a variety of song types)

Part 2 – Pre-writing

  • Name the event
  • How old were you at the time?
  • What are some important background details?
  • Describe the event
  • Name the artist and song you chose to represent this event
  • Why do the lyrics capture the essence of this event for you?
  • Why does the style/tone/mood capture the essence of the event for you?
  • What does the song reveal about who you are and what you think is important in life?

Part 3 – Letter to Fans

Paragraph 1: Introduce Yourself
  • Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you now? Overall, what do you think this album says about you?
Paragraph 2-5: Explain Your Soundtrack (one paragraph per song)
  • Include an edited/revised version of your prewriting content
Final Paragraph: Final Remarks
  • What did you learn while creating this album? What do you think this album tells listeners about you? Is this accurate? What do you want listeners to think about you after hearing your soundtrack?

  • Addition: the write-up can be used to teach proper embedding of quotes. When explaining why they chose particular songs, students can refer directly to the song by quoting lines from it
  • Extension activity: students could create an album cover (and title) or posters to advertise their new album.
  • Extension activity: students could conduct mock interviews with each other as news reporter and band-member.
  • Alternative approach: while completing a novel/play study, students could create a soundtrack for the novel/play by choosing songs that they believe portrays different scenes, themes, and/or characters.

Activity #4 – The Gender Divide

This is an activity developed by the Canadian Hunger Foundation (CHF). A brief synopsis of the activity: "Men and women have different gender roles in society. Recognizing the gender differences in a community is an essential first step when doing international development work. What resources do women control? What resources do men control? Who has access to resources? These are all important questions. One way to find the answers to these questions — and understand a community is through the use of a community map. In this activity, students take part in a role playing exercise to develop a community map from their gender’s perspectives. The different roles of men and women are explored in terms of social and environmental implications." To access materials for this activity, visit:

Activity #5 - Play Program

This activity will show students to connect literature learning in everyday activities and connects to broader social practices (ie, a real audience).

1. Take your students to see a play (in the community, professional, school play, etc).
2. Make sure that each student receives a program (tell them ahead of time to keep this for future reference – you may want to take a few extras just in case).
3. In the following days, have the students make up a program of their own about a different play or a play that they make up. The program should include the same elements as found in the real program (actors, writers, synopsis etc).

Ideas to take this activity further:

This could work as a full unit, adding more activities for the students. Other activities to expand on this include:

1. Put on their own play/skit (this can either be made up or based on a play currently being studied or they could do “outtakes” from the play that they saw). This should be the presentation for which they make their program.
2. Make a poster to advertise their play (this will help expand the understanding that literature is everywhere, even in posters).

Sample rubric to assess Play Program. (Depending on what you specifically want to assess, categories may change.)
Covers topic in-depth with details and examples. Subject knowledge is excellent.
Includes essential knowledge about the topic. Subject knowledge appears to be good.
Includes essential information about the topic but there are 1-2 factual errors.
Content is minimal OR there are several factual errors.
Product shows a large amount of original thought. Ideas are creative and inventive.
Product shows some original thought. Work shows new ideas and insights.
Uses other people's ideas (giving them credit), but there is little evidence of original thinking.
Uses other people's ideas, but does not give them credit.
Content is well organized using headings or bulleted lists to group related material.
Uses headings or bulleted lists to organize, but the overall organization of topics appears flawed.
Content is logically organized for the most part.
There was no clear or logical organizational structure, just lots of facts.
All requirements are met and exceeded.
All requirements are met.
One requirement was not completely met.
More than one requirement was not completely met.