Critical multiliteracies for 'new times'

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Otago
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2011
Project end date: 
June 2013
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Susan Sandretto
Research team members: 
Jane Tilson, University of Otago
Research partners: 
Port Chalmers School. Principal: Vicki Nicholson. Teachers: Jared Roddick, and Rebecca Johnston. Tahuna Normal Intermediate School. Principal: Tony Hunter. Teachers: David Owen, Rob Wells, Marianne Coughlin, Nigel Waters and Terry Hokianga. Dunedin North Intermediate School. Principal: Ross Leach. Teachers: Darryl Reddingon, Greg Lees, Matt Broad, Moana Thorn and Chris Marslin. St. Hilda’s Collegiate School. Principal Melissa Bell. Teachers: Shannon Prentice and Kathyrn Gray. Fairfield School: Principal Andy Larson. Teachers: Kathryne Tofia and Jillian McLean. Outram School. Principal Greg Carroll and Jeremy Marshall. Teachers: Mark Hunter and Sarah Gilbert. Green Island School. Principal: Steve Hayward. Teachers: Vickie Spiers and Aaron Warrington.


Project Description 

In this project the researchers worked with teachers and intermediate students to conduct layered ethnographies in order to understand: How can teachers bridge students’ in and out-of-school literacies to enhance their critical analysis of multiple types of texts in order to prepare them for a multiliterate future?


Currently education is caught in the borderlands between its industrial-age, assembly-line heritage, and the ‘new times’ in which cultural, economic, social and technological change occurring on a global scale affects us all. In education these changes are encroaching on the classroom in the form of digitally mediated texts that draw upon multiple modes of communication. Yet current approaches to literacy instruction frequently resemble the traditional approaches that generations of New Zealand teachers have used. These new times and resultant multiliteracies present a challenge for educators: How do we prepare students for a rapidly changing multiliterate future?
This project worked with 19 teachers from seven schools and their intermediate level (year 7 & 8) students. The schools included full primary schools, two intermediates and a college, and included rural and urban sites. Some schools were able to send teachers successive years and other schools sent a pair or small group of teachers any given year. This design supported the participating teachers to form a community of practice and to build capacity and capability around critical multiliteracies within and across the participating schools. The researchers, teachers and students explored the following research questions:

• What are the literacy practices of students in and out-of-school?
• How does the range of modes and media embedded within contemporary communication landscapes shape these practices?
• How do students make sense of their developing multiliteracies?
• How do teachers use knowledge of students’ in and out-of-school literacy practices to work alongside students in the classroom?

Why is this research important?

While there is a growing body of literature on multiliteracies in Australia, Canada, the US, and the UK, this project addressed the paucity of research in New Zealand and built upon previous TLRI research into critical literacy. It represented an opportunity to honour the findings of the Multiliteracies Working Group who called for the revision of current literacy practice and policy: “we need to expand on current practice models to take account of the need for young people to develop a range of social, creative, ethical and cultural practices to make meaning in a technology-rich and culturally diverse world”.


A wide range of data was constructed during the course of the two-year project. All of the students of each participating teacher were involved in whole-class lessons, and five students from each class were involved as researchers examining their own multiliteracies. These same five students were also involved in focus group interviews after each videotaped lesson.

The participating teachers:
• took part in nine release days over the year (including two research hui)
• conducted an ethnography of the in- and out-of-school literacy practices of one of their students, and shared these findings at a research hui with other participating teachers, principals and the researchers
• had two literacy lessons videotaped
• conducted and participated in an initial and exit interview with other participating teachers
• took part in an end-of-year research hui with students, principals and the researchers.

The participating students:
• conducted a study into their multiliteracies, constructed a poster to share their research findings, and took part in an end-of-year research hui with teachers, principals and the researchers
• participated in two focus group interviews with the researchers after videotaped lessons and one exit interview conducted by participating teachers.


Analysis of the data involved interrogating the various texts (interview transcripts, videotaped teaching etc.) using sociocultural and poststructural theories in order to answer the research questions.

Key findings

In order for educators to harness the wave of multiliteracies, we found:
• that they need to reconceptualise literacy and literacy practices; and,
• rethink pedagogy.

(See the report for more detailed discussion.)

Project Contact

Dr Susan Sandretto
College of Education
University of Otago 
PO Box 56
Dunedin 9054
03 479 8820

Conference presentations

  • Hokianga, T., Sandretto, S., & Tilson, J. (2012). Weaving critical multiliteracies into your classroom programme. . Paper presented at the New Zealand Reading Association Reading Between the Vines Conference, Hastings, New Zealand.
  • Prentice, S., Gray, K., Sandretto, S., & Tilson, J. (2012, 4-6 July). Weaving multiliteracies into your classroom programme. Paper presented at the NZATE Words to Burn-Ideas to Ignite, Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Sandretto, S., & Tilson, J. (2011a). Preparing students for multiliteracies: Looking to teacher research into the in and out-of-school multiliterate practices of their students. Paper presented at the Australasian Human Development Association 17th Biennial Conference, Dunedin.
  • Sandretto, S., & Tilson, J. (2011b). Teachers conducting research into the in and out-of-school multiliterate practices of their students: What can we learn? Paper presented at the Australian Literacy Educators' Association National Conference, Melbourne.
  • Sandretto, S., & Tilson, J. (2012, 30 September-3 October). "I sort of thought I knew myself": Student ethnographies into their multiliterate development. Paper presented at the New Zealand Reading Association Reading Between the Vines Conference, Hastings, New Zealand.