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Pippa Stein: Multimodal Pedagogies in Diverse Classrooms (Routledge,2008)

“this book explores how language and literacy classrooms can become more democratic spaces through addressing a central issue in teaching, learning and its assessment: namely, the forms of representation through which students make their meanings. In this sense, this book is about the politics of representation and the politics of difference in diverse, multicultural and multilingual classrooms. It focuses attention on the forms of representation which are produced from the many cultural sources students have access to, and examines these resources for their meaning potential. To put it simply, this book examines the question: How can the classroom, as a multi-semiotic space, become a complex, democratic space, founded on the productive integration of diverse histories, modes, genres, epistemologies, feelings, languages and discourses?” (Pippa Stein, Multimodal Pedagogies in Diverse Classrooms, p1).

About the Author

Pippa Stein (1952-2008) taught at the University of the Witwatersrand for many years, where she started out as a lecturer in the department of applied English language studies and later became Associate Professor in English Language and Literacy Education in the School of Literature and Language Studies. In the words of Nadine Gordimer, her career

was marked by her vision of education as a teaching responsibility also for the social change to which she was dedicated. She initiated the Soweto English Language Project as a grass-roots beginning, and out of this grew her innovative series of textbooks for the teaching of English on which, always an invigorating team worker, she collaborated with a team of like-minded progressive thinkers in English language pedagogy. She has been aptly called “a researcher of meaning-making in all its forms (Mail and Guardian)

Her creative scholarship was rooted in her work as an English Second Language and Literacy teacher, with wide-ranging experience from early childhood to secondary school and university-level teaching.  She taught literacy classes in street shelters for homeless children and worked as an English teacher-educator in Johannesburg township and suburban schools.  According to Ken Hyland:

While a student at Wits in the mid-1970s, Pippa was a key member of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, one of South Africa’s leading workshop theatre groups, and she maintained a strong association with the group. Her passion for social change led to her initiating the Soweto English Language Project, out of which grew a highly regarded series of textbooks for the teaching of English on which she worked with a team of like-minded innovators in English language pedagogy. She was also joint leader of the Wits Multi-literacies Research Project, a research team of academics and teachers across a range of disciplines including language, literature, the visual arts and science.

Writing in 1998, Stein explained that ‘Theorists and researchers working in the New Literacy Studies reject the dominant view of literacy as as a neutral, technical skill for a view of literacy as an ideological, site-specific social practice implicated in power relations and embedded in specific cultural meanings and practices.’ This research often explored ‘literacies from a cross-cultural perspective, paying attention to the particular ways people use and value different literacies in social and cultural life’.  She discussed the New London Group’s use of ‘multiliteracies’ as describing both ‘the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity and the nature of the new, increasingly multimodal communications technologies in which written-linguistic modes of meaning interface with visual, audio, gestural, and spatial patterns of meaning’ (Stein 1998, 518).

Stein was here focused on questions of  public, collective ‘remembering… as a path to understanding and reconciliation’. She discussed how (in a teacher education course with linguistically diverse students), collaborative group performance became a ‘mode of meaning making to explore explore autobiographical memory in relation to social literacies’, thus leading ‘to certain kinds of learning that the traditional written essay does not provide. The kinds of learning that result from using collaborative group performance are, I believe, particularly valuable to language teacher education in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity.’ (158).


Ken Hyland, Obituary: Pippa Stein, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 8 (2009),  p1.

Pippa Stein, Reconfiguring the past and the present: performing literacy histories in a Johannesburg classroom (TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 32 (3) 1998, pp 517-528.












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