In the realm of literacy education there is much discussion of the textual shift that has occurred for today's students whose environment is filled with visual texts. Visual literacy is part of new literacies and multiliteracies. The term multiliteracies acknowledges the multiplicity of meaning-making modes (visual, textual, audio, etc.) as well as the wider social contexts of these modes. As part of a regional middle school aspirations action research project, teachers and academics have worked together to investigate what new curriculum and pedagogies are needed to respond to a changed learning environment.
Educators need to understand not only the design features of visual texts, but also the wider cultural and social aspects. In turn, appropriate pedagogy needs to be tested, and activities and resources developed in order for teachers to integrate visual and multimodal literacy activities into their current curriculum. Developing a repertoire of complex literacy practices that are focussed on furthering student understanding of how meaning is conveyed through multiple semiotic systems, opens the possibility of understanding the grammar of visual texts, and of implementing critical literacy more fully.
This paper reports on two projects where students, who have poor literacy practices, use a visual medium to co-author complex texts, and expand their repertoire of literacy practices and social networking. Such texts demand complex literacy practices that while inclusive of the requirements for reading and writing traditional prints texts, also require a deeper semiotic engagement with the codes and conventions of multimodal texts. Such an approach acknowledged that the everyday literacy experiences in the daily lives of young people are within a digital environment. The development of narratives that emerged from student's life worlds also provided knowledge of the multiple spheres of activity within which the student is enmeshed. The affordances of digital texts further offered opportunities for collaborations and social networking - affirming and expanding students understanding of literacy and of their life worlds. While only in its beginning phase, there is much to suggest that working with a multiliteracies framework in new learning environments is an exciting and fruitful endeavour.