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Reconceptualizing Literacy in the New Age of Multiculturalism and Pluralism, Second Edition

reviewed by Lan Ngo & Susan Goldstein Colon - May 10, 2016

coverTitle: Reconceptualizing Literacy in the New Age of Multiculturalism and Pluralism, Second Edition
Author(s): Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt and Althier M. Lazar (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681232391, Pages: 462, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

In light of the growing linguistically and culturally diverse school-aged population in the United States, editors Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt and Althier M. Lazar’s Reconceptualizing Literacy in the New Age of Multiculturalism and Pluralism connects inclusion in schools with broader society through the lens of literacy education. The second edition of this edited volume includes works by a diverse set of scholars and is dedicated to the late Dr. Peter B. Monsenthal, past president of the National Reading Conference and a recognized leader in literacy research. Although it has been over a decade since the first edition was published, a positivist view of literacy continues to dominate education policy and curriculum (Ghiso, 2015). A narrow emphasis on the Common Core State Standards and the pressure of data-driven learning outcomes created classrooms in which tests are “the only arbiters of excellence” (Nieto, 2015, p. 3). Nonetheless, as the authors in this edited volume demonstrate, teachers and researchers continue to cultivate more equitable and humane learning environments that honor the repertoire of multiliteracies students bring to the classroom.


Mosenthal, the original editor of this volume, and editor Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt preface the book with an emphasis on shedding a monistic view of literacy and embracing multiculturalism and pluralism so that we can participate in a “community of humanity” (p. xxiii). The two chapters in Section One provide critical frameworks of multicultural literacies that create a shared understanding of this key concept. Emphasizing a relativistic perspective on literacies, authors García and Willis (Chapter One) encourage educators to problematize traditional notions of literacy to work toward educational justice. Pattnaik (Chapter Two) builds upon these theoretical and conceptual frameworks by studying early childhood practitioners’ understanding of the domains of diversity and questions how teacher education programs provide multicultural education training.


Section Two examines the power structures that underlie dominant definitions of literacy. Aiming for social change, Hassett and Grant (Chapter Three) advocate for disrupting normalized views of literacy and cultivating a bi-directional, open-minded exchange of ideas. After pointing out that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been implemented by the U.S. federal government since the first edition of the book was published, Lazar, Nicolino, and Sanlin (Chapter Four) challenge teacher education and professional development programs to intentionally help teachers navigate teaching for multiculturalism and social justice in an era of standardized curriculum and testing.


Section Three further accentuates an expansive perception of literacy by exploring new literacies, including critical media and digital literacy. Building on the scholarship of critical literacy and multiliteracies, James (Chapter Five) highlights critical media literacy practices as a means toward “a socially generative, algorithmically regenerative critical rereading of today’s mediated information environments” (p. 146). Continuing the discussion on critical literacy, Brown (Chapter Six) recommends that teachers cultivate their students’ development of critical stances by teaching them how to identify intolerance and injustice online through a critical lens. Shifting the focus to at-home literacies, Li (Chapter Seven) examines the agency of three adolescent English language learners who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds in terms of their new literacies and socializations into various literacy practices within their home environments.


Section Four investigates the relationship between literacy and culture. Compton-Lilly and Nayan (Chapter Eight) explore the literacy practices of two immigrant families. They focus on students being positioned according to how their economic, social, and cultural literacy capital aligns with the values of traditional school contexts. Continuing this inquiry into literacy practices, Reyhner and Cockrum (Chapter Nine) discuss the impact of No Child Left Behind on reading instruction for minority students and make suggestions to account for the cultural implications of this form of instruction. The focus shifts to early education as Hoffman and Wang (Chapter Ten) explore “the debate about culture, views of children, and child development” when determining best practices for literacy instruction (p. 234). More specifically, Hinchman and Boyd (Chapter 11) describe their culturally compelling genre intervention, which they designed to allow students to access their funds of knowledge and enrich reading comprehension. This approach is contrary to the directives of the Common Core Learning Standards, which call for the interpretation of a text without considering its cultural context.


