Is it possible?

During my tenure in college for education (integrated language arts), I encountered numerous methods of teaching and classroom management. From the beginning, I was taught that each situation, each student, each classroom, etc. will be unique to each other. We questioned whether there was a faulty method of teaching and what that looked like, and we pondered whether one method worked for some and not others (this brief sentence is an extreme summary of pieces of pedagogy courses, which made up just a fraction of my educational life). One professor – Dr. William Kist – and one set of classes (his) helped mold my ideas of teaching.

The courses in question were known as Multi-Modal Literacies (in the classroom). But what exactly is a multi-modal literacy? According to the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), Multi-Modal Literacies means “integration of multiple modes of communication and expression can enhance or transform the meaning of the work beyond illustration or definition” (“Multi-Modal Literacies and Technology”). NCTE further defines multi-modal literacies and how they can be integrated based on variations of age group, curriculum, and cognition and development (and continues on). To put this first defining statement into simpler words, teachers should integrate various ways for students to communicate and express their ideas, which, in turn, will help them dig deeper into a text (text being more than just words to paper) and discover meaning behind what is being viewed or read.

And therein lies the exciting aspect of new literacies. In school, curriculum development is guilty of restricting learning to one or two literacies. The system requires students to read ‘classic’ literature or research data using a school-purchased source verification system and regurgitate information in the form of tests, research papers, or literature journals/circles, etc. Now, to be clear, these forms of learning and teaching English aren’t detrimental, and they certainly can be effective. The issue lies with neglecting the gold mines of expressive literature (literature being defined as ‘literary work’ and not necessarily actual text).

For example, the two biggest entertainment industries in the world this year are the film ($286+ billion) and video games ($71+ billion), according to Statista’s 2015 statistics. How, then, can schools actively ignore each industry? The answer lies in a few theoretical lines of reasoning. First, schools rely on a rather archaic means of education; we line students up in rows (like factories), force conversation but limit the methods with which they can respond (raising hands, say), and subject them to multiple standardized tests that we use for the ‘ultimate’ source of progress tracking. And while each of these serves a function (a hefty majority of professions require a series of tests in order to become accredited or licensed), the world continues to advance.

To be sure, other outlets of information should also be included in the classroom. If one explores the NCTE further, one will find that the site expands further on multi-modal literacies. It states that “The use of multi-modal literacies has expanded the ways we acquire information and understand concepts… The contemporary difference [between books, maps, illustrations, etc. already used in class] is the ease with which we can combine words, images, sound, color, animation, video and styles of print in projects so that they are part of our everyday lives and, at least by our youngest generation, often taken for granted” (NCTE). More specifically, we perceive information differently now than at the origin of education (something that really took off during the Renaissance) thanks to the new literacies used to communicate ideas. Many schools already utilize and/or allow cellphones, computers, smartboards, and many new technologies to enhance learning. Unfortunately, the use of film is often a served as a buffer after reading a text (like watching To Kill a Mockingbird after reading). Perhaps a teacher will have the students compare the novel to the film, but most connections end there.

So how can we incorporate these new ideas into the archaic methodology of your common educational setting? The first step is to perish the thought that video games or film – or whatever literacy we’re speaking of incorporating – are baseless. Just like how we perceive that not all books are worthwhile, we must also assume that, at least, some games are worthwhile. Hop over to my original “A Case for Art” feature to take a look at a few examples of solid games. With a significant portion of the population gaming – and the average age of the gamer being 31 – we must also learn how to comprehend this newer literacy.

One particularly informed voice on the inclusion of new literacies in education is Dr. William Kist of Kent State University – a professor with whom I had the pleasure of learning from. He advocated new literacies and methodology for teaching them in class, focusing less on testing (we never had a single exam) and more on innovative ways of assessment. Our classes spent more time exploring various assignments and units, and we pondered methods for teaching old material in a new fashion (like starting a social media chain with characters from a book and interacting the way they might, thus proving our understanding of characterization).

Most significantly, Dr. Kist expressed a keen interest in involving video games in the classroom. To his credit, he readily admitted it was the literacy he had the least experience in. In order to teach and learn more about the industry, Dr. Kist recruited a fellow student and me to build a small lesson on gaming. Dr. Kist even requested a follow up presentation for another class of his the following semester, and his letter of recommendation has served me often. His point, however, was that the video game industry was becoming (and, since, has become) one of the major players in the entertainment industry; how could we, as responsible educators, ignore it?

If you follow my link at the terminus of the feature to the NCTE, you’ll notice that Dr. Kist is often quoted and referenced in the areas of multi-modal and new literacies. I have reached out in an effort to contact Dr. Kist again, and I will post a follow up article with our conversation. As an educator and a gamer, allowing and using video games successfully in the classroom is a huge endeavor, but it’s one that I think is absolutely vital. With our world progressing ever forward technologically, and with developers consistently creating meaningful pieces of art/literature, how can we continue to ignore our newest monolith?



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