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Defining Global Literacies: Pathways for Engaging and Transforming Our World

This blog article is part of the Global Education Faculty PLC Professional Development Series, sponsored by the Longview Foundation. The writing series aims to elevate the perspectives of international scholars, including teacher educators, graduate students, and alike, to offer insights into how educator preparation programs (EPPs) can integrate intercultural understanding within their programs. AACTE members interested in participating in the series should contact Brooke Evans at bevans@aacte.org.

Note: The AACTE Call for Awards is open for the 2024 Best Practice Award in Support of Global and International Perspectives, which recognizes exemplary practice in the intercultural, global, cross-cultural, and international arenas, and the 2024 Best Practice Award in Support of Multicultural Education and Diversity that recognizes the infusion of diversity throughout all components of a school, college, or department of education (SCDE) as critical to quality educator preparation and professional development. If you wish to apply for one of these awards, please visit aacte.org. Applications must be received by September 1, 2023.

In response to a continuously changing and connected world, our new book published by Routledge, Critical Perspectives on Global Literacies: Bridging Research and Practice, explores research, theory and practice in the field of global literacies.  We synthesized current research to derive our four-dimensional definition of global literacies, which we argue are literacies needed to learn and communicate in, about, with, and for an interdependent world, including:

  • Literacy as a human right in all nations around the world
  • Critical reading and creation of multimodal texts about global issues
  • Intercultural communication with globally diverse others; and
  • Transformative action for positive change that traverses borders.

Our definition of global literacies is conceptualized from multiple dynamic theories: cosmopolitanism, critical pedagogy, global meaning-making, pedagogy of multiliteracies, and new literacies. We chose to use the term global literacies, in the plural form rather than the customary global literacy, to signify new and multiple literacies. We know that literacies hold the potential to be empowering, with power to change the world.

We see multiple pathways for teacher educators to bring the world into their classrooms so that preservice teachers are prepared to do the same with their students. Through global literacies, the aim is that all teachers are prepared to (a) engage the world with the rich ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity it holds for each of us, as well as to (b) initiate social transformation both locally and globally.  Following are four suggestions (from chapters in our new book) for how teacher educators can get started with global literacies in their courses.

Self-assess Teacher Confidence for Teaching Global Competence.

Teacher educators and teacher candidates alike can reflect on their global competence and confidence in their ability to prepare their students to be global ready using the Globally Competent Learning Continuum and Teaching for Global Readiness Scale. These tools provide insight into the dispositions, knowledge, and skills that all educators can develop as they engage in intercultural communication and reciprocal partnerships to be equipped for globally diverse and connected classrooms. (Chapter 11 by Kerkhoff).

Collaborate on Cross-cultural Inquiry-to-Action Projects.

One research-based process to support teachers and students in cross-cultural collaborative inquiry is Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global. Students from different cultures co-construct compelling questions related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., Reduce inequality in and among countries), conduct inquiry across time and space with digital tools to answer the compelling questions, and then take action to make positive change in their communities. (Chapter 15 by Spires, Gambino, Himes, & Wang).

Discover Linguistic Landscapes Through Community Walks.

Building on their own linguistic and cultural resources as well as those of their families and communities, pre-service students can engage in the Linguistic Landscape Project, in which global literacies are developed, practiced, and reflected upon. In small groups, teacher candidates focus on the community where they conduct their clinical teaching. They collect and analyze data (statistics on community demographics, online images, and photographs they take of local storefronts, street signs, and signs in libraries and schools) and then write a short reflection paper considering the implications for their future teaching. (Chapter 12 by Curran).

Reflect on Climate Change Through “Storying.”

The “storying” of climate change can inhibit and enable the possibilities for action in how teachers conceptualize and enact eco-literacies teaching. Pre-service teachers can consider how they “story” climate change in order to reflect on the grand narratives or unfounded beliefs they bring to their understanding of the world. (Chapter 7 by Panos & Sherry).

From our point of view, there are multiple pathways to initiate and sustain the teaching and learning of global literacies. The key is to develop a passion and sense of urgency to get started with a process. Global literacies are essential to critique and influence information, knowledge, and world events that teachers and students navigate on a daily basis. Ultimately, at the heart of global literacies is the quest for transformation — creating a more just and peaceful world.

Shea N. Kerkhoff, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the University of Missouri, St Louis.  She is also a former Longview Fellow and a member of AACTE’s Committee on Global Diversity.  She can be reached at kerkhoffs@umsl.edu.





Hiller A. Spires, Ph.D. is an executive director and professor emerita at North Carolina State University. She can be reached at haspires@ncsu.edu.