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Except from:
Wink, J. (2011, 4/e, pp.188-191) Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the REAL WORLD. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

From Critical Literacy to Multiliteracies

In Chapter 3, we discussed the meanings of literacy and critical literacy. Cummins (2009) continues to broaden and deepen the discussion of critical teaching and learning by creating a framework that grounds pedagogy in the often ignored sociopolitical roots of underachievement for low-income students and certain groups of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students. This framework is labeled Transformative Multiliteracies Pedagogies and posits that the negotiation of identity between teachers and students is the primary path to empowerment, which will break the bonds of underachievement. For example, Cummins points to the failure of the $6 billion Reading First program, which shows some evidence of improvement in decoding skills for Grade 1 but has no effect on reading comprehension for Grades 1, 2, and 3 (Gamse, Jacob, Horst et al., 2008). For that much money on a mandated reading program, we sure expect a lot more. The reason for the failure of this program and similar programs, which focus only on specific skills, is that the underlying problem, poverty, is ignored. Prenatal care, good nutrition, and books/computers matter. Anyon (2005) says,

As education policymakers and practitioners, we can acknowledge and act on the power of urban poverty, low-wage work, and housing segregation to dwarf most curricular, pedagogical, and other educational reforms. The effects of macroeconomic policies continually trump the effect of education policies. (p. 83)

Thus, the question arises: What are the principles that support achievement for all groups of students, even the most vulnerable?

Cummins (2009, p. 47) offers his framework for educators at all levels to use and reflect on their own practices based on what we know from research. First, Cummins articulates three orientations of pedagogies, as did Dayna in Figure 1.1. Dayna referred to these as transmission, generative, and transformative. Cummins speaks of the same ideas while using slightly different language: transmission, social constructivist, and transformative.

In addition, Cummins shares a graphic (see Figure 5.4) that demonstrates the connections among the three orientations. Transmission-centered pedagogies are located in the center, which represents the narrowest perspective. Often in this model, a targeted skill is taught, even in isolation, with the integration with higher-order thinking, inquiry, contextualization, and knowledge generation. The social constructivist orientation is represented by the larger circle and reflects co-construction of knowledge by teachers and students, experiential learning, knowledge building, and collaborative inquiry. The transformative orientation demonstrates the broadest perspective on teaching and learning and includes not only transmission but also social constructivist, while also adding the pivotal ingredient, student identity through active examination of the power relations within the broader society. Cummins uses this graphic to demonstrate that all three orientations are connected with and are supported by one another.

The notion of “nested” pedagogical perspectives not only demonstrates the connections among the three, but it also has the potential to shed light on the perennial question: Which orientation should I be doing?

All three orientations have a place in the classroom, as the models of teaching and learning are connected. Even the best social constructivist and transformative teaching and learning can grow from transmission of new knowledge. Only when transmission is used exclusively does it fail. In other words, transmission validates explicit instruction and structured guidelines, which are often needed to learn new concepts. Transmission becomes a problem when it is the dominant (or only) approach in the classroom, causing boredom and fury among students and even teachers. Too much transmission too often for too long will create a world of students who cannot think deeply, nor solve problems that we have never even conceived of yet. Transformative teaching and learning can build up and expand transmission and the co-construction of social constructivist approaches (Cummins, 2009).

Using these three orientations and their relationships to one another as a backdrop, Cummins moves to the use of the term multiliteracies to reflect the broadest views of literacies in a pluralistic society. Multiliteracies implies not only linguistic and cultural differences but also the many emerging forms of literacies found in multimedia technologies. The days of linear, textbased literacy of only the dominant language do not address the needs of students for the 21st century. The global realities have changed and so must teaching and learning. Multiliteracies deepens our understandings of critical literacy.

Students of poverty, Native American students, African American students, Mexican American students, and other marginalized groups are disproportionately represented in the dropout and under-achievement statistics. How can we, in schools, actively engage the most disenfranchised and most vulnerable students? Cummins’s (2009) new framework (see Figure 5.5) offers us away of responding positively to this question.

In order to teach [culturally and linguistically diverse] CLD students effectively, teachers need to maximize their opportunities to become actively engaged with reading and writing. Literacy engagement leads to literacy attainment when (a) students’ prior knowledge is activated, (b) their ability to understand and use academic language is supported through specific instructional strategies, (c) their identities are affirmed, and (d) their knowledge of, and control over, language is extended across the curriculum. (Cummins, 2009.)

As I reflect on the past, it seems that about once a decade a new framework for thinking comes down the pike and enriches us all. This is exactly what I see in Cummins’s (2009) new Literacy Engagement Framework. This chapter is about predicting the future of critical pedagogy, and I suspect that, in ten more years, we’ll look back on this as one of those moments. I hope this will be assumed knowledge at that time.

Here is why I think this. First, the minute I read that literacy engagement is linked to literacy attainment, I, like all of you, thought, of course! But how? So, next I looked at the four components: scaffold meaning, affirm identity, extend language, and activate prior knowledge, and I thought, OK, let’s try it. For the last six months, as I have worked with teachers and students in various contexts, I have placed four large posters around the room:

As participants and I move through whatever the in-service or class content may be, I have asked that all methods and strategies discussed be placed on one of the easel papers. In this way, we generate together and capture the how-to and connect it to the theory. To my amazement, and Cummins’s credit, as teachers and students generate these lists, they visibly see how they can and do link literacy engagement to literacy attainment. Not only can they do this, many feel validated and affirmed. Dare I say this framework is, once again, empowering?

The writing of this book has pushed me along my own unlearning curve. If anyone had told me previously that my study of critical pedagogy would bring me to this point, I never would have believed it. However, by writing my own thoughts, I have discovered some of my own elusive answers. First, I seek my answers in the delicate balance between a caring heart and a critical eye. Second, I follow the path of action that is in that enlightened and precarious place between courage and patience. Third, this all takes time.