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Multiliteracies: Beyond Text and the Written Word

reviewed by Amélie Lemieux - February 08, 2013

coverTitle: Multiliteracies: Beyond Text and the Written Word
Author(s): Jr. Eugene F. Provenzo, Amanda Goodwin, Miriam Lipsky, & Sheree Sharpe (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617353426, Pages: 228, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

When one thinks of multiliteracies, the following words often come to mind: reading, writing, and acknowledging the identifiable signs, symbols, and narrative manifestations around them. However, the debate on whether multiliteracies can be defined from a pedagogical standpoint is still ongoing. In the past two decades, scholars and educators have been debating about a universal definition of multiliteracies, especially in the North American educational context. For instance, authors Michele Anstèy and Geoff Bull (2006) of the International Reading Association address the topic as broadly as “how literacy teaching can equip students for the changing world in which they live” (p. 19). My sense of it is that multiliteracies target the diversity of literacies that surround human life experiences and environments. The educational aspect of the topic comes second, all the while remaining intricately intertwined with the presence of multiliteracies around us. In Multiliteracies: Beyond text and the written word, Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., along with his three co-editors Amanda Goodwin, Miriam Lipsky, Sheree Sharpe, and their collaborators, argues that there are many types of literacies, which extend far beyond the traditional reading and writing. These authors include storytelling and text messaging as a form of literacy, for instance. They define multiliteracies as elements which depend on technological progress with repercussions specific to a given context and culture.

This book began as an experiment conducted in 2007 at the doctorate level, in one of Professor Provenzo Jr.’s classes at the Department of Teaching Learning in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Graduate students from two of his seminars served as multi-tasking contributors, taking pictures, collecting images and drawings, writing, and ultimately editing the series of articles published in this volume. Meant to be diverse as well as “experimental and playful” (p. xv), this volume explores this genre with 39 articles, all the while attempting to explain textual literacy in the American postmodern pop culture era.

The authors maintain that multiliteracies enhance the reading and writing experience. In recent years, multiliteracies have indeed been seen as powerful tools that should not be rejected in traditional high school contexts, as they are representative of students’ reality. For this purpose, the research question seeks to elucidate and clarify the changes between students’ experience at school and outside school—evaluating how these changes shape the way they live and learn. From a postmodern educational perspective, they affirm that multiliteracies are relevant to educators since they provide learners with tools to be politically and culturally empowered: students are thus able to employ multiple avenues to communicate and receive information.

Provenzo Jr. et al. also note that these new literacies force individuals to adopt technological modes of interaction and, therefore, impact the manners in which people decrypt information. They emphasize the consequences of what we see daily, in other words, how the elements accessible through sight—fashion brands, advertisements, emoticons, enterprise logos, medical symbols, to name a few—determine the choices we make.

Though all chapters fall under the common theme of multiliteracies, they range from Baseball signs: Literacy at play to Patriotic symbols and Death T-Shirts, which renders the sections disparate and somewhat disorienting. Arguable is the book’s capacity to be all-encompassing. Despite its aim to cover several applications of multiliteracies, its brief chapters leave the reader wanting more from each contributor. It seems as though each of the succinct chapters leaves the reader hanging, wishing to know more about each research topic. Granted the book covers a vast array of topics, it does not always successfully address the pressing matters of public sector education. In so doing, it regretfully excludes a number of literacies that apply to multicultural and low income contexts. Readers are left wondering how can teachers practically address multiliteracies in low-income schools and neighborhoods? And what of schools that cannot afford electronic books and iPads?

Nevertheless, Provenzo and his collaborators do cover a number of literacy practices that are embedded in adolescents’ lifestyle. Maribel Harder’s chapter, Rap Music: A Socio-Cultural Revolution, establishes that literacy practices can be “very beneficial and positive for the social and individual growth and development of today’s teens” (p. 50), at least in the American context. Her statement ties in well with the book’s broader claim that literacy happens at different levels, be they visual code systems (e.g., bus stops) or code systems that are implemented in the text, such as emoticons in a text message. Ultimately, this multi-layered manifestation is an integral part of teenagers’ literary lives, and should not be excluded from the subjects taught in elementary, middle, and high school settings.

Provenzo, et al. conclude with helpful suggestions for educators, such as enhancing literacy skills like reading and writing through a common student reality, that is, with the use of multiliteracies. The proposed universal solution is to raise awareness among educators and researchers to work with–not against– the diversity of literacies. In fact, ignoring the educational potential of multiliteracies can only harm students’ success in schools. In all, Multiliteracies: Beyond Text and the Written Word is an excellent starting point—an interactive catalogue, perhaps—for teachers and scholars who are eager to understand the full scope of this field, given that it documents many types of literacies.

On the whole, both researchers in the field of literacy education and educators will find a succinct, fragmented, yet clever coverage of alternative literacies in this collective work. This diversity should be embraced further within informal and formal classroom settings in North America and, ultimately, should entice pedagogues to make better decisions about curriculum content in these settings.


Anstèy, M., & Bull, G. (2006). Defining multiliteracies. In M. Anstèy & G. Bull (Eds.), Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies (pp. 19-55). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 08, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17018, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 11:18:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Amélie Lemieux
    McGill University
    E-mail Author
    AMÉLIE LEMIEUX is a Master’s student in Education at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a Teaching Assistant in Philosophical Foundations of Education, and a part-time high school ESL teacher in the Greater Montreal Area. Her research focuses on senior high school students’ interest in Francophone Quebec literature and alternative meaning-making ways to stimulate their interest in reading and better their literacy skills in this discipline. Ms. Lemieux also write reviews for the McGill Journal of Education, and will present at the upcoming International Journal of Arts and Sciences Conference in Toronto. Her thesis work is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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