We live in an age where there is a firehose of information, and there is no hierarchy of what is important and what is not. Where the truth is often fashioned through a variety of digital means. — David Carr

As noted by Wadham and Ostenson in Integrating Young Adult Literature Through the Common Core Standards (2013), individual learner literacy sets and background experience may vary widely, even among a relatively narrowly defined demographic subgroup. For example, for the last 25 years, I have worked with Spanish-speaking adolescent students who are designated by the California public education system as English learners. The experience of living side by side with these young people and their families in our community, as well as teaching English language development and literacy at the local middle school, has provided me with first-hand knowledge of the group’s communication habits and patterns and a clear understanding of the complex pedagogical, social and cultural issues related to this community. In addition, my MA degree project on the use of digital scaffolding strategies to assist English learners in accessing academic course content has given me an extensive academic background regarding the nuances of both conventional and digital literacy among these students (Kelly, 2015).

Research into the information sharing habits of these adolescent English learners has expanded my perspective on the definition of literacy. At the beginning of this century, academic literature began documenting the information sharing behavior of young English language learners. As part of various subsets of Internet interest communities, these young people participate in many different digital cultures of use (Thorne, 2008; Thorne, Black & Sykes, 2009). Practitioners and theorists in the area of second language development have come to acknowledge a pedagogy of New Literacy (Stewart, 2014b), which asserts that a variety of previously unrecognized forms of literacy have evolved through the use of electronic communication.

Over a decade ago, the New London Group (1996) called for imagination and courage to better understand marginalized youth’s literacy practices, as either a precursor to formal educational literacy or as the construction of alternative practices that hold promise to offer more effective and just systems of education. A body of literature supports the idea that these New Literacies should be considered in pedagogical decisions. For example, Stewart (2014a) and Brooks (2015) urge educators to view all of the literacy practices of students, including their informal language and culture, as funds of knowledge that can be used to develop academic success.

In a similar way, in “Framework for 21st Century Learning” the Partnership for 21st Century Learning claims that a wide range of literacies should be developed in today’s learners; fundamental subject disciplines augmented by expanded 21st century themes such as global awareness and civil literacy. In contrast What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?” a report from the National Center on Education and the Economy, asserts that development of conventional literacy in mathematics and English language arts should be placed in the highest priority for college and career-readiness; the implication being that other literacies are of lesser importance.

The seminal writings of the New London Group  point out the important role of emerging literacies as potential vehicles for facilitation of proficiency in conventional literacy forms. My experience with adolescent English language learners supports this view; further, the evolving literacies springing from today’s digital cultures of use may give rise to the evolution of conventional literacy forms tomorrow. Wadham and Ostenson point out that “English has changed and will continue to change…(p.36).” If we fail to acknowledge and develop emerging literacies, we are at risk of losing an important opportunity in helping our students to become well-rounded participants in the information community of our greater society.

Firehose US Navy photo by Dominque Pineiro public domain,                          Firehose jclememns CCBY-SA 2.0


Brooks, M. D. (2015). ” It’s like a script”: Long-term English learners’ experiences with and ideas about academic reading. Research in the Teaching of English, 49(4), 383. Retrieved July 8, 2016 from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/RTE/0494-may2015/RTE0494Index.pdf

Kelly, S. S. (2015). Facilitating English language learners access to common core curricula through digital scaffolding in project-based learning (Unpublished master’s thesis). Touro University, California.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved from http://newarcproject.pbworks.com/f/Pedagogy%2Bof%2BMultiliteracies_New%2BLondon%2BGroup.pdf

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2009). Framework for 21st century learning Tucson, AZ. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework

Stewart, M. A. (2014a). Living here, yet being there: Facebook as a transnational space for newcomer Latina/o adolescents. The Tapestry Journal: An International Multidisciplinary Journal on English Language Learner Education, 5(1), 28-43. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://journals.fcla.edu/tapestry/article/view/82900/79806

Stewart, M. A.  (2014b). Social networking, workplace, and entertainment literacies: The out‐of‐school literate lives of newcomer Latina/o adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(4), 365-369. doi: 10.1080/19388071.2014.931495

Thorne, S. L. (2008). Transcultural communication in open Internet environments and massively multiplayer online games. Mediating discourse online, 305.

Thorne, S. L., Black, R. W., & Sykes, J. M. (2009). Second language use, socialization, and learning in Internet interest communities and online gaming. The Modern Language Journal, 93(s1), 802-821. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2009.00974.x

Tucker, M. (2013). What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?. Washington, DC: National Center on Education and the Economy. Retrieved September 9, 2016 from http://www.ncee.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/NCEE_ExecutiveSummary_May2013.pdf

Wadham, R. L., & Ostenson, J. W. (2013). Integrating Young Adult Literature Through the Common Core Standards. ABC-CLIO.