In this professional development article, author David O'Brien posits a literacy where a variety of socially and culturally appropriate literacies (media and visual arts, amongst others) enables students to construct meaning. And by allowing students to employ a literacy beyond the traditional definition of print literacy where a singular skill or process is applied predominately in school-based settings and tasks, O'Brien concludes that we might help the "at-risk" learner, the struggling reader, to achieve success in literacy.
This work on exploring multiliteracies as a way to reposition at-risk adolescents is the result of a 4-year study with high school students and two school-based colleagues at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana. O'Brien found through his research that "at-risk" adolescents and those categorized as "struggling readers" are capable and literate if we view them from the perspective of multiliteracies in new times (Luke & Elkins, 1998). In fact, he articulates that the negative way in which "at-risk" adolescents are currently positioned is relative to a restrictive, singular view of literacy that privileges print. He suggests that as we change our notion of what counts as literacy and text evolves, so should our conception of the value of working in media projects.
The author focuses on two views that recast literacies by foregrounding the ability to use and construct electronic media: (1) Intermediality (Semali & Pailliotet, 1999), the ability to read and write media that depends on facility in the use of a range of symbol systems (not just print), and (2) the use of art and representation in which these adolescents' media productions are viewed as public art which highlights their ability, insights, and innovation in representing and re-representating their world through media. O'Brien acknowledges, too, that struggling readers are challenged by decoding and encoding, have limited word-recognition ability, and use poor metacognitive strategies, all of which offer them virtually nothing by way of a strategy to assimilate print literacy. On the other hand, these struggling readers can master intermediality in a way that naturally embraces practices that enable them to define and assert their place in the mediasphere and that shows how they can use media to construct their own and others' worlds. O'Brien is sensitive to the fact that these "at-risk" students are marginalized voices longing to be heard, and that having failed with print media and narrow definitions of literacy, they have found new voice in the multiliteracies of representation through a variety of media texts.
His goal is to improve the quality of at-risk adolescents' literacy engagement, self-positioning, self-esteem, and achievement motivation by beckoning teachers and researchers to question dominant beliefs and practices that privilege certain forms of literacy and print text in schooled literacy tasks (Barton, 1994; Barton & Hamilton, 2000; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; O'Brien, 1998). O'Brien further invites teachers to question the implicit notion within school culture that media literacy, particularly critical media literacy that draws upon popular youth cultural texts, is antithetical to students' academic growth and school-sponsored preparation for adult life. With the at-risk students he studied, the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary. (author/bcbrown)
Ohio English Language Arts Standards (2001)
Acquisition of Vocabulary Standard
Reading Process: Concepts of Print, Comprehension Strategies and Self-Monitoring Strategies Standard
Reading Applications: Informational, Technical and Persuasive Text Standard
Reading Applications: Literary Text Standard
Communications: Oral and Visual Standard