Section Five extends multicultural literacy research to the global context. Editor Ruggiano Schmidt (Chapter 12) employs a sociocultural perspective and advocates for educators to foster improved relationships with immigrant families and value “the diverse contributions of people from around the world” (p. 284). Shifting the analysis from school to home, Yeh and Ho (Chapter 13) focus on children in cross-national families becoming bilingual and the cultural and emotional components that influence this process. Reza and Pattnaik (Chapter 14) respond to a gap in research by focusing on the involvement of Pakistani parents in U.S. public schools post 9/11. Emphasizing the need for educators to recognize and incorporate the diverse literacy practices of families, Singh (Chapter 15) utilizes an ethnographic approach to study how Bhutanese refugee families integrate these practices.


Working toward shaping future literacy instruction for multicultural learners, Section Six focuses on methods of teacher education and professional development. Zigo and Gorton (Chapter 16) present pre-service teacher reflections on community-based learning experiences. The authors express concern for the pervasive systemic and economic inequities that impede student success. Xu (Chapter 17) examines a reading methods course in which teacher candidates examine different languages and identify potential areas of difficulty for students learning English. In a teacher preparation course, Vetter, Schieble and Meacham (Chapter 18) encourage their students to analyze video footage of themselves teaching ito guide critical conversations about identity, positioning, and equity. Finally, Powell, Cantrell, and Correll (Chapter 19) describe how the Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol (CRIOP) could support culturally diverse learners in achieving educational equity. The challenges in implementing CRIOP, which include its mismatch with required curriculum teachers must implement, are also addressed.


As Mosenthal and Schmidt comment in the preface to this volume, challenges in literacy teaching and learning have persisted over the years, especially for diverse students. Resisting these obstacles, Reconceptualizing Literacy in the New Age of Multiculturalism and Pluralism shows us how scholars and educators can disrupt the status quo. For example, teachers can generate knowledge to inform transformation by “[treating] their own classrooms and schools as sites for intentional investigation” while interrogating existing theories (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999, p. 250). By positioning literacy as multi-faceted meaning making and inquiry (Vasquez, Harste, & Albers, 2010) as opposed to a unidimensional skill, we embrace diversity. As educators and researchers, it is up to us to reconceptualize literacy and act as transformative agents of social change (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).



Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of knowledge and practice: Teacher learning in communities. Review of research in education, 24(1), 249–305.

Ghiso, M. P. (2015). Arguing from experience: Young children’s embodied knowledge and writing as inquiry. Journal of Literacy Research, 47(2), 186–215.


Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Nieto, S. (2015). Public schools and the work of teachers. In S. Nieto (Ed.), Why we teach now (pp. 9–20). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Vasquez, V., Harste, J., & Albers, P. (2010). From the personal to the worldwide web: Moving teachers into positions of critical interrogation. In E. Baker (Ed.), The new literacies: Multiple perspectives on research and practice (pp. 265–284). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 10, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20562, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 12:24:48 AM

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About the Author
  • Lan Ngo
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    LAN NGO is the Director of the Marks Family Writing Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on writing studies and the language and literacy practices of English language learners. Her most recent publications are co-authored book chapters in Partnering with Immigrant Communities: Action through Literacy edited by Gerald Campano, Maria Ghiso, and Bethany J. Welch (Teachers College Press, 2016).
  • Susan Goldstein Colon

    E-mail Author
    SUSAN GOLDSTEIN COLON is an English as a New Language teacher in the Port Washington Union Free School District. Her interests include developing literacy skills for students with interrupted formal education (SIFE). Her recent publications include “Multicultural Mentors: The Academic Learning Benefits of Being ‘In It Together’” in In It Together: How Student, Family and Community Partnerships Advance Engagement and Achievement in Diverse Classrooms edited by Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone (Corwin, 2015).
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