It was inspiring for me to attend the English Department seminar “Urban Youth, Language and Literacy Development in the Digital and Global Environments” [abstract] delivered by Dr. Myrrh Domingo from the Institute of Education, University College London on Monday 26th January 2015. Recently, the image of me approaching the classroom of my future students has been growing increasingly vivid in my mind. As a student teacher preparing for the coming teaching practice, I have mixed feelings about this anticipated unknown. Throughout Domingo’s seminar, I had the opportunity to learn more about youth language and literacy exchanges in this digital and global age, and gained better insights into new media communication and its implications on language pedagogy.
In her presentation, Dr. Domingo drew on findings from a three-year ethnographical study of six urban Filipino British youths in London, who refer to themselves as “Pinoys”. Throughout the period of the study, the Pinoys associated with one another as members of a hip hop musical production group that included members from across the world. By learning how the Pinoys exchanged linguistic and cultural knowledge with the other international members of their group, the research examines how digital textual design prompts social language development through communities of practices. As suggested from the findings, the Pinoys’ face-to-face and online collaborative process of producing “culture songs” not only fostered their linguistic literacies, but also reinforced their social and cultural interactions and identities. These data, in my view, shed light on discovering new ways of teaching literacy beyond the use of page-bound texts.
Considering the ubiquity of digital texts, it is no longer adequate to limit students to the traditional educational materials such as textbooks and worksheets, since these resources are often isolated from the cultural contexts of the students’ worlds. That is to say, if the teaching of literacy remains confined and fragmentary due to the limitations of traditional educational material, students’ literacy competence will be undermined. Thus, the presentation addressed the importance of bridging traditional literacy practices and multimodal literacy practices in schooling. When Dr. Domingo talked about her experience of asking how the Pinoys recorded their ideas, she revealed our culture’s overreliance on visual symbols as the Pinoys replied that “my mind is my resource.” This notion suggests that teachers interested in using a multimodal pedagogical approach should treat not only page-bound and digital texts as resources for instruction, but also the mind and body as well. Teachers utilising varied modes of expression would cater to the literacy development of more students with different learning styles.
A variety of pertinent questions were raised by the audience during the seminar, ranging from pedagogic aspects to those related to research. What was Dr. Domingo’s philosophy of education? How should teachers revise their assessment methods due to the emergence of multimodality? How to incorporate multimodality into lesson planning? What ethical issues related to the research has Dr. Domingo encountered? How to strike a balance between being an observer and a participant? These questions undoubtedly contributed to the construction of a fruitful discussion.
Perhaps the area that intrigued me the most was the rapport established between Dr. Domingo and the Pinoys. Since the Pinoys were moving across digital and physical spaces, it was challenging for Dr. Domingo to study their everyday literacy practices and even to contact them. However, because of the friendly relationship and mutual trust built between them, Dr. Domingo could actually look for the Pinoys via the popular Facebook game “FarmVille” by visiting and posting messages on their farm. I believe this kind of rapport is a crucial factor for a good teacher. Without the foundation of mutual trust, even the most comprehensive and meticulous lesson plan would still be an ineffective one. (I hope that my students in the future would also like me to drop by their “farms” or whatever the contemporary equivalent happens to be.)
As a future language teacher, I have been inspired by Dr. Domingo and her research. Gaining a better view of language and literacy development in multimodal and global environments, I have recognised the significance of imagining forms of literacy instruction that are not only linguistically but also culturally responsive. Moreover, it will be important for me to foster a reflexive attitude professionally and to sharpen my awareness of the students’ social and educational needs. Efforts have to be paid in order to build an optimal atmosphere for cultivating students’ language and literacy competence. Marc Prensky once claimed in his article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” that “today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.” However, our difference is not essential. We do have one thing in common; that is, our mind. Our mind is our resource.
William Ng is a fourth-year student at the Department of English and the Department of Education. [Click here to read all entries by William.]