Critical Multimodal Literacy and the Common Core: Subversive Curriculum in the Age of Accountability
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The purpose of this case study research was to understand the ways in which an innovative, urban secondary English teacher (Ms. B) approached English Language Arts, when a set, standardized curriculum and testing were in place. The Common Core standards were prescribed within a required module-based presentation format. New literacies pedagogy (innovative methods that use alternate modes of communication, apart from traditional print) were not mandated to be included in the prescribed curriculum. This case study examines the following questions: in what ways, if any, does this innovative ELA teacher change the mandated curriculum to encourage student engagement? In what ways, if any, does this teacher manage to achieve completion of mandated common core standards, while maintaining her own innovative new literacies pedagogy? How do students feel about their experiences in the class? In what ways, if any, do students think critically about texts and social issues in the class? The research design was a longitudinal case study (Creswell, 2013) and the collected data consisted of interviews, class observations, the class Twitter feed, and student artifacts. While research on scripted programs in public school has been documented (Demko, 2010; Crocco & Costigan, 2007; Ede, 2006; Lyon & Love, 2014), there have been no studies on the instruction process of innovative teachers, when faced with enforced mandates (i.e. scripted programs followed by standardized testing). Findings indicate that the new literacies practice was enacted by Ms. B by subversively changing the curriculum, while maintaining Common Core standards. These new literacies practices supported students’ critical literacy and critical thinking, as Ms. B’s ninth grade students became critical readers and writers of new media, questioning meanings and agendas in text (Dewey, 1938; Freire, 1968) and maintaining skeptical reflectivism (McPeck, 2016), regardless of text mode. However, Ms. B’s struggling juniors were resistant to new literacies, due to their lack of new literacies knowledge, lack of investment in the practice and being labelled as “the problem class.” The juniors became representative of what can happen, if new literacies are not allowed, supported or encouraged in school. Ms. B can serve as an example of the ways in which new literacies practice can contribute to emancipatory, critical, multimodal curriculum, if students invested in the practice and if a teacher is willing/able to subvert the prescribed curriculum. In the era of accountability and curriculum standardization, more studies need to focus on the ways in which teachers can include innovative curriculum, while still meeting standardized benchmarks.