Joshua R. Speedie

Enhancing Communication and Civic Participation Options Through Multiliteracies

My project combines literacy literature with emerging literature on all-age friendly environments
to develop specific tools for young children to participate in conversations about more equitable
cities. I will work collaboratively with an early years childcare centre to create a curriculum built
around the development of new spatial literacies and discursive resources for young learners to
critically examine the affordances and constraints of their urban environment. My focal research
question is: in what ways, can critical multiliteracies be mobilized to empower young children to
identify and communicate shared social and spatial justice issues through the redesign of public
space?


My research study draws on critical literacy, positioning the urban environment as a text to be
critically examined. A critical exploration of sociopolitical issues through critical literacy can
provide an impetus for change (Freebody & Luke, 1990; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Vasquez,
2004), and, directly applicable for my research study, social and spatial justice issues in “the
places and spaces in which we live our lives” (Vazquez, 2016, p. 31). The project curricula will
be built around the development of new spatial literacies and discursive resources for young
children to ‘read’ their city and critically examine “life between buildings” (Gehl, 1987, p. 13).

My project will be investigated through a multimodal perspective (Kress & Van Leeuwen,
1996), that will allow for multiple methods of communication to be identified, while
simultaneously empowering young children to make their voices heard and visible. A
multiliteracies perspective acknowledges spatial meaning as “the way meanings are shaped by
structures and landscape, and the flows or patterns of human movement through these spaces”
(Kalantzis et al., 2016, p. 373). Comber and Nixon (2008) explain, however, “despite the
growing interest within literacy studies in visual and multimodal modes of meaning-
making...space itself remains relatively unexplored in pedagogical terms” (p. 224). While
multiliteracies scholars Cope and Kalantzis (2009) have drawn from the works of urbanists (e.g.,
Whyte, 1980) to explore the potential of meaning making in public space, this focus remains an
under developed area of inquiry.


In my study, young children will utilize tools from the field of public life studies to critically
examine the affordances and constraints of their local urban environments. Developed by Danish
architect, Jan Gehl, public life studies seeks to understand how people use public space. Gehl and
Svarre (2013) explain “naturally, there is a difference between the eye of a professional and a lay
person, but in principle, anyone can observe city life” (p. 5). While other research has explored
young children’s participation in the design of public space (Malone, 2013; Nicotera, 2008;
Shaffer, Bauer, & Hall, 2013), there remains, however, scant research of young children utilizing
the tools and discursive resources of public life studies. What are the benefits of young children
utilizing public life studies tools (i.e., counting, mapping, tracking, walking, photography,
writing, and looking for traces of human activity) (Gehl & Svarre, 2013) to critically analyze
public space?


I will work with a local early years childcare centre to develop a curriculum utilizing a
collaborative curriculum development model (Evans, McDonald, & Nyce, 1999) beginning in
the winter of 2017. Using a participant action research approach to “legitimize democratic
inquiry…[and] ask, investigate, dissent and demand what could be” (Fine & Torre, 2006, p.
255), the program will be implemented in the spring of 2018. Public life studies tools will
provide rich multimodal resources allowing for both the children and I, to critically reflect on the
appropriateness of each method. These multimodal resources will be a source for reflection when
the group mobilizes to collectively redesign a public space. I will also draw on ethnographic
tools throughout the study to “identify and gain analytic insight into the dimensions, [and]
dynamics” (Dyson & Genishi, 2005, p. 81) of the multimodal curriculum.

*I am currently a second year PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at Western University. My research interests span early literacy, curriculum development, and inclusive child-friendly environments. My doctorate research project combines literacy literature with emerging literature on all-age friendly environments to develop specific tools for young children to participate in conversations about more equitable cities. I also draw on my years of experiences as an educator in both formal school settings, and informal learning environments.